House of Commons Hansard #164 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trafficking.

Topics

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join the debate on Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are much needed measures. Bill C-57 addresses an important gap that currently exists in Canada's immigration law. In fact, Christine MacMillan, territorial commander for the Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda has this to say about Bill C-57:

This announcement is an excellent advancement towards the protection of women from sexual exploitation....It is another positive step in the fight against human trafficking, and we are encouraged by the leadership shown by the Federal Government.

With respect to current provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the existing legislation provides the government with the authority to allow an individual to enter Canada even if they do not meet all of the requirements and are inadmissible. Unfortunately, the act does not provide a similar authority to deny a temporary work permit to an applicant who meets entry requirements, but whose presence in Canada may put them in harm's way.

The proposed Bill C-57 will give the minister the authority to instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to individuals who might face humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. Without this authority, immigration officers cannot deny a work permit to someone who meets all the requirements to enter Canada, even if they believe there is a strong possibility of exploitation or abuse.

The proposed Bill C-57 will help us to prevent individuals from entering into situations where they may be abused or exploited, or where in fact they could become victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, it will help ensure our immigration system is not used by criminals to victimize people.

The Government of Canada should have the authority to institute measures to deny permits if there is evidence that individuals, including exotic dancers or anybody else, would be subject to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.

It is time for us to step up and be accountable. This legislation is all about that. Some may ask the question, why should we be concerned? Why do we need this legislation? The answer can be found in one word: accountability.

As elected representatives of an open and democratic institution, we must demonstrate our collective and unified resolve to ensure as much as possible the safety of anyone entering our country. We must be vigilant in protecting vulnerable individuals against potential exploitation, even though these individuals may not be Canadian citizens, but are considering temporary employment in Canada. We must take every measure possible to ensure that unsuspecting foreign workers are not subject to abuse or exploitation. The Government of Canada cannot be complicit in this kind of activity.

I find it most unfortunate that the Liberal immigration critic, the member for Mississauga—Erindale, criticized Bill C-57 by saying that he thought that we already had enough protection for vulnerable foreign workers who could be subject to sexual exploitation. To quote the Liberal immigration critic, he said, “I think we have the safeguards in place. It is a cheap attempt to change the channel and pretend to do something while they are really doing nothing”.

Before rushing to judgment, I wonder if the Liberal immigration critic bothered consulting with key stakeholders who welcomed our government's initiatives, stakeholders such as Sabrina Sullivan of The Future Group, who said:

[The] Immigration Minister...has taken an important step to protect women from sexual exploitation and end a program that made Canada complicit in human trafficking...It is clear that...[this] government is serious about combating human trafficking.

For those members of the opposition who think Bill C-57 is not needed, I urge them to consult stakeholders such as The Future Group, Stop the Trafficking Coalition and the Salvation Army. Perhaps then they will realize how important the legislation is and how critical it is for them to support it.

Let us be mindful of what we are debating today. We are in part debating the granting of a discretionary authority to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to deny the application of a foreign national for a temporary work permit in Canada. Like any authority granted or legislated to a minister, such a proposed or new authority must be reviewed, debated and enacted in the most open and accountable manner. That is what this government is committed to doing.

In fact, to demonstrate our openness to accountability on this matter, Richard Kurland, as I talked about before, an experienced and well-known immigration lawyer said, and I want to quote this again because this is very important:

What is [absolutely] striking about the new government's approach, unlike the former government, the new government is going through the front door. I have never seen this in 15 years of immigration policy...Normally, in years past, it was done behind the bureaucratic doors or through a [fait accompli] regulation with no debate. That's what remarkable today [for immigration policy].

That is quite a statement.

We are committed to not only an open debate, but also a full explanation of the reasons for the proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Allow me to review the government's commitment to accountability on this matter. First, I will reiterate and support the minister's assurance that a high level of accountability is attached to any exercise of authority proposed in the legislation. As the parliamentary secretary stated earlier, any ministerial instruction would be based on public policy objectives and evidence that clearly outlined an identified risk of abuse or exploitation.

Any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a work permit in Canada would require the concurrence of a second officer. Ministerial instructions to deny any such permit would be published in the Canada Gazette and would be reported in the annual report to Parliament on immigration.

