House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.

Topics

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Halifax, Product Safety; the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, Public Safety.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or, as the refugees from the Hallmark greeting card operation that are in the Conservative caucus call it , the cracking down on crooked consultants act. I do not know where these snappy titles come from but I think the minister is taking direct responsibility for that. It is good to know that the minister has other job opportunities waiting for him should this one not work out.

However, it is important legislation and it is something for which many people in my constituency of Burnaby—Douglas have been hoping for a long time, that government would take the issue of the service that Canadians get from immigration consultants and the service that prospective Canadians get from immigration consultants seriously. There have been very many problems with this over a long period of time, so it is good that there is finally a specific proposal on the agenda as far as that proposal goes.

The bill would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to change the manner of regulating third parties and immigration processes. Among other things, it would create a new offence by extending the prohibition against representing or advising persons for consideration for pay or offering to do so to all stages in connection with the proceeding or application under the act, including before a proceeding has been commenced or an application has been made.

The bill also would exempt from this prohibition members of a provincial bar or the Chambre Des Notaires Du Québec and students at law acting under their supervision. It would exempt member of a body designated by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and it would exempt entities and persons acting on the entities behalf acting in accordance with an agreement or arrangement with Her Majesty in right of Canada.

The bill would also give the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the power to make transitional regulations in relation to the designation of a body to regulate the process of immigration consultants, to regulate immigration consultants, which is a very important piece of this legislation.

That is more the sort of legal language. The government has proposed that all advice supplied for a fee be provided by an authorized immigration representative. This individual would have to be either a member in good standing of a provincial or territorial law association or the body governing immigration consultants.

Unpaid third parties, as the government points out, such as family members and friends, would still be allowed to act on behalf of an applicant. Furthermore, under the new rules there would be exceptions for certain groups, for example, visa application centres and other service providers, when acting in accordance with an agreement arrangement with the Government of Canada.

The legislation would also provide the minister with the power by regulation to designate a body to govern immigration consultants. Also under these amendments, the onus would be on the current body governing immigration consultants to provide key information to assist in the minister's evaluation of whether the body is governing its members in the public interest and whether consultants are providing representation and advice in a professional and ethical manner.

There is an attempt to clean up loopholes in the system and to establish a new governing body or an effective governing body for immigration consultants in Canada.

When the government announced these measures, it also announced some non-legislative measures. We have heard from the minister again about those. The government has talked about strengthening public awareness, including raising awareness of the risks of engaging a crooked consultant and updating websites in Canada and abroad to carry warning messages for potential immigrants and various service improvement. Web based tools and videos are also being developed by CIC to make it easier for applicants to independently apply to immigrate to Canada.

The minister has also pointed out and reiterated again today the effort to co-operate with foreign governments to address the issues of fraud that happen not on Canadian soil but in countries, as the minister has indicated, like China, India and the Philippines, and to engage police authorities there to crack down on fraudulent activities by consultants operating in those countries. This is a very important aspect of it and I hope the government puts the appropriate resources toward ensuring co-operation between regulatory bodies and various police agencies to ensure that this kind of crackdown can occur and can occur both here in Canada and in countries where consultants are being hired.

It would be great if in some way we could cut down on the need for this industry, and there are a number of ways we could do that. One of them is by ensuring that we do not have the huge backlog in immigration applications that we currently face. One of the reasons we drive people to talk to a consultant is the fact that their applications take so long. When people see an application sitting for years with no action on it they begin to wonder if they have not done something wrong and begin to think they need assistance through this process. It drives them into the hands of immigration consultants, and often into the hands of an unscrupulous immigration consultant. If we were really serious about ensuring the effectiveness of our system, we would work to get rid of that backlog and to make sure that the system functioned smoothly and effectively.

We should also simplify the forms. We drive people to a consultant when we make the form difficult, when it is hard for them to understand. Maybe we need to make forms that are more appropriate in different cultural contexts and have different forms in different contexts that get us the same information, but we need to make sure that people find it easy to make the application and provide the information that is required. That is something we could do that would reduce their reliance on a third party to assist them.

Another route we could go to ensure that people feel that they have an alternative is visitor visa appeals. Often people apply to have a friend or relative visit them here in Canada and that is turned down with very little explanation. If there were an appeal system in place, people would feel less of a need to approach a third party to help them with that application for fear that they may have done something wrong, that they are missing something in the process, that there is information they should have to ensure a successful application. If they felt as well that there was recourse should they not have a successful application, it would also reduce the number of people who feel that it is absolutely necessary to engage a third party in dealing with their failed application or with an application that they perceive to be more difficult. So there are a number of things we should also be doing, as well as this legislation, and I hope some of those get the attention, and continued attention, in some cases, of the government.

