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 immigration.

Topics

Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Papineau had the floor before question period. There are five minutes now for questions and comments about his speech.

Therefore, I call for questions and comments. The hon. member for Trinity--Spadina.

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3:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 2004 the former Liberal government established a self-regulating body. The body unfortunately did not have the power to regulate any of those consultants. Subsequently we have noticed that little has changed and in fact, some things might have gotten worse and there are more consultants who are unscrupulous and are preying on the most vulnerable.

It led to a series of articles in the Toronto Star called “Newcomers bitten by toothless law”. Because this body had no power, it really did not get the job done.

My question for the hon. member of the Liberal Party is, what was the rationale in 2004 in creating such a body that had no teeth whatsoever to ensure that the most vulnerable immigrants would be protected?

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3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was obviously not in the House in 2004, but I know that for many years, since the 1980s, voters have often told members of the House that they were exploited, mistreated, misled and stripped of their savings by immigration consultants who did not do their job very well.

Obviously, in 2004 there was a desire by the House, by Parliament and by the government at the time to address this issue, which led to the creation of the CSIC. Over the past few years, the CSIC has had some troubles but has improved in its way of dealing with things.

We shall see at the end of the call for bids process this fall whether or not there will be an alternative to CSIC selected or whether a renewed CSIC will continue to regulate immigration consultants in Canada. Until then we will continue to try to make sure that these most vulnerable people are not preyed upon by unscrupulous business people who have no interest in their well-being.

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3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-35, which deals with the important issue of immigration consultants.

This has been a long-standing issue. There are people committing fraud and profiting from others' naïveté, and this has always been the case in all areas. And even though we as parliamentarians or citizens fight daily to lessen its presence, the problem will most likely continue to exist. You only need to watch television shows like J.E. or La facture to see that this is true. There will always be people who will abuse others to try to make a lot of money in a short amount of time.

That said, there is something different about immigration. The people going through this process are much more vulnerable than the average person, which means that there are many more people trying to take advantage of them. This issue has become very troubling.

MPs, especially those of us from urban areas, have all heard stories about people who have had unfortunate dealings with immigration consultants, with people who defrauded them, gave them bad advice or took their money. I would say that this is the tip of the iceberg because the people living in our ridings are those who have been able to navigate the process and settle in Canada. There are many people living in other countries who were fleeced by such consultants and whose voices we seldom hear. That is just as worrisome.

Why are these people more vulnerable to fraud than the average citizen? Because of their ignorance of the legal system and their rights as citizens. Even though they are not Canadian citizens, anyone who lives in Canada is protected by Canadian law. Immigrants often have a vague idea about the country they are going to. It is often a dream and some people are prepared to make sacrifices to make it come true.

Many people do not immigrate for themselves but do so for their children. They hope to give their children a better life and are willing to make many sacrifices. They find themselves dealing with disgraceful people who tell them that they can easily obtain permanent resident status, a visa and Canadian citizenship, but that it will be expensive. They claim to be good consultants with the necessary contacts and say that they are needed in order to follow the procedures.

That is obviously not true; they are taking advantage of the immigrant's ignorance. In theory, anyone should be able to immigrate to Canada without using a consultant or someone paid to help them. Some people feel reassured. The department probably has some work to do in order to simplify the process and make people feel comfortable navigating the immigration system by themselves.

In general, I tell people that they do not need to spend a fortune on immigration consultants and that they can apply on their own. I often tell them that if they have legal problems or a special legal situation they can see a lawyer or notary, who will be more qualified to help them with the process.

So, lack of knowledge is the first factor. Another factor is often the political culture. Some people come from countries where corruption is common and where many things happen through nepotism or shady deals. Something like that seems to happen here sometimes, even in this Parliament.

Generally speaking, I am sure everyone would agree that we have far fewer problems here than in certain other countries, where that is the norm and that is how things are done, and where one must know a politician to make things happen.

