House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 18
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

With respect to the second year of the Treasury Board’s four-year cycle to review program spending and performance across the government and ensure value for money: (a) which 21 departments and agencies participated in the exercise and how much did each department or agency contribute towards the (i) $349 million identified for 2009-2010, (ii) $449 million identified for 2010–2011, (iii) $586 million identified for 2011–2012; and (b) for each of the participating departments and agencies, among what programs or services were the savings identified and in what amounts?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed:

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

September 22nd, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed

Use of Exhibits and Props
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to bring this to your attention.

I noticed that during question period and now moving to orders of the day, the members for both Vancouver Centre and Halifax West are wearing campaign-style buttons. As you know, Mr. Speaker, in chapter 13 of O'Brien and Bosc, starting on page 612, it does state:

While political buttons and lapel pins have not been considered exhibits as long as they do not cause disorder, the Speaker has interrupted a division to request that certain Members remove “props” from their lapels.

That was back in June, September and October of 1995.

This is clearly stating their positions on a division that is going to be taking place later today. I would ask that you would rule that all of these types of campaign-style buttons and props be removed from the House, so that we can have an orderly conduct of the division to be recorded later this afternoon.

Use of Exhibits and Props
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

As the hon. member has cited, on page 612 it does say that lapel pins and political buttons have not been considered exhibits. We are not yet at a recorded division, so I will certainly take that under advisement and certainly if anything does cause disorder, the Speaker will endeavour to solve that problem.

The House resumed from September 21 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

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote to send Bill C-35 to committee for further study. Our party has decided to give the bill a chance, to see if we can improve it in committee. Those watching us at home are trying to understand how the House of Commons and its committees work. We now have the opportunity to explain that the bills introduced here can always be improved in committee. After we hear from witnesses and examine the evidence they have given, we can propose amendments to the bill, which are voted on by the committee members and then reported back to the House of Commons.

We have noted that too many immigration consultants have been acting fraudulently and getting away with it. After all these years, the federal government still has not managed to effectively regulate this area. The failure of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is irrefutable proof of that.

We believe that the committee should examine the issue to determine whether a new regulatory body is needed, one that is better monitored and can crack down harder on corrupt consultants who provide services related to federal immigration programs.

Since the regulating of professions falls under Quebec and provincial jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois is worried that a federal act to create and establish an organization to regulate immigration consultants will interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. This is important. Every day, Bloc Québécois members, who have been elected by the people of Quebec, proudly stand up in this House to defend the interests and values of Quebeckers. An example of those values is respect for our jurisdictions. How professions are regulated is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois will make sure that the government understands this in committee.

The Quebec government demonstrated its jurisdictional authority by passing a regulation concerning immigration consultants. This regulation will come into effect on November 4, 2010. Quebec is often at the forefront of numerous initiatives that are then borrowed by other Canadian provinces. We have always said that when Quebec is its own country—and we hope that will happen sooner rather than later—it will have good neighbours and good relationships with those neighbours. It will continue to create exemplary legislation, as it is doing now, that can be emulated by Canada.

We hope that the Government of Canada will learn from the Government of Quebec. To do this, the federal government must recognize Quebec's jurisdiction as well as that of the provinces so that it is clear that crooked immigration consultants will be replaced by a professional body. This body will then be regulated by Quebec since this falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

On June 9, 2008, the Bloc Québécois convinced the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to pass a recommendation that Quebec immigration consultants be officially recognized under Quebec laws instead of being forced to join the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.

The Bloc Québécois is always true to itself. Our excellent critic, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, did a wonderful job making the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration understand that it is important that the Canadian government officially recognize Quebec's immigration consultants, who will be governed by a regulation as of November 4, 2010.

Even though Bill C-35 would better regulate consultants who deal with immigration matters that come under federal jurisdiction, the Bloc Québécois has serious concerns about the power the minister is giving himself to be able to designate a regulatory body in federal legislation. Overlapping jurisdictions never works well, needless to say.

This was particularly evident in recent months, even for over a year. The federal government decided to interfere in the securities market by establishing a national securities commission. And yet Quebec has its own securities commission as do the other provinces. The Canadian system was recognized for having weathered the recent economic crisis—a financial crisis that hit stock exchanges around the world— better than others.

Naturally, it is still rather difficult to understand that, once again, the federal government wants to replace something that works with a centralized, national body even though the effectiveness of the Canadian system has been acknowledged internationally. The passport system allowed every province, Quebec as well as the other provinces, to have their own securities commissions. This provided security during the stock exchange crisis.

Even though the Minister of Finance is practically hoarse from ranting that it is a voluntary system, he knows very well that corporations will be encouraged directly to join the Canada-wide system.

The federal government is always trying to chip away at the powers of Quebec and the provinces. That is fine if it does not bother the provinces; however, we notice that Alberta also has a great deal of difficulty with this. It seems to want to stand its ground, which seldom happens. It usually bows down to the federal government. However, in this case, Alberta seems to want to oppose the national securities commission.

Once again the Bloc Québécois will be vigilant. Above all it does not want Bill C-35, the so-called Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, to infringe on provincial jurisdictions. In fact, as I was saying earlier, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is a dismal failure. Clearly, Quebec and the provinces should be allowed to provide good, effective oversight of immigration consultants.

What is more, our party is of the opinion that there should be closer consideration of the committee aspect. Our concern is that Bill C-35 would require information to be communicated between members of the Barreau du Québec or the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the federal government. We have to take a closer look at this aspect of the bill in order to ensure that it does not conflict with Quebec's laws and to maintain the integrity of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.

As a notary by training, I can provide a little lesson in law. As hon. members know, in Quebec notaries are jurists who specialize in the contractual aspect of business and individual relationships. That is the objective. The Civil Code of Quebec is based on the Napoleonic code. That is a particularity of Quebec. I am always surprised to see colleagues who are notaries with a federalist bent, when the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the notary profession are a true reflection of this diversity, this difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. We are the only province to have a chamber of notaries and notarial training. This training is obviously French-based. Notaries are highly respected professionals in France. Again, because the Civil Code of Quebec stems from the Napoleonic code, the notary profession is a direct link to these ancestral laws that Quebec held onto, which is not what happened in the rest of Canada. The rest of Canada has the common law, while Quebec has the civil code.

If it is decided that the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec are to report to the federal government, we must ensure that Quebec's rights and jurisdictions are respected. That is the objective. As for the Chambre des notaires du Québec, we all agree that the federal government has no knowledge of or jurisdiction in the matter.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the federal government encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction in any way. It will ensure that Bill C-35 does not give the minister any power he is not entitled to.

We are talking about immigration consultants. One interesting way of reducing the number of crooked consultants would be to transfer part of these powers to Quebec lawyers or notaries or to lawyers in the rest of Canada who are regulated by professional codes.

If we consider what is happening the field of law, there are a few lawyers and notaries who have been caught. However, since there is a process to follow and an established structure, they were disbarred and can no longer practice. That is not the case with the federal structure, which is why the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which was somewhat regulated, was a failure. It was not a recognized profession.

There needs to be a new way of training consultants. They should report to the Chambre des notaires du Québec, the Barreau du Québec or other provincial bars. It would be an interesting path to take.

These professions are governed by Quebec's professional code. Members of the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the Barreau du Québec are governed by Quebec's professional code. We have to make sure that any new power granted to a professional association respects Quebec's jurisdiction and that of the provinces.

I would like to go over some background to Bill C-35. On June 8, 2010, the government introduced Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I will give an overview of the bill now.

The minister will be able to designate a governing body to regulate and oversee consultants' activities; this organization will replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.

Only consultants approved by this body or members of a provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires du Québec will be allowed to charge fees for immigration advice, with some exceptions: students-at-law acting under the supervision of a member and entities and persons acting on their own behalf in accordance with an agreement with the government, such as visa application centres and other service providers.

All individuals who “knowingly represent or advise a person for consideration—or offer to do so—in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act” are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison, a $50,000 fine or both. This offence already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Consultants have to be recognized by an organization. If they knowingly advise people, they will be committing a criminal offence.

The law provides for information exchange between different levels of government. The designated organization will have to supply information set out in regulations to allow the minister to determine whether the organization governs its members in the public interest.

Regulations will govern information sharing by enabling the department to disclose professional or ethical information about members of provincial bar associations to the designated organization or to the person responsible for investigating a consultant's conduct.

We must ensure that discussions between the federal government and the members of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces at all times.

