House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member from Newfoundland does not seem to be aware of the criminals walking the streets of Canada. They are probably walking the streets of Newfoundland and affecting children there. That is why identifying these individuals at first contact is of prime importance. In such a large country as Canada it is hard to keep track of every single person but we must at least make some attempt to be familiar with those coming in.

The recommendation passed unopposed at committee. Members were supportive that it be included in the bill. Our party was very disappointed that the minister did not see fit to include the fingerprint and photograph recommendation in Bill C-31. It is unbelievable.

We later learned that fingerprinting and taking pictures of people would be carried out through departmental regulations. Fingerprints and photographs must be provided for in the new bill. It must be law. We should not allow such an important provision, unopposed by the standing committee, to be carried out only at the whim of immigration officials.

Our party's second proposal at committee involved safe third countries. A safe third country is one which a potential refugee to Canada has passed through on his or her way to Canada. Safe third country provisions would be an efficient and fair means to deal with undocumented refugee claimants. These individuals would have a safe haven in a safe third country.

The thinking behind the safe third country provision is that it is mutually beneficial. Most important, the refugee claimants are given a safe haven in the country they pass through on their way to Canada. Second, Canada is able to control its borders from undocumented arrivals.

We are pleased that Bill C-31 makes a provision for safe third country negotiations in section 95. The government is willing to pursue the idea of safe third country provisions, but why has it not taken action? Over the past seven years the Liberals have only negotiated safe third country provisions with one country, the United States. Negotiations must be expanded.

The Progressive Conservative Party's 1997 election platform spelled out our commitment to end patronage appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. In keeping with good Liberal tradition, in part 4, clause 150(1)(a) states in black and white that members of the IRB will be appointed by the governor in council. No means ensuring meritorious appointments are outlined in the bill.

Numerous witnesses at the committee, including the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Bar Association, as well as our party have called on the government to end patronage appointments. The government again has cast aside this recommendation in favour of its own partisan interest.

It is now almost one month since the auditor general released a scathing report on Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Chronic problems exist therein, problems the Liberal government has attempted to solve. Even worse, these are problems the auditor general has discussed before. Allow me to explain these serious issues.

All newcomers to Canada must pass a medical to protect Canadian society from the risk of disease. Criteria for medical tests are less than satisfactory and have been the standard for an unacceptable 40 years. No tests exist for new diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

Moreover, physicians do not determine medical admissibility; visa officers do. Approved doctors carry out examinations and forward their advice to the officers. What new diseases are routinely transported to Canada? The auditor general underlined deficiencies in medical examinations 10 years ago. How can the government delay? This was going on 10 years ago.

The immigration bill does not provide guarantees the health of Canadians will be protected any time soon. Medicals and health provisions are given very little space in Bill C-31. We are not satisfied that sufficient preventive measures are taken in the new bill.

When will the criteria for medical admissibility be updated? What health conditions does the minister consider to be dangerous to public health? What diseases will excessively burden the health care system? These are only a few of the many questions Citizenship and Immigration Canada failed to address in the new legislation.

The auditor general also addressed the department's computer systems. Simply put, the systems are inadequate.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough East, ON

Have you read this speech?

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, once again I see that the few members there are on the other side are very interested in what I have to say.

The systems are outdated and are not integrated. Are these the kind of computer systems that aid in determining medical and criminal admissibility to Canada?

The minister has announced a new global case management system which she says will cost $200 million. The department has received $579 million in new funding but $209 million has been spent. This new funding will be eaten up very quickly. Where does the minister expect to find all the extra funding that will be required for the case management system and the increased administration wrought by Bill C-31?

More frightening is that no one will ever know how many criminals are admitted to Canada. Foreign police records may not be up to date or reliable. Some countries cannot provide the information due to internal turmoil. The department's solution to this is simply to not require police certificates from 40 countries. This is a preposterous means to deal with criminal admissibility to Canada. That is not all. In 1998 over 1,300 ministerial permits were issued to people with criminal convictions. What kinds of people are routinely coming to this country?

Stiffer fines and longer jail terms may help in keeping criminals out of Canada but we need to start at the source. We need to have better detection strategies in place abroad to screen criminals. Simply not requiring certificates from unreliable countries does not take care of the problem.

