House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

moved that Bill C-272, 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 pleased to speak today to my private member's bill, Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I would like to acknowledge the help and support of my colleague from Vancouver East and pay tribute to her hard work, especially on immigration issues. She and her staff have worked tirelessly for family reunification and her bills from previous parliaments have paved the way for this bill.

As well, the commitments in the bill are a key component of the NDP platform from the recent federal election. This has been a long-standing commitment of the New Democratic Party and I know it was important to our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, as well as to my colleague from Winnipeg North and my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh in the recent campaign, something that people in their ridings were particularly interested in and found particularly important.

Family reunification is a key objective of our current immigration law, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, sometimes called IRPA. Section 3 of the act says that one of IRPA's goals is “to see families are reunited in Canada”. With regard to the refugee program, section 4 of IRPA says that an objective should be “to support the self-sufficiency and the social and economic well-being of refugees by facilitating reunification with their family members in Canada”.

Family reunification is particularly important to refugees given the experience of dislocation that their families have experienced when they became a refugee. This bill and the whole discussion of family reunification is of particular importance to refugees in Canada.

Family reunification is a cornerstone of immigration policy in Canada because it recognizes that families are key to building this nation. That is the way immigration has always functioned in Canada. Families bring the important multicultural values. The family is the focus for multiculturalism that is now so important to our national understanding of who we are as Canadians.

Bill C-272 is very important, not only for people in my riding, but for people across Canada. It would allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative who does not fit into the current definition of the family class under IRPA to come to Canada.

IRPA currently defines the following as a family member: a spouse, a common-law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years old; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student and is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled, a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under 18 and is not a spouse or a common-law partner; and one relative of any age if there are no family members who fall into the above categories.

My bill would expand the definitions in the family class and allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident once in their lifetime to sponsor a son or a daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependant, who is independent in other words, an aunt or an uncle, a brother or a sister, a niece or nephew and a first cousin.

The bill is similar to one debated in the last Parliament which was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver East. However there has been a crucial improvement. We listened to the concerns expressed by the members in the debate then and have made changes.

The old bill did not define “relatives” but left it completely open so that any relative might be sponsored. At the time, while there was significant interest from other members in the ideas contained in the bill, members were concerned that this definition was far too broad. That is why we have been much more explicit in delineating just which relatives are eligible for this once in a lifetime sponsorship. We have acted on the concerns that members expressed in the debate and hope that this makes the bill something that they can accept and support fully.

I would like to talk a little about why this bill is so vital. It is because the bill has one main aim and that is simply to reunite families: families who have spent years apart, families who never had the chance to be together, who never had the chance to live and settle near each other, and families for whom separation is a daily reality. We would like to ease some of that heartache and stress.

In my riding, there are families who have not seen a loved one for years and who have no hope of being united. This is both unfair and unacceptable. As I have pointed out, a stated goal at the heart of Canada's immigration policy is the desire to reunite families, but despite this goal, immigration legislation has created a narrow definition of family. The family class must be expanded because it is simply too restrictive.

Family structures are complicated and varied. Many people in my riding can attest that a brother can be as close to a person as a grandfather and an aunt can mean as much to someone as a parent. The current family class does not respect how our families work today. It does not recognize family histories, cultural differences or changing times. The current family class definition excludes family members who surely we would all consider close.

Let us take, for instance, the requirement that a child must be under 22 years of age to be sponsored. This line of 22 years of age seems entirely arbitrary. For parents, their sons or daughters never stop being their children, and for children, no matter what age they are and no matter how financially independent they may be, separation from their parents can be difficult. A parent never stops caring for a child, no matter how old the child is. Being a parent is a lifelong commitment. It does not stop simply because a child moves out, gets married, has his or her own child, gets a job or moves to another country.

I know many members will recognize this as I say it. At no matter what stage they are in their lives, whether they are buying a house, having a child, going through a difficult patch, getting a job or losing a job, our children always need our support, and in later years we hope children will be there to support their parents. That is how our society functions. Expanding the definition of family to allow parents to sponsor their adult children to immigrate to Canada can be of great benefit to families and to our society.

I hear stories from my constituents which I am sure are familiar to most MPs. People tell me that they have completed their families, their children have moved out and their partners have perhaps passed on, and they would like to be reunited with a brother or sister who might be in another country and in the same situation they are. This bill would allow them that opportunity, the opportunity for companionship, friendship and mutual support. Above all, it would allow them the opportunity to be with their loved ones.

On a more practical note, another of the positive aspects of the bill is that it would help Canada reach its yearly immigration target. The government acknowledges that the target for immigration to Canada should be 1% of our population per year. That would put it at somewhere around 325,000 if we use the current population statistics, and yet we never reach that goal. In 2003 approximately 221,000 new immigrants were welcomed into Canada. That is only 66% of the target number, which means we are not doing very well. We have not ever really managed to reach that target of 1% of the population.