We have looked at this for many years and there have been many attempts to deal with this issue of ghost consultants, of crooked consultants, of unscrupulous immigration consultants. I am glad that the government has apparently taken it seriously.

When the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration looked at the whole question of immigration consultants and studied the situation of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants it noticed a number of issues that needed to be addressed about the operation of CSIC, about that body that currently attempts to have some role in the regulation of immigration consultants in Canada. There was a long list of observations the committee made about the functioning of that and we have heard this afternoon in this debate some of those issues that were observed. It noticed that CSIC membership fees were too high and that it was prohibitive and was interfering in the effectiveness of the organization. It said that CSIC membership examinations were prepared and marked in a questionable way, so that there were questions raised about the viability of the examination process. It said that CSIC failed to develop an industry plan, something that is crucial especially in this new and developing industry, this expanding industry where so many people's hopes about their future are caught up and can easily be manipulated by unscrupulous people.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration also noticed that CSIC decision-making lacked transparency and was not conducted democratically. So internal functioning of the organization was a concern, as well as the fact that the CSIC board of directors was not accountable to anyone. It noted that there was no possibility for CSIC members to call a special meeting of the society. It said that compensation for and the spending of CSIC board members was extravagant, ill-advised and unaccounted for. It pointed out that CSIC board members are in conflict of interest because they created and currently serve on the board of the Canadian Migration Institute, a related for-profit corporation. So there were many concerns raised about the governance of the current organization, CSIC.

The standing committee also noted that many members of CSIC had little choice but to pay $800 each to buy an outdated educational video in order to obtain sufficient continuing professional development points to maintain their CSIC membership. Even the upgrading of skills, the ongoing professional development of the organization and how it provided that, was a concern.

It noted that CSIC does not communicate with members or provide services to members equally in French and English, which is a very serious problem for any national organization seeking to regulate an industry dealing with immigration in Canada.

The ability of members to voice concerns about CSIC was limited since the CSIC rules of professional conduct were amended to make it a professional offence to undermine CSIC and compelling members to treat CSIC with dignity and respect. Even trying to deal with problems within the organization became a problem in itself, and the ability of members to raise concerns was limited by the operation of the organization.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration finally noted that the CSIC website was set up in such a way that members could not send bulk email messages to all other members. The inability of CSIC members to correspond with other members of their profession was limited by the organization itself.

Clearly there are serious problems with the existing organization. I think many people will be relieved that the government is now seeking to establish a different organization and the minister has put out a request for proposals to deal with the establishment of a new regulatory organization, because there are very serious issues that need to be addressed in how such an organization would operate to best serve Canadians who are engaged with the immigration process.

We know the standing committee made recommendations out of its study of ghost immigration consultants. It made nine recommendations and we have heard some discussion of them this afternoon.

Earlier I talked about the need to simplify immigration applications, and that was one of the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in its report on ghost consultants. The committee recommended that Citizenship and Immigration Canada review existing processes related to the most common types of immigration applications, with a view to simplifying them whenever possible.

That goes hand in hand with making sure that the application forms themselves are easily understood. Again it goes to the hope that most people could engage this process without the assistance of a third party, without the need for some kind of professional to shepherd their application through the process.

Staff in my office have seen many problems with immigration consultants over the years. Like the member for Trinity—Spadina, I spent many years as a constituency assistant before I became a member of Parliament and worked with many people on immigration problems. I was often appalled by the bad advice, bad assistance and expensive bad advice that people had received.

In checking with my office today to ask staff members what was their sense of the problem of unscrupulous immigration consultants or immigration consultants in general, they pointed out many problems that have come up in terms of their work with constituents who have immigration applications under way.

In terms of some general concerns, they noted that immigration consultants seem to hold on to information until they are paid, sometimes meaning that people miss important deadlines in the application process. My staff has experienced the situation where immigration consultants have asked for additional amounts that they had not indicated earlier, so there were new charges and expenses that had never been explained to their clients.

Staff members noted that sometimes immigration consultants give bad information, sometimes obviously bad information that anyone who was appropriately trained or had even minimal experience with the immigration system would know the answer to. My staff also pointed out that, in their experience, often immigration consultants have delayed relaying information to the embassies and sometimes back to constituents and the people applying.

Staff members noted that they have seen no consistency in the amount that people are charged for the services of an immigration consultant and that there does not seem to be any clear standard. Sometimes people have paid very large amounts of money for very simple services. They particularly note the significant charges that people have paid in a number of cases for assistance with visitor visas, which is a fairly direct and simple process.

