House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminals.

Topics

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague.

I completely agree with her that we all want safe communities in which people can live in peace.

However, I wonder whether the bill addresses the flaws that appear to be in the Criminal Code or in our current immigration system, which is there to identify people who may be serious criminals.

Once again, it does not seem clear to me, and this could be clarified in committee, but what does “serious criminality” mean? I would like to know because I am being told that a prison sentence of six months or more is given in cases of “serious criminality”. One member mentioned violent crime.

Quite simply, things need to be clarified.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member in her question illustrates why it is that this is an anti-immigrant bill, at least in good part. She keeps wanting to use the terms “foreign criminal” and “dangerous people”.

What we are talking about are permanent residents. Most of the criminals she is referring to are not child molesters, murderers, drug addicts and so forth. With a six-month sentence, we could have 19-year-olds who have lived in Canada for 17 years but never got their citizenship, who got caught with six marijuana plants in their home. They are going to be deported. The rest of the family stays, but they are going to be deported to another country, even though they have been here for 15 of 17 years, because they did not get their citizenship.

All the Conservatives have to do is read their own legislation. My question is: Is the wording not important in terms of how the government is even labelling this issue, much as it used the term “bogus refugee”?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will quote an excerpt of an article I just read on this subject:

The federal government has always had the authority to strip landed immigrant status from a permanent resident convicted of a serious crime, but Bill C-43 would allow appeals only for those sentenced to less than six months in jail, down from the current threshold of two years.

This authority already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. So is this bill necessary? That is what I was asking.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This legislation includes many provisions relating to immigration. Some are valid and interesting, while others seem less appropriate.

In short, the bill grants more power to the minister by giving him the authority to rule on the admissibility of temporary resident applicants. It removes the minister's responsibility to review humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It grants the minister a new discretionary power to issue an exemption for a member of the family of a foreign national who is deemed inadmissible. The bill also amends the definition of “serious criminality” to restrict access to the appeal process following an inadmissibility ruling. It increases the penalty for false representation and, finally, it clarifies the fact that entering the country by resorting to criminal activities does not automatically lead to inadmissibility.

I would like to begin by sharing something with hon. members. I am always a bit uncomfortable when we talk about immigration, and that is for a very simple reason: I am not myself an immigrant. I live in the country in which I was born. I never have to question myself. I live in my home country, with my relatives and with my language. My cultural references are the same as those of the majority around me. I never had to consider emigration as an option. If I left to live elsewhere, it would only be for a while. It would not be emigration but, rather, an extended stay.

I know what I am talking about, because I lived abroad. I once was the one who had to adapt. I had to work hard to learn how to function in a foreign language that I did not fully master. I developed new social skills that I was not familiar with. In Russia, I changed. I developed a bit of Russian in me. Thanks to this subtle change, by the time I left Moscow, I had acquired a Slavic heritage that will always stay with me. Mores vary from one country to another.

At the same time, because I was forced to adapt to this otherness, I was becoming increasingly more Quebecker and Canadian. I understood more clearly what it meant to be born in Canada. I could not but realize that the relationship I had with my country was one of trust. I knew that Canada would always be there for me.That trust generated a feeling of pride. I am convinced that many here know what I am talking about.

If I mention my stay in Russia, it is because I want to make us think. During the debate on Bill C-43, we should think about our relationship with the rest of the world. We have been debating the reform of the immigration system since last fall. I am referring to Bill C-4 and Bill C-31. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-43, because it gives me a chance to level a criticism at the government. Not only am I not pleased with the tone used by the government when it talks about immigration and refugees, but I am even more upset by the tone and the comments of some members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

I do not want to preach to anyone, but, for me, it is important to distance myself from the unenlightened remarks we sometimes hear. Pride in one's own country should not give rise to disdain for another's. Nor should it necessarily give rise to an undue fear of foreigners. That is silly and simplistic.

I remain convinced that the government's interest in ethnic communities that have settled in Canada is purely mercenary. The government is not comfortable with immigration and even less so with refugees. My impression is that they see jihadists and smugglers everywhere. I am not accusing them of that; it is just the impression I get. I am sorry.

That said, of the three government bills to reform the immigration system, Bill C-43 is the least contentious. It deals with the faster removal of dangerous criminals.