Our party hopes the minister sees fit to take an introverted look at her department and fix it on the inside. We hope the new global case management system will soon be up and running.

This party supports parts of the bill. We are pleased that the minister has changed the provisions and requirements for in-Canada processing. Spouses, students and temporary workers will now be able to apply for permanent residency from right here in Canada.

I am pleased to express my party's view on Bill C-31, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Progressive Conservative members will be at the forefront of this debate.

Our party knows this issue. It will ensure that Canada's security and the integrity of its borders are respected.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger. In addressing the bill it is pertinent that we be aware of the immigration status of all of us.

Let us remember that the vast majority of all our families came from somewhere else, be it recently or many generations ago. Whether through persecution in a foreign country, economic deprivation, the fleeing of a wartorn nation or the search for a better life, most if not all families represented here can point to a time when they were not Canadian.

My Canadian Alliance colleagues and I agree that immigrants arriving in Canada today have come for the same reasons that our ancestors did in the past. They aspire to a better life for their families and for themselves. They seek a peaceful way of life that will allow them to practise their faith without the fear of persecution. They do not want their children to grow up with the firsthand knowledge of war or, worse, the loss of a child due to war.

I can find no fault in any of those reasons to come to Canada, but unfortunately there are those who want to take advantage of our way of life. There are those who would pay no regard to the laws of Canada. These are people like the Snake Heads who have no regard for human life and only see the opportunity to make illegal profit through the smuggling of human cargo. What a sad commentary on the state of mankind that is.

The issues surrounding immigration and refugees have been around for a long time. Because of their heritage most Canadians want to welcome new immigrants to Canada. However they also want to be sure that those who apply for immigration status meet the minimum criteria and that those who do not meet those set criteria are not entitled to the same rights as Canadian citizens.

I believe I can unequivocally state that we would all welcome immigrants and genuine refugees to our country. I believe I can further state that we all believe there should be a set of rules for everyone to follow when implementing and regulating immigration and refugee policy.

The biggest concern I have is that all the legislation in the world will not resolve the problems we see in the present legislation or the proposed law before us. Legislation without the ability to enforce the regulations means virtually nothing. We can write, debate and proclaim endless laws on countless pieces of paper, but without the legal enforcement, without the ability to ensure that the laws are upheld, the laws are not worth the piece of paper they are written on.

Unfortunately that is what I see with most of this new legislation. We are not even able to enforce our current immigration laws. How on earth will we be able to enforce new ones without adding the necessary strength, power and ability to these newly proposed laws? Unfortunately I do not see new enforcement guidelines written into the new legislation.

Let us be realistic for a moment. Higher maximum penalties for human trafficking will have no effect on the flow of illegal immigrants to Canada. The real organizers, the real kingpins behind the smuggling of humans, have no regard for the laws of Canada. They operate outside Canada and have no plans to attend court dates in Canada. The ones who are in Canada attempt to live and operate outside the laws by which we abide. They are seldom caught and rarely convicted for their crimes.

High fines may seem like a deterrent, but the maximum fines under the old immigration act have never been applied. Therefore, why should anyone here believe that the new fines would be any more of a deterrent? It simply will not happen.

About one year ago Canadians witnessed boatloads of Chinese migrants entering Canada illegally. They made a horrendous journey under appalling conditions. The conditions under which some of them lived would not meet the same humanitarian and social structures we enjoy in Canada. Some died and others suffered serious illnesses while en route.

It is my understanding that most of those who made it to Canada are still in detention awaiting their hearings. It has been seven to ten months since some of these people arrived on our shores.

The future does not look any brighter. Reality says that it may be as much as another two years before the process is complete. When I look to the new legislation before us, a reasonable expectation would be that this length of time would be significantly reduced. Unfortunately all I can see is more disappointing news.

The new legislation appears to do nothing to mitigate this lengthy waiting time. This was one of the most obvious problems in the old legislation, and it has not been resolved in the new proposed law.

There is no doubt that Canada needs to strengthen its immigration laws to seriously address this type of crisis. This is necessary not only for our own protection but also to deter those who stand to gain monetarily from the business of smuggling people.

