House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House to speak for the first hour of debate to my private member's bill, Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

I thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for supporting the bill. I know it is an issue that he supports very much. He has had a lot of feedback in his riding about the bill and I am very happy that he is seconding the bill today.

The bill before us would allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to make a once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative who would not otherwise be considered under the family class sponsorship rules that exist today.

I brought forward the bill because one of Canada's key immigration objectives is to help families reunite in Canada. In fact we just received information from the minister a couple of days ago showing us that 28% of Canada's new immigrants are under the family class.

Upon examination of the current provisions, it becomes very clear that the current legislation defining the family class is quite restrictive, leaving many potential relatives ineligible for family reunification. I know in Vancouver East, my own riding, and indeed across the country, because I have heard from many people, many families are desperate to reunite with a family member who is still in the country of origin.

The bill is actually a very modest one. It does not change the system in any dramatic way. It lays out that a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen could sponsor, once in a lifetime, on a one time basis, a family member who would not otherwise qualify under the existing rule. It is that straightforward and it is that simple.

Just to give some context to this proposal, the Liberal red book has long put forward a goal to move immigration levels to 1% of the population, which would be about 300,000 people per year. However, as we all know, we have never come close to meeting this target. On average about 219,000 immigrants arrive each year in Canada.

In 1993 the number of people sponsored under the family class provision reached a peak of 110,000. Today the projection for family member sponsorship is around 60,000. We can see that there has actually been a decline from that peak in 1993.

The federal NDP and our leader, Jack Layton, have been very outspoken on this issue and very supportive of the bill. We do support the government target of 1% of the population for immigration. We consider immigration to be a powerful and positive contribution to the economic, social, cultural and political life of our country. We are a party that has always stood for supporting immigration.

We have seen too often a backlash against immigrants. I read a front page story in the Vancouver Sun last Thursday, the day I held a press conference in my own community around the bill, which linked immigrants to terrorists. We all know we are in an environment where there is increasing hostility toward immigration.

I am proud to say that in the federal NDP we have always supported immigration. We want to see the federal government meet its own targets. We know there are Liberal members who support those goals as well. We can help achieve the goal of 1% by supporting the bill without drastically changing the system.

Currently, under the family class section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, only the following relatives are eligible for sponsorship, and it is quite restrictive. For example, one can sponsor a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age. One can sponsor a dependent child who is under 22, is a full time student, is dependent on a parent for financial support or has a disability. One can also sponsor a parent or a grandparent.

My bill would allow a further step such that someone not eligible under those restrictions could be sponsored. A brother or a sister over 18 years of age could be sponsored. A first cousin, an aunt or uncle or a niece or nephew over the age that now provides the restriction could also be sponsored. A child over the age of 22 could also be sponsored. My bill gives more flexibility.

I want to make it very clear that my bill is not opening up the floodgates to family class sponsorships. Sponsorship would be on the basis of somebody being able to do this once in a lifetime.

I am sure that all members, based on their own experiences in their own ridings, have heard of heartbreaking cases of families spending years in the system trying to get a family member to Canada from their country of origin. I find it heartbreaking to see the psychological impact and sometimes the economic impact that hits these families that have been broken up. I feel that if my bill were supported and acted upon it would be a small step in helping to provide family reunification.

Bill C-436 has received tremendous support. When this idea first came up from the former minister of immigration in 2000, 15,000 signatures were collected in Vancouver alone in support of this policy change. Unfortunately, the then minister decided not to go ahead with the change.

Even today the bill is gathering a lot of support across the country from groups like MOSAIC in Vancouver, Storefront Orientation Services, Falun Gong members, the B.C. Latin American Congress, the Inland Refugee Society of B.C., members of the Fijian community, the Iranian-Canadian Community of Western Canada, the Vancouver Association of Chinese Canadians, and well known writers like Lydia Kwa and Sook Kong, a writer, a poet and a teacher. There is also support from groups like SUCCESS, which is the largest organization in the lower mainland of Vancouver serving the Chinese and was one of the organizations that obtained those 15,000 signatures in 2000. Just yesterday I was advised that the all presidents' meeting of the Chinese Canadian National Council voted to support this once in a lifetime bill.

Word is now going out across the country that Bill C-436 is being debated in Parliament and in due course will be voted on. I think there is very strong community support. Groups and agencies that support new Canadians understand how difficult this issue of family reunification is. They understand families' desperation at trying to bring family members over. No matter how hard they try, the rules are so restrictive they are not able to accomplish it. I think this bill would help move us toward family reunification.