I ask all hon. members to understand the basic principles behind the legislation. These principles are openness and accountability. I further ask this essential question of all members. Would any member support or approve the granting of a work permit to a foreign national knowing that he or she might become vulnerable to any form of exploitation or degradation? The answer, of course, is no.

As previously said, the authority would help target the networks that would profit from human trafficking. It would also stop the flow of individuals who were their prey and ultimate victims.

I submit, as a responsible government, that we should be able to say no to those applying for temporary employment who may not realize that they are being duped and misled. I believe it is only right that we should be able to prevent a human being from entering into a situation that would result in harm.

It is the Canadian way to warn an individual that he or she is about to make a mistake, which could have irreversible negative effects on their future. Above all, it is a Canadian tradition to stand up and be accountable among our friends and help them in a fight against exploitation.

Hon. colleagues will agree that making Canada a safer place for everyone is our objective. The instructions have the flexibility to allow for future unanticipated situations. Human trafficking is but one example of the kind of abuse and exploitation we are all trying to prevent.

Canada does not want to remain a destination country for human traffickers. Ministerial instructions issued under this new authority would give us one more tool to help stop trafficking at our borders and prevent foreign nationals from becoming victims. They build on Canada's existing efforts to protect victims of trafficking by giving them access to a temporary resident permit, health care benefits and trauma counselling.

Canada's immigration legislation includes stiff penalties of up to life imprisonment and fines of up to $1 million for traffickers.

In conclusion, I would like to cite John Muise, Director of Public Safety for the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, who said that Bill C-57 “is part of the response that needs to occur in terms of protecting women and children in this country”.

I urge all members to put aside their partisan views and do the right thing and support this very important Bill C-57.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the speech by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul and I understand her concern about jobs which subject people to humiliating or degrading treatment. However, in order to better understand the objective or merits of the bill, I have some questions to ask for information purposes.

I would like to know what percentage of immigrants is already included in the system for this degrading work. Also, what are we doing for those people already included in the current system and already admitted into Canada? In this case, what do we do if we find that it is a degrading job? If the bill were applied and would prevent any foreign resident from taking this job, does she think that they would be replaced by local workers or existing Canadians? If so, what would the government or the bill change, at the end of the day, if all workers were not prevented from doing this job?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, let us be clear. This is not just about exotic dancers. The bill is about all foreign temporary workers who cross our borders.

Right now 800 to 1,200 victims of human trafficking are here in Canada, according to RCMP statistics. Non-governmental organizations say that 15,000 people were probably trafficked across Canada this year. The NGOs know about these things. They have sheltered these people.

I worked in this area for close to 10 years. In this country, when vulnerable people have been exploited, our government has put in 120 days for them to be sheltered, fed, counselled, have medical care and be protected. We are taking real action to make that happen.

The need is there. It took me two elections to finally get this particular issue on the status of women agenda.

I would invite the member opposite to read the blues of those witnesses who came from all across Canada to talk about their experiences and to talk about this growing crime in Canada. I would urge the member to listen to the police officers, to the international model who gave the testimony. It is very educational.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, on her work in the status of women committee and in particular on the issue of the trafficking of humans. Her work is very commendable. She has done a lot of hard work over the years.

We debate bills from time to time in the House and we try to get it right. I think we have got this one right for the most part. There may be something we could say about any bill that has ever been debated here.

I want to ask my colleague if she agrees with me that we have had inaction on this issue for years, just nothing. There was strippergate a few years ago. Young women, particularly from Romania, came over here looking for a better life and it was not a better life in a lot of cases.

We have to move ahead. Will the bill eliminate the situation where women who came from Romania and other countries were exploited? What will it do further to that to help protect against human trafficking? I ask the member for her comments.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is very timely and full of insight.

There are many things that are happening right now that we need to address. The crime of human trafficking is alive and well in Canada and it is growing.

Bill C-57 is one piece that will help address the problem. Our government is doing other things to help out on that. I applaud members on all sides of the House who supported my Motion No. 153 to stop human trafficking. All members of the House supported the motion so today I am quite dismayed. We need to send this bill to committee to examine it. I would urge members not to stall it. I would urge members not to hold it up. People's lives are at stake. I would urge members to get on board, to support the bill and help our most vulnerable citizens.