We simply must take a firm stand and send a message to the world that Canada is not a haven for illegal immigrants and not an easy target for people smugglers. Those who promote such activities should be subject to severe penalties without exception. The penalties must be severe enough to thwart the usury and extortion currently being forced by the people smugglers. Our laws should reflect compassion for true refugees, but they should also encompass legislation to expedite the process of deporting illegal immigrants and penalize the people smugglers.

During the boat crisis last summer I received a number of calls from Canadians in my riding who were outraged with the federal government's inaction on the question of illegal immigration. This inaction drew the ire of all Canadians right across Canada. Constituents have told me that they believe the federal government is failing them and their families by putting these illegal migrants ahead of the needs of ordinary Canadians.

One of the most interesting things I found was that the ones who voiced their opinions most strongly were in fact recent immigrants themselves. To them the situation was very clear. They had applied and waited their turn to come to Canada. In many cases they wanted to sponsor family members to join them in Canada. Their anger was that while they were attempting to abide by the law, others were abusing the law in being able to stay.

By not addressing this issue, legal immigrants are forced to the back of the immigration process. What they really want to do is be reunited with family members. Are we not then creating a double standard?

During the crisis last summer the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Vancouver Island told me that their Vancouver Island forces were drastically reduced as members had been called upon to guard the most recent illegal migrants at the Esquimalt naval base. This calls into question the level of efficiency for both law enforcement and case development that the RCMP is able to provide for the residents of Vancouver Island. This is just one problem which highlights how unprepared we are for this ever increasing wave of humanity that will come to our shores either legally or illegally.

This issue has been ongoing for far too long. These are the issues which I believe need to be fully addressed under this legislation. First, full charter rights should not be available to individuals until the immigration board has accepted them.

Second, we should set new stringent penalties for those who deal in the smuggling of humans. This is a serious crime and needs to be dealt with in the most serious manner possible. International agreements should be used to pursue and convict Snake Heads and others like them.

Third, we should ensure that full security and health checks are completed on each person wishing to enter Canada. Canada's citizens demand to be safe from undue risks.

Fourth, perhaps the most important issue is that of enforcement. We cannot expect our laws to be upheld if we do not have sufficient personnel and real regulations in effect to support them. Words alone will not stop Snake Heads from dealing in human cargo.

In my riding office immigration is one of the top two issues with which my staff deals. The other issue is taxation and the manner in which Revenue Canada, now called the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, deals with people. It is interesting that in both these matters a lack of humanitarian treatment appears to be the common factor.

I should like to take a few moments to describe several immigration cases with which I have been dealing over the past several months. My colleague from Lakeland stated that he was certain that all members of the House had encountered the inadequacies of the current immigration legislation, and he is absolutely correct.

Just listen to some of the events that have taken place of which I have become aware as a member of parliament. In one case a lady in my riding invited a friend from China to visit her in 1996. Today that friend has still not been able to visit Canada.

In the meantime the Chinese applicant has been turned down for seemingly irrelevant reasons. The Canadian letter writer has chronic lymphatic leukemia and was given the possibility of living for five years. Her five years are up now. Her health has been relatively good, but we all know that there are no guarantees in this life. Offers of bonds have been made and rejected. The Chinese applicant is not looking for a job and she is not looking to immigrate to Canada. She simply has a Canadian friend who would like to be able to share a Canadian experience with her.

Letters to the minister of immigration have not resulted in any further positive results. From what I have been able to determine in this case, individual bureaucrats have thwarted the plight of one potential visitor from China to this great land of ours.

In another situation I have worked with an individual who has been waiting for over four years to receive landed status in Canada. He is currently living here and would like to upgrade his skills. However he is not able to do this until he receives his landed status.

We all expect a reasonable length of time to process applications, but four years seems to be an abnormally long period of time. In the meantime no full answers are forthcoming from either the minister of immigration or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. We ask the question why.

In another case a Canadian citizens married a Filipino. Through inquiry after inquiry no full answers were received. When visas were promised, applications were received. When time lines were committed to, they were broken in short order. After a series of pages of requests, letters and faxes I am pleased to report that this couple will finally be together. It is unthinkable that they were forced to endure this process and to live apart for many years.