On August 30, 2010, the government published a call for submissions from applicants interested in becoming the regulatory body for immigration consultants.

I should point out that in this bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the provisions apply to persons who are the subject of proceedings or applications pertaining to immigration and refugee matters, not citizenship matters. The Citizenship Act does not provide for the same regulatory powers as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. However, Bill C-37, introduced last spring, would provide regulations, in particular, by increasing penalties for consultants who fraudulently help individuals obtain citizenship.

Bill C-35 and Bill C-37 amend different acts.

In short, Bill-35 expands the range of activities governed by the act. In current federal regulations, the government can only take action when the application is submitted or at the beginning of a proceeding. Under Bill-35, the authorized representative commits an offence if he represents or advises a person for consideration in connection with a proceeding or application under that act, or offers to do so. This addition would make it possible to regulate—and punish, if an offence occurs—all forms of representation and advice at any stage, including that provided by unauthorized consultants, who might be involved before an immigration application is submitted.

All those who solicit work, that is crooked consultants, ask for payment in return for helping people with immigration proceedings.

We have seen some abuses—and the media have certainly jumped on them. Some people have been swindled out of a lot of money, sometimes the only savings they had, when seeking permission to immigrate to Quebec and Canada. I believe we must intervene.

The Bloc Quebecois wants to point out that Quebec also has powers in the area of immigration. All we want is for Quebec and provincial jurisdictions to be respected. Earlier I gave the example of securities commissions. The government wants to centralize exclusively provincial powers into a Canada-wide federal organization. That is what is going on with securities. Yet that system is what got us through the crisis. The Prime Minister keeps telling us over and over again that Canada has come out of the crisis exceptionally well, better than any other country in the world, as we heard again today in question period. It is not necessarily thanks to the Conservatives. It was a financial crisis, primarily a stock market crisis. It was thanks to our financial system and the fact that our banks were not allowed to merge.

I was one of those who opposed the Canadian bank mergers, so that they could not turn around and acquire American banks and contaminate all of the investments made by our citizens. That is one of the reasons we were able to get through this crisis relatively well. Furthermore, the stock market system allowed each province to have its own securities commission. When we have 10 such bodies, we can monitor things better than if we have only one. However, it is difficult, because the federal government is always trying to take powers away from the provinces. We will ensure that Bill C-35 does not have this unfortunate tendency to take power from Quebec and the provinces, in this case concerning immigration, and in particular, power over crooked consultants. Quebec is ready to take charge in this important area, since we already have legislation that is about to come into force on November 4, 2010. If all other Canadian provinces were to do the same, all of our immigrants would be better protected.

Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today to Bill C-35, a bill which I prefer to call an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a more formal name than that which it has been given by the minister. Even though I think part of the bill is meant to be a cracking down on crooked consultants, the bill actually has more than that purpose.

I want to discuss for a few moments today some of the important concerns that I have regarding the bill.

I understand that our caucus will be supporting the bill at second reading so we will have a chance to amend it and improve it at committee. I hope we can take seriously the considerations of all members, including those members from Quebec who have some jurisdictional concerns. Other concerns have been raised regarding the resources that are required to make these particular amendments effective.

It would seem to me that the bill needs to deal with two particular problems. One is the consumer protection portion of the bill with all of the concerns that everyone in the House knows about, which are immigrants, potential immigrants and people seeking help with the department being abused by scoundrels in the business who are much less than honourable.

The danger there is not only the effect that has on potential immigrants or those with immigration questions, but also on bona fide, excellent consultants who are doing their work honourably and effectively and are being tarnished with the same brush. Therefore, there is that concern around the consumer protection issue of this.

There are also concerns around the governance issues that we have seen over the last number of years since the institution of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. I do not think I am the only member who has been approached by individual consultants as well as members of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants in a formal way to express concerns about the procedures, transparency and governance issues by the society itself.

I am hoping that we can address that. The concern I have is the reluctance of the government to actually put in a statutory, regulatory body that has teeth, resources and effectiveness in doing this regulatory work.

I come at that from my experience as a member of a regulatory body at the provincial level and that was as a member of the Board of Funeral Services in the Ontario jurisdiction. That body was responsible for the licensing of funeral establishments as well as the licensing of professionals. It was one of the many professional boards that was a regulatory body for an independent profession.

