House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizenship.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I am sure the hon. member meant to refer to his colleague in the House as a Canadian. One cannot be a Portuguese member of Parliament, only a Canadian member of Parliament. However, I am of Portuguese heritage, and that probably needs to be corrected for the record so whoever is listening will know very clearly that everybody in the House is a Canadian citizen and that is the only way one can serve in the House.

There was a reference that my hon. colleague, the member for Laval—Les Îles made about herself, that we were immigrants, but now we are Canadian citizens and are blessed to be in the House serving all of Canada.

On the issue of undocumented workers, I have worked very hard on this file for many years, even before I was elected as a member of Parliament. The issue is obviously not an easy one, but when we speak to anybody in the industry, certainly in the large urban centres, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, they will attest to the fact that there is an incredible shortage of workers, specifically in the construction sector. Without these workers, many of whom come from Europe and Latin America, filling that demand, the construction sector would come to a halt.

We have people in the country already doing meaningful work. Many of them have children who have been born in this country. They have also bought homes. They have fully integrated as much as possible. Yet unfortunately the system is not working to help them stay. A lot of that has to do with the point system and a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are not processing these applications fast enough.

However, the moment I was elected in 2004, I raised this over and over again, with my government at that time and within my caucus. We did have an action plan that we started to put in place. There was a real sincerity from the minister of immigration at the time that we would address the issue.

Unfortunately, the former Conservative minister of immigration, to whom I had spoken about the issue, had very little time for it. I really do not know what the new minister's views are, but in less than a year there have been two ministers in that very critical file of immigration. There have been enough changes that it will make it impossible for some real concrete changes to take place; that is changes within the ministers' portfolios.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, not many times in the House do I agree with the members opposite, but with the hard work that member has done, his reputation on this precedes him.

I have in my riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek about 15,000 people who are Muslim and about 5,000 or 6,000 who are Punjabi. People come into my office day in and day out and they talk about the fact that the system has failed them. They talk about the fact that with the point system they were allowed to come to Canada. They were told that there would be good jobs for them. They were told a number of things.

When I hear members from the opposite of the House commenting on how badly broken the system is, I have to remind them that it was their system. They developed it and put it in place. They are the ones who put the landing tax in place. I find it ironic when I listen to them.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I point out, as well, that in 2005 we put in $263 million to launch an internationally trained workers initiative program to improve integration of immigration of internationally trained Canadian into the workforce. We had done a lot of work on family reunification.

I know the members opposite in the NDP Party, and I am not referring specifically to the member himself, like to do the big talk. In foreign credentials, for example, where are they with their NDP governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to ensure that those credentials are in fact recognized? The credential recognition cannot be done alone by the federal government. It also requires input from the provincial governments. A lot of these different boards and different credential institutions are within provincial jurisdiction, not the federal government's jurisdiction.

I realize I am answering his question, but I would like to know what work his party is doing to ensure that those NDP governments, and the past NDP government in British Columbia, in fact address this issue. It cannot be done solely by the federal government.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the question of undocumented workers, I think we would all laud the temporary foreign workers program. My colleague also indicated other programs on which we were acting, but invariably it comes back to the fact that we cannot break the queue.

We have undocumented workers, and there is an absolute need there, good solid Canadians who are trying to provide for their children, their families. They make a great contribution. However, if we have a program that is going to deal with the backlog of undocumented workers, we are breaking the queue.

Could the member respond to that? What would be a two-pronged strategy that would take into consideration what the queue is and how can we deal with those who want to come to Canada and at the same time deal with those who want to stay? What would the strategy be to come to grips with this issue, instead of pointing fingers back and forth about why these people are here, what will we do with them, they should be deported and so on, all of which are unsatisfactory responses?

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I point out to my hon. colleague that the big problem is this idea about a queue. There really is no queue. Under the present system, these people would never qualify to get into the country.

We are bringing 20,000 engineers to Canada, but we are not bringing 20,000 construction workers. While there is not a great demand for 20,000 engineers, there is great demand for 20,000 construction workers the Toronto district, for example.