Who could be opposed to that, really? Not the Canadian public, not the NDP. Canada is not a haven for failed tyrants, multimillionaire dictators and petty mafiosi of every description.

In support of this bill, the government wants to show us lists of expert witnesses who agree that dangerous criminals should not be allowed into the country. Really? What a revelation.

I can assure the government that no one, anywhere, wants people who are guilty of serious crimes to be walking free among us and abusing our hospitality.

But I wonder what the government plans to do in order to really crack down on these criminals and to protect Canadians. That is the burning question because the answer is turning out to be a little disappointing.

Basically, Bill C-43 gives more discretionary powers to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister will be the one to decide who can stay and who must leave right away. So he will become a kind of James Bond, working 28-hour days to protect Canadians from evil, twisted foreigners and their illicit master plans.

Bill C-43, like Bill C-4, gives the minister more arbitrary powers. I am well aware that we have to crack down on criminals who would come here and put our peaceful communities at risk. No one would ever say otherwise; but why must it be the minister who decides?

The answer is simple. It is so the minister can cut off the appeals launched by those charged with crimes. The minister could then decide to kick out anyone filing an appeal, or, let us come right out and say it, everyone filing an appeal.

All this will help us save time and money and will send the problem far, far away to other less sympathetic shores. When you get rid of a problem, have you not solved it?

With this bill, the government says it is attacking a specific, urgent problem by creating a legal limbo and opening the door to arbitrary measures. This is worrying. How far will the minister's authority go? Where will the limits to these new powers be set?

I just want to say to the government and to the minister that granting discretionary authority is not the answer to every problem. The minister cannot micromanage everything by himself in his office as soon as an exceptional case turns up. That is not a system, that is a despot.

Another very important detail is that they want to prevent all family members of a convicted criminal from visiting Canada. They have been careful to cast a wide net. The idea behind this is that the members of a Mafia family, or some kind of gang or the families of overthrown dictators will not be able to come to Canada and will not be able to bring their problems here. It is clearly a desirable goal, in and of itself. However, there are always exceptional cases, even though they are rare, and the minister's discretionary powers will not be intermittent. They will be enshrined in legislation and create a legal limbo that will last forever.

Furthermore, this is a huge undertaking. All family members of criminals sentenced here or abroad will have to be identified, and the road to Canada barred for them. Since the departmental cuts were made, this difficult task will have to be carried out quickly and well with fewer human resources.

The government wants to get rid of the backlog in the immigration system by creating massive research projects for immigration office employees. I imagine there is no other solution.

What I am saying is that the substance is good, but the form seems deficient. The government wants to protect Canadians and better manage our immigration system. The New Democratic Party recognizes that immigration is a priceless resource for Canada and wants to ensure that our system is effective, professional, swift and reliable.

The NDP also recognizes that action must indeed be taken to prevent the abuse of our system. The government is trying to resolve the issue, but it is going about it the wrong way. We think this is a worthwhile bill and that it must be studied in committee. We have already said that Bill C-43 has many admirable elements that deserve our support. In particular, the NDP is pleased that the bill exonerates the victims of human smugglers and that their victim status is guaranteed. Apparently, the government has learned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I listened carefully to the speech by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism when he introduced his bill. I find it somewhat disorienting to hear him use the word “foreigner” to describe people who have not officially obtained their Canadian citizenship even though they are permanent residents.

All of us, without exception, are the descendants of immigrants. I am getting tired of seeing the Conservatives dismantle what has taken decades to build: Canada's reputation as a compassionate, equitable and fair country. A country that stands up for itself, that knows how to say yes, but also knows how to say no and how to show someone the door when it is necessary, as is the case with serious criminals. I do not want to hear that such and such a budget has tripled; frankly, in a department the size of Immigration, money is not everything. We are not dealing with columns of numbers. We are dealing with human beings who have often been more unlucky than we have. I would appreciate it if the government would stop hiding behind its accounting ledgers.

In conclusion, I am aware that the Conservative government has had to tackle immigration reform but is not terribly interested in it. And with good reason. As soon as the word “immigration” is spoken on the other side of the House, the word “economic” follows in the next sentence. They do not understand that some departments have obligations to the public, and are not just companies that must make a profit. A country is not run the same way as a business. But I am wasting my breath trying to tell them so.

