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 immigration.

Topics

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, when I listened today, it reminded me of what immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said on The Verdict on CTV Newsnet:

What is 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, a very controversial plan that has [been] brought before Parliament. Normally, in years past, it was done behind the bureaucratic doors or through a fait accompli regulation with no public debate. That is what is remarkable today.

Today I am hearing the opposition parties, who are responsible to their members, who are responsible to the people who elected them. Here in Canada, in Ontario and in Quebec, we have had recent arrests of human traffickers within the last month.

Today we are seeing stalling tactics. A favourite way of stalling is for a member to say, “I like what you are saying”, because the member is afraid to say, “I am going to ditch the bill”, so what is said instead is, “We need to review it”. Possibly this means for the next three to five years, or a member will say that it is incomplete, or dream up some other thing.

We are a government that takes action. The minister has put together Bill C-57 to protect our most vulnerable citizens to ensure that they are safe when they come to Canada.

May I ask the member opposite, will your side of the House support Bill C-57, acknowledge what is happening in your province and support the constituents who have elected you to this Parliament?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I just remind the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul not to ask questions directly, but to go through the Chair. The hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I never said I was against Bill C-57. People know that immigration is an important issue to me and that I am currently working very hard for the most vulnerable. Even the parliamentary secretary sometimes finds that I am very difficult because the measures I propose are to serve and protect a greater number of people. I do not want the member opposite to think that we are against this bill. However, the bill as worded is not effective. As long as we are studying a bill, we can only work with the clauses that are open. We will propose changes to deal with this problem.

Human trafficking is an issue I am interested in. I can talk about my contribution in committee. This issue was addressed in discussions on the live-in caregiver program, which was at the heart of Amnesty International's campaign on human trafficking. I am one of the signatories and one of the people who promoted this campaign to denounce aspects of the immigration program and protect women who are already here on Canadian soil. I was very critical of the Liberal Party and the measures proposed by the government in the previous legislation.

My colleague can also take note that I was close to the political machinery in 1989, 1990, 1991 and beyond. I am familiar with all the problems involving the trafficking of women since then, hence the quote on the problems Barbara McDougall had to deal with in 1991—

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sorry to interrupt the member. The member for Victoria has the floor.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. I would like her to answer my question. Would it not be a better use of our time to try to solve the problem of jobs in Canada and the conditions to which certain workers, such as new immigrants or workers from abroad, are subjected than to discuss this bill which, she believes, does not really meet the needs of very many people?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is what I was saying just now to my colleague when she asked if we wanted to deal with the issue. Difficulties with the domestic help program were raised at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I also participated in an Amnesty International campaign to point out the problems with this program.

The government has all the information required to deal with the problem of women who are subjected to degrading treatment here in Canada. We are waiting for policies on the matter. One does not preclude the other. People are familiar with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We work very hard and we even hold additional special hearings that are currently planned for other matters. The subject is very broad, but this bill requires special attention. I do not believe that the committee will block such an important issue. However, we are limited by the sections of the Act that are amended by the bill. We will have to do some gymnastics to make the bill effective. Nevertheless, I do not necessarily expect that we will have any difficulty identifying individuals who could appear before the committee and we should proceed quickly with Bill C-57.

At this stage, we wish to do everything in our power to make this an effective piece of legislation. For this reason, we support sending it to committee. I agree with the member that the government has everything it needs to tackle the problem of domestic help and temporary workers.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges for her excellent speech. In the Bloc Québécois, our colleague is an inexhaustible source of information.

I would like to ask her a question about the purpose of the bill, which is to protect people coming from outside Canada who are at risk of being subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment, but without any specific definition of those terms being given.

I am thinking of the people who might be covered by those descriptions. We might consider exotic dance bars and escort agencies. I was reading more recently that with the Grand Prix of Canada coming to Montreal on the weekend, the escort agencies cannot keep up with demand. The rate charged is very high because of that demand. So we can see that there is a market. We all know people who are living in these situations; they do not have to be people coming from outside the country. Personally, I know several people who have been caught up in these rings and in this kind of activity because of financial or family or other kinds of problems.