The other thing is management and unions have recognized the fact that there is a huge labour shortage in our country. The average age of a construction worker or a truck driver is 55 years of age. If we do not address it now, we will damage our economy for future generations to come. Therefore, we have to deal with it right now, not in 10 years.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will share my time with my colleague, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity today to discuss the Liberal motion before us, which states that immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.

The Bloc Québécois supports this motion. In fact, immigrants to this country and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are very poorly served by the current Conservative government. Unfortunately, I must also add that they were just as poorly served by the previous Liberal government. The crazy thing is that it is the Liberal Party that introduced this motion in the House today.

There is plenty of proof that immigrants and persons seeking Canadian citizenship have been and are being very poorly served by both the current and former governments.

For my part, I just want to discuss the issue concerning three sections of Bill C-11, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which came into force on June 28, 2002. In sections 110, 111 and 171, the act provides for a refugee appeal division. That division was never created.

Bill C-280 is quite straightforward. It simply aims to implement the refugee appeal division, commonly known as the RAD. Adopting this bill would mean that the three sections already included in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act concerning the refugee appeal division, or RAD, would simply be implemented.

This is a little strange, in fact it is nearly the height of absurdity, since the Bloc Québécois already introduced a bill to implement the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which was adopted in 2001 and which came into effect in June 2002, in its entirety. I am a new member of Parliament, but I did not know that a piece of legislation was needed to enact another piece of legislation.

A proper appeal process for refugee claimants ought to have been put in place as soon as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act took effect, namely, in 2002. This is one of the significant changes required to ensure that all asylum seekers are treated fairly and equitably.

The creation of the refugee appeal division is a matter of justice. To persist in not making this change, as the two most recent governments have done, is to allow a situation that is unfair to asylum seekers to continue. When the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was drafted, the refugee appeal division was seen as a fair compromise in response to the desire to move from two board members responsible for examining asylum claims to just one.

Yet, now we have the worst of both worlds. There is only one board member, not two, to examine the files, and there is no refugee appeal division in effect. This results in terrible, irreparable harm to asylum seekers, who are all too often victims of an arbitrary and faulty decision made by a board member, whose competency can be, in certain cases, uncertain, and all this with no appeal process.

The federal government maintains that a safety net already exists by virtue of the opportunity to request a pre-removal risk assessment, through judicial review by the Federal Court and through a request for permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds. But these two solutions do not offer any protection for refugees, because, as my colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges pointed out this morning, the Federal Court conducts only judicial reviews, reviews of form, and does not review the facts of a case when someone applies for asylum.

In addition, there is a blatant lack of political will to establish the refugee appeal division, because this division is already enshrined in the legislation, in sections 110, 111 and 171. In June 2002, after their own legislation came into effect, the Liberals avoided establishing the RAD. Now that the Conservatives are in power, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration still has not established the RAD, despite the positions her party has taken in the past.

In 2004, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted a motion calling on the Liberal government at the time to establish the refugee appeal division or rapidly come up with a solution. The government consistently refused to comply with the committee's motion.

Many groups in civil society in Quebec, across Canada and in the international community have called for establishment of the RAD. Among these are the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Committee against Torture, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, la Ligue des droits et libertés and the KAIROS group.

In a Canadian Council for Refugees report, Professor François Crépeau, who teaches international law at the Université de Montréal, gave four reasons why the refugee appeal division should be put in place. I will simply list them, because my colleague also spoke about them this morning. The four reasons are efficiency, uniformity in the law, justice and politics.

The definition of a refugee or an asylum seeker has long been established in international conventions. The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted by the United Nations in 1951. More than 145 countries, including Canada, ratified the convention and its protocol.

According to this convention, Canada cannot directly or indirectly return refugees to a country where they will be persecuted. Refugees find themselves in very difficult situations and are very vulnerable.

We must never forget that when a person applies for refugee status, that person is always in a state of vulnerability and helplessness that we as citizens here, for the most part, have never known. This person leaves a difficult situation where their life was in danger for a number of religious, political or other reasons. This person arrives in the country and, in many cases, does not understand the language—neither French nor English. This person also arrives in a precarious economic situation, sometimes with just the shirt on their back. These are fragile, vulnerable and very poor people.