I do not want it to get off track. It is not just about exotic dancers. It is not just about the sex trade. Young girls and young boys are coming into the country unaware of what is going on. There are criminals who are helping them get through the border and helping them answer questions correctly. When they get here they are taken into confinement and are forced into the sex trade. This is what we are talking about today.

Bill C-57 addresses that. The 120 days is a piece of it, as are other issues that we are working on in Parliament to enable vulnerable victims to be saved. The reason we are so tentative about things being held up is that a record number of bills have been held up in Parliament throughout the year. In fact, we have had the first anniversary of one bill that has been held up for the better part of a year.

Now we are talking about Bill C-57. People's lives depend on it. It is very important that we take leadership roles as members of Parliament and pass this bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear that the member wants to stop human trafficking. That is very honourable and something which we would all like to see in the world.

I sat in on the status of women standing committee one time when someone talked about the film, The Natashas, and spoke about the trafficking of women. Women were coming from Romania and they had no idea that they were coming to be sex trade workers, exotic dancers or other things. They thought they were coming to be nannies and child care workers. We know this goes on in the world and it is something that needs to be stopped. I commend her on this bill.

The status of women committee made a full report in February. It had many recommendations in it. I would like to ask the hon. member if her party will be following up on the recommendations, recommendations such as giving border guards adequate training so that they can ask the right questions and recognize women who are being taken across the border, possibly against their will, into professions in which they do not want to work. Will the government be implementing those recommendations?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, this government is very aware of the report and is working with it every day. It is not just one minister. All the ministers are working on this very important issue.

I have to say that we have done more than the previous government did in 13 years. We have done it in just over a year. We are taking action. We are working fast.

All these recommendations are being looked at. They are very important recommendations. We can see that with the 120 days that has been put in place since we got into government. We can see that with Bill C-57. Those are the things that we are pushing through right now, along with the stiff criminal laws for people who perpetrate those crimes.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

June 5th, 2007 / 1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to make some comments on Bill C-57. Certainly it is an issue which I know a fair amount about and I am glad to have the opportunity to comment on it.

Bill C-57 is about a page and a half long. It makes an amendment to our immigration laws. Certainly on the face of it, it should not take very long for any of us to deal with it, whether we are debating it at length or not. Part of our role in Parliament is not just to take something at face value and say that it looks good, it is an area that many of us care about and that we would like to see some improvements to strengthen it. Parliament is about debate and discussion to make things better.

For a bill to pass without our having a full opportunity to debate and discuss it, frankly, would be viewed upon as our not carrying out our responsibilities to ensure that legislation brought forward accomplishes what the intent of it clearly is, and if possible, to go further than that. That means we should look for areas to add further strength in the bill and make sure it is going to achieve the same goals that all of us in the House want to achieve.

I am pleased to take a few minutes to comment on this important issue today in an attempt to move the bill forward to committee so we can ensure that it accomplishes what we all want it to accomplish. The bill is an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which recognizes quite clearly, “Whereas Parliament recognizes the importance of protecting vulnerable foreign nationals who come to work in Canada from exploitation and abuse”. That is very clearly written into the Immigration Act and I know all of us want to ensure that happens.

This bill proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow immigration officers the ability to refuse or authorize foreign nationals to work in Canada based on if they are considered to be vulnerable persons and/or at risk of exploitation or abuse. That very much is left up to the person who is doing the interviewing.

Currently, the visa officer can explain to individuals that they have certain rights when they go to Canada. The visa officer can hand them pamphlets outlining that they may be asked to do certain things and that they do not have to because they have certain rights under their visa applications. That does not always sink in with the person on the other side of the desk who is fleeing poverty or for whatever reason desperately wants to come to Canada and is willing to take a chance. This bill would end that opportunity. It would give the visa officer the opportunity to decide that the person would be exploited. It gives the officer a huge power. It is something that needs to be seriously looked at.

The bill would also allow immigration officers to determine if granting authorization would be contrary to public policy considerations that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has specifically outlined or based on evidence that people are at risk of exploitation. Often it is a feeling that someone gets. When we ask why a visa was refused, the visa officer will say that it was instinct, just a feeling that a certain person would find himself or herself in a vulnerable position. It puts a lot of emphasis and trust on the minister giving visas on judgment.

