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 immigrants.

Topics

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among all the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its study on the Role of a Public Broadcaster in the 21st Century, six members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be authorized to travel to Yellowknife and Vancouver, from March 12 to 14, and that the necessary staff accompany the Committee.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. chief government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

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

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. Before members statements and oral questions, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber had the floor. He has five minutes remaining for questions and comments about his speech.

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for Jeanne-Le Ber for his presentation. In my riding, there are also a large number of individuals experiencing problems with immigration. Officials do not answer their questions in a timely manner. It is very moving to listen to these cases in our riding offices.

I would like to ask him a question about pre-removal risk assessment, or PRRA. What does he think of this means of assessing risk?

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has asked a very good question. Unfortunately, I did not have time to discuss this in my overview. The existence of this process is often given as a reason why the refugee appeal division is not really needed. That is not at all the case.

The acceptance rate with this process is very low. We are talking about 28%. We know that many of the people who work in this area have little experience in it. However, the main problem with the pre-removal risk assessment is that it does not deal with the main issue. It only examines the process and determines if there is any new information that was not taken into consideration at the time the application for refugee status was made.

I will give a concrete example that I encountered. I cannot identify this individual, because she wishes to remain anonymous, which I understand completely. She is having problems in Iran and could even face stoning in her country. She has evidence to submit indicating that she is being prosecuted for adultery in Iran, but the PRRA refused to take this evidence into account, not because it is unreliable, invalid or incomplete, but simply because it was not submitted at the right time in the application process for refugee status.

Thus, it is not a true appeal tribunal, since it will not consider whether there were errors in the first instance or whether there is evidence not submitted that should have been submitted. It will merely determine whether there were any procedural shortcomings. Thus, it is grossly insufficient. We must go much further than this. This process is deficient and the appeal tribunal is crucial.

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member well knows, the present system includes leave to appeal to the Federal Court of Canada, which can review facts referred back to the main decision, and the pre-removal risk assessment of which he speaks, including compassionate and humanitarian grounds. This added layer of another appeal would extend the time. We have heard that some cases go five, six, seven or eight years.

Does he have any suggestion as to how we may streamline the system to ensure the length and degree of time is not taken up?

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, yes, there is a way to speed up the process, and that is to establish the refugee appeal division, since that process is much less intense and much simpler. We are talking about a quasi-administrative tribunal, which is also a lot less expensive than an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Therefore, it must be put in place. Not only is it the logical thing to do, but it is also the law. Furthermore, the United Nations Committee against Torture is calling on Canada to establish this tribunal, so that decisions may be appealed in all cases.

I would also like to point out that, even in the case of the Superior Court, not all decisions can be appealed. It is an extremely long and costly process, not only for the applicants, but also for the government and society in general. Not to mention that it is ineffective.

The short answer, simply, is yes. Let us lift an administrative burden, eliminate unnecessary costs, and establish this appeal division, which will allow everyone to be heard, which will comply with the act, and which will fulfill our international obligations.

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to partake in the debate, particularly when a number of important dates come together. The important dates I am referring to are the 60th anniversary of the 1947 Citizenship Act, the 30th anniversary of the 1977 Citizenship Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being 25 years old, and I am also celebrating the fact that 50 years ago my family and I came to Canada as refugees.

As a matter of fact, right about this time we were preparing to flee Hungary, which was undergoing a police crackdown. It was a police state where people who had anything to do with the revolution or who criticized the government of the day would be systematically eliminated. It was the end of this month in February that my family crossed through mine fields to get to Austria where we received a great deal of help and hospitality from the Austrian people. I would be remiss if I did not express my personal thanks and the thanks of all the Hungarian refugees at that time who ended up in Austria, and 90% of them did.

It was around the middle of June that our family, having spent time in different refugee camps, ended up in Canada. Our experience upon landing was to be placed with a host family, the Hay family. They had three kids, just as I had two siblings in my family. It was an amazing experience for us. Our family spoke Hungarian and we were living with a family that spoke English. My father spoke a number of other languages so it was kind of fun making communication work.