Perhaps the most heart wrenching and immediate saga is in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. Mrs. Jaswant Sekhon had six children. Mrs. Sekhon was plagued by ill health, was on dialysis and was not expected to live for much longer. Her last child, a son, Santokh Sekhon, was still living in Punjab, India. The two of them had not seen each other in nine years. For a year he applied to visit his mother for a one week period. Yet Immigration Canada would not allow the married father of two to visit Canada initially on the grounds that he would not leave.

Last fall Mrs. Sekhon became too ill to travel. Unfortunately the mother and son were never able to see each other again. Mrs. Sekhon died of a heart attack on March 12 and her wish to see her son in life was never fulfilled due to Immigration Canada's denial.

In dying, Mrs. Sekhon wanted her son to reunite with the family, be able to grieve and say goodbye to her in her death. I contacted Immigration Canada asking for them to review this file to no avail. The reason given to Mrs. Sekhon was that the official was not satisfied he could support himself while in Canada. Mr. Sekhon only asked to be in Canada for one week. Does this sound like an unreasonable request? It certainly does not to me. Yet the answer was certainly unreasonable.

Let us remember that all the family members except for one are Canadian citizens. They have lived as productive participants in Canada for 10 years. No family should have to endure the agony that this family has gone through because of our immigration system. Yet this is not the only family to endure this type of hardship.

Thankfully there is a somewhat happier ending to this story. Nine days after his mother passed away, Mr. Sekhon received his visa authorization to attend his mother's funeral. Imagine what those nine days must have been like. What a horrifying thought, what a tragic thing.

These are real people who have been enduring real hardship imposed upon them by a government ministry, an immigration bureaucracy that appears to be uncaring and unable to resolve problems.

This government is responsible for creating, causing and maintaining the shortcomings that are now before us in immigration.

I believe that every member of the House, even government members, would echo similar kinds of cases.

This department needlessly and negatively impacts countless lives and families. We only need to read in the papers of concern and allegations of corruption at various levels. This concerns not just illegal migrants, but also visa and counsellor services abroad.

I must raise the question of regulations again. From what I have seen in the proposed legislation, the situations that I have brought before the House would not be resolved. I believe that Canadians should receive more than this when members of parliament debate legislation. Unfortunately, they have come to expect even less with empty words and broken promises. We have seen the lack of true public consultation and true problem solving in many prior bills, and this bill is no exception.

This is not new. The 1990 auditor general's report identified serious problems within the immigration department. Here we are, 10 years later, and they have still not been addressed. Overseas offices are grossly overtasked, resulting in waiting times of up to three years for approval.

Immigration plays an important role for Canada today, but under the present legislation and the present government what we see is really a department in chaos. The proposed legislation will not resolve the big issues before us. Bill C-31 requires a serious overhaul and the regulations must been seen in full in order to address the real immigration issues before us.

In light of these outstanding issues and others that other of my hon. colleagues in the House have mentioned, I am not able to support this bill unless it is extensively amended.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Training; the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Human Resources Development.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, last year Canada had to deal with migrant boats. That is something the hon. member made reference to in his speech. I understand that now the snake heads are charging $60,000 per head, a marked increase from last year, which indicates that they feel as though the Canadian government has not dealt with the situation. The Canadian government has sent the wrong signals to the snake heads and the people smugglers and, as a result, the demands are even higher and the snake heads charge even higher amounts of money per person.

What does the hon. member think of the dollar figure rising because of the lack of action by this government? In the minister's responses to questions in the House, she seems to be claiming that basically since they have not seen any boats quite just yet there really is not a problem. She says there is no way we can anticipate that there will be problems on the coast of British Columbia this summer with regard to migrant boats. I would like the hon. member to address that.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, having lived on the coast last summer I experienced firsthand what happened and the way it was handled by the government, or the inability of the government to handle the situation.

There is no question that the snake heads and others who are getting rich on this kind of activity would see Canada as an easy target. They see that people get in and are helped by our government. They become dependent upon our social welfare system and our health system. They are taken care of from that standpoint and not simply turned away and sent back. Because of this they will, of course, get more business. It gives them the opportunity to say to people in China and other places “This works. Line up. We will take your money and we will be glad to get you to Canada because when you get there they will take care of you really well”.

I do not think we have a problem with taking care of people, but this encourages this kind of thing and allows us to be seen in the sort of underworld international community as an easy mark. It is no wonder the price has gone up and the snake heads make more money.