The government also acknowledges that by the year 2011 immigration will be the only source of growth for Canada's labour force. By 2026 to 2030, the government also notes, any population growth in Canada will come solely from immigration. These are significant changes in our employment and population base. We need to make sure we have the base to work from to ensure that jobs are filled in Canada and there is the population base to support our important programs and our way of life in Canada.

We need to encourage immigration to Canada. We need to be looking forward to those important markers that are not too far off in the distant future. We need to build the foundations for those changes now. What better foundation can there be than family reunification?

I know we will hear from some members that the bill would only increase the backlog of immigration applications. I do not want to do anything that would further delay applications which in many cases already take far too long to process. This backlog has haunted us for years, but it exists only because the government refuses to put the necessary resources into the department. Rather than government addressing the needs of Canadian families and Canadian society, there have been cutbacks and shortfalls and wait times are often therefore unacceptable, but this can be addressed should the government choose to or should it have the political will to make those changes.

The existence of this backlog should in no way be used to squelch the legitimate hopes of families for reunification or the important needs of Canadian society. I think it is interesting to hear the government refer to this backlog as the inventory of applications. The inventory could certainly be reduced and it is probable that we are carrying far too high an immigration inventory given the hopes and needs of Canadian society and Canadian families.

Family sponsorship comes with a promise. Under this program, sponsors promise to support family members who come to Canada, for three to ten years depending on their relationship. This means that families bear a huge part of the cost of reunification themselves.

I do recognize that there are settlement costs and language training costs, but the fact remains that there can be no better group to ensure the effective integration of new immigrants into Canadian society than their already established Canadian families. This is a win-win-win situation: for families, for Canadian society and for new immigrants.

Nothing can be better than to be welcomed at the airport or at a port of entry by family members, who then take home these new immigrants and help establish them in Canadian society. They can help them with living arrangements, job requirements and the cultural differences that they will no doubt face as they integrate into Canadian society. This is the best way to ensure that people integrate into our society and take their full place as participating members of society.

Canadian families want to be reunited with their family members. All too often they experience the definition of family in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as arbitrary and exclusive. They do not see it as appropriately reflecting the complex relationships that comprise their own families.

The bill seeks to recognize those realities and expand the possibilities for family reunification under IRPA. This would have obvious benefits for families but it would have benefits for Canadian society too. Canada needs immigration. It will need an even larger number of immigrants in the coming decades. We must ensure our ability to welcome the best immigrants possible. We must ensure that we maintain our place in the worldwide competition for immigrants, the competition that we have with Australia and with the United States. To do that, we must ensure that our immigration legislation recognizes the hopes and realities of families.

I think this bill would be an important contribution to Canada's immigration law. It would be an important expansion of the understanding of what family means in our immigration act. I hope hon. members will support the bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his remarks and congratulate him on introducing into the House a bill that would alter our immigration framework or at least the numbers in our immigration intake.

I do not disagree with his description of the sentiments surrounding family and the desire of families to have close family members reunited either in Canada or in the country of origin. We can all relate to that.

In his remarks, however, he has not addressed a couple of other fundamental pieces of the immigration program. He has mentioned the current pipeline of applicant immigrants at about three-quarters of a million people. No matter what we do, we will have people who will want to come to Canada, hopefully, but the member has not addressed the need to maintain on a policy basis the 40:60 balance between family class and economic immigrants. The government and Parliament have accepted the 40:60 balance as being suited to Canada. Expanding the family class as he suggests would throw that balance out of kilter.

Second, although the member wants to increase the annual immigration levels, he has not addressed the ability of the receiving communities to take substantial new numbers of immigrants. These are Canadian communities that take in the immigrants and he has not addressed this at all in regard to if there were to be a substantial increase in the volume of immigration and/or family class immigrants.

I am wondering if the member could at least acknowledge that these are issues even if he might be unprepared to address them in detail.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to address both issues.

With regard to the 40:60 balance between family class and economic or skilled worker immigrants, that was not always the balance between family class and skilled workers. Only in recent years have we had that 40:60 balance.

I think a lot of Canadians will appreciate that family class immigration really is the foundation of building a nation, even more so than economic immigrants. I do not want to downplay the importance of having skilled workers coming here to address certain economic needs, but it is family that really builds this nation. I think that is the important part of our immigration policy. I would not mind if that balance shifted, if there were some change. I believe that Canadians want to see that kind of change as well, given the overwhelming importance of family and family reunification.

With regard to the ability of communities to settle new immigrants and to deal with the immigrants who arrive on our shores, I think the indications are nothing but positive when it comes to their willingness and ability to integrate new immigrants into our communities.

One great example of that is the private refugee sponsorship program, where there are actually people waiting for years to take part in the settlement process for refugees and help them and their families integrate fully into the community. There is a huge waiting list of people who want to undertake that kind of responsibility. They want to find those opportunities for people in their communities, settle them in, get them to work, get them into appropriate living quarters, and help them to understand the aspects of Canadian culture that may be new to them. I think those possibilities are all there.

I also believe that study after study has shown that immigration is a positive for the Canadian economy. When new people come to Canada, they need housing, appliances, a car perhaps, or they need to use public transit. All those things stimulate our economy and ensure that Canada has a healthy economy going into the future.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for bringing this issue to the House. I am going to add to the comments of my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River. I know that members on this side examined this very proposition that the member has proposed, which is to have a once in a lifetime sponsorship. Issues along the lines that my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River raised were highlighted, but there was another one as well and I wonder if the member has looked at it.

That is, if there is a once in a lifetime sponsorship, there is a sort of geometric effect, because new Canadians can then sponsor someone. We would have a geometric growth in sponsorship of the family class, which could become quite a challenge. I wonder if he has actually looked at that and projected the numbers on what the impact would be into the future.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just cannot conceal my enthusiasm for giving people that chance, that chance to make sure that the people who are important to them and make up their family are here.

Yes, it will mean an increase in the immigration level, but we are only meeting 66% of the target that the government sets now. Why does the government consistently miss that target? Why can it meet its targets in other areas like deficit reduction or debt reduction, let us say, but not the target around reuniting families in Canada?

I think it is time we put as much effort into that target as we do with these other targets. If we did that, we would go a long way to ensuring that families have the people who are most important to them, who are closest to them and who supported them in Canada here with them.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-272, a private member's bill before the House. I am grateful because it is important to recognize the initiatives of individual parliamentarians. I know that the parliamentarian who has sponsored this bill here today is well intentioned, but I have some thoughts on this bill.

I am speaking not only as a parliamentarian and a member of the House but also as an immigrant to Canada. I am now a Canadian citizen, but my family and I immigrated from the Mediterranean island of Malta. I am certainly very grateful to this country for everything it has provided to me and my own children.

The bill seeks to amend Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by granting every citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor, once in the sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class. The concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed whether such a provision would be workable for very many years now. All of us believe in the principle of strengthening the family class and making it easier for people to sponsor loved ones who now live abroad. However, the one time sponsorship option as presented in Bill C-272 is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Past experience indicates that even with more resources, the increase in backlogs and processing time for this and other categories of immigrants that could be generated by such an open-ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and the credibility of the whole immigration program. The bill before us today addresses one of the many shortcomings of earlier legislation from another honourable member by defining an eligible relative as a brother or sister of the sponsor, an aunt or uncle, nephew or niece, first cousin or child of the sponsor who is 22 years of age or older, and is not dependent upon the sponsor.

However, past experience indicates that such an expansion of the family class would be unsustainable, unmanageable, and seriously impede the government's ability to uphold the will of Parliament by maintaining the current sixty-forty mix of economic to non-economic immigration. This has also been noted by other parliamentarians in the House.

In 1988, family intake nearly doubled over two years, thanks to a similar arrangement to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. The escalated number of backlogs rising out of that program, despite its termination in 1993, is still having an impact and effect on the Department of Citizenship and Immigration even today.

We have already made provision for processing applications from relatives who would not normally fall under the family class, under certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems. Canadians and permanent residents today can sponsor a relative, regardless of relationship or age, if they have no family residing in Canada or abroad. Section 117(1)(h) of the new immigration and refugee protection regulations defines a foreign national as a member of the family class with respect to a sponsor if he or she is “a relative of the sponsor, regardless of age, if the sponsor does not have a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner”, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.

In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class, if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist. Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.

The government passed a series of new regulations in 2002 to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad, and significantly expanded the family class in a well managed and sustainable way, even though I and other colleagues in the House still have backlog problems with this department.

These changes provided for equal treatment under the law for common-law couples of the opposite and same sex by expanding the family class to include the term “common-law partners and conjugal partners”. They also expand the definition of dependent child to better reflect longer child dependencies. They reduce the age at which Canadians citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years of age.

These enhancements to the family class reflect the government's policy intention of easing family reunification while ensuring that the immigration program itself maintains an appropriate balance between the intake of refugees as well as economic and family class immigrants. We have expanded the family class in a well planned and responsible way. The government has also made provision for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.

I find it difficult to support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will not vote in favour of what I still consider a flawed scheme as set out in Bill C-272.

I also know that in every community there is stress on the receiving end for municipalities and other levels of government that must put the programs in place. I see it in some of the relocation and training programs, whether it is skills or language. We want to properly resource on location when people come to this country. I think we do have a proper balance in this country. There could be more resources so that the system could run smoother.

I thank the hon. member for bringing this up. He has good intentions. I know he contributes in a meaningful way in the House and will continue to do so. With regard to this situation and in these particular set of circumstances, I do not agree with him, but there may be another time when I will.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to my colleague's bill. I sit with my colleague on the immigration committee. I have conceived a great respect for my colleague and for his knowledge of the immigration system. His heart is for people and I know that is what motivates his bill today.

The issue before us is whether there is a hardship for newcomers in not being able to bring family members to Canada who are not normally in the family class. Also, whether that hardship should be addressed by the measures that my colleague has put forward. This is an important question. Canada is a country of compassion. It is a country that believes in the family unit.

The issues are whether this would be in the best interests of the country and whether it would be in the best interests of newcomers and their families. That is the area I would like to address in my remarks this morning.

First of all, I think it is fair to point out that the people who are already in the immigration and citizenship system are dealing with some very severe stresses and frustrations. We know, for example, that there are, as has already been mentioned, lengthy time lines for processing people already in the queue.

The time lines are not only lengthy, but they are often exceeded. The official word on how long it is going to take to process an application is exceeded sometimes by years, not just months. There are almost a million people in the queue lined up to receive their entrance to Canada, with many of these in the family class. The hardship and the heartache that is caused by these long line-ups is a real concern to all members of Parliament. We see it and we hear it every day.

One of the questions we have to ask ourselves is, would the hardship and the frustration, already experienced by people in the queue, be exacerbated to a large degree, to an unacceptable degree, by expanding the class to involve many more people?

Unfortunately, I believe the answer to that is yes. If every person in Canada who is either a citizen or a permanent resident were to bring in or sponsor another individual, this would involve many millions of people. Canada is a country built by immigration. Many of us, myself included, were not born in Canada and have family members in other countries, and perhaps would like to have them come to our country.

It seems to me that we are setting up people for a lot of disappointment, a lot of grief, and a lot more frustration if we expand a system that is already stumbling and struggling, to process and respond to the people who are already in the system. We know that the officials in our system are struggling. We must be conscious of the load on these individuals.

I have been a member of Parliament now for 11 years. I used to obtain a very quick response from CIC officials, both at the local level and at the Ottawa level. That has now changed. It has changed not because these officials have changed. They are still the same good, hardworking people they always were. However, the load on them is increasing and the resources for them are decreasing.

My colleague says that the answer is to give more resources. That is only part of the puzzle. The resources would have to be significantly beefed up in a whole bunch of areas, not only the number of officials. These officials must be trained and given the proper infrastructure.

The people coming to Canada must be given more settlement programs. My colleague knows that we are talking in committee about the terrible situation where people come to Canada and cannot get a process given to them whereby they can upgrade their international credentials and experience, so that they can practice their trade and profession in Canada. Unless that is addressed, we again have a terrible situation where people are frustrated and harmed. Our whole settlement process and process for credentials needs a sharp and complete upgrade.

We also have difficulty in getting good information to people. There are so many parts of our system that need to be completely overhauled, focused and made better in order to serve. It would be so unkind to bring many millions more people into a system that is already failing those who are here.

I have a question for my colleague, and maybe he will address it later. Sometimes people from other countries come to Canada both for opportunities for themselves and to get a new start. Would his bill create a feeling of obligation in newcomers to sponsor a family member not presently in the family class who might be unwelcome to some newcomers?

Members of my family have moved to jobs in other parts of the world. One is in Hong Kong and the other in England. I would not want to say that they were trying to get away from us, but sometimes people need their own space and life. Maybe we should think about whether we want to create in the minds of some an obligation to bring in other family members, which would not be there presently.

It is just a thought I had. Our current system sometimes allows, in special circumstances, members of families who are not in the present family class to come in under humanitarian and compassionate grounds or on grounds under section 127. Is that not sufficient to address the strong needs of people, newcomers, to bring in family members outside the family class without creating such a wide system that can put extra pressure on families instead of helping them?

I really believe this is a good debate. It is a debate that we want to have. We have a very generous heart toward bringing people to Canada, both to augment our workforce and to reunify families. However, in this case, when we have some labour shortage needs, where a lot of the motivation for our immigration program is to enhance our economic viability and workforce and our ability to compete in the international marketplace, we must remember the balance of those needs with the kinds of issues about which my colleagues has spoken, as far as expanding family class opportunities. This is a serious debate. We need more facts and more figures too on exactly what would be in Canada's best interest as far as defining our immigration needs, our immigration focus and our immigration priorities.

I welcome the debate my colleague has opened up to the House. I believe at this point the problems in our system are such that they are the highest priority. We must get a system that works well for the people already in it before we expand that to many millions more, only to have them experience the frustrations and the disappointment that others already have when they have sought to enter our country.

I know we will learn a great deal from the debate. Again, I commend my colleague for opening it. At this point, I would not recommend supporting his initiative, but the issues that are raised and the discussion of them will be very helpful to us.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas for giving us the opportunity to talk about Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

It is a pleasure to consider again a motion that has already been discussed in the House. We are pleased to see that our recommendations were heard and have led to measures to remedy the lack of clarity the bill originally suffered from.

Our greatest reservation was that the concept of family was vague. This concept has been defined, and this has greatly improved the bill under consideration today.

I remind the House that, for refugees who have found protection in Canada, one of their most pressing concerns is their families, who currently must wait an extremely long time abroad. There are long delays and so many people must live separated, against their will, from their closest family members.

It is understandable that they are so eager to be re-united. Being refugees adds to their worries. In many cases, family members were left in precarious and even dangerous situations. As long as their loved ones are in danger, refugees cannot enjoy the security they have found in Canada.

At a time when we applaud the speed at which information travels around the world, we are frequently presented with the same atrocities that these individuals have fled. Members can understand how distress can grow and push many of these people into despair. The government encourages the reunification of families but we must consider the day-to-day reality of those who are waiting, in order to understand,.

I would underscore the depth of love demonstrated by those waiting for their file to receive approval.

All too often, the experiences of refugees trying to bring their families here are at painful odds with the good intentions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and of the civil servants applying it. The tales of these refugees reflect a cruelty that is a disgrace to Canada and that, we believe, would be considered unacceptable by the vast majority of Canadians if they were to learn what refugees face.

In half of all asylum claims, it takes over 13 months to process the claims of family members. One out of five cases takes over 26 months. At the slowest visa office, 50% of all cases take more than 27 months. Some refugees wait much longer than that.

When asked about the consequences of slow processing, the Canadian Council for Refugees indicated the following:

The long delays prolong risks to family members overseas, who may be in conflict zones orrefugee camps. Families are often subject to the same risk of persecution that caused theirspouse or parent to be granted Canada’s protection. Living conditions may endanger their healthand the children’s education, leading to increased social costs when they finally come to Canada. Psychologically, the toll of such long separations is heavy. Many refugees say that their familymembers suspect them of not wanting them to come, because they cannot believe that a countrylike Canada could be so inefficient in its processing. Families that finally reunite after years ofseparation face the stress of trying to live together after having grown apart. Some families’ tiesdon’t survive.

Since this bill will, among other things, contribute to reconstituting a group of persons that will bring stability to life and help people move on to the happier times of integration and making a contribution to society, the House must support this motion.

Protection of the family is an obligation upon society and the state, according to the international human rights texts ratified by Canada. The Universal Declaration of Human RIghts stipulates that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

Similar terms are repeated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 10(1) states that “The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains very explicit provisions regarding the reunification of refugee families. Article 9, paragraph 1 reads:

States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.—

Article 10, paragraph 1 reads:

In accordance with the obligation of States Parties under article 9, paragraph 1, applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.—

That demonstrates how important this motion is in relation to the role Canada claims to play on the international scene, with respect to the protection of refugees and the rights of children. Thus, the choice facing the House is unequivocal and leads us to some important reflection on the family.

As for the priority given to refugee claimants, Canada's immigration plan is divided in a 60:40 ratio, which means that immigrants are selected in the following way: 60% of our immigration comes from the economic category, that is, business people, self-employed and skilled workers, and the other 40% involves family reunification, refugees and others.

Of the 40%, 30% involves family reunification, 9% is refugees and 1% is others.

Almost every week the headlines tell us of the deportation of refugee claimants who have been refused. Clearly, the many conflicts and civil wars being waged in a growing number of countries make it necessary for democratic countries to listen more attentively to refugee claimants. Inappropriate funding mean that Canada refuses thousands of refugee claimants every year, although their lives are in danger in their home countries. With bigger budgets, Canada could better honour its obligations as a signatory to the Geneva convention on refugee protection.

Insufficient resources is the major problem with the whole immigration issue. Insufficient resources for immigration is the reason we support this bill in order to have the opportunity to discuss it in committee. In fact, if it is passed at second reading, there will have to be a debate in committee and we would then be in a position to prove that the Department of CItizenship and Immigration is incapable of meeting its responsibilities because of insufficient funds.

By recognizing the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-272, and by accepting its referral to a committee, the Bloc Quebecois would help prove that common sense and responsibility dictate that we ask for sufficient funding to provide proper settlement services for those who are admitted, while not ignoring our humanitarian duty to asylum seekers. They must be given priority access to resources.

No one wants families of refugees to remain separated. International standards in human rights advocate speedy reunification. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act aims at reuniting families. We need to bring meaning back to the expression “human compassion”, far too often rendered meaningless by acts that are not consistent with the family reunification programs. The social costs of prolonged periods of separation must not be forgotten in our decision. Let us work together on reducing the wait times starting today.

The government has tried to speed up family reunification by making a few minor amendments to its policies. Unfortunately, these efforts have not resolved the problem. The time has come for change.

I call on this House to support Bill C-272.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on a bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Burnaby--Douglas.

This is the second time the New Democratic Party has introduced legislation to convince Parliament of the importance of expanding the definition of family for the purpose of family reunification under our immigration program. This issue of vital importance to new Canadians who are here and established and to the country as a whole.

I understand from the debate to this point that there are some real concerns on the part of Conservative and Liberal members. I hope to be able to persuade them to see the wisdom of at least allowing for a further review of this critical issue so that a thorough vetting can take place at committee level and so that Canadians who have real expertise in this area will have their voices heard and considered.

This is a matter of great importance for immigrants now in Canada because nothing is stronger than the bonds of family. Nothing makes more sense in terms of building a community and a country than allowing new Canadians who are established here to bring in close family relatives.

As part of this approach, we are asking Parliament not to judge what constitutes family and not to apply a narrow cultural definition of family. We are asking Parliament to look at this from the point of view of people around the world who see family on a broad basis, who see family encompassing many relatives within that unit as part of the support they give one another and as part of the bonds of love that exist within that unit.

We are pleading with parliamentarians today to recognize that family is more than the typical nuclear two parent, a couple of kids and a house with a white picket fence. We are saying to parliamentarians that for many new Canadians it is critically important to have sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who are over the age of 22 with them here in this country.

On that point, I should remind the House that there are many in the system who are now ineligible to join with family because the system is backlogged. The process may have been started when they were 9 or 10 years of age but they were not able to get into the country, and now, because they are over the age of 22, they are automatically excluded. Is there no justice when it comes to uniting families in terms of brothers, sisters, sons and daughters? That is just one element of what is wrong with our current system.

Equally important, let us not judge the importance of having uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. For many immigrants those family members are considered to be intimate members of the family. They bring support, they nurture and they care for one another, and hence reduce the burden on the state because of the built in mechanisms for ensuring that there are ways to break down the barriers of isolation, loneliness and despair when one enters a new country.

Let us look at this from the national point of view as well.

As my colleague from Burnaby--Douglas has already said, the government has failed to meet its 1993 election promise of a 1% population target for immigration. The government has yet to accomplish that fundamental goal of allowing 225,000 to 250,000 new immigrants every year into this country. That policy was put in place for a good reason. We need immigrants to come to Canada. We need them for the sake of ensuring our survival and ensuring that we are able to pay for the programs we will need when we get old, such as social security and pensions.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that at the rate things are going, by the year 2010 or 2011 our only growth in the labour force will happen because of immigration. By the year 2025, given the way our birth rate is in this country, our only population growth will come about as a result of new immigration.

Let us not be short-sighted. Let us not cut off our nose to spite our face. Let us not assume that we will be flooded with so many new applications that we will not be able to handle them.

I want to remind members of the Liberal government that they changed the definition of family in Bill C-11 to include grandparents but there was no deluge of grandparents knocking at the door trying to get in. People come on a basis that is reasonable, as the need arises and according to the needs of the family. Similarly, we will not see a deluge of people suddenly knocking down the doors of immigration demanding to get into this country because of one little bill that calls for a more enlightened and broader definition of family.

I urge members of the government and the Conservative Party to look at the wisdom of studying this matter further.

My constituency of Winnipeg North is probably one of the most diverse communities in a spectacularly diverse nation. People have come from all over the world and settled in my community of Winnipeg North. They have contributed in numerous ways to the health and well-being of our whole society and have made an enormous contribution to our identity, to our economic survival and to our ability to reflect the values of diversity, tolerance and understanding.

My constituency has said with one voice that we should listen to them, that we should expand the definition of family so they can bring loved ones here who are now not eligible. They ask that we listen to their voices by way of their pleas, their stories and the hundreds and hundreds of signatures that they have delivered to Parliament in support of a once in a lifetime provision for family reunification.

I urge members of the House to support this very important contribution to our immigration policy.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to commend my colleague, the critic from the NDP, on the issue of immigration and citizenship, and the member for Burnaby—Douglas on his initiative, as well as the member for Winnipeg North who has been working on this over the years.

When we look at Canada, there is no question that we are a nation of immigrants. More than 50 members who sit in the chamber came to Canada as immigrants and, of course, there are all sorts of other members whose parents or grandparents came to this nation. We are a nation of immigrants.