I am hoping the government can look at ways that we can apply some of what has been learned from some of the provincial bodies to this federal body.

I have searched for other examples of professional bodies at the federal level that are regulated federally and I could not find any. Perhaps I will get some help on that because I have just started that search to see if there are any precedents. Failing that, however, I looked at the provincial precedent and it seems to me that a provincial regulatory body has several things that it needs to do. It licenses and certifies professionals and ensures their training is adequate. It maintains that training regime by having continuing education requirements and opportunities. It licenses the establishments or the businesses that may employ those licensed professionals. It provides public education for consumers to know their rights to ensure that they are actually involved in the process. It also has a rigorous complaints process as well as a disciplinary process that is effective and has some teeth to it so that consumers know they can make a complaint and have it actually acted upon by that professional body.

Those are statutory bodies. They are not merely dreamt up by the minister and accountable to the minister. They are arm's length, functional, regulatory bodies that are meant to ensure that we have consumer protection and we have professionals who are acting in the best interest of all Canadians and potential new Canadians.

My concern is that this bill will not be as arm's length because it is a creation of the minister as opposed to a statute. I think that has some concern for us in the ongoing way that this will unfold.

When we look at the issue, it seems to me that we have been hearing these concerns for a number of years. I will take as much blame as I need to from this side of the House for not having effectively established a body that was meant to regulate this profession. However, we have learned. The current board has improved somewhat but I am still concerned that it does not have an arm's length relationship with the training board, the Canadian Migration Institute, and that has implications with respect to the same people who are on the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which is the regulatory body.

This is a small profession with somewhere between 1,800 to 6,000 professional consultants working on immigration procedures. While that may sound like a lot, it is not a large body to actually ensure that the training opportunities are there and that they are kept current. The department will need to provide some more resources to ensure that our consultants are part of the public good. That is missing in this legislation. The very training and licensing functions need to be absolutely clarified in the legislation to have an expectation, as well as the membership of this body.

I am also concerned about the way the government is proposing we establish this board. Normally a board would be established by statute with a certain number of members who are part of the profession and then some members from the public. I was a public member of the funeral board in Ontario. The majority were actually licensed members of the profession with a smaller number being interested, hopefully competent members of the public, to ensure that the public interest was broadly defined. That is also missing in this legislation.

It seems to me that the government is kind of privatizing this by issuing out a request for people to bid on becoming the regulatory body. This is unprecedented for me. I do not understand why the government would put out a request for proposals, privatizing a regulatory function, and opening it up to the most successful bidder, including one that people already have concerns about, which is the existing body. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could answer this for me because I have concerns about understanding how that is done. It would seem to me that this should be a statutory body with a clear mandate from the Parliament of Canada, arm's length from the government, with a relationship with the department for transparency. Members of that board should be appointed by order in council. That would be my desire for this as part of a regulatory body.

The hon. members of the Bloc Québécois have offered some concerns about jurisdictional issues. That would also be a concern to me because other provinces are beginning to have more involvement in the immigration selection process and therefore we will need to be concerned about how the provinces are regulating the profession as well.

Underneath some of this concern is not only unscrupulous consultants. They are a concern and we know about them. It is not only governance on the current board and transparency and accountability to the members of the association for the betterment of consumer protection, but also a basic understanding that some of these consultants are finding work because the department is failing in its job.

Those of us who have large multicultural ridings know that half our work in our constituency offices is related to immigration procedures. Actually, we have underpaid immigration consultants working in our offices, and that is a great concern for me.

The great concern for me is that the system is broken, it is not working. We have queues of up to seven years. People are applying for citizenship and they are not getting hearings in our high commissions and our embassies around the world because our embassies and high commissions are understaffed. The department is understaffed with officials to review cases. We have backlogs with respect to security issues, which we want to have done effectively. We want immigrants coming to Canada to have been cleared for security reasons. We obviously want them to be effective in the workforce and to be part of the Canadian mosaic. That is the goal of our immigration system.

However, as long as we have procedures that are not effective, inefficient and keep people waiting a long time, we are creating a market for immigration consultants that perhaps should not be there. If there is that market, then we want it to be a regulated profession with an arm's length, effective body with the resources in it to ensure that the Canadian consumer, the potential Canadian immigrant, is well served, is effective and will be part of a Canadian society for which we can be proud.