House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was revenues.

Topics

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

The members of the NDP are voting no to the motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from March 11 consideration of the motion.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2005 / 6 p.m.

The Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion for concurrence at report stage of Bill C-22.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find unanimous consent to apply the previous vote just taken on the motion now before the House.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

I have received notice from the hon. member for Nickel Belt that he is unable to move his motion during private members' hour on Wednesday, March 23.

Since it has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence, I direct the table officers to drop the item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' business will thus be suspended, and the House will continue with the business before it.

It being 6:05 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from December 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative) be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Clavet Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on the act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative). This bill was introduced by my NDP colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Essentially, the intent of Bill C-272 is to expand the right to sponsor an additional relative. Until now, there have been serious restrictions. Clause 13 of the bill changes this to permit any citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative who is not a member of the family class.

Until now, some members of the family class were excluded: brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and a number of others. This will finally allow families to reunite.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe Bill C-272 is vitally important. We therefore support this bill because this motion has already been discussed in the House. We have made recommendations, which have been heard. We have introduced measures to correct some of the lack of clarity we saw in the bill at the time. The Bloc had many reservations about the vagueness that remained and surrounded the concept of the family. Now, however, it has all been corrected. Today we have greatly improved the bill before us. That is one of the beauties of a minority government. The Bloc Québécois has been able to make changes that improve the bill introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Consequently, we will support this bill because, all too often, refugees live through really incredible dramas. A person would have to come to our ridings to realize this. In my riding of Louis-Hébert, for example, we often get requests to assist and intervene from immigrants and refugees. All the refugees want after experiencing such pain and cruelty is live near their families. Often, their intentions are good but unfortunately the definition of family class is too narrow. Protection for refugees or even the way the Immigration Act was interpreted until now have worked against refugees.

We need only listen to their stories which, at times, might cause us to believe that Canada does not always live up to its commitments. We believe that it is unacceptable for families already suffering from being apart, in addition to the family drama to be subject to indefinite separation.

This bill corrects this flaw because, again, the delays in our immigration system are much too long. 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. It is unbelievable. At the slowest visa offices, some cases can take more than 27 months. So, people in one family can wait two years and three months. Some refugees wait even longer. These dramas are multiplied indefinitely and drag on. It is an agony for families.

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. I prefer the term “inclusion” rather than “integration” because it is really about inclusion in a society. It is not about recreating here what they experienced elsewhere, but at least some things can be familiar.

The first of these are immediate family members. The previous legislation was not broad enough. It was too narrow. The bill introduced by my NDP colleague seeks to broaden the definition. We cannot but applaud this stage of integration, which then leads to times happier than the drama in which people are all too often trapped.

There is also the whole aspect of protection of family which, under this concept, is being ensured. Protection of family is an obligation stemming from international rights. International texts like the ones dealing with human rights ratified by Canada recognize the protection of family as an obligation.

In fact, 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.

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

Of this 40%, some 30% involves family reunification, 9% is refugees and 1% is others. Yet, headlines tell us on a weekly basis of the deportation of numerous refugee claimants who have been refused. One has to recognize that the many conflicts, crises and civil wars in a growing number of countries make it necessary for democratic countries to lend a yet more caring and compassionate ear to refugee claimants.

Once again, the fact that the budgets provided by Canada are insufficient has to be denounced. Canada continues to refuse thousands of refugee claimants every year, despite their tragic situations. Their lives are in danger in their home countries.

When, as MPs, we request interventions, it is sometimes suggested that the claimants' lives are not in danger. One need only listen to them and read the fear in their eyes as they tell us what they face on a daily basis to realize that their lives are definitely in danger. We cannot play games with people's lives.

At the very least, this bill will reunite families rather than forcing them to live in great psychological distress because the father or mother is elsewhere. It will very humanely make it possible to reunite families.

The shortage of resources constitutes a problem. Budgets must be appropriate so that Canada can not only keep its word but also meet its commitments as a signatory to the Geneva Convention. When Canada signed this, it was not just a pious gesture; it was a commitment to protect refugees.

There are not enough resources, and this is a major problem for the whole of the immigration sector. Because of the inadequate resources for immigration, we in the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We will at least be able to discuss it in committee and make some improvements. If it passes second reading, that will force a debate in committee.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We can always make improvements. It is somewhat in that context that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration provides us with regular proof of its inability to meet all its responsibilities. Sometimes the willingness is there, but there are still some major shortcomings. Often it is a vicious circle, because financial resources are lacking.