My staff have seen a number of cases where immigration consultants have been problematic for people in my constituency and their families and friends who have been engaging with the immigration process. My staff have related some specific stories to me and I will relate them to the House to give some sense of the kind of situation that people are facing.

One of my constituents had a spouse who was a refugee claimant in Canada. The immigration consultant first charged her around $5,000 to put in a humanitarian and compassionate application and an extension application. When those applications failed, the consultant advised the spouse to fly back to the country of origin and return to Canada by air without actually having an authorization to return, which can take up to a year in any case. Since the person was advised to do this, he tried it and he was deported again from the airport, complicating his case in a very serious way. When the sponsor tried to contact the immigration consultant again, the consultant retracted his original advice, saying he had never advised that. So the situation this family ended up in is a very serious one. Once someone is deported, it is a very serious matter and something that was completely unnecessary. It is very expensive to get this kind of bad advice.

Another story that was important to my staff from their experience of working with people was another couple whose permanent resident application from South Asia was being done through a consultant. The consultant held on to important information because there was a delay in the receipt of a payment.

The applicants' medicals were expiring in three weeks and the embassy asked the consultant if they wanted medicals redone or if it should issue a three-week validity visa in the hope that the people could reach Canada within that time. Because there was a delay by a relative of the couple in making a payment to the consultant, the consultant told the embassy to issue three-week visas, which expired by the time they reached the applicants. This meant that the applicants had to start the application process over completely from the beginning. It was incredibly frustrating for that family who had gone through a rather lengthy immigration process, successfully as it turns out, only to have it messed up at the end by an immigration consultant who was less than helpful to them when push came to shove, when they really needed assistance from someone who they anticipated knew the Canadian immigration system, had some professional ethics and professional standards, was well trained and could assist them appropriately in this process, a process that is so crucial to so many families and to our communities and our society.

There is a lot that we could be doing, and I am pleased that we are debating this bill today. I am glad that it is going to go to committee where witnesses can be called and where further discussion can be had about it. It is absolutely crucial that we get our act together on this. The situation with immigration consultant regulation in Canada has gone on too long and it has caused too many problems for too many people. So it is good that the government has placed this on the agenda.

I hope that through the process of committee hearings and continued debate on this legislation we can end up with a bill and a regulatory body that will serve the needs of Canadians and the needs of those people who want to come to Canada to start a new life and contribute to the building of this country.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member for Burnaby—Douglas for his very constructive remarks and for his intimate awareness of the challenges many of our constituents face in dealing with this industry.

He has raised a number of good points. One I thought I would respond to is his commendable suggestion that accelerating the process for processing applications at CIC would reduce, to some extent, the demand for the services of consultants, both legitimate and unscrupulous.

I agree with him. Our ministry has taken some really significant steps in that direction. To give the member an example, three years ago it was taking five to six years to process applications for the federal skilled worker program, our core economic stream of immigration. Five or six years was completely ridiculous.

As a result of our action plan for faster immigration, over the past two years we have been processing new applications we receive in that program within several months. We have gone from several years to several months. Six to 12 months is the range, but in most missions it is happening in about seven or eight months. That is great news. The credit goes to our officials as well as to the additional resources voted by this Parliament.

Second, the provincial nominee program has grown substantially. He will know that in British Columbia it may have outstripped the federal skilled worker program as a source of permanent-resident economic immigrants. It operates on a priority processing basis. Usually those applications are processed in a matter of a few months.

In most missions, we are keeping on top of priority processing of what we call priority family class. Family class one or spousal sponsorship applications are typically being processed in a matter of about four to five months.

Finally, many of our missions have significantly improved the processing times for temporary resident visas. I can report, based on my recent visit last week to Beijing, that they are processing temporary resident visa applications on the same day they receive them in the mission.

A lot more could be done. There are certain streams that are not moving as quickly, but we are making progress. I just want to point that out.

We always look forward to advice from parliamentarians on how we can make further progress to speed up the process.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for being part of the debate on this legislation. I know that it has been his practice for other legislation he has brought to the House. I appreciate that he uses his time in that way. I think it is a very important contribution he makes to the discussion this afternoon.

While I appreciate that steps have been taken to improve processing in some of the categories he mentioned, he does downplay a little bit the frustrations people have with the delays in family class applications. Certainly for people in my constituency, that is the point where they are most frustrated.

That has been one of the strong points of Canada's immigration system. That is the part of our immigration system that has a built-in settlement program. The family helps people settle into Canada. That is one of the points of our immigration process. We promised people that if they came to Canada, they would be able to bring family members after them. That is one of the places where we are still messing up. People are still very frustrated about the length of time it takes to have a family member join them here in Canada.