Some people therefore believe that someone from the political sphere needs to intervene directly in order to move their file along. So consultants claim, either truthfully or more often falsely, that they know the right people to help someone get his or her visa and become a permanent resident. Once again, that is obviously absurd, since there is no need to know any one particular person to immigrate to Canada. One must simply meet all of the criteria and make the application. Although the system is not perfect, generally speaking, no matter who examines the application, the decision should always be the same.

In addition to the lack of knowledge about Canada's legal reality and the political perceptions that they may bring from their home country to a destination country, there is a third factor, namely, the bonds of trust that certain consultants abuse when dealing with people of the same ethnic origin. Some consultants will use the fact that they went through the immigration process themselves and will tell their clients that they can do the same thing for them, because they are of the same ethnicity, come from the same country and are now successful immigrants. People will blindly trust such individuals, and that is clearly abusive. We looked at this issue in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, because we were told that this is a very common problem. We are therefore very concerned about this issue.

The committee did a comprehensive review and prepared a report with a number of recommendations. The first recommendation made by the committee—not the last or second last—was that in the committee's opinion, consultants working in Quebec who make applications in Quebec should be officially recognized under Quebec laws. Canadian laws should therefore take into account this reality and ensure that a transfer is made to Quebec with regard to regulating the profession, in order to address the specificity of Quebec in terms of its immigration powers under the Canada-Quebec agreement, and because of its specific professional system. Furthermore, Quebec is its own nation with its own particularities and it is important that Quebec has control over this type of tool and the way immigration consultants are governed.

This recommendation exists. I hope that the parties that supported it will continue to defend this same position and defend Quebec's right to govern its immigration consultants. What is more, the Government of Quebec subsequently developed supplementary rules to take these characteristics into account because the need truly exists. Immigration consultants in Quebec need to speak French and must pass an exam on aspects of the immigration process that are specific to Quebec, such as the Quebec selection certificate. They will have to know related standards and how to assess and evaluate individuals in Quebec. It is quite different from the system used in Canada.

When the Quebec government put these regulations in place, it referred to the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which already exists. That was the fastest and simplest option, but we must think seriously and take this opportunity to be even more effective, since this society will probably disappear and be replaced with something else.

In Quebec, there could be an association governed by Quebec laws, and in Canada, there could be another association. This model would be more effective, and would be in line with the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Why am I talking about the importance of giving Quebec control? It is a matter of jurisdiction under the British North America Act. Quebec has exclusive jurisdiction over regulating professional associations. I would like to quote an excerpt of the brief presented by the Barreau du Québec to the advisory committee on immigration consultants:

Although the provisions of the former Immigration Act allowed the federal government to create a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal, and allowed a barrister, solicitor or “other counsel” to represent individuals for a fee, that is not the case with the issue of establishing a college of consultants and establishing strict regulations to govern a profession. The Barreau du Québec believes that the creation of a college of consultants is not constitutionally viable.

Bill C-35 does not change anything. As it stands, the federal government essentially governs those who make representations on behalf of their clients to the federal government, but it does not truly have control over a person's ability to act as an immigration consultant and to provide advice for a fee.

But with Bill C-35, the government wants to take things further. We are not opposed to the intent, because we agree. However, by taking this further, the government is getting very close to creating a professional association. That completely interferes with the Quebec government's jurisdiction.

I would like to quote Quebec's criteria for establishing a professional association or order:

(1) the knowledge required to engage in the activities of the persons who would be governed by the order which it is proposed to constitute;

(2) the degree of independence enjoyed by the persons who would be members of the order in engaging in the activities concerned, and the difficulty which persons not having the same training and qualifications would have in assessing those activities;

(3) the personal nature of the relationships between such persons and those having recourse to their services, by reason of the special trust which the latter must place in them, particularly because such persons provide them with care or administer their property;

(4) the gravity of the prejudice which might be sustained by those who have recourse to the services of such persons because their competence or integrity was not supervised by the order;

(5) the confidential nature of the information which such persons are called upon to have in practising their profession.