The other point the member mentioned was a very famous quote that was attributed to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration during the time the boats were coming over. It seemed to be a very simplistic answer to the whole situation: “Pretty soon we will have the storm season upon us, winter will be upon us and that will take care of the waves of boats that are coming over”. If that is the way the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who is supposed to be a very responsible person in the Government of Canada, views the situation and if that is the kind of answer she has to deal with it, then it is no wonder we are in serious trouble.

The storms are getting less frequent on the coast. There is good weather coming to Vancouver Island and I suspect that this will be repeated again, and it will probably be even greater than it was last year. I do not think this legislation will prepare us for that and it will be even worse. We will have to see what happens.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, just to follow up on that question, my understanding is that the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China, otherwise the communist tyranny that is the Chinese mainland government, is directly involved in much of this snake head and people smuggling operation and that Canada is seen as a weak link in the military alliance that makes up Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Great Britain. ANZUS, I believe, is the title of that organization. The People's Liberation Army and the snake heads are in a sense doing some of these things to raise funds so they can infiltrate the military network known as ANZUS to be able to access information which they feel they cannot get through the other partners of that military alliance.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government's answer to an allegation like that was to send the minister and a couple of Liberal members to China to negotiate with the government. You and I were not privy to that negotiation. We do not know what went on, but the government would have us believe, of course, that it has it all under control. We will see.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, listening to the member made me think of my riding, which has a high percentage of refugee claimants. Unfortunately, a high percentage of them turn out to be criminal refugee claimants.

These people simply arrive at our borders to claim refugee status and then are released into society. However, since almost all of them have to change planes in Frankfurt, Heathrow or Miami to get here, there has always been a question in my mind that they are not legitimate refugees by virtue of the fact that they did not claim in the first safe country they reached. I wonder if the critic could comment on the ways in which we could solve that problem.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear, as my hon. colleague has pointed out, that there are many illegal immigrants who come into this country through airports, certainly far more than come in through the boat route. There were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25,000 illegal immigrants who came to the country last year. Probably 98% of them came in through airports.

How do they get in? How do they maintain that they are legal immigrants when they do not declare their intentions in the country of origin?

What happens, I am sure, even though I have never been on a plane to see this happen, is that they simply take their identity cards and flush them down the toilet. By the time they get here they can say that they have no record of who they are, that they are displaced people who want to claim refugee status.

When those people come to these shores we should have something in place immediately to determine very quickly whether they are legal immigrants. If they are not, then they should simply be sent back to the country of origin and from there go through the proper procedures to make sure they enter this country in the right way.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have this scenario whereby people would like to come to this country. Of course we always wonder whether it is for legitimate purposes in circumstances where they would not qualify as independent class immigrants, et cetera.

How does the hon. member feel about having bonds posted, for whatever amount, maybe $10,000 or more? I have heard people suggest as high as $50,000. Those bonds would be forfeited if they did not return to their country and if they violated the promise they gave to Canadian officials.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that is a very interesting suggestion. I am just wondering if the government has ever taken it under consideration. I think we need to have all of the good wisdom and suggestions from members on both sides of the House. We should pool our resources to come up with the very best, and this may be one of the solutions.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-31 to amend the Immigration Act.

That bill was long overdue to say the least. Members will remember that the Bloc requested a reform of the Immigration Act several times in the House. If my information is correct, the Immigration Act has been amended about 20 times in the past. I think it was high time we had an overall view of immigration, and I congratulate the minister on her initiative.

Of course, the bill is far from perfect and I know that we can count on the courage and determination of the young member for Rosemont to work toward that aim in committee. We will even be able to count on the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois, to make the bill as perfect as can be.

Immigration is not an insignificant factor in the life of countries like Canada or Quebec. Let us just think that Canada and Quebec have always been extremely open to immigration. My colleague will understand if I say that Quebec has all it needs to be a country, but I realize that, for the time being, very large parts of the immigration policy, and especially its administrative aspects, are under federal jurisdiction.

From the post-war years up until now, Canada has accepted an average of 150,000 to 250,000 immigrants. There are four major countries across the world that are what we would called countries of immigration. I am talking of course about Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

When we look at the effort these countries have put into their immigration policy and we compare it with what Quebec is doing in that area, we see that Quebec is comparing well with the United States on a per capita basis.