Ironically, what we really are talking about is giving recognition to the extended family. In some sense we are talking about family values, which is an important component that we have to put into our immigration policy.

The present cutoff is 60% economic and 40% other. There is nothing magical about those numbers. I think the department and the government should be re-examining them. The reason I say that is, as we know, our immigration policy on the economic side is heavily tilted toward credentials and higher qualifications.

A number of years ago when the shift was made in the point system, we demanded more qualifications from people coming into this country. It has not always been successful because we have not given recognition to the fact that in many cases the country is not ready to absorb all the professionals that we are bringing in. All one has to do is witness the fact that we probably have the highest qualified taxi driving force in the world, and it does not reflect upon us very well.

The other issue I want to touch on is the whole issue of settlement. It seems to me that it would make sense to Canadians that when people come here who have ties to this country, such as relatives, they will have an easier time settling. Settlement is a real challenge for us. I think it is important that we put a focus on that whole issue.

Getting back to immigration itself, it is not something that we do because we are a humanitarian country. We do it because immigration represents the lifeblood to this country. As was mentioned before, if we look at the demographics of this country, any growth in the workforce in the next decade will come through immigration. In terms of immigration itself, we have to recognize that the way we have the point system structured we do not pay enough attention to things like skilled trades. We pay too much attention to university degrees. As I mentioned before, we have the problem with brain waste that occurs.

I can tell the House that when someone comes to this country who might be a high tech worker, that person is going to drive services, such as housing, which involves tradespeople who do not necessarily qualify under the point system. It also triggers demand in the service industries.

It seems to me that the whole issue of family reunification would serve the purpose of enabling success for the new immigrant in terms of settlement, enhancing the quality of life of Canadians in this country by providing them with an extended family, and certainly it is an issue that we very much want to get to committee to have extensive debate on. The policy we set in terms of immigration to this country will determine the future of this nation.

I think this is a win-win bill and it is something that we in the committee could work with to enhance our Immigration Act and immigration practices.

One of the points I want to make very strongly is that just because a policy exists, it does not necessarily make it right. I only have to point us to what happened when we changed the point system on immigration. What happened was the committee strongly recommended against it. The bureaucrats pushed it forward and the government stayed in that position.

I can say that once the appeals started going through the courts, the unjust process by which we were judging immigrants coming to this country, was turned around but was not turned around because of any will of Parliament. It was turned around because the courts said so.

In closing my address on this particular issue, I think it would really enhance our debate on immigration. It would really be helpful for the quality of life of citizens in this country who have families who could come here to make a contribution.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

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 proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

December 13th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

There is one motion in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-15. Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Ken Dryden for the Minister of the Environment

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-15, in Clause 9, be amended by adding after line 24 on page 15 the following:

“(6) All fines received by the Receiver General in respect of the commission of an offence under this Act shall be received for the special purpose of protecting and conserving migratory birds or the environment and credited to the Environmental Damages Fund, an account in the accounts of Canada.”

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Richmond Hill
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I address Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Although I am pleased to address the important provisions of the proposal before us, it is also an honour to address the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development following its careful deliberations on the bill.

The bill received strong support from the committee. In essence, what is before us are measures that not only make substantial improvements to the environmental legislative regime in Canada, but they also enhance the competitiveness of our economy, improve the general well-being of Canadians and better protect our nation's rich natural heritage. In other words, the bill supports our vision for the environment.

I would like to also recognize the fine work of several members of this chamber. The member for Victoria, when he was the minister of the environment, introduced a version of this proposal in May of this year. It was his clear guidance and direction that were instrumental in getting us here today. We must also recognize it was the members of Parliament, particularly from Atlantic Canada, who worked so hard to address the tragic situation that occurs so unnecessarily every winter on the seas off our coastline. They did the hard work and we now have before us a viable bill that will make a difference .

When the current Minister of the Environment appeared before the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, he emphasized the importance he attaches to the conservation and the protection of Canada's migratory birds and the protection of the marine environment. The committee clearly supported these principles as well.

It is gratifying to see that the conservation and protection of migratory birds are so strongly held. As a result, there was constructive and focused discussion in the committee. I commend our colleagues for their fine work. This is the spirit of collaboration on which we can build a sustainable society, one that values nature and remains competitive. In that spirit, I would like to elaborate on some key points.

The bill will accomplish several important things as we move toward more effective enforcement in our marine waters of the amended Migratory Birds Conservation Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. First and foremost, it addresses a serious problem that affects us all: the loss each year of hundreds of thousands of seabirds that die a slow and painful death from cold and starvation because of oil discharged illegally by ships in our waters.