I do not see where there is harm in doing that as long as we make sure the checks and balances are in place. In reading at least the beginning of this bill, I see it is going to require a second person to comment and that is helpful.

Under the proposed amendments to the IRPA, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration could issue written instructions to immigration officers giving them the authority to deny work permits to applicants who appear very vulnerable to them. The instructions would be based on clear public policy objectives and evidence that outlines the risk of exploitation that the applicants face.

Written instructions could help identify, for example, individuals who would be vulnerable to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. All of us as parliamentarians have been around for a few years and we have certainly had an opportunity to hear firsthand about the exploitation of many people who come here on a variety of different permits. They are very vulnerable and do not have a lot of support or resources, or even know where to turn to get help. They often end up in our offices, sometimes even our campaign offices.

These could include low skilled labourers as well as potential victims of human trafficking. Immigration officers would make their decision on a case by case basis. Each application for a permit is always assessed on its own merits.

Without this authority, immigration officers cannot deny a work permit to someone who meets all the requirements to enter Canada, even if they believe there is a strong possibility of exploitation or abuse.

Clearly, if we have licensed establishments that have a labour shortage, and through our process through HRDC, they can apply to have someone come over to fill that shortage. That is a problem for those of us who are trying to find ways of tightening up the system.

Either we start to ban some of these businesses and decide we are not going to have them. But if we have them, we have to recognize that they have the rights under the law to apply for workers to come to their legitimate businesses.

Strengthening these rules will hopefully provide a tool to respond to situations where a permit applicant could be at risk. Again, it puts a lot of effort and a lot of trust into the visa officer who is making that decision.

Here in the House I am sure that all parliamentarians support the protection of human rights and the prevention of exploitation of foreign nationals, and in particular, women who are at risk.

I must point out that we talk a lot about the exploitation of women, but it certainly goes on with the exploitation of many men who are in positions who do not know any other way out. They are fleeing again from poverty, looking for money to send home to their families, and often find themselves doing work that would be quite unacceptable to Canadians who are born here.

I would like to assure Canadians who are watching at home that the Liberal Party is committed to working closely with the international community to prevent human trafficking. Bill C-49 was an excellent piece of legislation that was just enacted at the beginning of 2006 specifically on the issues of human trafficking. We all recognize that it is a very important area that we need to do all we can to prevent that.

Previously, we had made substantial changes to restrict visa applications to temporary foreign workers who we believe to be at risk.

We also endorse the recent Standing Committee on the Status of Women report, “Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada”. It calls on the government to do more to address existing systemic problems involving the most vulnerable members of our society. Clearly, on this side of the House we are waiting to see what kind of action the government takes to address those very issues.

As the former chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and throughout my political career at the municipal and the federal levels, I heard heart-wrenching stories from marginalized women who fell victim and also heard many constructive suggestions for solutions to this grave problem.

I believe that we need strong laws to protect the most vulnerable, so I will be supporting sending the bill to committee for further review and study. We need further consultation and possible amendments that I am sure will come from some of the members of the House to strengthen the bill.

Although the intent of the legislation is critical, it no doubt needs to be improved and we will do that at committee, which I hope will be done quickly and hastily.

There are considerations that first must be made to ensure the legislation truly achieves the goal of protecting all foreign workers. This is why I believe it should go to committee and I am confident that the work will get done there.

A serious shortcoming of the bill is that all classifications under the foreign worker program could potentially be adversely affected, including agriculture workers and live-in caregivers. If the bill were enacted as it is written today, these workers would have to be denied entry to Canada, exasperating temporary foreign worker shortages in certain sectors of the labour economy.

Therefore, the committee needs to find that balance to ensure protection and avoid exploitation, but still allow people to come into the country to carry out the needs that we have as far as labour shortages. It must ensure that these people know what their rights are and that they have an avenue to complain, to make changes, and to change an employer if the employer is abusive.

Refusing foreign workers entry to Canada based on the potential risk for abuse does not decrease the demand for these workers. This has the potential to create underground economies which render temporary workers even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse which is exactly what we are trying to avoid with the intent of this legislation.

We need to ensure that blame is placed on the abusers, not on the victims. This is so important because victims of human trafficking, which my colleague continues to refer to, are often so frightened to come forward and admit what has actually happened to them.