Minister Boisclair, now the Minister of Social Solidarity, was the Minister of Relations with the Citizens and Immigration three years ago, when he issued a policy statement on immigration that revealed that we accept roughly the equivalent of 0.8% of our population.

This is a considerable effort. Quebec accepts between 50,000 and 65,000 immigrants every year. This raises questions about integration policies, because it is important to have a generous immigration policy, especially since Quebec and Canada, like many countries on this side of the hemisphere, are societies that do not carry the seeds of their natural renewal.

For nearly 15 years, if not 20 years, the natural growth of our population has not been enough to ensure us of the new generations. It would take a fertility rate of 2.2% instead of the current 1.8%.

I invite all my colleagues—I will try to do my share directly or indirectly—to reflect on the importance for a society to reproduce itself.

It is an important issue that was hotly debated in the past and which is far from resolved. Some believe we need tax incentives. Others say we need not only tax incentives, but also a real family policy.

Having children is something that one plans for in one's life. Take for example our colleague from Longueuil, whose son is now 20 months old. She planned to have a child. It may not change the world, but it definitely structures your life. I do not want to linger over biographical details, which could lead us to release information which is protected, so to speak. I am talking about the information, not the partner of our colleague from Longueuil.

Historically, like other societies, Quebec has been quite open and generous when it comes to immigration policies. It is a basic component of our society. However, our fellow citizens must realize that, unfortunately, because of its current constitutional status, Quebec does not have control over all the levers that would allow it to have a real immigration policy of its own.

We know how immigration works. Under the act, every year in the month of October, and I understand this requirement will not be modified, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration releases a public report on the number of immigrants the country will be receiving. Their number is between 200,000 and 250,000. These newcomers, who will ultimately become Canadian citizens, are divided into three main categories.

There are, of course, those who immigrate for humanitarian considerations. These people are persecuted in their own country. There is reason to fear for their bodily security. Either because of their religious or political beliefs or because of their economic distress, they have to leave their country and claim asylum. I will come back to this category.

There are those who come to Canada and Quebec to join their family. These cases are in the category of sponsoring. Their brothers or sisters, their mother or father, their sons or daughters who came here before them as to sponsor a member of their family. This is the family reunification category.

There is also a more economic type of immigration. Governments in Canada, Quebec, Germany, France and other countries have been seduced by economic immigration in recent years. They have tried to establish a link between the employability profile of people choosing a country of adoption and the resulting immigration.

This economic immigration category can include independent workers and investors. Some people come to Canada or to Quebec because they want to invest money, to set up businesses and to create jobs.

There again, members know about the handicap created by Quebec's constitutional status. I will digress for a moment to recall with pleasure that, during the 14th convention of the Parti Quebecois held last weekend in Montreal, the Premier of Quebec pointed out that Quebec sovereignty, which should mobilize all Quebecers in the months to come, will be on the constitutional and political agenda.

The reason we want to become a country must be reflected in the current debate because, again, Quebec does not have full control over its immigration policy. In saying that, I say that Quebec has nothing to say as to how many new immigrants will come to its territory and what the entry procedures will be, but in the end, Quebec has a complete and clear responsibility as to their integration. Members will understand the gap between the objectives that Quebec wants to pursue and the means at its disposal.

One of the reasons we want to achieve sovereignty is of course because we want control over immigration, like France, Germany, United States, Japan and all the great powers of the world. Speaking of great powers, I cannot avoid mentioning that a sovereign Quebec would be the fifteen economic power on this planet. If we look at the countries that have the means to become sovereign, Quebecers can be fully confident in their destiny and in their capacity to control their future.

I would not want to digress too much from the subject at hand. We support the principle of the bill. We acknowledge that the Immigration Act and the Citizenship Act were in need of a comprehensive reform.

My colleagues from Louis-Hébert, Longueuil and Drummond—this makes me the only man in this House to be surrounded with women—will recall that I was the immigration critic for about two years. I have pleasant memories of those days. Back then, we did not have a plethora of issues, but everything will not be settled by this bill. It was a nice experience meeting people who had chosen Quebec as their home. I also had the opportunity to witness the difficulties they were experiencing with a piece of legislation that was badly outdated in many ways.