There is still work to be done. I am glad that there is progress being made in some of the categories, but if the minister talks to the people who contact my office, they are still waiting. I am sure that the folks who contact the minister's office and his constituency office are still waiting for action in those areas as well.

There is a lot more to be done on this very crucial aspect of Canadian policy when it comes to our immigration program.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like thank the hon. member for his great speech and presentation on this subject.

My riding of Sudbury seems to be the hub for northern Ontario when it comes to immigration cases, and we need to thank the Sudbury Multicultural & Folk Arts Association for the great work they have done for decades and the YMCA for the work being done on this file now.

I have to commend my staff for the number of cases we are dealing with in relation to immigration. I also want to commend the minister and his office, because when we have to make that call, when I have to call the staff there to get some support on a case, they have been nothing but superb.

When we look at cases that come into my office, and I have had people across from me crying because they have spent thousands of dollars on crooked or unscrupulous consultants to get a family member over, we want to do everything in our power to help them. We have been able to do that in Sudbury with some great staff and with support from the ministry. I think we also need to tip our hats to the work that has been done by this committee to try to end this.

There are several recommendations coming from the committee. One of them that I would like to point out today and ask my hon. colleague about is recommendation number seven.

The committee recommends that Citizenship and Immigration Canada review existing processes related to the most common types of immigration applications with a view to simplifying them whenever possible. That comes back to what I was saying at the start of my statement about the work we are having to do in our offices. Sometimes, as I heard from my hon. colleague from Trinity—Spadina, the constituency office ends up being more of an immigration office.

I would like to ask my hon. friend from across the way what he thinks some of these simplified processes would be.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am a little distant from my own personal experience of looking at immigration applications. I used to do that as a staff person, and now folks do that work for me, and I want to pay tribute, as the member mentioned, to the people who do that work for us in probably all the constituency offices of all members of Parliament.

Certainly in my office, and I suspect in most urban offices, immigration casework is probably the largest piece of work our staff do in terms of helping constituents with specific programs. I know that the circumstances of those cases are often the most difficult cases my staff deal with. I have great staff in terms of caseworkers who work on these issues for me. Ayesha Haider, Caren Yu, and sometimes Jane Ireland do this important work for me. They sit with people who are trying to figure out the immigration process. Often, even with their many collective years of experience, they are baffled by something that has happened in this process.

There is a lot of work that could be done to make the process simpler, to make it clearer to people, and to make it possible for them to understand exactly what the requirements are so that they can meet those requirements themselves, without the assistance of a third party, such as a constituency office or some kind of professional immigration consultant or lawyer or notary or those kinds of people. It would be really nice if our system could function so that people could make those applications directly, using their own skills and abilities. They would only engage those people in situations that were infinitely more complex or particularly special in some way.

Right now, too many people feel the need to seek out assistance, because the system is cumbersome in some way for them. I think we could make significant progress in simplifying both the requirements of the system and the basic forms and other information people are required to fill out and provide.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member will well know that there have been recent developments in terms of calls for open government and proactive disclosure. It would seem to me that it is incumbent upon governments themselves to identify areas in which a public education mandate should, in fact, be incorporated into the work of all the ministries and commissioners who serve us.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on whether the kind of information he has shared today with the House is the kind of information that, in fact, should be on the minister's website.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course this kind of information would be helpful to have on the Citizenship and Immigration website so that we could be doing a better job of providing people with helpful information about the process they are engaging in and what that process requires. I think that we can always do a better job on that front.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to engage in this particular debate.

I want to pay tribute, first of all, to all those members of Parliament who have already intervened. Some of them were critics of mine when I was the minister of immigration. I know that the current Minister of Immigrationwill relish the thought of having a former minister make some submissions. He will probably say that nothing has changed.

However, people have made some pretty insightful suggestions. The people who come to mind, of course, are the member for Laval—Les Îles, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, who just spoke, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, who has yet to speak but who was an ardent critic of mine and of immigration, and of course, all other members of the Liberal Party who used to be the greatest critics of the system and the substance of the system, as we have gone through. I doubt that there is another topic, another department, that has more experts in this House than this one.

I am going to add my voice, humble though it may be, on this issue, simply because I agree with the member for Papineau, our critic on this matter, that the bill should go forward to committee, where it will get the appropriate scrutiny from all those people who have a wealth of experience and expertise. That will give the Canadian public a feeling of comfort that what they are getting is a bill that has really received the scrutiny of this House and Parliament.

I know that the Minister of Immigration has counted on the support of members of Parliament from the official opposition to get some of his issues through the House, and I know that he looks forward to continuing that kind of relationship. I am sure that other members on this side of the House will be only too happy to collaborate in a fashion that will produce a desired outcome.