When we held a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday some local media were there, after which a story appeared in the Vancouver Sun. A couple of immigration lawyers were quoted as saying that the family class is “traditionally a net drain on public funds”. I was actually quite alarmed by these kinds of statements and by the fact that anybody who works with new Canadians and families would say that new immigrants and family class sponsorships are a net drain on public funds. We know that under the existing rules financial support has to be provided for anywhere from three to ten years. All kinds of existing provisions are in place to ensure that there is no financial drain on society generally. None of those rules are being proposed for change. All my bill would do is ensure that someone could sponsor one additional relative.

Other comments were made that if the bill were passed it would somehow trigger a backlash. I was very alarmed to read those kinds of comments, particularly from immigration lawyers who should be familiar with what we need to do.

It seems to me that as members of Parliament we should be supporting and advocating for family reunification. This is actually one of the core programs of the government's immigration program. It is something that is based on compassion and on the well-being and wholeness of families. Any of us could imagine what it would be like if we were here in Canada and wanted to have a relative who was a very important part of our family in this country yet were prevented from doing so.

I will be the first to say that clearly there have to be rules and regulations. My bill would not change any of the provisions around medical requirements or even the definitions of family in the existing bill. Based on the conversations I have had, there are many people who actually would like to change those definitions because they think they are too restrictive. However, that is another debate and maybe another bill for another day.

This bill is actually quite limited in that it takes in the existing definition of family class and the existing provisions for approval. It would simply allow someone, once in a lifetime, to sponsor an additional family member who would not otherwise be eligible under the sponsorship rules.

I hope members will consider the bill and look at it as a step toward actually accomplishing what I believe we all support and agree on, which is support of families and reunification. I hope members will agree that it should go to the next step, to committee. Then we would have a further discussion and there may be all kinds of suggestions about how to improve the bill, which I would certainly welcome.

One of the things I hope we can draw visibility to in putting forward the bill is the real difficulties people face in dealing with the immigration system. In our party we are actually setting up a website so that Canadians can tell us first-hand about the experiences they have had with the system. I know that many of us are familiar with that because of the cases that too often, unfortunately, we are compelled to take on.

We want to draw attention to the facts about just how difficult it is to deal with this system. Some of it is a question of resources. I think one of the reasons we do not meet the 1% target is simply that government offices overseas do not have the kind of staff resourcing they need to actually process applications. This is actually something that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has investigated and documented in a very thorough way. I think many of us are very concerned about the fact that while these goals exist, we are not able to meet them because we simply do not have the resources, particularly in some key offices, or we do not even have enough offices to make sure that these applications are processed in a timely way. This becomes a sort of backdoor way of keeping a gate closed on the system. I think members on that committee are very well aware of that systemic problem that exists now.

I will close by saying that I think the bill is a small step to help families with reunification. It is a very modest proposal. It would not dramatically change the system in any way. It was actually proposed by the former minister of citizenship and immigration at one point in 2000. It has tremendous support in the community. I think people see it as a practical and concrete step which they would be able to use. I look forward to the debate. I encourage members to think about the issue and to support in principle the idea of what is being put forward. I look forward to further debate at committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I was following the hon. member's speech very carefully. As a member of the immigration and citizenship committee, she works very hard on this issue.

Basically I think the concept is a very good idea, but the problem is in the details. As the expression goes, the devil is in the details.

Based on her proposal, I wonder if the hon. member could inform us of what she thinks is the maximum capacity of immigrants we are ready to absorb in the country. Would it be 100,000, 200,000 or 500,000 a year? What impact would that have on our society as a whole? I do not think we have enough capacity in the system to absorb and integrate the potential millions who may come to Canada. If we accept this rule, that is a possibility we have to face. We have to address that issue.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, as I know that he as well has worked very hard on the citizenship and immigration committee. I am glad to hear that he thinks this is a good idea.

Of course a number of details would need to be worked out, but I would point out that at one point we did have over 110,000 new Canadians who came under the family class provision. We are now down to about 60,000, so if there is some increase in the family class provision through a measure like this, I absolutely cannot not see any evidence that somehow it will have a huge impact in a negative way. In fact, I would advocate that it will have an impact in a positive way in actually helping to strengthen families in local communities. Surely this is something we should be supporting.

