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  • His favourite word is conservatives.

NDP MP for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 33.80% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech.

He quoted many people who support the Conservative government. I commend him for having found them. I would like to quote Mr. Fogel of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on May 5, 2014.

He said:

There doesn't appear to be any safeguard that would preclude a minister from commencing a revocation proceeding for someone who declared intent to reside, but then went abroad to study, work, or tend to an ill relative...

In our view, the problem of potential abuse could be dealt with by requiring the minister to seek a court declaration in cases of misrepresentation of intent to reside, similar to the requirement included for other cases of fraud.

We already have the tools to deal with cases of fraud. Frankly, this bill is electoral opportunism, pure and simple. The Conservative government handles immigration issues with complete incompetence, and the temporary foreign worker program is one example.

The member concluded his speech by saying that they are reducing processing times for citizenship applications. However, 320,000 people are still waiting for their file to be processed. In addition, since the government came to power, application processing times have doubled.

Is this just electioneering, or will the government actually start processing the backlog of immigration applications?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that clarification.

We all do our best to represent our ridings. I can guarantee that people living in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands are very concerned about this bill. Society should continue to be free and democratic. This bill, however, does not comply with the charter. It does not embody the fundamental characteristics of a free and democratic society.

I would not be surprised if the people represented by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, a name we have heard frequently of late, also want a society based on freedom and democracy. Regardless of which riding we represent, those basic values always matter.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

When we change Canada's laws and regulations to standardize them with those of other countries, we must first verify whether other countries' legislation is consistent with our laws, charters and customs.

The Conservative government is not introducing this bill to improve the immigration system. This is partisan-driven. The government is looking for more voters in the next election. It would have us believe that this bill is militaristic. The government keeps talking about the First World War, the Second World War, and NATO.

The bill is about immigration in 2014. To my knowledge, we are not bringing immigrants into Canada to send them into the army and declare war elsewhere. People come to Canada first and foremost to seek refuge, then to contribute to the Canadian economy, democracy and the good life we lead. That is what immigration is about. We are welcoming here in Canada.

There is no room for partisanship in bills. Bills should be able to stand alone. Unfortunately, this bill does not stand up at all.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent question. I would like to point out that the work she does in her riding is second to none. She is probably the best MP the region has had in quite some time. I would like to congratulate her on all the work she is doing.

As for her question, two-tier citizenship is definitely unacceptable. You are either a citizen or you are not.

Canada has constitutional guarantees that all Canadians should benefit from. According to many experts we saw, the bill has created an unacceptable situation in a free and democratic society. The Canadian Bar Association clearly stated that this bill would almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court. It is almost certain that many aspects of this bill will be deemed unconstitutional. Two-tier citizenship is one of those aspects.

It is unfortunate to have to move in that direction. If the bill is challenged in court, I hope that the Supreme Court will deal with this file quickly so that there is more fairness in this country.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is troubling that there are new language requirements in the bill. I would like to point out that the government does not believe that many in its own employ have to meet those kinds of language requirements. The government does not agree that Supreme Court justices have that kind of language requirement.

We should have some consensus. We should have language requirements in this country that are consistent for everyone. We should not expect immigrants to be held to a higher standard than people in this chamber or the people in high justice situations, such as the Supreme Court. We need to have some fundamental equality here.

If the government stopped cutting programs so that people could actually get that kind of language acquisition, maybe this element would make a little more sense. However, if the government keeps cutting back on all the programs and prospective citizens do not get the training they need, surely they could never respect the language requirements that the bill is presenting.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his good question.

I want to point out that when I said that the minister had tools at his disposal, I was talking about natural justice. We have a legal process for revoking citizenship from someone in the case of fraud or other types of crimes. My problem with this bill is that there is no process of natural justice. It is a discretionary process. The minister has that discretion and can make decisions as he sees fit. It is up to him to determine whether he is satisfied on a balance of probabilities. This decision should be left to jurists, after all of the interested parties have had a chance to submit evidence. We need a system based on equality, not on inequality.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister once again for his speech. Unfortunately, the NDP will not be supporting this bill.

Some parts of the bill are sure to be challenged in court. Unfortunately, I expect that the Supreme Court will once again be called upon to strike down a bill that the Conservative government is forcing Canadians to accept. It is forcing Canadians to use up valuable resources to strike down bills that do not deserve the support of the House.

I just cannot understand why the government always expects the Supreme Court to fix its mistakes. The government is abusing the legal system, and I find it very discouraging that the minister has introduced a bill as badly written as Bill C-24.

There are some very good parts to this bill. For example, it finally addresses the problem of stateless Canadians, lost Canadians. Many of them are people who were involved in the Second World War. In 2007, the Conservatives came up with a bill to fix the problem, but they messed up again because they just do not take the time to draft their bills properly. They had to introduce this bill to fix the mistake they made in 2007.

Fortunately, it seems that the lost Canadians problem will finally be fixed. I should at least thank the minister for that, but the government should have taken its time in 2007 to fix the problem once and for all.