Many of us here have a tendency to be academic or expert on some things, because that is the way we are in this House. We stand here and we pontificate on things.

I would like to give members a bit of a human element.

I have a young grandson. He is probably watching right now. If he is, I want to be able to point to him. I do not know if he is or not. That little boy, who is going to turn five tomorrow—his name is Stefano—had the good fortune of having, and still has, four grandparents who were born abroad. Each and every one of those four had the kind of difficulties we constantly debate in this House with respect to immigration. Their issues were, and continue to be for those who are like them, issues not of process but of substance. They want to know that the current government, the Government of Canada, actually seeks them out and wants them to come here.

Stefano and his brother--I think they are watching this right now; I hope they are, because I want to say happy birthday to Stefano--have the good fortune of having grandparents who had the good fortune of being able to come to this country to be part of the building of everybody's dream. That is what immigration is. It is not a process. It is about the realization of an ambition and a dream that individuals and their families have for fashioning a future not just for themselves but in co-operation with and in collaboration with a collective in another place, a place that they will turn into their home. Canada has become a home for so many people from so many other places.

I am one of them. I had the good fortune of having parents who had the wisdom to move. They wanted to move. It was a challenge for them. They had to deal with consultants. I did not know. They did not call them consultants then. It was just somebody who gave them a hand who said , “If you go to the Canadian Embassy, you might be able to go to Canada, because they want people. They want people who are going to build Canada. They want people who want to become part of a country that is going to be something more than what we have here, no matter where 'here' is.” Along the way, there were people who took advantage of their desire to have a better life for them and their kids.

We do not want people to take advantage of those who want to come and build this country. The reason we do not want that is not because we have compassion for people in need. It is not because we feel sorry for those who are victims of the unscrupulous. It is not because we think it is wrong for someone to take advantage of another. It is because we think that is inconsistent with those values that make us Canadian.

We do not want people's first experience with this country to be one where they come into contact with those who profess to be expert on how to enter this country and make those people pay dearly to come here.

We do not want our offices to turn into nothing more than processing centres for those who would sell expertise whether real or not as the one expression of Canada that they must then overcome when they come here.

I said a few moments ago that I agree with my colleagues that the bill should go forward and let the committee deal with this. I know that the minister will be happy to hear this.

However, I look at the bill and we have now had four and a half years of a government, some of whose members had become the same kind of experts that I talked about a moment ago. If there was a problem in the process, we have had this amount of time to actually deal with correcting the measures in process. This House cannot simply be one that is dedicated to process. This House has to be representative of the collective ambition of the Canadian public for its country.

For all those who were born here or who came here, we used to call them naturalized Canadians, we have evolved. We do not call them that any more. For all those who were born Canadians and those who have become Canadians, they are all part of that collective ambition that wants a place in the world in which all Canadians can feel they have a portion, a stake, a share in the country that everybody would like to emulate or be a part of.

We need to discuss in this House what that immigration plan is for Canada, how it fits in with the industrial strategy, the social strategy, the political strategy of a country that is evolving, that is developing, that is still becoming. It is not just being. It is not just there. Every day brings a new challenge. Every day brings a new goal. Every day brings a new struggle for people to identify with, to overcome and then to reap the satisfactions associated with saying that we have accomplished something for ourselves and with and for our neighbours.

The bill says that we are going to take care of those people who abuse the system by giving bad advice.

It seems to me that a former minister, the Hon. Elinor Caplan, used to be criticized a lot by her own caucus colleagues when we were on that side of the House some 12 years ago. She talked about this precise matter. She said, “We have to stop those snakeheads, those human smugglers from abusing people abroad and from abusing relatives of those people here in Canada. I am going to travel abroad. I am going to go to Beijing”. That was becoming a big source area for many of our immigrants. She said, “I am going to go to other places, like India and the Philippines, because that is where most of the people are coming from. I am going to see if I can get the co-operation of those governments in order to pursue those who are so unscrupulous that they would take advantage of their people”.

Keep in mind this is about taking advantage of people who would become part of Canada but who are not yet a part of Canada. This is about dealing with people who would try to abuse or take undue advantage of a Canadian system in order to abuse people who are outside our borders even more.

I noted that the minister agreed with that, in essence, in response to a question from my colleague from Laval—Les Îles. He said that we have to co-operate with foreign authorities in order to pursue and prosecute those who take undue advantage of others, even if it appears to be more acceptable in other places than it does here, because, of course, we have the rule of law. It is one of the values that draws people to this place. In other places that particular value is less ingrained and so people work within different parameters.

