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 quebec.

Topics

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the deputy government whip have unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

May 9th, 2000 / 5 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-31, the immigration and refugee protection act. This is a very important bill for Canada. It has been in the making for a long time. We are pleased to see that it has been presented because it gives us an opportunity to talk about immigration and its impact on Canada.

Who are we talking about? We are talking about people. The government has released the total number of refugees into the country. When some 187,000 immigrants are coming into Canada it is important to recognize what is happening. They are human beings. These are people who have needs. Like any other issue that deals with human beings it has an emotional aspect. It deals with relationships, with aspirations and all such things.

We recognize what is happening. We have come to the very sad conclusion that our immigration system is falling down rapidly. More and more people are genuinely coming into the country. They have made the effort to come to our country but are facing problems. They get discouraged and walk away. At the end of the day Canada is the loser when this happens.

The auditor general reported on the immigration department. What do we see? We see what every MP knows, I would presume. There is something seriously wrong with our immigration system. As a matter of fact I have a full time staff, as do other MPs, trying to solve the immigration mess. It creates horror stories.

Old ladies have come to me crying because our system, despite what the government says, is inconsistent and allows people to abuse it. It is inconsistent in terms of what is going on in the country. It creates doubt among immigrants and upsets Canadians when they see that the system is subject to so much abuse.

The problem as far as I am concerned is that the government has made a habit of listening to self-interest groups. In this case I am talking about immigration consultants and immigration lawyers who try to hijack the agenda because it is in their interest. If the system is not functioning they are the beneficiaries, and the government agrees to that.

Let us talk about consultants. Anyone can be a consultant in this country. They just have to open up an office and say they are immigration consultants. Do they know about immigration rules? No. All they care about is money. This is happening in my own riding. Immigration consultants take money and give wrong advice to immigrants or to refugees, resulting in them coming to us to solve this mess.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Our staffs are better consultants.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

My colleague is absolutely right. Yes, they are experts. They could become immigration consultants and do a better job.

I am not putting down all immigration lawyers. There is definitely a need for consultation, but the government has made a habit of listening to these people and then trying to draft legislation which is weak and leaves many loopholes. Who takes advantage of those loopholes? We all know that. All we have to do is look at the stories in the newspapers.

Chinese boatloads came here because of a loophole in the system created by the government. Everywhere around the world it is becoming quite clear that the loopholes existing in Canada are numerous, which has created human smuggling that plays with people's lives.

The minister of immigration has said that she would be very tough on human smugglers. The bottom line is that a market was created for human smugglers because of our lax law. Our lax law has given them a market of which they are taking advantage and playing with people's lives.

If we had a tighter or a speedier law, or if we had a procedure with which we could address these things very quickly and rapidly, would the human smugglers have a market? No, they would not. We would do people a favour if we had a clear-cut, concise and fast processing system. We would do a favour for people who cross the oceans and threaten their own lives so that human smugglers and drug abusers can take advantage of them.

Let me talk about what is wrong with the current immigration system. The auditor general said it was mismanaged and backlogged. We do not keep track of what is going on, and that is absolutely true. From the experience in my office I can say that is absolutely true.

Let us talk about spousal applications. The minister says that it takes six months for a spousal application. I am saying that it does not take six months. It takes over a year and a half before Canadians who marry outside Canada can bring their spouses into this country. Yet the government talks about a system which it says is fair and will take only six months.

People have left this country, lost their status, and want to come back with a returning resident permit. Everything takes time, time, time. From the time I was elected in 1997 until now all I have seen is a longer process, and this is for legitimate immigrants to Canada. When we talk to immigration officers and our counsellors overseas only one point comes up, that they do not have the resources.

The minister of immigration says she will bring in 300,000 people. She says that is our new target. We are only at 178,000 because there are no resources. Because there are no resources immigration officers cannot do their jobs. Haphazard decisions are made. People fall through the cracks. People take advantage of that and walk into the country.

Any immigration officer will tell us that. I have visited New Delhi. I have visited Sydney. I have talked to immigration officers in Africa, and the simple point is a lack of resources. Some say that they want more, but as my colleague said the current system should be fixed first before anything else is done.

Let me give another example. The immigration department may allow people with professional degrees into this country but they cannot get jobs. There is an inconsistency. What is the point of getting professionals to come to the country if they cannot work? They cannot work here because we have professional associations that do not allow them to work.