The Immigration Act is really being used to deal with people who come from outside the country to remedy a situation that actually seems to be tolerated in this country, since it already exists. Does the member believe that this is really an effective way of regulating the problem when the issue is human dignity and degrading treatment?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. As I was saying in my speech, I do not believe that by addressing the port of entry the bill settles the matter in its entirety. This may not be the most effective way to protect women who are already here and who are already victims of degrading treatment.

There are programs. Year after year, the government evaluates those programs. There are groups and people who work in immigration, with refugees and with women who are victims of violence or degrading treatment. I think that the government should rather take on the task of establishing programs or improving and reviewing the existing programs. That would be a good step in the right direction.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

June 5th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the first debate on Bill C-57. I have been sitting here listening to the debate and, frankly, I was quite appalled to hear the Conservative member within an hour accuse the opposition of stalling tactics when we are debating the bill. I get the feeling that the member would be quite happy if the opposition completely disappeared off the face of the earth and then the government could run on its high-minded agenda with no one in the House to debate legislation on what it is doing. It is an outrage that within 50 minutes of the bill being debated, the member had the gall to stand and say to the Bloc member, and the Liberal member who just spoke and who legitimately raised concerns about the bill, that they were using a stalling tactic.

I would say shame on the Conservative members for being so arrogant in their attitude that they will not even tolerate debate in the House on a bill that we are sent here to deal with representing our constituents and public interests. However, we have come to expect these kinds of tactics from the government. Any time debate takes place in this House the government makes accusations and allegations that the opposition is doing a political job.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that we are here to debate this legislation and we will do exactly that. The sad part of this is that this bill, which does raise a lot of serious questions about the Conservative agenda, will probably be over in a few hours and it will be sent off to the committee. I do not know what will happen after that but that is the sad commentary on what is taking place.

I felt like I had to begin with those comments because I was sitting here feeling a sense of outrage about the political spin and the messaging that the Conservatives were engaging in when we had barely begun debate on the bill. I say shame on them for doing that. It is quite offensive the way democracy seems to take a back seat in this place.

I will now make a number of comments on the bill because I think it has some fundamental problems. At this point we in the NDP feel that we cannot support the bill.

First, the bill itself purports to propose amendments that would give authority to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to foreign strippers. I noticed the government seems intent on using the pejorative term “strippers” as opposed to exotic dancers, which is what they are actually called. Again, that gives us a little understanding of the government's agenda. This authority would give enormous powers to the minister, on what basis it is hard to know. Giving the minister the power to cast a yea or a nay on a permit that comes on her desk raises the question as to whether or not this is really a ban.

The minister has been reported in the media as saying that she would like those permits to go down to zero. Even the government's own press release points out that over the last year it has significantly cut back on the number of people coming to Canada as exotic dancers so we know it has been doing this. This raises the question as to whether we are actually dealing with a ban, in which case the government should be up front and say that this is something it will not allow as opposed to saying that it is a discretionary thing because it has already cut permits back. I think only 17 permits were approved in the last year. This is something that is a serious concern to us in terms of the bill's real intent.

Second, as was pointed out by the NDP women's critic, the member for London—Fanshawe, when the bill was first introduced a few weeks ago, she said that if the issue is exploitation and harm, then instead of banning workers and the program, we should be focusing on workplace safety and on the rights of workers, whether they be exotic dancers, other foreign workers or domestic workers. Surely that is the issue.

When I read in one of the news reports that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration was introducing this bill as a humanitarian response, I just about fell off my chair laughing. I spent three years on a subcommittee of the justice committee studying the sex trade in Canada. We held extensive hearings across the country and heard from sex workers, in camera and in public, and we heard from police and advocates. When we finally issued our report, although I must say that it was a disappointing report, the government's response was quite pathetic. It completely ignored the danger, the exploitation and the incredible risks that sex workers already face in this country because of our laws.

I find it incredible that the minister would pop up and say that she was introducing this bill, in which she uses the term “strippers”, based on humanitarian reasons. This is nothing more than part of the Conservatives' moralistic agenda. They see enforcement, the Criminal Code and sanctions against people as the answer to everything, instead of focusing on what the complex issues are.

I must point out that even the government, in its response to the subcommittee's report on prostitution, the Minister of Justice told the committee:

...the Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons...coordinates all federal anti-trafficking efforts. The IWGTIP is composed of 16 participating federal departments and agencies and works in collaboration with its provincial and territorial partners, as well as civil society and its international partners, to prevent trafficking, protect its victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

The government goes on to point out that Bill C-49, which dealt with new trafficking specific offences, was passed in 2005 under the previous government. I remember debating that bill in the House of Commons. In 2006, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced a further series of measures to deal with the vulnerable situation of trafficking victims.

Therefore, by the government's own admission, a bill had already passed through the House and further measures were taken to deal with the serious question of trafficking, which must be dealt with, and we supported those measures. I know that the Status of Women committee has looked at that and studied it.

We now have this weird little bill before the House and we are being told that it is a most important bill. I would agree with the Liberal member for Mississauga—Erindale who pointed out all the other issues that the Conservative government has failed to address on immigration and citizenship, and the list can become very long.

With all the problems that do exist within the system, whether it is foreign credentials, family reunification or the massive backlog, none of them are being dealt with. However, all of a sudden we have this bill before us even though the government, in its response, said that it had taken significant measures in previous legislation that was enacted to deal with trafficking. One has to question what is behind this bill.

We cannot support the bill because it is does not actually deal with the problem that exists. If we want to deal with exploitation, abuse and people's rights, then we should deal with that, but to simply give the minister power, with no accountability, to accept or deny permits when she feels like it, is a completely irrational legislative response. I do not see how we in this Parliament can support that kind of legislation. I would much rather see us focusing this debate on the real exploitation that is taking place and on what the government is prepared to do about it.

Again, I will come back to the subcommittee of the justice committee that dealt with our laws on prostitution, where there are very serious issues, where we have seen a high rate of violence because of law enforcement and because of the way laws operate. Women have disappeared. Aboriginal women have disappeared at an alarming rate, a rate higher than that of any other sector of our society.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East, the downtown east side, where we have had 63 women who were missing and murdered. The evidence is piling up that the prostitution law itself, because prostitution is not illegal but all the activities around it are, is one of the main contributors to the harm these women are suffering. In fact, just yesterday in Vancouver a new report was unveiled as a result of a two year community process called “Living in Community”, which tried to grapple with this issue in a very holistic, comprehensive and sensitive way in terms of dealing with safety in the community and the safety of people involved in the sex trade.

This bill has nothing to do with that. This bill will not address any of those issues. All it will do is allow the Conservatives to say they were responding to the issues of women's equality and violence against women, to say that this is what this bill is about, but the bill does not even come close. In fact, it is offensive in terms of the way it lays out its purported response.

I want to say in today's debate that we in the NDP believe this bill is very short-sighted. There were already mechanisms in place that allowed the government to take action in terms of dealing with visas. We know that because the Conservatives themselves admitted that they were cutting down on the permits for exotic dancers. It seems to me that rather than focusing a ban on those individuals and what may be legitimate situations, what they have chosen to do is basically bring in a ban on the whole program. That is what really underlies this, because that is what the minister has told us in the media. That is what the real intent is.

Instead of focusing on the issue of the workplace and abusive employers, no matter what workplace it is, whether it is for exotic dancers or in other areas that employ foreign workers or Canadian workers, what the government does is separate out the problems into little boutique bills. It creates a sort of moral high ground around them and then claims that this is how the government is moving forward when really it has not done anything. What it may do, by an unfortunate consequence, is actually drive the sex trade further underground.

Instead of focusing on the workplace and violations that may take place, instead of focusing on the rights and the safety of sex workers or exotic dancers, because those are real situations that could be dealt with, this bill has moved in a completely different direction.

In our caucus, we have had a lot of debate about this bill. We believe it is important to deal with exploitation and abuse. We believe it is important to focus attention on women's equality in this country. We believe it is critical to ensure that foreign workers are not exploited.

In fact, I find it ironic that the government is actually accelerating the foreign worker program. Pilot studies have taken place in Alberta. We have seen a huge acceleration of the program in British Columbia, because there now is a demand from employers who want foreign workers for the Olympics, for construction and the service and hospitality industries. We actually have seen an acceleration of the foreign worker program.

In fact, it is the NDP that has been calling for a review of this program because we are concerned with the exploitation and abuse of foreign workers that is taking place as a result of this program. However, to bring in this bill and say that it is going to resolve these problems flies in the face of reality.

We in the NDP will not be supporting this bill. I think the other two opposition parties have laid out some very good issues and arguments as to their concerns as well. We of course will be participating in the discussion at committee, where I am sure there will be witnesses, and there may be amendments.

We find that the bill as it is now is not supportable. We are not prepared to support a bill that gives such open-ended powers to a minister. We are not prepared to support a bill that in effect bans these particular workers, the exotic dancers.

The NDP is not prepared to support a bill that really is based on the Conservative government's political ideology. The NDP would much prefer to deal with this issue in a real fashion. We would much prefer to deal with exploitation and to deal with, for example, the prostitution laws that have been ignored by the government. That is where the debate needs to be focused.

I would urge the minister and the parliamentary secretary and others in the government who are supporting the bill to read the report that came out of Vancouver just yesterday. It is called the “Living in Community Action Plan”. I would urge them to take a look at what a genuine community debate is all about in terms of the sex trade and what needs to be done. Government members could see how different stakeholders came together, whether it was police, government representatives, city representatives, community advocates, or sex workers themselves, and produced not only a process but a report with recommendations and conclusions that actually make some sense. That was genuine. It has a lot of merit and a lot of legitimacy because of what the individuals went through.

Something like this bill, which almost seems to have been pulled out of a hat because it serves a political purpose, needs to be called what it is, and that is what we are doing here today. The NDP will not be supporting this bill. There are a lot of problems in the citizenship and immigration department. A lot of things need to be fixed. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this bill ignores all of those issues.

We certainly will debate this bill on its merits. We will deal with it in committee. We will debate it when it comes back. However, we believe that we have a responsibility to tell the Canadian public that this bill is a sham and that it is not going to deal with those harmful situations. All the bill is going to do is ban those workers instead of focusing on safety and rights in the workplace, which is really how this intervention should be made.

NDP members are not in a position to support this bill. I have given the reasons why. I certainly am now expecting a barrage of indignation from the Conservatives as they once again get on their little pedestals, but that is okay. We understand what that political spin is about.

I am just glad that there are members in the opposition who understand that debate is not about stalling. Debate is debate. Dialogue and different points of view are legitimate. That is why we are here. Part of our job is to hold the government to account and to look at legislation with a lens as to whether or not it has merit. We take that very seriously.

I look forward to questions and comments. I will respond to them as best I can.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, NDP members love to get on their soapboxes and rant about Conservative motives. Rarely do they miss an opportunity to claim themselves the champions of minority rights and women's rights. They claim to be the moral compass for society, especially to the disenfranchised.

Here we have a bill that would make a real difference in the sex trade industry, the most vulnerable of groups, and yet we hear that the NDP is not going to support it. I find that incredible. I find that repugnant. I find that offensive.

The RCMP tells us that 800 to 1,200 sex workers are coming through. NGOs are telling us that it is as many as 15,000.

If NDP members are really the champions of the oppressed, and if they are really the voice of repressed women, why would they not work with the government and work with this legislation to stop the sexual exploitation that exists in our present immigration act? I welcome the member's response.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would love to get a copy of those speaking notes. Obviously they have been lined up for each party. It would be fascinating to have them and see the arguments that are presented: this is what we say to the NDP, this is what we say to the Bloc, and this is what we say to the Liberals.

That aside, I believe that in my comments I made it very clear that Bill C-49, passed in 2005, which was a bill that amended the Criminal Code dealing with trafficking, was a very significant bill. It was passed in the House. It had significant hearings. It was based on the concerns about exploitation and trafficking. Does that bill need to be amended?

In the subcommittee that I mentioned, of which I was a member, in our study of Canada's criminal prostitution laws we had a recommendation on trafficking that stated:

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada ensure that the problem of trafficking in persons remains a priority so that victims are provided with adequate assistance and services, while traffickers are brought to justice.

It was a unanimous recommendation from all parties.

As I also pointed out to the member, the response we got from the government, his government, was as I actually read it into the record. It talked about the interdepartmental working group and it referred to the legislation in 2005, and apparently things were in order.

What I am saying to the member and to the minister is that if there are continuing problems in terms of dealing with trafficking and abuse, then the government should bring forward that amendment to the Criminal Code. Certainly the status of women committee has been looking at it. The subcommittee that I was on was looking at it. We said to keep it as a high priority.

However, the bill that we are debating today, Bill C-57, does not deal with that. The bill is about the Conservatives' moral agenda to basically ban exotic dancers, that is what it is, or to give the minister incredibly broad powers to do I do not know what. It does not really spell it out. That is not good legislation.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her statements. I find it passing strange that the Conservatives are busy masquerading as those who are concerned about the inequality and vulnerability of women at the same time as they have changed Status of Women Canada so that research, lobbying and advocacy are no longer permitted. That clearly is undermining women and women's equality.

However, my question arises from the report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, entitled “Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada”. I want to ask the member for her sense of a couple of recommendations, the first, of course, being that the committee recommended that “the federal government develop a national framework to address poverty in Canada”. Certainly we have not seen that.

More importantly, the committee recommended that “Citizenship and Immigration Canada increase access to and information on migration channels in order to increase women's ability to migrate independently and safely”. In other words, the recommendation was to bring down those barriers that prohibit women from coming into this country to seek the kind of employment that is safe and provides them with a quality of life.

I would be most interested in the member's response.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for London—Fanshawe has really focused the attention on what the debate needs to be about. There is no question about the irony here. This is the government that has done more than any other to turn the clock back on women's equality. The cuts we have seen to programs and the elimination of advocacy from the mandate have been quite stunning.

I am familiar with the report of which the member speaks. It seems to me that to focus on immigration and settlement and to allow women to come to Canada independently is again where we get into the debate of how the immigration system needs to be reviewed and changed. Right now that is not happening. If we did have a system that was more open and allowed immigration to happen, because we do have worker shortages in the country, then maybe programs like this would not exist at all. I do not know.

However, the priorities the member for London—Fanshawe has identified are the real ones we should be debating in terms of legislation and changes, rather than Bill C-57.

On the question about poverty, this is a fundamental truth in realizing that the more women fall into poverty, the more we see inequality grow, then the more abuse and exploitation we see takes place in our society. If we were addressing the underlying issue of poverty and promoting women's economic and social independence, whether they are in Canada or through the immigration system, then we would really be addressing the priorities in the country.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
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1 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member for Vancouver East when she said that this was not the sole solution to the problem. However, I can assure her that this is a step forward in the right direction.

I attended the Asia-Pacific forum, at which 27 countries were represented. The issue of human trafficking came up. It was not only first and foremost, but it was a major concern for every country there. It is literally pandemic throughout the entire region right now. The countries attending the forum suggested that the legislation we were proposing was what they have asked for. They said that we had a problem as did they. They said that while this is not the total solution, it was a step forward to address the problem.

Are the government and the other 27 countries all wrong and is she right?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
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1 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member has read the report from our Standing Committee on the Status of Women, an all party committee of Parliament. A couple of the recommendations were just referenced by the member for London—Fanshawe. In that report, as well as in the subcommittee report dealing with prostitution, these issues had been canvassed, had been seriously debated and recommendations were made to the government. I was incredibly disappointed with the government's response to our subcommittee report. I do not know what the government's response was to the Status of Women's report, but I think it was probably pretty minimal.

What we are saying is, yes, a lot needs to be done, but those recommendations have already been made to the government and we have not seen the government respond to the work coming out of committees, which is kind of the backbone of Parliament.

I agree that this is one element, but it is getting a lot of attention from the Conservatives. They are holding this up and saying that this is what they are doing, that this is how they are solving this problem. I do not think so. They should pay attention to the legitimate work that has already been done and respond to it. If they did, maybe we would get somewhere then.