We say we are going to get rid of unscrupulous consultants. Some of my predecessors and some of the current minister's predecessors tried the same thing. One of the measures undertaken at the time was to provide educational material to those who would have become consultants, in other words, have them work with the department and the legal societies in order to come up with a body of expertise that would be acceptable to our functionaries abroad and in Canada.

We even went so far as to give them their own regulatory authority. Do you know what that means, Mr. Speaker? I know you relish this sort of thing. What happens is governments say that they have to put together an organization, but people are mature enough, educated enough and responsible enough to make the decisions to make that organization function properly, in other words, for their members but also for the people that they would serve.

Why do we say that? We say that because there is a basic principle of law in all western societies that is called caveat emptor, buyer beware. But we try to make sure that all the vendors adhere to a particular policy, a particular set of standards that make us proud but reinforce as well all of the values that we build as a society as we invite more and more people, like Stefano's grandparents, to come to this country and to build it. That is what we do.

We established a set of laws to make sure that nobody contravenes Canadian legislation, but we give them regulatory authority so that they can govern themselves. That is what they wanted and that is what we gave them. We worked with them.

The law societies, of course, were not completely sure that they wanted to have the consultants in place. However, there is a fine line between accepting the criticism as valid from one group against the other. It must be recognized there is a competitive spirit between the two of them. What they need to do is look at that market. I think last year some 230,000 people were given their permanent residency to this country and there were tens of thousands more who had to go to those people for the expertise to develop their applications for other types of visas. One can understand there is a commercial issue here.

I listened to the debate this morning on Bill C-17. I listened to it yesterday as well. There are those who are still following the debate. I see there are some very hardy folks in the gallery and my compliments to them for trying to fashion out what it is that parliamentarians do when they talk about building laws that fashion this country and give us a Canadian identity. My compliments to them for spending at least a few minutes to hear what it is that we have to say.

Bill C-17 talked about building a new regulatory framework in order to make sure that we could fight off the terrorists that we see everywhere. As one member of the NDP from Vancouver indicated, it was in essence beginning to limit the civil liberties in order to fight off the perceived evil that is out there. The Minister of Justice said yesterday that it was not all that bad because it is the law the Liberals had when they were in government after 9/11 and which lapsed in 2007.

If one wants to accept there was a crisis that created a need for legislation, that crisis must have lapsed by 2007 because there was a sunset clause built into the bill. It is now three years later. One is tempted to ask what the crisis is. The crisis is that the government needed to give an impression that notwithstanding all the other economic and social difficulties in this country, its priority would be the creation of a psychological environment that says we are under threat and these tough guys are going to put in legislation that lapsed some three years ago.

It might offend some people who think that civil liberties should be maintained, but after the $1.2 billion boondoggle at the G20 summit and the turning of Toronto into an armed fortress for the sake of a 72 hour photo op, the Canadian public is right to be skeptical about whether this is the message to have.

Some might ask what that has to do with this bill. For those people who are still watching, they should think about what the bill says. It is no longer about the process that I talked about a moment ago. This is Bill C-35, which means there has only been 34 other bills presented since the government got elected in 2008. Imagine that. For all of that time we have been dealing with legislation that did not come from the government. Where is the government's vision of Canada? However, the title of the bill is the cracking down on crooked consultants act.

What are we doing now? We are trying to consolidate all of the issues associated with process under the direction of the Minister of Immigration .

I know that the minister's heart is in the right place when he wants to talk about reforming the entire system, but please, this sort of thing makes it absolutely difficult to take the government's initiative all that seriously. It brings all of those functionaries who are outside the bureaucracy into an ambience where they are responsible to the Minister of Immigration for the kind of livelihood they earn. What is even worse is it tells everybody they represent that the ultimate person, the ultimate individual that controls what happens with their applications is actually the Minister of Immigration.

How can we have any kind of confidence in the independence of representation when everything they do is dependent upon the Minister of Immigration? That is like going to a different set of bureaucrats. That is a little like asking CRA officials to authorize who will fill out our income tax forms, and if we want to do it ourselves, we really cannot.

We need to make the process more fine tuned. But the biggest issue here, and I hope that my colleagues will keep this in mind, is what is it that the government of the day proposes for immigration other than nipping and tucking at some of the processes and procedures that have already been nipped and tucked to death?

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also want to compliment the member. He always talks about his family when he gives a speech here. It is Stefano's birthday, so happy birthday Stefano.

This is a former minister and the last point that the member raised is extremely important. I want to give him the opportunity to amplify on how this has been not just about immigration matters but generally in terms of an approach to governing. Rather than dealing with the important issues in a substantive way, we continue to have bills which are regurgitated, re-introduced and somehow put through so that we can continue to repeat a message rather than to deliver important legislation.