What struck me at the time was Canada's policy to bring in 38,000 refugees from Hungary, which was the biggest per capita of any other country in the world. The United States, with a population 10 times that of Canada, took in 47,000. So 38,000 was a huge number for Canada to bring in. What struck me was the reception we received from the Canadian people. It was the people of Canada who drove that change and wanted Canada to be at the forefront in their assistance to the refugees.

I mention that because part of the issue related to citizenship and immigration is private sponsorship and how important it is that we engage Canadians and the community in making that happen. Too often we do not meet our targets in terms of private sponsorship, which is an opportunity lost. It is an opportunity lost for new Canadians coming into this country and it is an opportunity lost for the government to ensure the people are settled and become contributing members of Canadian society as quickly as possible.

These experiences played a strong motivational role for me when we dealt with the anti-terrorism bill, which has become an issue. We had numerous debates in the last Parliament when we dealt with this. It was after the horrible events of 9/11 that I initially thought we could make legislation to make the country safer and that we should undertake a campaign against terror to accomplish that.

At the end of the debate, in my last speech to the House on that issue, I said, remembering what I remember, having had the experiences that I had, that I could not support the legislation because on balance we had a very good criminal justice system and one that was on the top tier in the world and that we also had a very good security system.

One of the things I have learned is that when a person experiences the unfortunate situation of having lived in a police state where police powers are not checked, it creates a kind of society that is alien to democracy. It creates a society where they are set up against us.

One of the strengths that Canada has is that no one group is a majority and everybody is a collection of minorities. It is important to understand that because we must never get into a situation where we stigmatize any part of our population. We all need to come together to ensure we have a secure country.

We saw the experience in the United States of America with the O.J. Simpson case where the jury refused to convict. It refused to convict because of the years and years of racism and how the whole thing played out. I mention that because if we are to have an immigration policy and a new Citizenship Act, we must be mindful that all Canadians, no matter what their backgrounds, are equal.

The suffering that has taken place in this country in terms of various minority groups coming together is incredibly well-documented in the book entitled, “Whence they came:...” by Barbara Roberts. It is a book that everybody who sits on the citizenship and immigration committee, the justice committee and whoever sits in Parliament should read because it chronicles some of the worst abuses in our history when it came to dealing with minorities.

It is exactly because of those abuses that we ended up in 1982 with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an atonement, so to speak, and a recognition that what we did in the past was wrong and that those mistakes must never be repeated. As we work together now and in the future we must ensure that we protect human rights and civil liberties.

One of the problems in terms of fighting terrorism is that we hear talk all the time about it being constitutional. The reason it is constitutional is because it is exempted from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A section in the Constitution allows that the guaranteed rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be put aside. It does not meet the test of the charter but just because something is constitutional does not make it charter compliant. However, any legislation we introduce should be charter compliant because then we create the kind of society that is so very important.

My colleague from Burnaby—Douglas proposed a number of amendments to the motion before us today. It would have been nice to have had them adopted because I think we could have worked collectively toward a revised Citizenship Act and Immigration Act that would meet the needs of Canadians. I despair at times about the kind of political rhetoric we get into when we are dealing with the whole issue of citizenship and immigration.

I wish we could tone down the partisan politics and put them aside to the extent of being able to say that it does not matter which political party is in power, that we need an act that works for all Canadians and how do we come together to make this happen.

In the last Parliament, I had the pleasure of serving as the chair of the parliamentary committee on citizenship and immigration. I put a challenge out to the members. I said that we were all parliamentarians who wanted to do our best for the country so we should try to leave our partisan differences outside the door and work together to come to a consensus and see if we can drive the consensus to actually change legislation.

I believe my colleagues will say that when the previous minister of citizenship and immigration was in front of the committee that I was probably his harshest critic. I wanted to make the process work and wanted us, in a non-partisan fashion, to contribute to legislation that would be a very important part of Canada's assets, which are the people, as well as immigrants coming to this country, because immigration has always been and will continue to be the lifeblood of this country.