This time the humanitarian aspect is being recognized in Bill C-272. We accept its referral to committee. We in the Bloc Québécois know that it shows a sense of duty and responsibility to call for sufficient funding.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-272, introduced by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas, for the various reasons I have had the pleasure of setting out for you. First, it acknowledges the essential contribution made by newcomers, and that is important to point out. Above all, it includes the dimension of human compassion so essential to our society.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells to participate in the debate on Bill C-272, brought forward by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

The bill would permit a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative to come to Canada who does not fit into the family class as currently set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Specifically, Bill C-272 proposes allowing for sponsorship of a son or daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependent, an uncle, aunt, a brother or sister, a nephew or niece or a first cousin.

I would like to commend the hon. member, who I sit with on the citizenship and immigration committee, for his thoughtful and laudable effort to fix some problems with the immigration system.

I know both from first-hand experience and from the people who pour into my constituency office that the immigration system is broken and is in need of emergency care. The status quo immigration system is inefficient and ineffective. Let us consider some of the problems afflicting the system.

Due to major resource cuts by this government, there is not enough personnel to process the backlog of applicants seeking to come to Canada. There is now a bottleneck of 700,000 applicants waiting to enter the country. Some will wait eight years just for an interview. This is unacceptable.

Sponsors' Income checks and applicants' medical and security checks are not done in a coordinated manner. Sometimes one expires and the other is valid, and then the other expires and the first one is valid.

Here is an example from my riding and it is in no way unique. It concerns four members of an Asian family who applied to come to Canada under the family reunification program. The medical and security checks were conducted, but one family member, an old man, had some minor medical problems. The medical had to be redone. By that time, the medical checks for the other family members had expired and had to be redone again. Once they were complete, the security checks had expired. This happened three times. By the time everyone's medical and security checks were completed and up to date, five years had elapsed. Medical checks are expensive.

This poor management is both expensive and frustrating for the applicants and their family members here in Canada. The staff should be better trained and more common sense should be used. It boggles the mind why the department does not simultaneously conduct sponsors' income checks and applicants' medical and security checks.

These are people's lives the government is playing with and, quite frankly, it is treating them shabbily. While our taxes have increased significantly, the services have worsened.

Just eight years ago, it took 22 months to process a family class immigrant from New Delhi. The former minister testified before the citizenship and immigration committee last fall that it now took 58 months for family reunification. Imagine that. That is 22 months then versus 58 months now. It is unbelievable.

How dare the Liberals claim to be immigrant-friendly. Arbitrary criteria are used to evaluate immigration cases. Staff receive inadequate training in local customs and traditions and they reject spousal cases based on outdated traditions and norms. Many of those cases go to the courts where they win on appeal. However, there are some unscrupulous lawyers and unregulated consultants who milk potential immigrants and visitors of their money without offering real service or value and thus add to the mess.

Ministerial permits are another pressing issue. Lately, we have had in the media stories of how government members are using these permits for political gain. A defeated Liberal candidate has been bragging about his unfettered access to the immigration minister and claims he has personally secured 11 minister's permits as of last September. Such abuse must stop. Ministers of the crown should not be telling Canadians to bypass their MPs in favour of Liberal hacks.

The immigration minister has almost unbridled discretion to issue special ministerial permits, which of course are politically motivated and causes political interference.

The figures indicating the acceptance date for the visitors' visas, or the TRPs, also seem to be misleading. CIC data suggests a 76% acceptance rate from Delhi but practically, the actual acceptance rate on any single day is much lower.

Last year, 12,069 ministers' permits were issued. Permits are ripe for abuse and the evidence suggests abuse is continuing. In this climate it is little wonder Canadians and their MPs are looking for solutions to what is becoming an immigration crisis. Bill C-272 is just one example of a private member trying to force reform on a reluctant government.

Bill C-272 has support from immigrant communities. A woman from my neighbouring riding wrote to me asking for my support for this legislation. She writes:

It is needed because many families who are desperate to reunite their family members will be able to do so in a reasonable and compassionate way. I am in support of this new bill because I was one of those families stranded back in Turkey, getting out of Iraq, and my sister here in Canada was not able to bring us here because such a bill did not exist in 1994. Please consider my voice and I am hoping to hear the good news very soon. I believe in my country Canada and I believe in you and the awesome work you do speaking out for us.

The Conservative Party of Canada supports a well managed immigration system to serve the best interests of Canada, a system that is fair, transparent, effective, efficient, compassionate and sensitive to the needs of family reunification, skilled workers, economic migrants, genuine refugees and visitors.