I look forward to the bill being sent to committee, for improvements to be made, and for it to be referred back as soon as possible. I hope that we will be able to work together in a non-partisan way to prevent temporary foreign workers from being subjected to exploitation or abuse in Canada and for people to clearly know that they are welcome.

We need them to come to Canada. We want them to come and do well, and to move forward.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly applaud my colleague from York West. I know my colleague was the chair on the status of women committee when our witnesses came forward to talk about the human trafficking issue across this country.

I am gratified to hear about her support to get the bill to committee as quickly as possible and to have the debate. As she said earlier, we all know that the parliamentary process definitely is to make sure that we do have the debate to examine every bill in committee very thoroughly. That is what we do here on Parliament Hill.

The reality in Parliament this year which concerns me as a member of Parliament is how many bills have been dragged out for the better part of a year with stalling tactics and so on. Having said that, with Bill C-57 it is very gratifying to hear how concerned the member opposite is about ensuring that this does get to committee, so the debate can carry on and also her concern about making sure that the debate continues on very quickly and thoroughly, but to get it back here.

I was really quite taken aback at what the critic for immigration said about the bill. This is why perhaps the issue has come up today about how quickly the bill would go through. Could the member comment whether there is a division among the Liberal caucus in terms of what we should do with the bill and could she explain some of that to ensure we get the bill debated as soon as possible?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly these are issues that matter to a lot of us. Bill C-49 covered off an amazing amount of the issues when it comes to human trafficking that many of us care about. The whole issue of exploitation of temporary foreign workers is something that is very important to everyone in my party on this side of the House. I assure the member that there is no division.

We all want to make sure that legislation is strong, effective, and accomplishes what I believe both the hon. member and myself and others want to see happen. My concern, and I would expect that of my colleagues, is that it accomplish what the intent is and does not simply turn around be a band-aid solution on something that we all consider to be an important issue.

Let us not forget that the reason many of the people that are applying for temporary work permits in a variety of categories are coming from poverty-ridden countries and are looking for an opportunity to make some money to feed their families. Hence, that is the reason we do not want to penalize the very people who need the help.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member if she would agree that this bill, while it has the intention of dealing with a problem that has been cited in the House and by committees of the House, actually does not do anything to protect foreign workers at all because all it does is prevent people from becoming foreign workers?

Would the member agree that the challenge of dealing with exploitation, sexual or otherwise, of people in Canada is a job that goes way beyond the immigration department and involves society generally, and our police forces and communities?

Would she also agree that the name of the game with the Immigration Act is to enhance the movement of people in and out of Canada with appropriate protections, of course, but that the bill must do everything it can to facilitate the movement of labour into Canada because it is that labour that is needed and it is that labour that the general sections of the Immigration Act were originally enacted to facilitate?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, once temporary foreign workers arrive in Canada, they are subject to the same kind of protection that other workers are subject to. When individuals are applying with a visa officer to get a temporary work permit, it is important that they be given both verbally and in a pamphlet form or booklet form information outlining their rights in Canada.

They must be informed that they have the right to say no to things that are over and above what they clearly understood their job to be. They must be informed that they have the right to go to HRDC and seek out an alternative employer. That is very important once they arrive in Canada.

Far too often people are unaware of their responsibilities and their rights. Employers must understand that they cannot ask an employee who is here under a temporary work permit to carry out various things. They have the right to say no.

People are desperate to come to Canada. They get here and then are asked to do things they did not intend to do. Language is a problem. Fear is a problem. It is important for us on this side of the border to do more for those workers who wish to come to Canada.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill effectively deals with a problem facing not only our country, as I mentioned at the Asia-Pacific forum where 27 countries were represented, but is a universal problem and it is a problem that demands action.

One of the biggest challenges with respect to this problem, which members on both sides of the House have come to terms with, is the balancing act. It is about balancing on one side the elimination of the abuse that is going on and balancing on the other side the opportunity for people to come to this country and take advantage of the magnificent opportunities that we have here.

It has basically been stated that the pendulum is out of balance right now. We just have to swing it back a little bit. That is why legislation is needed throughout the world in order to bring some more serious attention to the fact that this abuse has to be handled. We need regulations. We need laws. We need restrictions to such an extent that humanity can act in a bit more favourable manner.