Our scientists say that a conservative estimate is that 300,000 seabirds are killed every winter: thick-billed murres, common murres, Atlantic puffins, herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, common eiders, and many others. We know these birds are also dying off the Pacific coast, but we do not have reliable or accurate estimates of numbers because the winds and currents bring few birds to shore. We do know oil is being dumped at sea there as well, in areas where many seabirds are concentrated.

The oil gets into the plumage of the birds and decreases their insulation, their waterproofing and buoyancy. This is why they starve and freeze to death. A few hundred thousand deaths each year, out of the millions that feed in the waters every winter, why is there so much concern?

Let me use the thick-billed murre as an example. Oiling is the most important known human induced stress on the population numbers of these birds. The models show us that the potential growth rate in the population of this species is reduced to 1% per year because of oil dumping. We also know that climate variability and other factors can and do shift the population balance to the negative side in many years. This means that with ongoing oil pollution, there is no buffer against any threats to these birds, so their overall populations can be reduced.

In order to understand what Bill C-15 does to address this problem, allow me to explain some key points about the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and the migratory birds convention, the international agreement which the act itself implements. These instruments go back to 1916 and 1917 to a treaty with the United States to stop indiscriminate killing of migratory birds and ensure their future.

The migratory birds convention in fact is held up as one of the best examples in the world of an international strategy to protect nature. It is an example that has been followed time and again, as in the case of the international convention on biodiversity, or the North American bird conservation initiative among Mexico, the United States and Canada, just to cite a few examples.

Because the birds travel among jurisdictions, their management is frequently accomplished in treaties and implemented primarily by federal levels of government. These birds are sentinels and flagships of conservation efforts that reach all kinds of biodiversity. Birds fly and so they can react quickly to ecosystem changes. Birds are also highly visible and they can be counted with greater accuracy than can many other species.

This also applies to seabirds in marine environments. The birds protected by Bill C-15 are excellent indicators. For example, seabird eggs have been used to assess contaminant levels in the Arctic monitoring and assessment program and the Great Lakes monitoring program.

We shall look after the conservation of birds, confident that this approach will have much wider benefits. If we can make sure that the bird population continues to survive and prosper, then in a large measure we can be confident that the environments in which they live remain healthy for a wide range of life.

With that in mind, allow me to address some of what the committee had to say about Bill C-15. The committee put forward an amendment that would include a minimum fine for illegal pollution by the largest ships. I am happy to support this proposed amendment. It restricts the application of the minimum fine only to the larger ships, those over 5,000 tonnes. It would leave intact the flexibility for the courts to use the sentencing options in the amended Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 in the majority of cases brought under this legislation.

At the same time as amended, the bill will certainly send a strong message, one that should be heard loudly and clearly by the few in the international shipping industry that continue to view Canada's waters as fair game for the illegal discharge of their oily waste. The committee's proposed amendment shows that Canadians will not stand for a continued illegal discharge of oil into our marine environment and they want the illegal polluters to pay heavily.

The amendment sends a strong message that Canadians want the polluters to be subject to fines that are large enough to deter them from similar or repeated illegal actions. The amounts proposed by the committee's amendment ensure that these fines represent much more than just what some might consider the cost of doing business.

Much as I support this amendment, I would like to propose a further refinement. The committee's amendment establishes minimum fines for ships over 5,000 tonnes. As it stands now, fines are paid to the Receiver General and go directly into the consolidated revenue fund. There is no option to direct the fines to programs for environmental remediation or restoration.

This further amendment goes against some of the changes to the sentencing considerations and options now in the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and proposed in Bill C-15. There the court has the option to fine an offender a nominal amount and then make an order directing the offender to pay the bulk of the penalty into a program of environmental damage assessment or restoration.

My proposal maintains the spirit of the committee's amendment. It is drafted to ensure that fines received by the Receiver General for an offence that is committed under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 be directed to the environmental damages fund. This is an existing fund that was established in 1995 for the purpose of supporting environmental restoration. I hope that members will see the merit in this amendment.

I would also like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed by stakeholders in the shipping industry. I believe that some of their concerns result from a misunderstanding of certain aspects of the bill. I have two points to make.

The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1999 already apply to the discharge of oil into Canada's territorial seas. These two laws deal with the protection of natural resources. They apply in Canada's 200 mile exclusive economic zone.

The question is not whether to apply them because they do. The difficulty lies in whether the existing act has the necessary authority to effectively enforce these acts in the 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Bill C-15 enforces that gap. It is very important.

Again, I would like to commend the committee for its fine work. These measures are good for Canadians and for our economy. They are good for preserving our rich natural heritage and the migratory birds that are such an important part of the heritage.

I would hope that the House would accept the committee's report and its amendments to Bill C-15. Further, I would request the House to consider the additional amendment that I have proposed.