We should tell them that we need immigration and that we need professional people. We should ask them how many they can accommodate. Then we should go ahead and do it. They should make arbitrary decisions because they are playing with people's lives.

Let us talk about visitor visas. I have to use the minister of immigration's offices to get visitor visas approved. Canada has a huge population from every corner of the world. Naturally they have families. Naturally they have ties outside the country. It is a common sense situation. They would like their family members to come. There is nothing wrong with that. A Canadian can go to India with no problem, but the poor guy who wants to bring someone from India here is denied entry into Canada. He is denied entry into Canada because the government says we cannot trust him to go back. We cannot trust him to go back. We do not know whether he will go back based on our past experience.

Where did the problem originate? The problem originates here. We allow them to stay here. We allow them to come to this country and make a claim and they can stay here for two and a half years. It takes two and a half years to process a refugee claim. Within two and a half years people can stay in this country and not go back. Where did the problem originate? The problem originates here.

It is a very small number. It is not a high number but others pay the price for it. Genuine visitors who want to come here pay the price for it. Over three-quarters of my files are people who want to come here on visitor visas to attend marriages and funerals. Why can we not look at the facts for those who come over here and want to make an application, even if it is a refugee claim. If there was a faster system, all these problems would not be there.

While I am talking of refugees, let us talk about our refugee determination system. Despite the fact that we have an appeal process and an IRB that is supposedly an independent one, the whole refugee determination system is bogged down. It takes two and a half to three years before a refugee's claim is heard, genuine or non-genuine. He has all that time to do whatever he wants to do. The so-called Honduras drug dealers in Vancouver sell drugs. Why is there not a faster process?

Nobody denies that a refugee has the right to flee persecution and come to our country. We are proud of that tradition. There is nothing wrong with that tradition. That is not the problem. The problem is it takes two and a half to three years to process a claim.

There is an individual in my riding who has been here for the last three and a half years as a refugee. The man was actually crying in my office and asking me to please tell him what it takes, why was he in limbo, why was he in no man's land. His wife and child are overseas. His wife suffered a heart attack. He cannot go back home because he fears being persecuted there. He cannot go back home but his wife has had a heart attack. His claim cannot be processed so he cannot bring his wife here. Why are we allowing all this human tragedy to be caught up in the bureaucratic mess we have created?

Why can we not have a faster process? If we are going to have an immigration and refugee policy, then let us implement it the way it is supposed to be implemented, not mismanage it.

Let us talk about some of our immigration officers. It is amazing. I actually tell people that their visas to Canada will be approved depending on which side of the bed the immigration officer got up. If he is in a good mood, they are in; if he is in a bad mood, they are out. There is no consistency. I have seen similar cases where one said yes and one said no. Then what happens? It is okay for the immigration officer overseas to say no but it throws the Canadian party into an appeal process.

The appeal process is expensive in hiring an immigration lawyer and going before the IRB. And we do not know when the IRB will hold its hearings. It could take six or eight months. It could take a year and a half for an immigration officer to make a decision. The poor guy has to wait for two years and then the immigration officer after assessing it says “Sorry, you do not follow this in my view”. I repeat that it is in his view. I agree he should have some view, but there has to be more consistency.

We have started to hire local officers. Local officers do interviews up front to allow people to come here as visitors or as immigrants. That is because the government cut the funding. They are local personnel.

What is Canada's desire? What do Canadians feel about how our system is run? I have encountered local immigration officers. We write to them and they ignore the missives of members of parliament. I had to write back saying that it is a democracy in this country. The people of Canada speak through their elected officials; they do not speak through their bureaucrats. These people do not understand. They do not know what is Canada's desire and who wants to come here. But these people are making decisions and throwing people into an appeal process which costs them pain and money.

More and more people are coming to my office saying to abandon the claim, that they are sick and tired of the whole process. This did not happen before, but it is becoming more and more common. The delays are becoming more and more common. But there is no problem for the guys who want to abuse our system. They do it and they do it fast. They are in the country. This creates tension because Canadians hate to see their laws being abused. They hate it.

I had call after call after call when the boat people came here. Every member of parliament did. What was the reason behind those calls? That our laws were being abused. It bothered Canadians that our laws were being abused. It bothered people who had applied for family members to come here or people in general who wanted to come to Canada. It bothered everybody, prospective immigrants, recently arrived immigrants, Canadians who have been here for generations. The bottom line was that the laws were being abused.

Have we tightened up the law? Have we even improved it? The bill begs the question, have we improved anything? I do not think so. I do not think anything has been improved. We are back to the same old system. I will be back out there listening to the cries of Canadians.

Canadians are travellers. They find new partners around the world. There needs to be sincerity. Immigration officers need to understand that Canadians travel. Sometimes Canadians find spouses overseas.

In summary, I go back to the main point that bothers our party, the official opposition. Has the bill cleaned up anything? Has it done anything to fix the old system? I say to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, please fix the old system.

The official opposition will keep a strong watch on this. My colleague the immigration critic will be bringing a lot of amendments to the committee when we study this bill which will give us more opportunity to discuss this important issue.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have several questions for my colleague, but I will limit it to one for now. If I get a chance I will certainly come back and ask another.

My colleague brought up the issue of visitors visas. What does he think the impact will be on people who apply for visitors visas as a result of the change to the Immigration Act through this legislation which will allow people to apply for permanent residency from within Canada?

In certain select cases such as students who have completed an education in a field which is in demand in this country, this may make sense. However, a fairly broad and general change in law which would allow people to apply for permanent residency from within the country has failed in the past. It has caused huge backlogs which the system cannot handle. Immigration officials know it is happening. They know that anybody applying for a visitors visa may decide he or she wants to stay and will add to that backlog, which reflects poorly on them.

What impact does the member think this change which will allow people to apply within the country will have on people applying for visitors visas? My colleague already expressed a concern that the system is not working now and he is right.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is right in mentioning there are certain circumstances such as students. He is also right to point the finger at the visitors visa issue. Will the bureaucrats apply the law in such a manner that visitors who want to come to Canada will be denied entry? How it is going to be interpreted is the biggest question on this issue.

As I said in my speech, the immigration officers will interpret the law in whatever manner they want. He is absolutely right. This is where the danger lies. There will be more cases of people being denied visitors visas to come into the country. The impact on the bureaucrats who will be making the decisions must be studied very clearly. Are they going to deny entry to more people? If they are going to deny entry to more people then what is the purpose of this?

My colleague is absolutely right. The impact on visitors visas to come into the country is an issue we have to study before we think it is good.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Cadman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments.

In my constituency of Surrey North, I too have a very high caseload, about 80% of which is immigration files. A large number of those tend to deal with the whole visitors visa problems. One of the main problems we see is with people who are trying to have relatives come over for a funeral, a wedding or for any number of reasons. Of course, we want our front line officers to be vigilant to make sure that people are properly screened.

I have had cases where I suspected the applicants were perfectly reasonable but they were denied. At this end, people have actually offered to sign affidavits to put up tens of thousands of dollars in bonds. People who have made the application in the country of origin have agreed to put up tens of thousands of dollars or the equivalent size bond. For some reason Immigration Canada is loath to accept these bonds and has denied entry to these people.

Does my colleague have any comment on the bond issue? Should it be explored and opened up a bit more?

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague underlined a very basic point on the issue of bonds. This issue is frustrating to individuals because they cannot get their relatives or friends into Canada for whatever reason. They go to extremes and say “Please let them come. I am willing to pay the money”. That is not the most important issue. The more important issue is the process in Canada. When a person comes to Canada with a visitor's visa and applies for refugee status, if the process were faster we would have less refugee claimants applying from overseas. This would make visitor's visas easier to get and would provide open entry for immigrants because they would know that they cannot stay here.

The system we have devised does not address how quickly we can finalize applications of those who apply for refugee status. That is what this legislation should aim to do.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

I should advise the House that when the debate on Bill C-31 resumes, the hon. member for Calgary East will have four minutes remaining in the period allotted for questions or comments.

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Employment Insurance
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, we are resuming debate today on a private member's motion that was brought forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst dealing with the restoration of unemployment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.

The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate action to restore employment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.

The member's riding, like my own and like many ridings in Canada, would be considered by the government to be a rural riding. It is interesting to note that in many of these ridings, the workers have suffered as a result of the changes to the Employment Insurance Act that the government introduced before the last election. Understandably, the workers were upset by that and showed their displeasure with the changes by voting against the governing party.

The question would have to be asked: Has the government learned from the voter's verdict on the changes to the unemployment insurance system? One would think that it may have learned somewhat of a lesson.

Those who watched the Liberal convention that was held some time ago heard the Prime Minister, probably to the chagrin of his Minister of Finance and certainly to the chagrin of some of his cabinet ministers sitting here today, admit that perhaps the people were right. He stopped short of saying that perhaps the NDP was right. We knew all along that the government's changes to the EI program were wrong. The Prime Minister did not want to give us too much credit so he, kind of appropriately, went over our heads to the sovereign people who sent a message to the government, especially those in Atlantic Canada, that the changes made them suffer.

One would think that the Liberals would welcome the motion from the member for Acadie—Bathurst. It would allow them to vote in favour of this motion and admit that they learned their lesson. They could say that they are listening to the Prime Minister and are prepared to restore the funding to employment insurance.

Instead, in what is, I would say, a tricky manoeuvre, the Liberals moved an amendment. The amendment to the motion would make it read as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should review employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers.

We do not need a review. The people of Atlantic Canada do not need a review. The people who are seasonal workers in every part of this country, whether they are working in the woods in British Columbia, in the tourism industry in Alberta or in any industry across Canada, do not need another review.

The changes to the unemployment insurance act were imposed by the government under former minister Doug Young who is now a member of the Canadian Alliance Party, I guess. A review took place in 1995 when a working committee was set up to examine the issue of seasonal work and employment insurance. In terms of the Liberal amendment, the review has taken place.

The working group found some interesting statistics and reports. First, and this needs to be said, the report found that what is seasonal is not the workers. We refer to seasonal workers, but it is the jobs that are seasonal. The working group also found that the needs of that particular group in the labour force were largely ignored. Moreover, it noted that there was a negative attitude toward seasonal workers that was emerging in society and that the workers themselves were somehow considered responsible because of the fact that their jobs were temporary.

There are certain realities in this country. We live in a harsh climate. There is certain work that can be done in the summer that cannot be done in the winter. There are tourist seasons that are not year round. It is not the workers who are seasonal. It is that in certain parts of the country employment follows things that are beyond our control. One of those factors is weather. Another is where investment falls.

However, it is not the workers who say “I think I'll get up in May since I've hibernated for the winter and I'll go get a job”. They also in the fall do not say “I've had it with work and I'm going to sit down”. These are hardworking people who want work but the reality is that in the part of the country where they live the work tends to be seasonal in nature.

The working group also found that the Liberal government of the day warned that changes to unemployment insurance would disproportionately affect seasonal workers. I have already commented on that. It is clear that it did.

Finally, the working group predicted that the EI reform would have a negative impact on women. We already know that study after study has indicated that it is in many cases women who have lost their eligibility for employment insurance. They have paid into the fund and have been discriminated against by the changes to the employment insurance program.

As far as the amendment goes, while it is perhaps a friendly amendment, there is no need for us to study any more. This to me sounds like an election ploy. It is kind of like what the Prime Minister said at the convention when he said that we needed to review the Employment Insurance Act. A review can mean anything. It can mean that the act will be even more draconian at the end of the review, once and if the Liberals lucky enough to get another mandate.

Let us have a show of faith here this evening on this member's motion. Let us see members put their votes where their comments were at the Liberal convention and let us see them vote in favour of this member's motion. I do not think it will happen. I would be readily surprised if it did, but one never knows. We have been surprised in the House before.

Let me also comment on the value of seasonal work to the economy. People tend to think that seasonal work is perhaps not on that high of a plane because it is seasonal in nature. However, when we look at it, tourism ranks 12th among the major sectors of the economy. While I am discussing tourism, it is important for me to comment a little bit about my own constituency.

It is ironic that we should be debating this motion the day after the government invoked closure on Bill C-11, an act by the government to take away the jobs of miners in Cape Breton. What is the government's solution to the economic problems in places like Cape Breton where it is challenged with helping to develop an economy? It says that tourism is the answer. The government should talk to the women, in particular, who work in the tourism industry in my riding in towns like Baddeck and Ingonish. I know my colleague from Bras d'Or—Cape Breton would echo the same thoughts for the women who work in the tourism industry in her riding, as would all my colleagues.

Let me say that many people in the tourism industry in particular, but also in the construction trades, the fishing trades, the agriculture industry and the lumber industry rely on employment insurance to see them through. That is only natural. They pay into an insurance fund. It used to be called unemployment insurance until the government decided to play word games and call it employment insurance. They pay into that with their hard-earned money and surely at the end of the season they are entitled to get that money back.

The Canadian people have spoken about the government's changes to the employment insurance program. The Canadian people resoundingly oppose those changes. I ask the government members, whose Prime Minister has indicated he is prepared to see things our way, to vote in favour of the motion.