It is our moral duty to welcome these people with respect and compassion. To do so, Canada must do everything it can to ensure asylum seekers a fair process when they arrive in Canada, especially since a negative decision can have tragic consequences and very serious repercussions.

The Bloc Québécois is dismayed by the lack of justice toward refugees demonstrated by Citizenship and Immigration since the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into effect in 2002. The worst part is that Bill C-11 in 2002 was intended to correct the former Immigration Act of 1976, which did not include a refugee appeal division. Furthermore, this lack of a refugee appeal division was compensated for, at the time, by the presence of two board members who reviewed the asylum claims. Only one of the two board members needed to rule in favour of the asylum claim for the person to be granted asylum.

Currently, now there is just one board member instead of two, the refugee appeal division, RAD, seems even more important. Without the RAD, the risk of error is even greater and asylum seekers have no recourse if they are victims of an arbitrary negative decision.

Establishing a refugee appeal division would ensure that justice is done. It would also address the inconsistencies in the determination process. Furthermore, the costs of implementing this measure would be minimal. According to Jean-Guy Fleury, the chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, operating the RAD would cost $8 million per year. When we consider that the financial resources of the IRB are estimated at $116 million for 2006-2007, the RAD annual operating costs would represent only 7% of the total budget. The resulting savings must be considered.

In closing, I would just like to say that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the Liberal motion presented today. While it is true that immigrants to Canada and individuals who seek to obtain Canadian citizenship are poorly served by the government, I sincerely believe that by establishing this principle of fairness and justice for those asking for asylum, we could improve the condition of individuals seeking refugee status. The principles of fairness and justice must come from establishing the refugee appeal division.

Therefore Bill C-280 must be adopted to ensure that the three sections of the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which have not yet come into force, are implemented.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, an individual in my riding has been charged with crimes against humanity. Not only was he charged, but three levels of tribunals gave their opinions. Furthermore, it went all the way to the Supreme Court. The process began 12 years ago. Thus, for 12 years now, this refugee has been shuffled through the various levels of justice.

Now, 12 years later, he is still here in Canada. In the event that he is not returned to his country, the Canadian government will have to suffer the loss of another $2 million or so, to put him on trial again to determine whether he committed war crimes.

At what point does the system become unfair for immigrants?

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to my hon. colleague opposite, I would say that, if there is no appeal process, how can there be a fair and equitable system for those applying for refugee status?

This effectively means that a ruling by one board member will decide what happens to the individual, and a board member can make mistakes. I believe that to err is human. Thus, there is no appeal process for the applicant.

I do not see the connection to the example given by my hon. colleague earlier. That has nothing to do with what I said earlier, nor does it have anything to do with the RAD.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his speech. He is a new member on the committee and has a great depth of knowledge and sensitivity.

My question again goes back to the refugee appeal division. The facts are that this is in the act and that we went from a two member board to a one member board. The two person board meant that one of the two members had to agree with it and a person would get status. Now there is only one member and one member can reject that application for status.

If we had an appeal division, I believe that not only would we get better decisions from the refugee board and more justice for the refugees, but we would also speed up the system because the Federal Court would not have so many applications. It would also be cheaper. Would my friend agree with me?

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

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

I believe that the process would be shorter if there were a refugee appeal division, because there would be less of a backlog. I believe that this has been proven.

In addition, it would mean faster decisions on refugee claims. I believe the process would be faster and cheaper. In my opinion, it would cost less. An appeal to the Federal Court adds to the cost.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Vancouver Island North should note that there is a minute left for both the question and the answer.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Very quickly then, Mr. Speaker, other members in the House this morning talked about family reunification. As we know, I have constituents who are married to people from other countries. In one case the husband is in Canada and is supporting the wife in another country, and she is having a hard time coming to this country. She was told on the government website that it would take only five to ten months to come here, but it has been a very lengthy process. It is taking a lot longer than that. It is taking up to three years.

If the government were to commit to putting more money into hiring staff instead of just putting money into the department, does the member think that would that help these situations? Does the member have any other mechanisms that the government might use to speed up the processes?

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Repentigny has 10 seconds to answer the question.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that injecting more money would easily solve the problem. The refugee appeal division does not cost a great deal. It would reportedly cost less. With more money, the government could process many more cases.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber.