House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was inquiry.

Topics

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to allow for the once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative.

As all members have heard, the bill before the House is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed for several years whether such a provision would be workable.

All of us believe in the principle of reuniting families. That is not an issue. The list of those who can be sponsored from abroad is already quite extensive, contrary to the assertion made previously by the member for Parkdale—High Park. This is a point I will return to later.

Currently, those who can be sponsored include: spouses; common-law and conjugal partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, including those who are adopted; as well as orphaned brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces or grandchildren who are under the age of 18.

The one time sponsorship option, such as that proposed in Bill C-394, is fundamentally flawed because it is an expansion of the family class which would be unsustainable and unmanageable.

Bill C-394 would define an eligible relative to include a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, and so on.

Past experience has shown that even with more resources such an open-ended system would generate an increase in the backlog and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants, and would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the entire immigration program.

Responsible members will also recognize that such an expansion of the family class would create additional problems for our immigration program. As it is, our officers are already pouring significant time and effort into the family relation verification process.

Understandably, we must ensure that family members and relatives are who they say they are. Expanding the family class in the way this bill proposes would make the family relation verification process extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Provisions already exist to process applications from relatives who are not immediate family members in certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.

If Canadians and permanent residents have no close family members in Canada, and none abroad whom they can sponsor, they can sponsor a more distant relative, regardless of their age or relationship.

Paragraph 117(1)(h) of the immigration and refugee protection regulations defines foreign nationals as members of the family class with respect to a sponsor if they are a relative of the sponsor, regardless of their age and if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.

In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist.

Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and who have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.

As well, regulations already exist to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way.

Our system for sponsoring family members is one of the most flexible in the world. Canada allows citizens, as well as permanent residents, equal opportunity to sponsor members of their family. This is different from countries such as the United States, which restricts some sponsorship privileges only to citizens.

Canada is also different from some other countries in that we do not apply economic selection criteria to family class members. Far from being too restrictive, Canada's family class program is expansive in a balanced and well managed way.

Today we include spouses, common-law and conjugal partners, dependent children, as well as orphaned siblings, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor their parents and grandparents. If a citizen or permanent resident has none of these close relatives, that person may sponsor any other relative who would not otherwise be eligible for sponsorship from abroad.

In exceptional cases certain requirements of the family class program can be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds to allow individuals to sponsor their loved ones who otherwise would not qualify.

Countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom include different and various combinations of individuals in their respective definitions of family class members, but none of those four follow the wide open example of the private member's bill before us today. This could greatly increase the potential for fraud and abuse, in addition to having an incalculable impact on the backlog and processing times, all imposed controls on intake through either their selection criteria or more restrictive definitions of who may be considered a family member. The model Canada has chosen, therefore, compares favourably on the world stage.

The family class has already been expanded in a well planned and responsible way. Provisions already exist for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.

Once again, I must repeat that such a potentially wide open approach would have a huge impact on our processing capacity and would significantly increase the already large backlog our government inherited from the previous government.

That said, I would note that the previous Liberal government expressed clear opposition to this legislation when it came up for debate in previous versions of the bill. Our colleagues in the Liberal Party have also expressed misgivings about this bill more recently, during the first hour of debate. The former Liberal parliamentary secretary, the current member for Vancouver Centre, said on February 12, 2004:

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

She went on to say:

The changes proposed...runs counter to...the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

More recently, in the first hour of debate on this bill, the Liberal immigration critic and member for Vaughan said:

The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children.

These are the words of the opposition in this legislature and are not our own but are worth repeating. They are positions that have been expressed by the Liberal Party, both when it was in government and in opposition, and they are positions that it still holds. I hope the Liberal Party will do the responsible thing and oppose this legislation as it did a short time ago when it was in government.

Before I close, I must say that I find the NDP position on the immigration backlog issue astounding. As the NDP has already indicated, it will be voting against our measures in budget 2008 that will help reduce the immigration backlog. Not only is it going to vote against measures to reduce the backlog but through Bill C-394 it is actively working to exponentially increase that backlog. That is what this bill does.

I cannot stand for that and I encourage my colleagues in the House not to stand for it, either. I cannot support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will vote against this fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-394. I hope that all hon. members will join me by not voting for this bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-394, this private member's bill, is not a new initiative. It is a repeat of several previous initiatives of private members to put forward amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would change the definition of family class, expanding it to allow a greater number of people in the relative class to be viewed as family class.

Taken in isolation, it might be seen as somewhat benign and not complex. Certainly, as I will mention later, the proposal in concept has been received favourably in immigration quarters, among immigration groups and settlement groups. One can understand why they might see this as a positive change, but I will address some of those issues later in relation to immigration settlement.

We in the Liberal Party know that immigration is a critical and fundamental component of Canada's future growth and prosperity. Without a healthy immigration program, our country, our children's country, may fail to achieve many of the very promising objectives that we see out there in the future, both economically and sociologically.

We see that immigration has not just built the country to where it is now, but that it is actually fundamental in taking us from the present into the future as a strong and independent economy with the necessary skills and connection to the rest of the world. We are a trading nation and we see that immigration is a factor in how we will maintain and improve our trade relationships around the world.

The current immigration intake in Canada is approximately 300,000 persons per year. It is just slightly under that, but I will use the round number of 300,000.

Within that number, there are included what we call the economic class, which would be the skilled workers, investors and other persons in those categories, and there is the family class, where the criteria applied, aside from the normal criteria involving health and criminal record checks, simply involve the relationship between the Canadian who sponsors and the family member who has applied. That category of immigration has served us well and is continuing to do so. Then there is the refugee class, a small component of the 300,000, but in the vicinity of 15,000 to 25,000 persons each year.

With all of that coming together, we have a fairly decent immigration flow. The one point I would make in understanding this is that between the family class and the economic class, based on a policy decision, those numbers are split between 60% being economic class and 40% being family class. It used to be in the range of fifty-fifty, but a decision was taken at about the time of the adoption of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, based on the advice of the standing committee and other stakeholders, that 60% of our non-refugee class intake be economic class people with skills and 40% be family class.

That has a big impact on how we operate the immigration system now. It has huge implications for the type of bill proposed in this case, which would purport to expand the family class.

We have had a lot of complaints in the House, going back many years, about the so-called immigration backlog. Everyone says that the processing times take too long, but if we look closely at the immigration system, we will see, not to our surprise, that in virtually every year, going back 25 years, we have succeeded in bringing into Canada numbers of people within our targets.

Those targets are selected every year by the government and by the department. Every year, we have successfully brought into Canada the exact number of people, give or take a few thousand, of persons that we projected we would bring in. In order to bring in those people, we have to process them, get them into Canada and get them settled here. There is a whole process involved in that and it is complex too.

Therefore, even though we have a so-called backlog of approximately 800,000 people, we are succeeding every year as a country in bringing in exactly the same number of people that we want to bring in, and that is approximately 300,000. If we have a backlog of 800,000 and we bring in about 300,000, that averages out to about two and a half to three years of inventory of applications. That is a given.

Thus, somebody who complains that there is a three year processing time for a particular immigrant is simply looking at the reality, because it takes us three years to move the 800,000 people through the system. There is no way to do it any more quickly. The officials abroad cannot process any more quickly than they do.

Our immigration receiving areas, including Toronto, where I proudly represent a riding, Vancouver, Montreal and other places where we receive large numbers of immigrants, are hardly capable of assimilating and settling numbers much larger than what is coming in now. These people must have places to live, jobs, opportunities and schools. There are large numbers coming in now, with approximately 1% of our population coming in every year, and this is a huge challenge for communities. We invest federal money in that process.

The point is that the complaints about processing times are in most cases completely unfounded and do not take into account the fact that the department successfully achieves its targets every year.

What the current bill would do is expand the definition of family class, but if we think about it, all the bill would do is expand that 40% family class component and push it out beyond where it is now. If we stick to the 40% rule for the family class, the backlog in the number of applications will just get bigger and suddenly we will have a six year or seven year backlog, which may impair our ability to prioritize the spousal component of family class.

We do process spouses within six to twelve months. If we promise to do that, but the rest of the family class is still sitting there in a queue and this current bill adds thousands and thousands of new family class applicants who are not in the spousal category, that family class queue is going to go out to five to ten years. I do not think members of the House would want to see that happen.

My time is quickly coming to an end. It is normal for immigration groups and settlement groups to want to support a bill like this, but we have to keep in mind that those people legitimately speak in favour of their clients and their members. They naturally have an interest in expanding the family immigration class.

However, we have to look at the bill in the overall picture. We have to look at the overall immigration system. At the present time, it simply is not doable. It is not achievable to simply change the definition and hope that all the rest of the system will work well. I regret that.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to the bill of my colleague from Parkdale—High Park. I listened carefully to what my colleagues said earlier. If this does raise concerns about allowing more people to enter Canada, we should examine this bill from another perspective.

When we talk about people who can be a sponsor once in their lifetime, we are speaking of human beings and not quotas or numbers. We are talking about people who came to Canada, perhaps years earlier, with dreams and sometimes without possessions, and who were able to integrate, to put down roots, to contribute to society and who now wish to have family members—not necessarily immediate family members—join them so they, too can have a better future and a better life.

There is nothing more noble than wanting to help someone who would like to immigrate to Quebec or Canada, even if you are a distant relative. We must not forget that when people leave their own country to go elsewhere, it is because they are looking for a better life in place where they can grow financially, physically and spiritually. That should be uppermost in our minds as we talk about this bill.

I am able to speak to this bill in this way because two people in my riding whom I know quite well are political refugees from Tanzania. These people have a specific problem today. They would like to be reunited with their family and have their children come and join them. Unfortunately, that is proving to be very difficult.

There has been mention of an immigration backlog. There certainly is a backlog, because roughly 50 of the 156 commissioner positions have been cut, even though there are 115,000 immigration applications. There were 115,000 as of September 2005, and then 50 position were cut. How are the poor commissioners who are left supposed to examine more applications? They are not robots.

These cuts were made after the Conservatives came to power. When the Conservatives took power two years ago, Canada was short five commissioners. The person who was to appoint replacements had a list of 80 people who could fill the positions effectively and immediately. But instead of acting right away, the government preferred to wait and leave the positions vacant.

If there is a backlog, it is not because Canada is accepting too many immigrants, but because the government cut immigration commissioner positions.

The two people who live in my riding are Tanzanian refugees who met in a refugee camp. The woman had children whom she believed had died when her village was attacked. She narrowly escaped death and was taken to the refugee camp before being brought here.

Imagine her surprise a few years ago when she was told her children had been seen alive. Since then she has been trying to find them to reunite with them, but she has had to go through so much red tape.

The case of the man in this couple also concerns us. He was working for the Tanzanian government at the time. When he realized that something bad was brewing, he quit his job. He was then perceived as an enemy of the military and he was set to be assassinated. He also ended up in a refugee camp. He then came here as a political refugee. When he left the camp, he failed to mention that he had children because he feared for their lives.

The one believed her children were dead and the other did not want his children to be killed. Today, these two people are having difficulty bringing their children here. They are being denied DNA testing, under the pretext that it is too complicated and too expensive.

All these immigrants are asking for is permission to sponsor a member of their extended family once in their lives. The government is in a position to help them. As my colleague said earlier, when immigrants come here, they have to find a school or a job, they have to put down roots and integrate and so on. Is there a better way for people to integrate than to come to a country where they know people, where they have family, people who love them and will help them settle in? Is there a better way than being able to count on people upon arriving rather than finding oneself alone, which was, sadly, the case for these two people?

I do not think there is a better way than that. Claiming that this would put the country at risk is not a valid argument. How could it possibly put the country at risk? People who were allowed to become permanent residents and citizens here have already had their backgrounds checked. The people they want to invite here, the people they want to sponsor, will also have to go through background checks. If an immigrant seeks to sponsor a person once in his or her life, that does not mean that the applicant will be exempt from the process that all immigrants have to go through. That is nonsense. People are trying to misrepresent the issue by saying anything they please to make others believe that this bill is no good.

I am sorry, but we believe this bill has merit and certainly deserves to be referred to committee for further study and review of the parameters. If certain things about the bill bother or upset the members, they can examine them. That is what parliamentary committees are for.

I hope my hon. colleagues will not listen to our Conservative colleague and that, quite the opposite, they will be willing to side with reason for once, and vote to refer this bill to committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

February 29th, 2008 / 1:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House today to support Bill C-394, put forward by the member for Parkdale—High Park.

This is a terrific bill. All members of the NDP have given very strong support to this idea. It is one simple thing we can do to fix our terrible immigration system. We support the idea of allowing families in Canada to sponsor, once in a lifetime, a relative who would not otherwise qualify under the existing family clause.

Originally I sponsored the bill and I am delighted now that the member for Parkdale—High Park has it. I know she has been a passionate advocate for family reunification, as have all of us in the NDP.

I want to remind the House, because members have probably forgotten, especially the Liberals, that the idea of being able to sponsor a family member once in a lifetime came from a former Liberal citizenship and immigration minister. We know the Liberals like to turn their backs on all the things in which they once believed, and this is another example of that.

The minister, Elinor Caplan, suggested this program. She came to Vancouver and talked about it publicly. It got a huge reception in the community and people thought it was a great idea. She came back to Ottawa and the bureaucrats got hold of her, I think, and maybe other members of her caucus, and that was the end of it. I thought this was a good opportunity, and as a result of that, we developed this bill, and we have not let go of it since. We believe it is a very sound idea.

It is interesting to hear the debate today. It is interesting to hear the Conservative members say that the bill will be unsustainable and unmanageable and that it will create a huge backlog. Is that not the party that claimed it would fix the immigration system? Is that not the party that went out and campaigned on this? Yet we still have a system in which people get completely clogged. It takes years and years to get a family member here, to reunite with a loved one, to come here as an independent. The Conservatives did nothing, as the Liberals before them.

Therefore, I find it ironic that the folks who said they would clean up the immigration system and allow people to come to Canada now deny this very straightforward simple proposal, which would allow families here at least some relief, some way of reuniting with a family member.

As well, it strikes me ironic that in Canada, for example, we have the province of Manitoba, which has the most successful provincial nominee program in Canada. The Premier of Manitoba just came back from the Philippines with agreements and proposals to increase immigration from the Philippines. I know that Manitoba, over the last year, has seen something like 10,000 new immigrants come to that province along with their family members. It is using its provincial nominee program because it is so fed up with the fact that the federal program does not work any more. This is an indication of something that actually works. We should give credit to the Government of Manitoba for recognizing the importance of immigration in its community.

I know in my own community of Vancouver East, we would not exist in Vancouver. The history of immigration has built our city, the people who work in our city, the people who provide businesses, who provide services and cultural contributions. Vancouver would not exist as a modern day city if it were not for immigration.

I, like all my colleagues in the NDP, and I am sure other members of the House, have people coming to my office every day with the most heartfelt stories of being unable to be reunited with family members. We deal with hundreds of cases every year. Some of them just make us want to cry when we hear the stories that unfold of how people have to deal with this system and the heartbreak they go through, when all they want to do is to have a reunification of their families.

The studies and the evidence of what the net benefits are to Canada from immigration are huge. I do not think anybody here would dispute that. Therefore, the question that remains is this. Why today, when we have an opportunity to vote on the bill, would we have the Conservatives and the Liberals speaking against it? Why would we not take this opportunity to do something straightforward and simple, something that will not affect the system overall, but will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of thousands of families in our country to have the opportunity to bring forward a son or a daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependant, or maybe an aunt or an uncle, a brother or sister or a first cousin? It might be someone who is very close to them in their family relations, but under existing provisions would be prohibited and prevented from doing so.

The bill has always been a complete win-win situation. It speaks to our deep values and the history of supporting and encouraging immigration and seeing the incredible positive benefits coming from it. We know the system overall doe not work, but we have the opportunity now to at least do this one thing that would allow some people to come here and be reunited with their family.

It is disappointing today to hear Conservative members dish this and say that it will not work. It is disappointing to hear Liberal members say that they do not care about this any more and that they will not allow it to happen.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Where is Elinor when you need her?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Exactly. Where is the former minister of immigration? Maybe we should have her in the House and she could speak to it.

Members of the NDP are behind the bill 100%. We think it is workable. It is manageable. It has incredible support in the community. We have had petitions and letters come in on this issue. People want to see this happen. We could do something small, but it would have a big impact on the lives of people.

This is a private member's bill, so members should be make up their own minds about it. They should look at its merits, never mind what the parliamentary secretary said, and think about their constituents and whether they would support a measure like this. If members address the bill on that basis, they will find that they have to support it.

Again, I congratulate the member for Parkdale—High Park for bringing the bill forward and for sticking with it. Members of the NDP will stick with it too and we will do everything we can to get it through the House.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for their input in this debate, especially my colleague from Vancouver East, who has been a trailblazer when it comes to immigration policy. I would like to thank my colleagues in the Bloc who have spoken in support. Colleagues in the Liberal and Conservative parties have expressed opposition to this bill and I guess I am little baffled by that.

Of course, there is no one perfect solution to an immigration system. However, as we look around the world and we see insecurity and hardship, we appreciate what we have built here in Canada. We know that there are others who want to come to Canada. We know there are many newcomers who come here as refugees who are separated against their will. However, we know that one of the best predictors of newcomer success in settlement is the support of family members, and that is why family reunification is so important. The enormous advantage newcomers have when they can count on the economic, social and psychological support of family members is readily apparent. We need to assist families to reunite as quickly as possible.

The sponsorship requirements on families are enormous. To take responsibility for another person for 10 years is a huge commitment and responsibility. Ten years is a long time. Things can change. But the sponsor is still on the hook, which is quite a significant responsibility. People do not take sponsorship lightly, as some in the Conservative and Liberal parties suggest. There is not going to be an opening of the floodgates here because of the very onerous requirements of the sponsorship responsibilities.

Members of the government expressed concern that the bill would open the floodgates and increase the backlog, but clearly, the unacceptable delays in the immigration system today are caused by inadequate resources. Families did not create this backlog. It is clearly the factor of a lack of resources by this government and the previous government. Certainly there would be some additional applicants under this bill, which is why I am proposing it, but let us look at the facts.

As Canada positions itself early on in the 21st century, we face some steep challenges. We have an aging population. There is a demographic shift in the workplace as baby boomers retire, which means a greater burden on our social programs, especially medicare. New growth in Canada's future workforce will come from immigration. We will be competing with countries around the world for the best and brightest newcomers. One factor newcomers look at is the ability to be joined by their family members, their closest relatives, in the new country of their choice. Others come to Canada as a safe haven. They come as refugees and they are desperate to have their family members join them here.

Why would we place additional barriers in front of newcomers? There are other options.

I sit on the industry committee and I hear corporate executives come to the industry committee calling for a rapid expansion of the temporary workers program, but I do not think that is the way to go. People who come here temporarily are often unskilled, are paid very low wages, may not speak either official language and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. We have seen this already with some high-profile problems across our country.

The better way to address a labour shortage is to increase the acceptance of working age adults as immigrants so that they start off when they come to Canada with full rights and full participation in all aspects of Canadian society. My family reunification bill would do just that.

Let us also recognize that Canada falls far behind many other countries in looking after some of our most vulnerable members. When family members come here and reunite with newcomer families, they can provide child care, elder care and care for people with disabilities. That is how they help family members settle. They will save Canada resources in doing so.

We will have the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not we support the idea of family reunification. We do not have to agree on all the details. However, if we support the goal, let us vote in favour of this bill, take it to committee and there we can answer questions and make any amendments that need to be made.

I thank my hon. colleagues for their support on this important initiative. And for those members who have spoken against it, I urge them to reconsider, support newcomers and support this bill for family reunification.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.