We endorse the bill, and I will indicate which points we consider positive. The first one is obviously the consolidation in a single structure of the refugee status determination process and of the adjudication process. This is a positive goal. The government deserves our congratulations for this.

The refugee status determination process was for many years a real nightmare for successive governments, as much under Prime Minister Mulroney—whose party is now represented by just a few members in the House, but who knows what the future may have in store—as under the current Prime Minister. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is the most important administrative tribunal in Canada.

It may easily take an average of two years or two and a half years between the moment when a refugee sets foot in Canada and meets a Canadian official, and when a decision on his refugee status is made. Members will understand that all of this is not negligible as far as the costs to society are concerned.

I want to digress to say that 90% of all claims for asylum claims and political refugee status concern three major Canadian cities, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Slowly, a kind of pocket is beginning to emerge in Winnipeg, but the three big immigration centres are, of course, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

However, the inefficiency of the operating procedures of the Immigration and the Refugee Board of Canada costs the Quebec treasury on average between $70 million and $90 million. So, it is important to have an act that we will allow processing of these files as diligently as possible. We—myself in particular—also welcome the inclusion in the bill of the recognition of same sex partners.

Hon. members will recall that, at the time of the introduction of Bill C-23 we considered recently—and allow me again to thank all my hon. colleagues who supported this bill willingly and enthusiastically—we were told “We cannot recognize same sex partners in this omnibus bill because, in the area of immigration, they cannot be recognized in the same way that they are in the Income Tax Act or the Criminal Code”.

As we can all see, a new person has taken over the chair. In spite of all the appearances of continuity, each of these persons has his or her own style.

I myself had concluded that it was not desirable, in the bill under consideration, to recognise same sex partners. Why? The question is worth asking and I am convinced that my colleagues are itching to ask. Well, here I go. Why was it not desirable, immigration wise, to recognise same sex partners? The answer is that, two people cannot establish that they are living in a same sex relationship in the same way, in Canada and abroad.

When we talk about recognizing same sex partners, a certain number of factors are involved: cohabitation, recognition as a couple and mutual support. Obviously, if one's partner lives in Cuba and one is living in Montreal, the cohabitation criteria does not apply. Recognition as a couple begins to be a bit remote and mutual support is of course a little more of a monthly thing instead than a daily thing. Therefore, we needed evidence that was different from what we usually get. These are the positive aspects of the bill. However, I repeat, the bill is far from complete. It can be greatly improved.

The third positive aspect worth mentioning is the series of very tough measures concerning people trafficking and smugglers who bring into Canada people who do not deserve the status they claim.

The former Minister of Immigration and member for Westmount—Ville-Marie said on numerous occasions in the past that one of things that characterizes the 21st century is the trafficking in human beings. There is not just a trade in goods and in capital. There is an illegal trade in people, an underworld black market. This forces us to be extremely vigilant and severe toward those who are involved in trading human beings.

I therefore wish to focus attention on the clause of this bill that will provide very heavy punishment for those involved in this trade. The bill puts all the odds on the side of the law for dismantling these trafficking networks.

So much for the positive aspects of the bill. There are some a bit less positive, which is why the Bloc Quebecois will be bringing in some amendments, via the charming and dynamic member for Rosemont.

I personally worked on this issue when I was immigration critic. Obviously, there is the whole issue of the 8, 9 and 10 year-olds being brought into Canada by the traffickers. They are detained far too long in prison. This approach is contrary to the international conventions of which Canada itself is a signatory. I will come back to this point at a later time.

Since I have only one minute left, I will now conclude, although I have the impression that I have barely touched on everything I wanted to say. The question of detaining young people is a problem for us. The lack of explicit reference in the bill to Canada's international obligations—and by this I am of course thinking of the conventions on refugees, on torture and on the rights of the child—is also problematical to us.

I also wish to state that we have a problem with the added powers assigned to immigration officers and the potential discretionary nature of some of the decisions to be reached.

I trust the government will be open to the amendments by the Bloc Quebecois. We will be bringing our customary serious approach to the work in committee.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that there have been discussions with the parties and there would be unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order, the response by the government to the second report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade may be tabled as late as May 18, 2000.