The Conservatives keep talking about how this is the first time in 25 years that there have been major changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Actually, the government has changed immigration laws and regulations several times, without ever solving the problems. What about the 320,000 people who are still waiting for their applications to be processed so they can become Canadian citizens? That is because of the Conservatives' cuts.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration does not have sufficient resources to process the applications. The Conservatives are saying that they will speed up the process, but they are the ones who created major delays. It is simply their fault. I would like this government to start learning from its mistakes, to admit them and be accountable for them, instead of always saying that everything is better. We keep going backwards. Every time we take one step forward, we take 12 steps back. According to the Conservatives, we should be celebrating this step forward and hiding the 12 steps back.

The government should admit that it is unable to manage the immigration file. The temporary foreign workers file very clearly shows that the department is out of control, and the minister is responsible for that. He missed his chance to solve the problems. Instead, he is hiding behind blacklists. More and more people are waiting to be admitted to Canada, while the Conservatives keep trying to make us believe that they are solving the problem. Unfortunately, Bill C-24 is their only proposal.

Let us get into the details of Bill C-24. The Conservatives keep saying that they are going to take away the citizenship of individuals who commit immigration fraud, the idea being to deport them from Canada. Are there so many people in Canada who have defrauded the system that we do not have the tools to fix the situation? We already have the Criminal Code, regulations and police forces that are fully capable of going and finding people who defraud Canada's immigration system. With the tools we have, we can crack down on people who commit crimes in Canada, and we can decide whether to deport them from the country. That is already set out. We do not need this bill to solve the problem that the government keeps on raising.

One of the alarming aspects of this bill is the fact that it is a mirage. The Conservatives would have us believe that they are going to solve a problem, when the problem stems from their inability to manage the file. In order to try to solve the problem, the government decided to give the minister additional discretionary powers.

The minister can now decide, based on a balance of probabilities, to revoke the citizenship of a Canadian, without that person having the right to appeal, the right to natural justice or the right to present evidence to a judge. Only the minister, in his little office, with documents in front of him, on a mere balance of probabilities, can revoke an individual's citizenship. It is beyond comprehension why the minister would want such a responsibility, because in our legal system people have the right to be respected. In this case, there is a risk of abusing that right. Once again, why create a situation where rights can be abused?

This bill will probably be challenged in court because it threatens the fundamental right of citizenship. There is nothing more fundamental in a free and democratic society than citizenship. How can the minister sleep at night? Quite frankly, I do not know.

The bill creates new residency criteria. The residency requirement will increase from three to four years. The person must remain and intend to remain in Canada for this entire period.

I would like to point out that the intent to reside is a vague principle that is difficult to prove. I invite the minister to go and see the people at the Canada Revenue Agency and ask them how successful they have been with respect to proof of residency in Canada. It is a very difficult thing to prove.

Under the bill, an individual must show proof of residency for four years. The individual bears the burden of proof. It is up to the applicant to prove this. How do you prove intent to reside? If a person encounters a problem and must return to their country of birth because a family member is ill and needs their help, does he still intend to reside in Canada? How can he prove this intent when he is abroad?

I would not want to see such discretionary items on the minister's table so that he can make decisions based just on a preponderance. We are well aware that the preponderance is in the minister's head and nowhere else. It is up to him to determine whether there is sufficient preponderance of evidence to revoke an individual's citizenship. That is completely unacceptable.

In terms of the bill, frankly, it is high time the government fixed the problem of lost Canadians. I agree with that and I am very pleased that the minister will be able to fix the problem of lost Canadians.

However, as for the other citizens whose citizenship the minister plans to revoke, there may be individuals who have always lived in Canada, who are deported and who find themselves in a country that they are simply not familiar with. I do not think that is very charitable on our part, regardless of the reasons why the minister thinks the person should leave the country.

Once again, if the minister is convinced, on a simple preponderance of evidence, that the person committed fraud to enter Canada, it is not enough.

Since 2008, 25 changes have been made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, including a moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents, fewer family reunifications, punishments for vulnerable refugees and an increase in the number of temporary foreign workers. The Conservatives have made changes to the immigration system that fail to improve the efficiency and fairness of the system.

On the contrary, they created a system that is so rigid that penalties are being imposed that should not be.

Before the Conservatives, Canada was a country that was very welcoming to immigrants. Our country is basically built on immigration. My family is an immigrant family. My ancestors came from England and France. My great-grandparents, who came to Canada from France, would have come here today as refugees. They were Huguenots. That religion was frowned upon in France and they had to flee the country. They came to Canada, a safe haven.

Huguenots were considered terrorists in France at the time, and any who wanted to come to Canada would have been deported. They never would have been granted citizenship based on this government's way of thinking. At the time, we were a welcoming country. We would have let them come settle here. In fact, we did welcome them, and since then, they have built a good family life here in Canada. However, with the criteria set out in the bill before me, these people would never have been accepted. They would have been deported. That is not very welcoming.

The first time I realized that people living outside Canada do not have the same advantages as we do—advantages that we basically take for granted—was during the Prague Spring.

In 1967, Russia overthrew the government of the former Czechoslovakia by means of a military invasion. My family welcomed refugees from that country. Under the rules set out in this bill, those refugees would have been considered terrorists. They would have never been granted Canadian citizenship and they would have been deported.

We are supposed to be a welcoming country that abides by international law. Unfortunately, the bill before us transforms us into exactly the opposite.

The minister also stated, “In cases where citizenship was fraudulently obtained, it can already be revoked.”

Let us come back to the matter of people who would never have been found guilty elsewhere. Such individuals would not be considered terrorists in a country where there was a revolution, such as Czechoslovakia or France in the time of the Huguenots. These are simply people who came to Canada in good faith with good will, but who are found guilty because fraud occurred somewhere along the line. This fraud, which was perhaps unintentional, was committed in good faith or bad faith, but regardless, fraud occurred.

The minister himself said that we already have tools to deport people from Canada and strip them of their citizenship. If those tools already exist, I do not know why the government is forcing the House and Canadians to accept Bill C-24.

It would be nice if the government stopped wasting our time and resources, when we could simply be using the existing tools.

In my opinion, the Conservatives just like to play political games. They are not proposing these things because they think there is a need for them, but because they want to talk about their policies and ideology. It gives them the opportunity to be ideological and waste Parliament's and Canadians' resources for purely partisan reasons.

The Conservatives are trying to win more votes in certain ridings; that much is clear. They do not want to improve Canada's immigration system. If they wanted to improve it, 300,000 people would not be waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed. The Conservatives would have taken care of that. In addition, they would not have fired 28,000 federal public servants. Instead, they would have hired more people to process the applications.

The Conservative government keeps doing things backwards. It starts by creating problems and then it finds poorly designed solutions for the problems it created.

I am very discouraged by the fact that this bill was introduced in the House. It was discussed in committee. Some witnesses appeared before the committee. It is worth noting that the BC Civil Liberties Association sent a letter after it testified. On May 23, 2014, the association said the following:

In my view Bill C-24 will change a core principle of Canadian citizenship—that all Canadians have equal rights.

As was said during question period today, we are creating a two-tier citizenship system in Canada. This bill is creating another class of citizenship, and people could lose their Canadian citizenship, once again, on the mere preponderance of evidence and the minister's say-so. That is not enough, and it is not at all satisfactory that the minister should have such excessive power.

I want to go back to the intent to reside provision. I would like to talk about it again. In her testimony, the director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic stated that:

…not only is the new intent to reside provision unfair, as it only applies to people who are naturalized citizens, not people who are born in Canada, but it could lead to revocation of citizenship from Canadians who are deemed to have obtained their citizenship status by misrepresenting their intent to reside, even when they may have legitimate reasons to leave Canada, such as for employment reasons or family obligations. As well, this provision is potentially in breach of section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the mobility rights to all Canadian citizens, both native born and naturalized alike, as well as section 15 of the charter, the equality rights provision.

The file of someone who has to leave Canada unexpectedly could end up on the minister's desk with the apparently preponderant evidence that the person no longer has the intention to reside in Canada. Not only do we need to know whether or not this discretionary power should be given to the minister, we also need to know why we want to open the door to what would clearly be a legal challenge based on the charter.

There also used to be a fund so that people could make charter challenges, but the Conservatives cut off access to that program. Now there will be an additional difficulty: not only will people targeted by this legislation have to go to court to mount a charter challenge, but, if they are not well-off, they will not have enough money to hire a lawyer and make their case in court. Once again, we have two-tiered citizenship. There is one kind of citizenship for those who have money and another kind for those who do not. This is wholly unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

I would like to end by quoting Amnesty International on the subject of revoking citizenship:

...the Supreme Court of Canada said... “The social compact requires the citizen to obey the laws created by the democratic process. But it does not follow that failure to do so nullifies the citizen’s continued membership in the self-governing polity. Indeed, the remedy of imprisonment for a term rather than permanent exile implies our acceptance of continued membership in the social order.” In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada stated quite clearly that punishing somebody by depriving them of their constitutional rights, indeed, by denying them all constitutional rights and casting them out in the name of the social contract, is not constitutional.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech. Of course, the proposed bill contains some acceptable provisions. However, many others are simply not acceptable.

Let me come back to one of the minister's last comments: that we have been citizens of this country from day one, from the day we arrived here, and from the day we met the requirements. Not too long ago, the minister said in The Star that “citizenship is not an inalienable birthright”.

I find it very surprising that the minister believes that the right to citizenship can be taken away from a person born here in Canada and that he is putting this idea forward.

In addition, this bill also allows the minister to take away the right to citizenship as he pleases. There are very few criteria. Ministerial discretion comes into play both when citizenship is revoked and when it is granted.

Under what specific circumstances could the minister grant Canadian citizenship unilaterally and in secret? Will he disclose the list of people to whom he has granted citizenship? How will he disclose that information? Why does the minister think it is acceptable for a minister to grant citizenship in secret?

Petitions June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, second, I have a series of petitions on VIA Rail. I have a stack of them from northern New Brunswick and from my riding in Gaspésie, where the service has either been cut back by half or entirely eliminated, in fact. We want our VIA Rail service back.

Petitions June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of petitions from constituents of mine who are asking the government to cancel the Canada Post cuts. They very much want a service that is public and accessible.