In terms of what number we might arrive at, again I would point out to the hon. member, and I think he knows this, that we are far short of the target actually set by the government.

In any report from the citizenship and immigration committee or any government report, members will read information and evidence about the evaluations and studies done over the years which show that immigration is of huge benefit to this country in terms of the workforce, the labour market and cultural, social and economic contributions.

I think we have to look at this bill in that context and say that it would strengthen our immigration system. It would not detract from or undermine it.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would comment. We did not reach our 1% target in the last few years although that is the Liberal policy, but how would the bill help us to achieve that target without regulating this? Also, how can the government reach that target without making it difficult for society to absorb new Canadians? If we cannot do it with 225,000 because of, as my colleague said, limitations on funding, how does she expect us to do such a thing in a massive way?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is just a matter of political will and commitment. Those targets exist. I think the governing Liberal Party has shown its support for immigration policies, but as I have said, there has been this backdoor way of keeping a limit on the numbers because of staff resources.

There is a way to do this. There may even be a way to forward this bill without additional staff resources, but generally that is a huge question. I know the member is very aware of that because of his work on the committee. It is something the government has to address. If we believe in immigration and if we support immigration and we want to come anywhere close to what these targets are, then we actually have to provide the training, the staff supports and the settlement programs to actually facilitate it. It comes down to a question of what the government priority is on that question.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, family reunification has long been a key objective of the Government of Canada's policy and legislation. It helps ensure the well-being of each newcomer we bring to Canada and it substantially contributes to community growth and prosperity. Debates on how to strengthen this important cornerstone of Canadian policy to allow more family members to sponsor their loved ones from abroad therefore have a long and rich tradition.

In June 2002 Canada opened a new chapter in this regard with the passage of regulations to significantly enhance the family reunification program, which more closely reflect today's social and cultural realities. These changes reflect extensive public consultation as well as the government's commitment to expand the family class and balance the number of family members we bring to Canada each year with a sustainable plan.

The new regulations allow individuals in a common law or conjugal relationship with a Canadian to be sponsored. They broaden the definition of dependent child by including children under 22 years old, up from under age 19 in the previous regulations. The regulations also reduce the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to become sponsors from 19 to 18 years old, and they decrease the period of sponsorship undertakings from ten years to three years in most cases.

These changes are based on careful deliberations and reflect the recommendations of individual experts in the field as well as stakeholder organizations in every region of the country. They support our commitment to the family. They also help ensure that Canada maintains the appropriate balance of economic and family class immigration.

As part of the public consultations concerning the new regulations, the government gave careful consideration to a number of options to further expand the family class, including a suggestion that each Canadian or permanent resident should receive a one-time opportunity to sponsor a non-family class relative. The once in a lifetime sponsorship option was found unworkable for a number of reasons, all of which apply to the private member's bill before the House today.

Bill C-436 would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to grant Canadian citizens and permanent residents the right to sponsor, once in a sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class. The bill contains no definition of relative nor any apparent restrictions or limitations on intake beyond its once in a lifetime provision. Such a wide open approach would significantly increase processing delays and the size of existing backlogs for every immigrant category. It would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources, and it would help to undermine the integrity of the entire immigration program by increasing the opportunities for fraud.

Canada's recent experience with the removal of limitations on sponsorships clearly demonstrates the flaws in the private member's bill under consideration. In 1988 the government of the time changed the sponsorship rules to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. Total intake in this category nearly doubled over two years, going from 53,033 in 1987 to 104,199 in 1989. When the government cancelled the program in 1993, it was after an eight year processing backlog had been incurred at some Canadian missions, and some of the effects are still being felt today.

Think of it this way. The increase from 1987 to 1989 consisted almost entirely of never married children of any age. If the proposal under debate today were limited to never married children, family class intake would at least double in the next two years. However, if all distant relatives are included with their spouses and children, family class intake could increase even more. Since the newly landed relatives could themselves sponsor any relative as soon as they were qualified to do so, the family class could potentially overwhelm the immigration program. This is clearly not in the best interests of Canadians or the newcomers we bring to our shores.

We agree with the concept of expanding the family class and making it easier for families to reunite with their loves ones in Canada. We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general. Our recent actions clearly support and reinforce this commitment, but the government has also a duty to properly manage the immigration program and ensure that the principles of fairness, integrity and balance are upheld. We therefore cannot support Bill C-436 or any other special provision that fails to take into consideration all that I have mentioned earlier.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from the New Democratic Party for bringing forward this private member's bill. I know she has a very caring heart and has worked closely with immigrant communities.