In this particular case, I not only commend the member for Kildonan—St. Paul but I commend the member for York West for working to find a solution, to find acceptable amendments that will move this legislation forward. I would caution my colleagues as well to recognize that this is a serious problem that demands serious action now. This is why I think we should move as expeditiously as possible to try to find amendments that will protect citizens both internationally and in Canada.

I worked in the crime and punishment field for years, and I can assure the member that this problem has to be addressed.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, all of us who have been doing work in our ridings or elsewhere know this is a problem. It seems that the more laws we bring into play, the more people there are who find ways to get around them.

It is important that we move forward as legislators to ensure that our judicial system has the kind of laws required and that the laws have teeth. People who get involved in the exploitation of our temporary workers in whatever category need to know that there are severe penalties and that they will have to pay for doing that.

More important, we have to make sure that people have all the information they need prior to coming here, know what their rights and their opportunities are, and know what to do if they face a clearly exploitive opportunity by someone else.

We need to continue to work together all around the world on these things. We need to help countries like Romania and elsewhere, where there are a lot of issues, to make sure that their economies are strong so their own residents are happy to stay there because they know they can raise a family and earn a good living. It is up to us to take care of our own issues here and find our own labour workforce opportunities for people.

We must remember that these are legal businesses that are asking for workers to come to Canada. As long as they are legal companies and licensed establishments, they have the right to apply.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
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1:45 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to have this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Canada's immigration and refugee system is an important part of our identity, economy and society. For those people who are applying to enter our country, Canada represents hope, safety and a new start.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has the authority under the act to grant entry to individuals who would otherwise not be permitted to enter Canada. This authority is an important tool, as it ensures that we are able to take into account the unique situation of each applicant. It helps us to remain fair, balanced and humane.

As hon. colleagues know, this authority is designed to be exercised in a transparent and accountable manner and the use of instructions is reported annually to Parliament. However, what the government cannot do under the current legislation is deny a work permit to someone who meets all the entry requirements; that is to say, under the current legislation, we cannot deny a permit even if we are convinced there is a strong possibility that a person may be exploited or abused in Canada.

Under the previous Liberal government, some applicants for work permits found themselves in situations leading to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. As I raised in this House repeatedly during the infamous strippergate scandal of the previous Liberal government, women were degraded by being forced to provide nude photos of themselves. The hypocrisy of the previous Liberal government on this matter was stunning. While the Liberals stood in the House and for years acted out a routine of defending women, they did nothing to help, while some of their staff literally enjoyed the show.

Going back about 13 years, I had the privilege of volunteering at a sexual assault centre for just shy of seven years. Through that opportunity, I learned that one out of three women will be assaulted at some point in her lifetime. I think it is important to point out that now, 13 years later, that statistic has not changed. In fact, there is concern that it has increased and that one out of two will experience this.

At the height of the Liberal strippergate scandal, the price for one applicant was to work as a volunteer on a former Liberal cabinet minister's campaign. At one point the former Liberal minister of immigration said that admitting strippers under the temporary foreign work program was necessary to protect women. Then she flip-flopped and said it was exploiting women.

Essentially, the previous Liberal government gave blanket exemptions to foreign strippers to work in Canada despite warnings that women were vulnerable to being forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitation. It was shameful that the previous government helped facilitate what was in essence human trafficking by permitting foreign strippers into the country regardless of whether they could be potential victims of abuse or exploitation. This was all in spite of warnings that these women were vulnerable to being forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitation.

Of particular concern to me is the fact that the Liberals, despite being booted out of office, still do not seem to get it. The Liberal immigration critic, the member for Mississauga—Erindale, was dismissive of Bill C-57 when on May 17 he said:

I think we have the safeguards in place. This is just an attempt to change the channel to grab some headlines.

He also said:

It's a cheap attempt to change the channel and pretend to do something while they're really doing nothing.

On May 29, the Liberal immigration critic, the member for Mississauga—Erindale, dismissed Bill C-57 and said that it was frivolous legislation about so-called exotic dancers' working conditions.

Instead of dismissing Bill C-57 as frivolous, the Liberal immigration critic should have sought the opinions of highly respected organizations, but of course what would the Stop the Trafficking Coalition or the Future Group and/or the Salvation Army know?