Canada is a country built by immigrants. Immigration was and continues to be at the heart of what Canada is all about and is accordingly of central importance to all Canadian citizens. In the last few years, however, our immigration system has become sick. It is rife with systemic problems. There is currently a widespread consensus on both sides of the House and among the general public that our ailing immigration system must be reformed.

The Conservative Party will be conducting round table discussions with people across the country and making recommendations on how to improve the immigration system and ensure that it is open, fair, efficient and beyond political interference. It should work well on autopilot.

Over a period of time, the Liberals have given Canadians and immigrants bitter medicine by sugar-coating it. They have been fearmongering about my party and have literally abused the immigration system for political and electoral gains. Canadians and immigrants will not be fooled anymore.

Again, I wish to thank the member for Burnaby--Douglas for bringing forward this initiative. This is an idea that has support among almost all Canadians, especially new Canadians who are all too well aware of the problems plaguing the immigration system. I now urge members from all parties to consider the merits of the bill and vote accordingly.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-272.

I would like to congratulate my colleague from Burnaby--Douglas for resurrecting this important issue. It was first brought forward in a different form by the member for Vancouver East, who was originally the champion of this. She tried to bring some sense and some clarity to the issue. More important, she tried to ensure that there would be some justice in our immigration policy. I congratulate her for continuing to support this initiative.

The New Democratic Party has long sought changes to the Immigration Act relating to reunifying families. We want to ensure that they will be able to build their families over here which in turn will make our nation successful through their different contributions in lifestyles, cultures and economic activity.

Many nations seek individuals from other countries for different reasons. They want to expand their economies and their cultures. Canada has benefited from this type of experience. We have led the world in many respects. However, we have watched our system erode the principles that have made us successful.

Bill C-272 would reaffirm the elements of the family unit. The legislation would make it easier for people to be reunited. It would expand on the family unit. In particular, the bill states:

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.

It is important to note that we are not looking to open the floodgates. We do not want people bringing in several family members, flooding our immigration system. Bill C-272 would allow an individual to be reunited with family members who are currently restricted through our class system. That hurts not only those families, but it hurts Canadians in general. I will give the House a specific example.

A gentleman residing in my constituency came to Canada and set up his own business. He wants to bring over his brother to help with the business but he is not eligible at the present time. He has to go through all kinds of hoops to be reunited with the family. This individual is needed for the family business because he has particular skills and abilities. I am talking about a very successful, law-abiding family that has contributed to the Canadian economy. They would like to have this individual become part of their family business.

Why should a family that has given so much of itself and has committed to this country be unable to bring over a brother over the age of 22 to make their life more complete?

It also would be beneficial on a selfish perspective for Canadians to bring this family member over because he would be able to help take care of the aging mother and father. He would ensure that they were cared for, nurtured and kept the healthy attitude required during the aging process. Those aging parents would be supported by another family member as opposed to being separated.

The human aspect is really important. The brother is living in another country by himself while his entire family is over here. These people are going through a considerable amount of stress because he cannot be a part of the life they have built here in Canada.

It is important that we reward those people who have the moxie to come to this country, often not knowing what is awaiting them and often not having the financial resources to set themselves up in a way they would like. When these people come to Canada, they often have to struggle to find employment. They work long hours to gain a position that would give them some degree of comfort. We should look at rewarding them for their contributions and reuniting them with family members.

This is the type of person we want to bring to Canada, someone who has a vested interest in a family that is prospering here. What better security is there than to have people come to our country where they will have family stability. They will have a vested interest in the current status of their family and also in perpetuity for generations to come. Such people are more likely to be valuable citizens which is very important for our society. It is very important not to miss that mark. It is not just opening the doors to anyone. We are offering our hand to help bring the partnerships back to people who really should be reunited.

We need to talk about the subsection referred to in this bill and what the technical aspect of it boils down to. We are talking about a sponsor's brother or sister, an aunt or an uncle, a niece or a nephew, a first cousin, or the sponsor's child who is 22 years of age or older and is not dependent on the sponsor. That is important to note. These are the people who will strengthen the extended family unit. That is so important in terms of our society today.

We often talk about issues that are plaguing Canadian society right now. There are issues such as child poverty and single mothers attempting to put food on the table and putting their kids through school and having to do so on their own.

We are talking about family members being able to reunite in order to strengthen the family unit. The extended family is very much part of the Canadian tradition.

In past generations extended family members were more likely to live together because of economic or social and cultural reasons. Then things shifted. I have an extended family. My parents divorced and then remarried and my family has grown because of that. It has been a benefit in many respects to my personal life. They are still part of my family. That is the reality we are dealing with today.

We are all stronger when we have people in our lives connected in a personal way. They add value because of the sustainability of their contributions, whether it be in finding a job or going to school. It is important for people to have that structure around them.

People in Windsor West are really suffering from the immigration process right now. It has been deplorable in terms of the processing of claims, the waiting and the lack of government support to deal with the backlogs. It is a net loss for this country. There are people who could be reunited.

One must also understand that families are sending money outside the country to support family members elsewhere. In countries such as Jordan individuals have to pay a daily head tax for their relatives who are waiting in limbo to be reunited. Some family members are paying hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per month to support people overseas who could be reunited with them in Canada.

We are watching that resource dissipate. The mental grief of those families pushes them to the edge. It often affects their work, their social elements and their contributions to society. Often they have to leave the country.

I know of one family in particular. They are very successful individuals. The gentleman wants to bring his mother-in-law and father-in-law, who are very healthy people, to Canada from another country and cannot do so right now. He would very much like to do that.

He and his family will probably have to leave the country. They have to support their relatives in South America. They are aging. They have the financial capability. They are not a burden. They are an asset. Their relatives should be brought here so that we can strengthen that family and not lose these well educated professionals to another country because we will not let their law-abiding mother and father be reunited with them in this country.

This type of nonsense is unacceptable. It really erodes the traditional values of Canadian culture and society that were based upon asking people from other parts of the world to have the conviction and strength to come to our country where they would be valued and would be able to contribute. Through a series of processes we have distanced them from their heritage and culture by not allowing them to reunite with their brethren, which is very important. These are people who contribute to the Canadian economy. They are not a burden.

I have a hard time understanding the motivation of the government. It is moving backwards in terms of what individuals have been told. It has done this in other cases with people who have credentials. It has done this in other cases by denying visitation permits to people who want to spend some together.

We ask people to come to this country. We say that they are a strong asset, that they could actually become citizens and that we trust they will make a contribution to our society. Why would we not at least once in their lifetime provide them with the opportunity to bring somebody over here to strengthen their lives and their neighbours' lives and all of Canada?

That is why it is very important to support this bill. This is a very modest and practical approach to deal with a significant problem in Canadian society right now. Economically it benefits this nation. More important it is about justice for those individuals who have been successful law-abiding citizens in our country to be able to reunite with family members.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-272 which was introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

I would like to say at the very outset that all parties in this House support the intent of this bill seeking to reunite families, to help Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada bring members of their family to Canada so that they can live here together. Naturally, we are all in agreement. And not only does the government agree but I think that, at this point, it is essential to point out that the opposition members who support this bill have not read the legislation, the act and its regulations, on citizenship and immigration.

Our Canadian legislation on immigration and refugee protection already provides that a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may sponsor a relative who is not his or her brother, sister, child or spouse, regardless of age, if the sponsor does not have a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner, a child, a mother or father.

It is clear in the regulations what is already in there and what would be pointlessly added through this bill: a relative who is a child of that mother or father, that is to say a brother or sister; a relative who is a child of a child of that mother or father, that is to say a grandchild, and so on and so forth.

The regulations, which are already part of the legislation, state very clearly that members of the extended family of a permanent resident of Canada or of a Canadian citizen can be sponsored by this citizen or permanent resident.

So, what is the point of this bill? I think the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, who introduced this bill, did not read the legislation or its regulations very well. I invite him to do so.

I want to point out that it was the Liberal Party of Canada that, from the beginning, opened Canada's doors to the immigration of non-whites and non-Christians, an immigration that treats everyone in the world equally. It was the Liberal Party of Canada that opened up immigration to persons of colour, people not only from northern or eastern Europe, but from Africa, Latin America and Asia, East Asia in particular.

I do not understand what the members opposite mean when they talk about unfair immigration. This is simply not so since we know that our government, for several years now, has done everything it can to ensure that immigration is as fair as possible, regardless of race, religion, gender and so forth.

It is important to remember that our government now has a new policy to allow members of the extended family—and I emphasize, the extended family—during their sponsorship period, to come and stay in Canada while their sponsorship is being processed.

This is another indication of what the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada has done. Let us say that aging parents are involved and a son or daughter has applied for sponsorship. These parents can come to Canada while their sponsorship application is being processed. In that sense, families are reunited in a humanitarian way that, I think, is an example to the world.

Canada's immigration and refugee protection legislation is indeed a model for the entire world. Everywhere we go in the world people talk about our immigration law.

I represent the riding of Laval—Les Îles in Quebec. It is a riding with many francophones, but it is also multicultural. I can tell the House that many people come to my office asking for help sponsoring a family member. Adopting a private members' bill that repeats what the regulations already say is not the way to help these people come here. Instead, our government is trying to help these people to wait with their families, here in Canada, until they can be legally sponsored by a family member.

Thus, I would like to emphasize that the key point here is that an extended family is already accepted in the regulations governing sponsorship. The wording, which I read a few moments ago, saying, “a relative who is a child of that mother or father”, may seem quite muddled. Still, it was a way for the legislator, when drafting these regulations, to be very clear about the definition of a relative or family, since we know that families are defined differently according to the culture and the country from which they come. Consequently, this definition in the regulations of the extended family, which includes the grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and cousins is meant to be as broad as possible.

In conclusion, I would like to say that we, the Liberals, the government in office, do not oppose the spirit of this bill. We will vote against the bill, but not because we disagree with its principle; we agree with that. It is simply that the bill is totally unnecessary, because it simply repeats what already exists in the Canada's immigration act.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Vancouver Centre
B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak to Bill C-272. I know that the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas has had a longstanding interest in citizenship and immigration issues. I know that he intends well with this bill. I wish to say that, while I understand his intent, there are some things that are problematic about the process and the manner that he is proposing to deal with the issue.

All of us understand the importance of strengthening families and bringing families together under the family reunification provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Families are a cornerstone of this nation. Families have been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration for many years. It is the way that people put down roots. It is the way that they build families. It is the way that they build a nation and get a sense of belonging. We are committed in this government to ensure that they represent a vital and vibrant component of our immigration program for the future, so that people can have their families with them.

Today, because of consultations in the past, Canadian citizens and permanent residents living in Canada who are 18 years of age or older can sponsor a family relative or close relative who wants to become a permanent resident. They have the ability to do that.

The list of those who can be sponsored under the family class has been in fact expanded recently. It has been expanded to include: same or opposite sex common law partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, and the age for that has been increased as we know to 21 years; adopted children; as well as certain brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces or grandchildren who are orphans.

Canada's immigration and refugee regulations allow Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor relatives regardless of relationship or age, provided that they have no other way of being sponsored from abroad.

The act itself also has a way for individuals to apply to sponsor a non-family class relative on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Today this act now has several avenues available to cover different individual circumstances or family arrangements. As I said before, many of those were introduced after extensive consultations with stakeholders and Canadians all across this country.

This set of new arrangements in which people can broaden their family members and bring them to Canada upholds certain core principles that must be observed: fairness, integrity and balance.

We know from talking with Canadians that they want a program that will help to spread the benefit of immigration all across Canada. We need to balance skilled workers, family class and economic migrants. Most of all, we want to see, and we are sure that the hon. members here would agree, a program that ensures that immigration will benefit the community where newcomers choose to settle, as well as benefit the immigrants themselves.

We need to be assured that those immigrants who come to Canada have the ability to find work, the ability to have access to health services, education, housing, and all of those things that are very necessary for people to settle. The bill under debate today moves away from some of those objectives. That is the reason why I think we cannot support it the way that it is put forward. It runs counter to any consultative process by arbitrarily raising family class levels to indeterminable limits.

It also runs counter to any principles of the balance that we need when we talk about family class, economic migrants and skilled workers. Experience indicated that even with more resources the increase in backlog and processing times for this sudden influx, or what would be a sudden influx, of immigrants by such an open ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the whole program.

Let me give an example of why we think this is so. In 1988 the government of the day changed the sponsorship rules to include all unmarried sons and daughters in a family class. Total intake in this category doubled over two years. The government did not have the capacity to process these individuals in a timely manner or to integrate and provide health, education and other resources. When the government cancelled the program in 1993, there was an eight year processing backlog in some Canadian missions.

Doing something that sounds great on a piece of paper brings with it the need to have the capacity to do it and process it. It also means that other members who are coming into Canada will also have to find the ability to be processed at the same time. It will certainly increase backlogs.

The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas and the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges indicated in the last hour of debate that this bill would go a long way toward helping refugees reunite with their families. That was one of the arguments that was made, but the truth is that this bill would do little for refugees because those who wish to sponsor family members have a financially less burdensome way to do so under the private or government assisted sponsorship program. They have that option right now and it is less expensive.