The difficulty I have with the bill is twofold. One is that there has been a concerted effort by a number of other parties to label our party as anti-immigrant. That is not the case. However, because that perception is out there, it is sometimes very difficult for us to speak on these kinds of matters because no matter what we say, we are attacked with that perception in mind.

Therefore, I would like first to make it clear that our party is very pro-immigrant. In fact we have a very diverse ethic group in our caucus. Many of our members of Parliament in the Canadian Alliance were not born in Canada. They are in fact immigrants, children of immigrants, including myself. Therefore, we are very pro-immigration, and I want to enter the debate with that very clearly in mind.

The second difficulty I have with the bill is on some practical matters. It would be wonderful if we could move ahead, as my colleague has suggested, with each person being able to sponsor someone once in a lifetime to come to Canada. That would certainly be a wonderful gift to many people, but there are some results that would flow from that kind of change in policy. Therefore, we need to look at those carefully before we decide whether this matter should go ahead.

The main concern I have, and I know a lot of immigrants to Canada have, is the huge backlog that exists in our immigration system. I have had some heartbreaking cases in my office. I imagine that each one of us, as members of Parliament, could stand in our place and tell stories of people who have tried so hard to get their spouse, their fiancée, their children, their parents to Canada under the family class sponsorship but have had the most horrendous roadblocks put in their way with a huge backlog.

I have had many such cases. One that was recent was a constituent who worked very hard to get his wife to come to Canada. She was pregnant at the time. The application started in May 2001. He was told, though a letter from the immigration department, that the whole process would take about 15 months, which would have brought his wife to Canada about the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, their child would not be born in Canada and that was a real concern to him. He was very proud of Canada and wanted his child to be born here.

I do not have time to go over the horrendous series of events that took place between the time my constituent made his application to bring his wife to Canada and when she finally arrived in September 2003. That was two and a half years from the time he made his application, and there was such heartbreak for this man, his wife and his little daughter.

My concern is that immigrants, who are in these situations, who want to bring elderly parents, many of whom are not well and need family to care for them and to be with them, or who want to bring their children or their spouse to Canada, already have such a difficult time. By loading up the queue, so to speak, with new categories of entrants, new categories of people who are able to make an application to come to Canada, we have to think about the impact on those who are already in the queue. That is a tremendous concern to many citizens and immigrants who are already trying to get close family members into Canada.

Both my colleague in the New Democratic Party and the government member, the parliamentary secretary, spoke of the lack of resources in our system. It is a real concern for all of us. The lack of resources are impacting newcomers to Canada very severely.

We all know that settlement services continually are cut back. That really means newcomers to Canada do not have the kind of language training they require. Newcomers to Canada do not get the employment counselling that is so important to them. There is a lack of resources in housing, so we have cities like Vancouver and Toronto where the housing costs are so horrendous that newcomers find it difficult to establish themselves and their families.

Resources are being cut back for counselling overseas. It used to be that our people at missions abroad would take at least a half hour with everyone intending to come to Canada and counsel them on things like the climate, the tax system and some of the cultural expectations when it came to disciplining children, which is a huge concern for newcomers to Canada. They would give them some idea for what they needed to prepared.

Now, because of lack of resources and the huge backlog, individuals are simply pushed through the queue without having the kind of preparation that is so important. When they come to Canada, they find that their family members are so busy and tied up in making a living and establishing themselves that the extra help we want to give immigrants simply is not available to them.

Therefore, we need to think very clearly about whether loading the system further really will be a benefit to newcomers in Canada, to families in Canada and to our country or whether it simply will exacerbate the problems that in my opinion ought to be fixed first.

Once in a lifetime has been suggested but that is a very arbitrary limit. Why is it only once in a lifetime? If we are to open up a new category, why would it only be once in a lifetime? We will have some tremendous problems in administering that.

An immigration lawyer, who was the former head of the Canadian Bar Association immigration subsection, said to me that immigrants were able to sponsor a relative with a one page document, supported by another one page document their about financial resources, but now there was different criteria for specific countries and it was a bureaucratic nightmare.

I would suggest we need to start streamlining our system so there is not such a nightmare for people wanting to come to Canada, before we add to categories of sponsorship. We also want to ensure that we have the resources to care for and establish people in our country so they can succeed very quickly, as many of them work hard to do but the tools are not there for them.