This is very significant in terms of the characterization of the government. I think the member will have some comments.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Mississauga South. He is one of those members who actually critiqued all of the work that I used to do. I think he has developed an expertise of his own and he does not need anybody else to say that he has done a good job.

I am sure the member felt as least as offended as I did that all of those people I mentioned here on this side of the House who had developed an expertise and who were genuinely trying to make the system function better for the purpose of developing an understanding of what immigration does in the development of this county, in other words how we pick the next people we are going to call Canadians, how we get them here quickly, how we essentially make them work for us, and how we do that in the most responsible and Canadian of ways.

They actually did all of that, and they want to make those representations yet again. The problem is that we are talking about “yet again”. All of those yet again suggestions focused on what we must do, the substantive issue of immigration. What is the vision that we have for this country?

Please do not tell me that in talking about road building we have to use this quality of asphalt and it has to be this many lanes and it has to be such and such. No, do we want to build the road? Do we want immigration here? Do we want consultants, lawyers who are responsible to their clientele? Do we want to be able to say that we have people who can fashion a regulatory body that works for them and works for the clientele that they need to serve?

In order for us to do that, we have to have confidence in our own vision and our own ideas. On this side of the House we have developed those over time and we would still like to be able to present them to the Canadian public. They will agree with us.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, for 13 years the Liberals have promised to crack down on unscrupulous consultants.

During that time in 2004, the former minister of immigration had a unique opportunity to really set the legislation right, to make sure that there was a legislative body to regulate consultants. They chose not to do so.

Instead, the Liberals set up a body that was bound to fail because CSIC never had the power to sanction immigration consultants who were not members of the society. It cannot seek judicial enforcement of disciplinary consequences it imposes on those who are members. Further, because CSIC's jurisdiction is not governed by statute, there is no possibility for dissatisfied members and others to influence the society's internal functioning through a judicial review.

This is what the immigration committee's report said, that it was not done properly in 2004 and as a result matters got worse. More immigrants got ripped off because they thought there was an organization that could protect them, that if they registered there was some kind of legislation that would govern the consultants. Little did they know that there is really nothing because half of the people do not register and the other half register with a body that has no power.

How can we say that this is not a crisis? It is a crisis. How could the former immigration minister justify that this is not a problem and not a serious situation that we must deal with in the House of Commons?

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I try to be truthful on all occasions, so I am going to tell the member that she is absolutely wrong in both cases. I have not said that we should not do this. I have asked, what is the crisis? The definition for a crisis for me is something that bubbled up there that was not there before and that we have to deal with right now.

Second, in 2004, I was not the minister and when this was put together it represented all of the issues that everybody wanted.

Third, there are immigration lawyers, some more competent than others, and what is the recourse for satisfaction? That was the question that everyone wanted to have addressed by my predecessors. So many of the consultants at the time were actually lawyers. In fact, the first president of the immigration consulting group was a lawyer. As I said earlier on, the very first thing is caveat emptor. If one is in need and goes to where the price point satisfies, that is the kind of advice one is going to get.

I am not sure that one can make decisions for everybody. As I said, what happened at the time was that my predecessors, in their wisdom, put together an educational system in place for licensing that satisfied what committees in the House were telling them needed to be done and what stakeholders in the community wanted to have done. But I go back to the point that was most important. It was not that the process required the greatest urgency. The process represented what the substance; that is, what immigration was supposed to do for people. Was it going to lead out an opportunity for hope, for improvement for those who would immigrate, and was it going to provide an increased enhancement of a Canadian experience for those of us who were already here?

That is what everyone wanted to discuss. They did not want either the issue of consultants or of lawyers, or of anybody else doing things secretly outside the law or under the table. All of those things take away from that big experience, the experience of holding out hope to new Canadians, or those who would be Canadians, and greater ambition for those who already are through that process.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

September 21st, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

moved that Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (suicide bombings), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed pleased to rise and express the government's support for Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code. This bill is identical to Bill S-205 which was passed by the other place on June 10, 2009 and debated at second reading in the House of Commons last November. Bill S-205 was then referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in November 2009, but died on the order paper in December.

Please allow me to provide an explanation of the contents of this bill for the benefit of all hon. members.

The bill seeks to explicitly include the act of suicide bombing within the context of the Criminal Code definition of “terrorist activity”.

Suicide bombing is a monstrous way to wreak havoc because it shows the utmost contempt for human life. Suicide attacks are committed with the intention to kill and maim innocent people and inflict extensive property damage with the attackers prepared to die in the process. The damage from a suicide attack can be devastating, as demonstrated by the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City, killing nearly 3,000 people.