The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas also noted that the bill was necessary since the government consistently misses its annual immigration target. The truth again, however, is that the government has met its annual immigration targets for the past five years and still maintains a long term goal of reaching immigration levels equal to 1% of Canada's population. This must be done in cooperation and agreement with our provincial partners who provide the health care services, social services, education, and some of the housing resources that are necessary to absorb and have the capacity to absorb new immigrants.

We can all appreciate the desire for individuals to sponsor relatives from overseas who are not members of the family class. The current legislation allows for this under certain circumstances and has made enormous expansions. Those expansions must occur at a pace by which we are able to absorb and have the capacity in order to provide the necessary means to help families who come here.

We all support strong families. We also support strong family class provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and regulations. Our track record is good and it will continue to be so in the future. If we need to discuss ways of encouraging more family class members to come in, let us do so, and do so in a manner in which we can absorb and have the capacity to deal with this, so that the integrity of the program will be there for future generations.

I strongly support the government's overall direction and I am opposed to Bill C-272 or any special provision that would weaken our ability to support and assist families when they come to Canada.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this debate on Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The bill purports to help bring more people and their loved ones to Canada by expanding the current definition of family class. The bill would expand the family class to include siblings, children over the age of 22, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and first cousins. Canadians who are permanent residents would then be allowed to sponsor, once in their lifetime, one of these relatives in addition to those already included in the family class.

I think we all support the principles of the bill and its goal to strengthen the family class. Families bring a sense of stability for many newcomers and often make it much easier for them to adjust to their new lives in Canada. Family reunification also represents a cornerstone of Canada's immigration and refugee program.

The actual provisions of the legislation before us today, however, are unsupportable for a host of reasons.

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.

What did it result in? The increase from 1987 to 1989 consisted almost entirely of never married children of any age and created a massive eight year backlog.

I was quite surprised by some comments made by members opposite. The member for Fleetwood—Port Kells has totally misunderstood the proposal. It just shows how little the member understood the proposal. On one hand, she talked about a huge backlog, forgetting that the backlog was caused by mismanagement of the immigration system by the then Conservative government. It could not manage the system. It had no processes in place and created havoc, which the Liberals then had to handle in 1993.

However, coming back to the proposal under debate, if it were implemented today the family class could potentially overwhelm the immigration program. Who would that benefit? It would benefit neither Canadians nor the newcomers we bring to Canada every year.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas says that the bill is necessary because the government currently achieves only 66% of our annual immigration target every year. This is simply not true.

The hon. member will know that preliminary numbers indicate that last year represents the fifth year in a row that the Government of Canada has met or exceeded annual immigration targets. These targets are set by government each year, in close cooperation with the provinces and territories, as well as other partners and stakeholders.

The hon. member also noted in the last hour of debate that Bill C-272 would make it easier for refugees to reunite with their families.

The truth is that this bill would do little for refugees since family sponsorship is a more financially burdensome course than what is presently available to refugees.

The Government of Canada is fully committed to enhancing the opportunities for family class sponsorship. From 1998 to 2003 the family class in Canada grew from 50,897 to 69,128. That represents an increase of more than 18,000 immigrants in the family class in six years. Such a track record is impressive.

The government introduced new regulations in 2002 to allow even more individuals to sponsor family members and to facilitate the processing of family class sponsorship applications.

The regulations expand the family class to include common-law and conjugal partners of the opposite sex and same sex. They also recognize longer child dependencies and other obligations, such as military duty in some cases, by broadening the definition of a dependent child to include those under the age of 22.

As well, the regulations reduce the age at which Canadian citizens are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years of age. The period of sponsorship undertakings has also been reduced in many cases from 10 years to 3 years.

New application rules have also resulted in the faster processing of applications made on behalf of spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children.

In pursuing these changes, the government has remained mindful of the need to enhance the ability of individuals to sponsor family members while ensuring that the immigration program is managed in a balanced and sustainable way. This approach is clearly in the best interest of every Canadian, every newcomer and every community in the country.

The changes proposed in Bill C-272 run counter to these principles of fairness, balance and sustainability and therefore are not supportable.

We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general and of making it easier for families to reunite with their loved ones. Our recent actions to include out of state spouses in the in-Canada class and the government's commitment to assist the remaining Vietnamese boat people supports and reinforces this commitment.

However the government also has 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-272 or any other special provision that fails to take these considerations into account.