Some institutions exist for reasons that are not strictly economic. Immigration is an inevitable global phenomenon and it will increase in the years to come. Canada would be well-advised to have its immigration system structured by people who see beyond simple economic interests.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before we go to questions and comments, I would observe that there are times when many members wish to pose questions. We only have five minutes for questions and comments, so I would ask hon. members who wish to pose questions to keep their questions and responses to no more than about a minute so that as many members as possible will have an opportunity to pose questions.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have referred to this bill as an anti-immigrant bill, even in its short title, the faster removal of foreign criminals act. Just because its name implies something does not necessarily make it a good bill. Many Canadians have concerns about serious crimes and want some sort of consequences for those. We recognize that.

Does the member have any difficulty with the government using words like “foreign criminals” as opposed to “permanent residents”, much like it used the term “bogus refugees” to try to send an indirect and very negative message toward immigrants?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg North for his question.

I completely agree, and I even said so in my speech. When I hear government members using the word “foreigners” to describe people who live here as permanent residents, I am very unhappy, especially when it is the Minister of Immigration, who should be their champion, defending these people and supporting them. Moreover, the French word for foreigner, “étranger”, also means stranger--someone not like us. It is as if they did not want to associate with foreigners or strangers. It is very upsetting to hear them use such terms.

Serious crimes have been mentioned a number of times. Someone who has six marijuana plants in the house will now be considered a serious criminal, but is that really true? That is a question Parliament will have to answer one day.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for an incredible speech. She always grounds her speeches in personal experience, and if she were still an immigrant and I were the minister, I would be happy to make her a citizen immediately.

I have two issues. The first is that we have had a frustrating situation in Edmonton and all of northern Alberta, where the minister has delayed reappointing a citizenship judge for over a year. I am getting letters and calls from applicants who have been waiting more than 18 months simply to have their applications considered.

Does the member think the government is making things even more difficult for landed immigrants and that it could perhaps put more programs in place to provide employment and support for youth who might get in trouble, allowing them to avoid potential deportation and perhaps to become productive Canadian citizens?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my excellent colleague, the member for Edmonton—Strahcona.

Situations such as those my colleague has just described are very hard to understand for people like us who have grown up here and always lived here. When people arrive in a new country, they may not understand the language very well. They are completely disoriented. Instead of helping them make a contribution to our society, our beloved country, the government tells them the process may be long and it tries to discourage them by putting obstacles in their way. In short, the message it is trying to send is that we are not sure we really want them. It is not obvious to these young people and it may be that some of them will turn to crime. We must give them more help.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, this new bill gives a great deal of discretionary power to the Minister of Justice. I wonder if my distinguished colleague could talk about the importance of separating judicial, administrative and political powers.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, the main risk here is that there is no longer any judicial independence. These decisions will become completely arbitrary and, based on the criteria, they will be made on the minister's whim.

Instead, we need clear legislation with specific criteria. We want these decisions to be made by judges, not by the minister.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

October 4th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Speaker, in the brief time I have I cannot go over chapter and verse of the bill, but I want to focus on a couple of sections and aspects of the bill.

Bill C-43 concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by giving him new discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. It relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances, changes what constitutes serious criminality for the purpose of access to an appeal of a determination of inadmissibility, increases the penalty for misrepresentation and clarifies that entering with the assistance of organized criminal activity does not on its own lead to inadmissibility.

In case there is any confusion, New Democrats will support this legislation getting to committee. I want to quote the member for Newton—North Delta who, as the NDP immigration critic, has done a tremendous amount of work on this file. In her speech on September 24, she indicated that she wanted to make clear the following:

—that as New Democrats we recognize the need for an efficient and responsive judicial approach to removing of serious criminals who are not citizens.

All Canadians want a tough approach to non-citizens who commit serious, often violent, crimes in our communities. Newcomers in our communities, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and follow the rules, would be among the first to agree with this sentiment.

However, she went on to say that we do have some serious concerns about the bill being proposed. One of the concerns she outlined was that it again concentrates powers with the minister. Part of the concern that the member raised was the fact that our immigration system does not need to be more politicized than it already is. Whenever we start seeing increased concentration of powers in the minister's hands, it removes parliamentary oversight from some of those activities and removes it from the department itself, which often operates in a more arm's-length way.

One of the other items she raised is that:

Another troubling feature for us in the bill is that the bill relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances, taking into account the interests of children affected. In our view, ignoring the interests of children is not something the minister should be relieved of.

I want to touch briefly on the issue of war resisters. War resisters at the time were not permanent residents, but it has been an issue that has come before the House a number of times, including a motion that supported allowing war resisters to remain in this country. We recently had the case of the war resister Kimberly Rivera, who asked the government to grant permanent residence status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The NDP's British Columbia caucus wrote a letter to the minister indicating that we had joined prominent Canadians and international advocates, including Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in calling on the minister to allow Ms. Rivera to stay in Canada with her family. The letter mentioned the fact that Ms. Rivera had children while she was living here and that there were many other factors to consider.

I want to mention another war resister who, unfortunately, was deported from my riding a couple of years ago. It was a young man named Cliff Cornell who had been living on Gabriola. He was a quiet young man. He had joined the forces in the United States. He grew up in a mountain home in Arkansas and in 2002 after leaving high school and with few employment prospects he had accepted a $5,000 signing bonus for a career in the U.S. Army. A few months later the U.S. went to war against Iraq. He deserted and came to Canada in 2005 to avoid combat. It was a case of a young man who grew up in very poor circumstances and ended up perhaps not really understanding what he was getting into. He ended up in Canada. He was well liked and well supported by the community on Gabriola. He found a job there. He was a responsible citizen and yet ended up being deported.

With regard to Bill C-43, there was a recent article in the Toronto Star entitled, “Bill could exile thousands of permanent residents for minor crimes”. The article indicates that under the proposed new law, thousands of permanent residents could lose their status and be deported for minor convictions, from shoplifting to traffic and drug offences, according to Canada’s top immigration lawyers.

These are young children brought to Canada at a young age as permanent residents, raised and schooled in Canada, but who never took out citizenship.

It goes on in the article to say that the federal government has always had the authority to strip landed immigrant status from a permanent resident convicted of a serious crime, but Bill C-43 would allow appeals only for those sentenced to less than six months in jail, down from the current threshold of two years.

As our immigration critic pointed out, with some of the changes in the Conservatives' crime legislation with the mandatory minimums, we now see people getting sentenced for some minor crime to more than six months, so they would not be eligible for any kind of process under this new legislation.

The article also talked about the fact that people may have misrepresented themselves when they applied for immigration. It points out that there could be honest omissions on a person's employment history, or incorrect dates of certain events written down in an immigration application could come back to haunt the immigrant years later.

It is also indicated in here that it is very likely that this could face a court challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, given previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions directing that authorities must consider humanitarian risk factors before deporting a person.

I want to reiterate the fact that New Democrats are in support of getting the bill to committee, but we are calling on the government to consider looking at some amendments that could actually make this a better bill. I will end on that note.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit shocked by what I just heard from my hon. colleague.

I was a police officer for quite some time in the city of Winnipeg and dealt with what my colleague referred to as minor offences on a number of occasions, so I am quite shocked when I hear my colleague refer to these offences that are punishable by at least six months as being what she termed minor, offences like assault with a weapon, sexual assault, robbery, break and enter. These, to me, are not minor in any way, shape or form. These are crimes that involve victims.

I would ask my learned colleague if she would clarify. Does she really stand by what she just said, that these crimes—sexual assault, assault with a weapon, robbery—these crimes punishable by at least six months, are minor?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am perfectly happy to correct the record. I was quoting from Canada's top immigration lawyers who said:

Under a proposed new law, thousands of permanent residents could lose their status and be deported for minor convictions.

It is the immigration lawyers who said this. I was not saying it. I was quoting from an article.

I want to quote, however, the member for Newton—North Delta, who said:

I want to make it clear that as New Democrats we recognize the need for an efficient and responsive judicial approach to removing serious criminals who are not citizens.

I want to be clear. I will repeat that. New Democrats want to see a responsive judicial approach to removing serious criminals.

I hope that is clear enough for the parliamentary secretary.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was a correctional officer for many years, and I must say that my hon. colleague made some excellent points. I have seen many immigration cases.

Our position is clear: victims are always important to us. We must never forget the conditions that many immigrants may have faced in their country of origin. We have heard stories of torture, malnutrition and disease. Sending our problems elsewhere is not a solution. I see a serious problem with inviting people into our country, only to turn around and tell them they are not our concern, that this is an exclusive club, and then deport them without sharing any of the positive aspects of our society.