These five criteria are clearly fulfilled in the case of immigration consultants. It requires knowledge—point 1—which must be governed by an appropriate order. People who work as consultants are very independent, and it is difficult for an outside person to assess their work if they do not have the same qualifications. The fundamentally personal nature of the consultant-client relationship is obvious.

Clearly, serious negative consequences can befall those who get bad advice. Their lives can be turned upside down and their plans can come to an abrupt halt. Confidentiality is also a factor.

As we can see, this is all about Quebec's jurisdiction, so much so that Quebec felt the need to establish its own regulatory system. The federal system, even with Bill C-35, cannot guarantee that specific elements of Quebec immigration law will be taken into account.

They also use the term “shared jurisdiction” and talk about how this does not fall under federal jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is one thing, but what about competence? Is the federal government competent to do this?

The abject failure of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants proves that the federal government does not have the competence to do this because it does not have the necessary expertise. In Quebec, the Office des professions du Québec oversees all professional groups. The regulations are a hundred or so pages long. The laws are substantial and provide real powers to investigate, intervene and sanction. The federal government does not have that. It would have to start from scratch and come up with all-new legislation for something that Quebec is already equipped to deal with. Personally, I do not think that is an efficient way of doing things at all.

The Bloc Québécois is concerned about the transfer of information proposed in the bill. In committee, we will ask questions about whether this bill goes too far in terms of what it wants lawyers and notaries to transfer to the federal government. Does this respect Quebec's legislation regarding confidentiality and the transfer of information? We will take a close look at that.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill—at least at second reading—in order for it to be considered in committee. This is an issue we care about. We agree with the government and the other parties that the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is not working. It has serious governance and transparency problems. I have seen student associations that were much better managed than this outfit.

I have personally tried to obtain information and have been routinely prevented from getting my hands on it. Members come and see us regularly complaining of the association’s exorbitant fees. They also complain of questionable policies, overly bureaucratic offices, outlandishly high fees, cronyism, general meetings where only the chair speaks and folks can only give input by way of email. In short, it is not a glowing record and there is nothing to inspire people’s confidence. The association has very serious governance issues and it fails at winning over its members and giving the profession a credible and professional face.

In closing, I would like to talk about the bill’s title. The government is carrying on its ridiculous tradition of giving bills ludicrous titles. In this particular case, the title is, “The Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act”. The title in English is even more ridiculous. That has to stop. They will tell me that what I am saying is of scant importance and that it has no bearing on anything, but as parliamentarians, we pass laws that should be objective and not subjective.

What will the next step be? A good budget and a good piece of immigration legislation? It does not make sense. We will settle this matter in committee, and I hope that the government will stop grandstanding and making grand gestures. Rather than giving bills really menacing sounding names and saying that they are going to stiffen penalties, they need to get out there in the community. Even if the penalties were 10 times stiffer, without people to enforce them and prosecute, there is no point.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber on his very clear explanation of the situation and on the work to be done in committee.

I wonder if he can explain why consultants in Canada seem to be incompetent, yet those in Quebec appear quite competent. What do they have in Quebec? Can we do something to help those consultants become competent? Is the member suggesting that the other consultants should be allowed to do their own thing, by province or otherwise? I would like to know what he intends to propose in committee.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question and I appreciate his interest, especially considering the blatant lack of interest demonstrated by the Liberals in this issue. They have not asked any questions since this debate began.

To answer the question, honestly, I do not think the committee or any other body has ever taken a close look at the degree of competence of consultants based on what province they come from. What we have noted in Quebec, in terms of numbers, is that there are far fewer immigration consultants, at least those who are officially registered with the association. Does that mean the phenomenon is more marginal? We do not know. Does it mean fewer consultants register because they do not identify with the association?