My colleague knows that one of the real concerns we all have in the House, from all parties, is the lack of recognition of foreign credentials. We have horror stories of people coming to our country and not being able to establish themselves in their trade and profession such that they can really succeed. They struggle to survive at low paying jobs.

I have a constituent who was brought to Canada because he had two masters degrees: one in education and one in science. He taught ESL in his country of origin and was very fluent in English. He found to his horror and dismay when he got to Canada, and no one had told him this, that he could not teach. He is now working stocking vending machines, with two masters degrees.

These situations need to be looked after. They need to be cleaned up and cleared up before we bring more people in to suffer the same frustrations that so many others have experienced.

While I applaud my colleague and her generosity of spirit, which I think is shared by all Canadians, I think in practical ways we need to clean up our system to make it more effective and efficient before we add to the categories of sponsorship.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are certain debates in this House that require making decisions in the light of a particular context and realities that cannot be ignored. Today, I have the opportunity to speak on a question that demands serious thought in order to arrive at our position. Here we see reason clashing with passion.

Bill C-436, sponsored by the hon. member for Vancouver East, seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment reads as follows:

Subject to the regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may, once in their lifetime, sponsor one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.

We are well acquainted with the hon. member for Vancouver East. This proposal reflects her humanitarianism and her great generosity. We commend her on the spirit behind this bill.

Unfortunately, we cannot support her bill as it is currently formulated. Three major reasons underlie our position: the lack of clarity of Bill C-436; immigration priorities, particularly Canada's role in refugee protection; and finally, budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.

What do we mean when we say that the hon. NDP member's proposal lacks clarity? What does she mean by a “foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class”? What are the acceptable limits of the definition of “a relative”? For example, is a third cousin counted as a relative? Is there a requirement that they share a genetic ancestor and, if so, to what percentage? What is the dividing line between an acceptable relative and one who is not, if the list of admissible persons has not been defined?

We easily see that there is a great deal of room for arbitrary decisions. If the hon. member wishes to broaden the family class to include other specific family members, she should state that in her bill, because without that, it is too vague and does not make it possible to determine which cases are admissible and which are not.

For example, we know that certain cultures consider family much more broadly than blood relations. For some people, a very close friend or neighbour is like a brother or at least like a member of the family.

The current list of persons admissible in the family class is already well defined. How could we justify an amendment this far-reaching without including some limits?

That way, the hon. member should be able to show how many people would be affected by this new measure. Has she any credible and relevant studies on this? For now, we can only presume that this kind of proposal would have allowed 229,091 additional sponsorship applications in 2002.

This piece of the pie, which is Canada's immigration plan, is split 60-40. In other words, immigrants are selected as follows: 60% are economic immigrants, meaning business people, and self-employed and skilled workers; the remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.

Of this 40%, approximately 30% are family class immigrants, 10% are refugees, and 1% other. If the number of individuals who qualify for family class is increased, who will pay? Since the total is split 60-40, asylum seekers will clearly pay the price of these new measures.

Those members interested in reducing the 60% should remember that, before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought over, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada as part of the 60% in the economic class. So, this proposal, which would reduce that percentage, does little to improve the situation.

With respect to the 40%, headlines show deportation cases for asylum seekers being dismissed almost every week. Clearly, the numerous conflicts and civil wars in a growing number of countries—Colombia, Algeria, Palestine, Israel, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan—should make democratic countries pay closer attention to refugee claimants. Every year, small budgets cause Canada to turn away thousands of asylum seekers whose lives are in danger in their country of origin. With bigger budgets, Canada could further meet its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention with respect to protecting refugees.

By allowing more immigrants to sponsor relatives, we are using resources that could save lives by accepting more asylum seekers. Politics and public administration are no exception, as with daily life we have to make responsible choices while taking various constraints into account. Would it be better to bring a distant cousin to Canada or offer asylum to a Colombian family whose members might be tortured or killed if they were returned to Colombia? In an ideal world we could do both, but for now this is not possible.

Although the humanitarian intent of the NDP member is praiseworthy, her bill does not take into consideration the realities of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's budget.

Canada's immigration objective is to admit the equivalent of 1% of the Canadian population, or 310,000 immigrants annually. There are two key reasons for this: compensating for the recorded drop in population and filling the need for skilled workers, particularly with economic category immigrants.

In 2002, Canada admitted 229,091 immigrants, compared to the 2001 figure of 250,484. The drop was in part a result of the department's inability to process any more because of budget restraints and the costs related to settlement and integration. It is not enough just to admit people into the country; it is also important to ensure that they receive proper services for a smooth integration into the host society.

This past spring, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's trip across Canada gave us a good idea of the inadequate funds available for settlement of newcomers and the unfortunate consequences of this situation. The quality of services to new arrivals is as important as, if not more important than the quantity of newcomers. What is the point of bringing in distant cousins and neighbours, if we are not even in a position to properly service those already here in Quebec and in Canada?

It is important to clearly understand that the Bloc Quebecois recognizes the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-436, and if the hon. member agrees to take it back to the drawing board and fine tune her proposal, particularly by improving its focus and clarifying those who would be eligible, it is possible that we might support it when time comes to vote. For the moment, however, common sense and responsibility dictate that we instead favour providing proper settlement services for those who are admitted. As well, our humanitarian duty toward asylum seekers requires us to afford them priority when resources are being allocated. For them it is often a matter of life or death. As the old saying has it, “You should not bite off more than you can chew”. We are better to not bite off so much that we develop problems later.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to take part in the debate on this important and interesting bill.

In principle, I believe the member for Vancouver East has her heart in the right place and the bill has the right intent. I have a lot of questions to ask about the bill which I will bring up later on in my remarks.

First of all, I wish to thank this country for having a family sponsorship program because I would not be standing here today if that sponsorship program had not been put in place. In fact, I would not be in Canada at all if it were not for the program. However, if it was not for the Chinese Exclusion Act, I would have probably been in this country a lot earlier.

Using myself as an example, I am actually a third generation Canadian by immigration because my family was excluded from this country. When my father came here, he just escaped the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. It was not repealed until 1947. That tax was put in by the Liberal government of the day. I came in the fifties under the family reunification program. The doors were opened and people were allowed to come to this country to join their families.

It is important that we be serious about family unification. All the excuses I heard this morning throughout the debate were just that, excuses. I do not think there is anyone in this House who does not have a relative or who does not know someone personally who came to this country through the family sponsorship program at one time or another, if not in the last decade, certainly 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

We believe that families are the foundation of this country. Who built this country? It was built by families and immigrants who came here, certainly the first and second generations. They came here not to use the country and ask for hand-outs. They came here to contribute to this country, much like the pioneers of the early days in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. We must not forget that.

We believe that uniting families is important. It is just like our own immediate families. That is how important it is. Imagine being separated from them for decades and not being able to have them come home: our own children, our nephews and nieces. If we were to put a reality perspective on it, I think most members in the House would agree that it makes sense.

I do not believe immigrants or their family members want to come here for a free ride. They want to come to contribute and help this country grow. That is why conditions need to be put in place.

I had a private member's bill put together on the same topic back in February 2002. I did not take the time to table it. In that bill, I qualified the definition of citizen making an application. A qualified citizen meant a person who had been a Canadian citizen for 25 years or more. In other words, people had to show credibility. They had to have contributed to this country, to its growth, and to its success.

Under section (b) qualified citizens would have to satisfy the minister of their ability to provide for the necessities of life and fulfill the legal obligation of a person sponsored under section 2.2 for 10 years following the person's arrival in Canada, either financially, partly financially or partly in time, and undertake in the prescribed manner to do so, if necessary. Also, that the qualified citizen had not previously sponsored a qualified person under that same section. In other words, the citizen had to guarantee that the family member or individual would be looked after, not at the expense of the country, but at the expense of the sponsor.

When we look at families that probably makes sense and is rational, because if we want family members to be here then we should be obligated to look after them.

On the numbers side, even according to the Liberal records, roughly 25% of family members who come to this country annually are sponsored under the family class. This year we are looking at something like 44,227, which met 75% of the target. When the Liberal target is something like 300,000, 1% or roughly a quarter million is the annual average, 44,000 is not a lot of people.

If we put in a qualifier in terms of who is qualified to make the sponsorship, I do not believe we would get an onslaught of applications. First, as I indicated, people should have been citizens who have helped generate wealth in this country for 25 years, which is a number I picked out of the air. We could make it 10 years if it would be more applicable. I do not believe we would get a huge onslaught.

It is so ironic that the Liberal government over the last 10 years has wanted to take the credit for all the immigration numbers, as the member for Vancouver East alluded to earlier in her speech. In the 10 years the Liberals have been in power they have actually lowered immigration levels. That is hard to believe. They are the ones who have been promoting that it should be 1% or 300,000 people. The intent of their proposal is that all these new immigrants will vote Liberal. They are more interested in their vote than how they will contribute to the creation of wealth in this country.

Over the last 10 years the Liberals have actually lowered immigration levels in the range of 232,000 to 257,000 in the last three years. During the last three years of the former Progressive Conservative government, they were actually a lot larger. In fact in 1992-93 immigration levels were about 0.9% of the population and right now they are just over 0.7%. How does the Liberal government explain that? It has been the government for the last 10 years that has promoted immigration and yet the actual levels of immigration are less than they were in 1992-93.

In principle I agree with the intent of the bill. I know that with the diverse population base, the people who are watching this debate, I am sure, support the bill. Diversity and family reunification creates wealth but it has to be done in a qualified and right way.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I for one could not be more proud or honoured to be a seconder for the bill introduced by the member for Vancouver East regarding family reunification.

Her idea of once in a lifetime, where new Canadians who would otherwise be unable to sponsor a family class member would, under the bill, be able to do such a thing. The bill meets a need that I am certain has been brought to the attention of virtually every member of Parliament in the House. Who among us has not had people come to our offices who wish to reunite with a family member but who find the rules so restrictive that they are unable to do so?

I believe it is the position of the hon. member for Vancouver East, and I concur, that the current rules under family reunification fail to recognize the reality of many traditional cultures from source countries, from immigrants who have extended families who perhaps live in a far closer network than we are used to in North America.

I can use, as an example, one case I know of quite well where a non-married aunt in a family unit actually was the primary caregiver for the children when both of the parents were out of the house scraping by to earn an income. This reference is from the Philippines. The aunt raised the children in that case. It was very important for those children, who now reside in Canada, to bring that family member to Canada to join them as she was reaching her senior years. That would be one case in point where the current rules do not accurately address the reality of the family structure in the source immigration countries. The hon. member's bill is sensitive to that issue.

Other members from other parties have raised details as to why this may be a problem in terms of resources. I do not accept that by allowing the hon. member's bill to go forward it would open the floodgates and cause a rush of immigration that our system would not be able to handle, for the simple reason that her bill does not change anything else in terms of who would be eligible and how a person would qualify. The sponsoring family, or the sponsoring new Canadian, would still have to meet the very onerous issues regarding income and the financial aspects to the current system.

One of the biggest barriers to more family reunification into the inner city of Winnipeg is that we are held to the same standard in terms of the amount of annual income the sponsor must have in order to sponsor another person. It, more than anything, is the barrier to more family reunification sponsorship.

I believe, as I think all members here recognize, that the family reunification aspect of our immigration system is one of the key pillars on which our system is built. I would wholly support this measure which I believe would enable more families to sponsor more immigrants without putting an undue burden on the current system or adding to what I do accept is an unreasonable backlog.

I have often heard the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration deny that there is a backlog in the system. That is simply putting one's head in the sand. The previous minister said, in a very creative way, that it was not a backlog but a waiting list. Whether it is a backlog or a waiting list, it has the same net effect that people are waiting years.

I will point out one other basic unfairness in the existing system that the hon. member's bill would recognize. While people are waiting in this country to get their earnings up to a sufficient point to sponsor, for instance, a child from the Philippines, that child may pass the age of 18, or the current age of 22. As the years tick away, this family has to make the most gut wrenching choice of their lives, which child to sponsor at which time, while the child is getting older. Ten years can go by before the new Canadian can get the earning capability to sponsor enough of their family members to truly reunify that family and by then the person may be over 22 years old.

In the case of this simple rule change, that family could now sponsor that 25 year old adult child who was no less valued but was forced to be separated from the family unit for whatever reason in terms of the way that the family came to this country.

This is an issue of basic fairness. It creates opportunities. It does not create an undue burden, I believe, on the system. I wish more members would realize that.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from October 31 consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-6, an act to establish the Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims to provide for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims and to make related amendments to other acts.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

November 3rd, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I assume we have moved on to Bill C-6 and we can commence from there. However I wonder if we could have quorum in the House first. I have some important things to say and wonder if that could be established before I commence my speech.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Obviously there is not a quorum. The bells shall not ring for more than 15 minutes.

And the count having been taken:

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

We have quorum.