It is also clear that suicide attacks are becoming an all too common terrorist tactic. The July 7, 2005 London bombings, the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, and the most recent bombings in Moscow, Dagestan and Afghanistan are part of a world trend of terrorizing ordinary people.

The definition of terrorist activity is currently defined in paragraph 83.01(1)(a) and (b) of the Criminal Code. Bill S-215 seeks to amend section 83.01 of the Code by adding the following after subsection (1.1):

(1.2) For greater certainty, a suicide bombing is an act that comes within paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition “terrorist activity” in subsection (1) if it satisfies the criteria of that paragraph.

To begin with, the first part of the definition of terrorist activity incorporates, in part, criminal conduct as envisaged by the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings; one of the United Nation's counter-terrorism conventions.

Further, the general definition of terrorist activity found in the second part of the definition includes terrorist activity which intentionally causes death or serious bodily harm or endangers a person's life. Thus, it could be argued that a suicide bombing committed for a terrorist purpose already falls within the definition.

While a general definition of terrorist activity, which encompasses suicide bombing, would be sufficient for the purposes of prosecution, distinguished Canadian criminal lawyers told the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that explicitly covering suicide bombing in the Criminal Code can help prosecute and punish the organizers, teachers and sponsors of suicide bombing.

Explicitly including “suicide bombing” in the definition would also serve to denounce this horrendous practice and to educate the public that such suicide bombing is repugnant to Canadian values.

In addition, by passing this bill, Canada would show international leadership by likely being the first nation in the world to adopt this reference in its legislative definition of terrorist activity.

For these reasons, I agree that there are benefits in making an exclusive reference to suicide bombing in the definition of “terrorist activity”. However, it is also important in doing so not to adversely affect the current definition of terrorist activity. Fortunately, this bill has been drafted with precision in order to address this concern.

As mentioned earlier, the proposed amendment involves a “for greater certainty” clause that when added to 83.01 would state:

(1.2) For greater certainty, a suicide bombing is an act that comes within paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition “terrorist activity” in subsection (1) if it satisfies the criteria of that paragraph.

The bill expressly states that it is only seeking to include within the definition a suicide bombing in circumstances that satisfy the criteria for terrorist activity as stated in the definition of a terrorist activity. In this way the wording of this provision ensures that any other type of suicide bombing with no connection to terrorist activity is not included in the definition.

To be clear, the proposed amendment is a definitional clause intended to make clear that suicide bombing is included in the definition of terrorist activity only when committed in the context of a terrorist act.

The amendment is designed to provide for maximum precision to make certain that suicide bombings unrelated to terrorist activity are not caught by the definition, by ensuring that it is not overly broad or vague but still fulfills its intended purpose.

The changes brought by this bill to the definition of terrorist activity would continue to give Canada the necessary tools to prosecute persons for terrorist suicide bombings, the suicide bomber himself or herself where there has been an unsuccessful suicide bombing, as well as persons involved in the preparation or counselling of the terrorism offence.

The bill also provides that it would come into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council. This provision would allow for maximum flexibility and would provide the government with an opportunity to notify the provinces before the bill comes into force.

In my view, this bill merits support. It is pursuing a worthy aim. It is seeking to denounce an abhorrent practice, one that is becoming a scourge throughout the world.

This bill is precise and circumscribed in its application. Making the legislative amendment would show that Canada is taking a strong stand in denouncing suicide bombing in the context of terrorism.

This bill has a lengthy history. It was originally introduced as Bill S-43 on September 28, 2005; reintroduced as Bill S-206 on April 5, 2006; reintroduced yet again as Bill S-210 on October 17, 2007; and reintroduced a fourth time as Bill S-205 on November 20, 2008.

Previous versions of the bill all died on the order paper. The present version was introduced on March 24, 2010. It was reviewed by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, reported without amendment, and passed without amendment.

The Toronto-based group called Canadians Against Suicide Bombing supported previous versions of this bill and created an online petition in favour of them.

Prominent Canadians who have supported previous versions of Bill S-215 include former Prime Ministers Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, and Joe Clark, as well as former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, former Chief Justice and Attorney General of Ontario Roy McMurtry, and Major General Lewis MacKenzie.

No other country is known to include suicide bombing specifically in its definition of terrorist activity. So Canada would be the first to signal to the rest of the world our abhorrence of these heinous and cowardly acts by adopting this bill.

The House of Commons has an incredible opportunity to be an example to the world. Bill S-215 promotes a worthy aim and I urge all members of the House to support it. By supporting and passing this bill we can ensure that anyone who organizes, teaches, or sponsors suicide bombing is criminally liable in Canada. The time has now come for the House to take action in support of this bill.