Some members came to see us, saying that they had difficulty taking the tests and communicating in French. One thing may explain the other; it is difficult to say. There is no doubt, however, that Quebec, with its civil code, has a different legal reality than Canada, with its common law. With the Canada-Quebec agreement on immigration, Quebec's immigration framework is quite different, so people need to have training that is specific to Quebec, and not Canada, in order to practice in Quebec.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, particularly in my instance, a lot of immigration work comes through my office in Yellowknife. I have very capable staff there but they are not trained, especially by any organization or agency, to a standard that would perhaps be equitable across the country in how they treat these very sensitive immigration files.

I wonder if my colleague has any comments on how this bill might be interpreted by people who perhaps would not get advice that was perfect from employees of members of Parliament. As we all know, the offices of members of Parliament are often the last refuge of immigration appeal or immigration information. How does this work out there? How do we separate this from the concern that the consulting activities of our own staff are protected under this legislation?

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very interesting question and all the more appropriate given the lack of questions from the Liberal Party. I get the impression things will go well in committee. There will not be many questions from the Liberal Party because this subject does not seem to interest them since not a single Liberal bothered to stand up. Either that, or my presentation was so clear they did not feel the need to ask any questions.

I want to come back to my NDP colleague's question. Employees in our constituency offices are currently not affected, nor will they be under this bill. We are not paid for our advice, or at least not in my riding. I would hope that my colleague does not send his constituents a bill for his advice. The idea behind regulating those who do give advice is to control those who do so in exchange for payment from their clients.

As far as the advice my colleague gives to his constituents is concerned, I encourage him to tell them that generally speaking, they do not need to pay someone to file an application for immigration. They can apply on their own. If they run into specific legal problems during the process, my colleague should encourage them to talk to a lawyer or a notary who has the necessary training to address legal issues.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
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3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of my colleague from the Bloc.

One of the substantial things this bill does is provide for significant investigative measures and outcomes that will enable the regulatory body to pursue crooked consultants.

I point out that the bill authorizes the Governor in Council to make regulations providing for the disclosure of information relating to the ethical or professional conduct of a representative. The governing body could then investigate the conduct and, where appropriate, pursue disciplinary action.

The bill also proposes to extend the time of the investigation from about six months to about five years. The bill allows for the pursuit and, in some cases, the conviction of those who have not been acting in accordance with the law.

I would simply ask the member to comment on both of these points. Will his party be supporting these important additional measures?

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to quickly answer in order to allow a Liberal member to ask a question and take some interest in the matter.

We are concerned about the real ability of the government to intervene and to take coercive action that will make people feel they have some support.

Having said that, the measures outlined by my colleague are all in the Quebec Professional Code, legislation that has been developed over the decades, is very extensive and has a very good framework. They are trying to recreate in Ottawa something that already exists in Quebec, where professional orders already have these abilities and powers, and even more when it comes to investigative powers, disciplinary measures, sanctions and court action, and so on.

In my opinion, it would be more efficient and respectful of Quebec's jurisdictions to allow a Quebec body to regulate consultants working in Quebec while recognizing that the rest of Canada may feel the need to create such a tool for itself. We recognized this in our committee report. It was the intent of recommendation 1. We will be studying this issue.

We said that we would support the bill at second reading. We will study it carefully and wait for everyone's comments before forming a definite opinion about the details of each clause.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, given that there are still no Liberals asking questions, I will ask my colleague a question myself.

I have two points to raise. First, will the committee study the training that consultants receive? Second, will there be resources or methods for monitoring these consultants, not only in Quebec and Canada, but overseas as well?

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right to bring up the lack of Liberal participation in the debate. However, we were treated to some rhetorical gymnastics by the member for Papineau this morning. We thought that he would be quite actively involved in the debate and concerned by the issue, but it seems that he did not have many points to bring to the debate today other than those in his speech.

The issue of overseas consultants is really quite problematic. Quebec has taken a step forward in regulating consultants by asking people to state whether they paid for consultation services overseas. I can assure my colleague that I will raise this point in committee in order to take the issue of overseas consultants as far as possible.