One of the areas we worked very hard on was the Citizenship Act. We made it our number one priority. It often gets mentioned that the Liberals did not pass the Citizenship Act, and that is correct. In the 35th Parliament there was talk about the Citizenship Act. In the 36th Parliament, two citizenship acts were tabled; one was Bill C-63, which was followed by Bill C-16, which went through the House in the spring of 2000. It was properly held up in the Senate and never came back to the House, so the bill died. That bill needed great improvement. Bill C-18 was the next bill to come through and it had some very major flaws that we worked on. We made improvements to it, but it did not come to fruition.

In the last Parliament there were two ministers of citizenship and immigration. It is unfortunate that we had two. I think we would have been better served if we only had one, but the unfortunate circumstances around one of the ministers meant we had to substitute another one.

In that Parliament the citizenship and immigration committee came up with three reports dealing specifically with the Citizenship Act. We on that committee made it our number one priority. We undertook cross-Canada tours in 2003 and 2005. We had a great deal of input from the public as to what it wanted to see happen with the Citizenship Act and we came up with some very good reports. The reports were given to the minister to serve as guides for legislation that could have been quickly passed.

One of those reports was “Citizenship Revocation: A Question of Due Process and Respecting Charter Rights”. That report was unanimously adopted without debate in this chamber. All Progressive Conservative members on the committee voted unanimously in favour of it. We also came up with another report “Updating Canada's Citizenship Laws: It's Time”. I am pleased to say that the report received unanimous support from the committee. All Conservative members voted in favour of it.

That committee operated in a fairly non-partisan fashion. Once in a while we had flare-ups, but that was expected. We usually reserved those for the House.

The need for a new Citizenship Act has been highlighted by what has been happening with the issue of lost Canadians and the debate that has gone on. Every member of the committee knew we had a problem in this area. It should have come as no surprise that with the new passport requirements people suddenly found out they were not citizens. We heard extensively from various lost Canadians.

We heard extensively from people like Mr. Joe Taylor, the son of a Canadian veteran who fought for this country in the second world war to protect our democracy. The birthright of that veteran's child was denied because of discriminatory clauses in the 1946 Citizenship Act, which unfortunately were not corrected in the 1977 Citizenship Act. Mr. Taylor's case is really tragic because he is the son of a Canadian veteran and his birthright was being denied. Wrongfully, the department denied him citizenship, so Mr. Taylor took the department to court.

On September 1, Mr. Taylor won his case. A judge ruled that discriminating against people because they were born out of wedlock is not permitted under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judge also ruled that withdrawing citizenship because of an obscure notice in the Citizenship Act that the person would not be aware of offends section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During that month the government got rid of the court challenges program. That led to people or groups who needed to fight for their rights under the charter could only do it if they could raise the money.

I am going to get very partisan about this. Access to justice should not depend on the size of one's pocketbook and whether or not one can afford a lawyer. Access to protecting one's charter rights should be available to every Canadian. It is a basic human right as far as I am concerned. Getting rid of the court challenges program means that those who want justice and need to go to the Supreme Court had better have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to get there.

Mr. Taylor's situation was so unnecessary. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Joe Taylor's father for fighting for this country and fighting for democracy in the second world war. That was just one of the cases.

There are Canadians who have lived in Canada all their lives but who were born in the U.S. because their parents happened to live close to the American border and their parents did not have access to a Canadian hospital. There are thousands of people in that situation.

There is a situation that I am aware of, and the committee will be aware of when it holds its hearings, where three siblings are getting citizenship under section 5(4) and the government is trying to deport the fourth sibling. Why? Because the individual has a criminal record.

Members know how hard I fought in this House against citizenship revocation because it does not comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Just as it is wrong for a minister and politicians to revoke somebody's citizenship, which is an incredible abuse of process, an incredible abuse of the charter, it is also wrong for a minister to be able to grant citizenship. Citizenship should be prescribed by law. It is in legislation. A person who meets the requirements should get it. The thought of a minister handing out tens of thousands of citizenship certificates boggles the mind.

We are not dealing with difficult legislation. Other countries have gone through it. Australia is going through it. Trinidad went through it. Trinidad made a simple amendment and, lo and behold, the sky did not fall. They were not sued for billions of dollars. They essentially said that if someone's citizenship was revoked by an essentially ridiculous, discriminatory piece of legislation, then it would be restored and it would be restored to the time that the person lost it.

We have a piece of legislation that discriminates against religious marriages. I find this passing strange coming from the Conservatives, but essentially that is what it is. There are Mennonites who married in religious ceremonies in Mexico or Paraguay and failed to have a civil wedding to go along with it. This involves thousands of people, and we will hear evidence on that. Their offspring are considered to be born out of wedlock. Do people find it shocking? I do. That has to be changed. Here we are, discriminating against religious marriages. Religious marriages are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I am hoping that the government will come together with the rest of the committee and the opposition parties. In a very non-partisan fashion we can produce a citizenship act that will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the charter, the 30th anniversary of the 1977 act and the 60th anniversary of the 1947 act.

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo. I had the pleasure of serving on the citizenship and immigration committee for two years while he was the chair. The work that we did as a committee was outstanding and bears fruit to this day.

We touched on a number of issues on that committee. We touched on the Citizenship Act. We also looked at family reunification as well as international credentials. We travelled across the country to hear from witnesses on those three issues.

One of the issues that constantly came up, and which continues to come up in our constituency offices, is that of visitors visas. It seems that some days our constituency offices perform the job of visitor visa intermediaries in one way or another. We heard some testimony in that committee on visitors visas. If my recollection is good and if the numbers have not changed, I believe it was in the range of 150,000 visitor applications that are refused every year, which is about 22%. Maybe the member for Kitchener—Waterloo could refresh my memory on how that percentage was or was not improved.

I can just imagine 150,000 more visitors coming into Canada, the number of planes it would take, the amount of financial support it would give to the Canadian economy for those people to visit the CN tower, Niagara Falls, the west coast or the east coast of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Citizenship and Immigration
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I should have pointed out that the riding of Kitchener--Waterloo and Waterloo in particular is the home of the BlackBerry which everyone around the world is enjoying. It is a great place to live.

The question the member raised essentially underlines what I said. We need to somehow make citizenship and immigration as non-partisan as possible. It does not serve anybody's purpose to make it political, because what ends up happening is a department that is in drastic need of reform. There is no question about it. Previous ministers have mentioned that. It probably is one of the toughest departments we have. Nothing illustrates that better than the point the member has just raised.

We had a private member's bill in the last Parliament that was actually sponsored by the Conservative Party. It had a different way of dealing with visas in terms of people who have relatives overseas. We had debates in this chamber about sponsoring them by signing a surety. It is a system that already exists in our court system when people guarantee that they are going to appear.

Before that there was a private member's bill sponsored by members of the Liberal Party. Politically, this should be something we all agree on. Where does the problem come from? I suggest the problem really comes from the bureaucracy and they find all sorts of reasons that this should not happen.

I remember my colleague from the New Democratic Party talked about the cases dealing with visitors visas, when somebody needed to come here because somebody was dying, or a child was about to be born or a family was having a happy celebration. They are being systematically denied.

We have to find a better way to make it work. My colleague is totally right. We are missing out on a tremendous opportunity when it comes to tourism, because when a visitor comes to this country, the visitor may be visiting me, but all of a sudden I will turn into a tourist as well. I will go and see Niagara Falls again, not necessarily because I want to see Niagara Falls again, but because visitors to this country want to see Niagara Falls. It is their first time to see it. It creates a lot of activity.

We have to find a way of cutting through the bureaucracy. We have to come up with a policy which makes it much easier and much less frustrating for people whose family members want to visit them.