What those groups do know is that this legislation is long overdue. All of those organizations have offered their support for this legislation.

I echo the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who expressed her dismay with the Liberal immigration critic who so flippantly dismisses Bill C-57, especially in light of the trouble the Liberals found themselves in during strippergate.

I am surprised that the Liberals would attack legislation that protects vulnerable foreign workers. I suspect the Liberals do not want a new law that protects workers coming to Canada from being exploited or subject to human trafficking, as a means to deflect from their own embarrassment and record of inaction. The Liberal Party, in my opinion, is out of touch.

Our government is very proud of having brought this legislation forward. We are proud of putting forward protections that will help prevent these situations for temporary workers in Canada, including strippers, who may be abused, exploited or possibly become victims of human trafficking.

Fortunately, this government is doing things differently and is getting things done for Canadians. Under our legislation, ministerial instructions would provide the government a mechanism to protect applicants from abuse and exploitation that they might otherwise experience. I should point out that this legislation only creates the legal authority to issue instructions and does not create actual instructions or target specific occupations. Instead, it sets out areas of concern and offers a set of possible risk factors for officers to consider.

The amendments we propose would include strong measures to ensure that the government is accountable and transparent as it uses this new authority. Each time the minister issues instructions under the authority, there will be transparency, as they must be published in the Canada Gazette. Furthermore, they must be published in the department's annual report to Parliament. This will finally cast light on the shadowy approach of the previous Liberal government.

Additionally, any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a permit would require approval by a second and more senior immigration officer. Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to victimize or exploit people. The new authority would also help stop human trafficking by ensuring traffickers cannot exploit the hopes and dreams of those who are seeking a better life in Canada.

This legislation is the latest of our ongoing efforts to strengthen Canada's immigration system. As I have said, this government is committed to transparency by ensuring that any instructions used under this authority are included in the annual report to Parliament. We are committed to ensuring that Canada's immigration and refugee system continues to have a positive impact on our economy and our society. Everyone who enters Canada should have a fair chance to find what they are looking for: hope, safety and a new start.

I think it is important to note what the NDP has said respecting the issue of the previous Liberal government facilitating the sexual exploitation of temporary workers. Here is what the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre had to say about the previous government's record:

The door is still wide open for the type of wholesale exploitation that existed with the eastern European dancers, and, in reality, the minister of immigration is still pimping for the underworld...by providing an endless stream of fodder for the underworld of pornography and prostitution under the guise of legitimate dancing.

Regarding the Liberals' allowance of a visa for exotic dancers, the member for Winnipeg Centre also said:

I condemn the government for allowing this program to exist. I cannot believe how callous and uncaring it must be.

The leader of the NDP, commenting on the so-called exotic dancer program, said:

Now the government might not any longer be pimping for the sex industry and that is a good thing and it never should have been doing that in the first place.

Given the strong statements by the NDP, I would hope that the leader of the NDP and his caucus will vote in favour of Bill C-57. Surely the NDP recognizes that our government is taking necessary action to deal with this issue, which once again is something the previous Liberal government failed to do.

As for the Bloc Québécois, its former status of women critic said:

When a nation...gives out temporary visas for so-called artists who are generally headed for the male entertainment industry, do you think we are opening the door to trafficking?...I feel that this is a sort of somewhat disguised legal trafficking.

Also, the Bloc member for Chambly—Borduas said:

--we are wondering if there could actually be policies unwittingly promoting human trafficking.

--the gist of what the member for Winnipeg Centre said...was that when offshore labour is imported in response to a shortage...like in the case of bars looking for exotic dancers and importing them from Rumania or elsewhere, these individuals often get mixed up with organized crime.

--I am talking about the Canadian government, of course. Is it not contributing to getting individuals, in this case exotic dancers, mixed up with organized crime?

Members of the NDP, the Bloc and the Conservatives all previously raised concerns about the previous Liberal government's lack of action on affording protection to foreign workers subject to abuse and exploitation. I hope their previous comments are followed up with action by voting in favour Bill C-57.

Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to exploit people. They expect the government to take all necessary steps to deal with the problems associated with the exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers and the crime of human trafficking.

Bill C-57 is an important step toward that goal. I urge all members of this place to do the right thing and support this very important legislation.