Mr. Speaker, I want to take part in the second reading of Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger. The bill is really the reintroduction of Bill C-31 which died on the order paper with the call of the last election.
As this is my first lengthy speech in the 37th parliament, I thank the constituents of Dauphin—Swan River for returning me to the House. Congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, on your election to the chair and belated congratulations to all members of the House. I welcome my two deputy critics who will assist me in this portfolio, the new member for Blackstrap and the member for Surrey Central.
I will outline to our viewers how I intend to use up the next 40 minutes in debating Bill C-11. I will touch on the Canadian Alliance immigration policy, discuss why immigration is everybody's business, examine the current problems that are daily encountered, review the harsh words of the auditor general, and look at what needs to be done to improve the system.
Before I begin I want to tell the House how privileged I am to be able to stand in the House in 2001 to debate the subject of immigration. Not only am I proud to represent the Canadian Alliance Party. I am proud to say that I am an immigrant to this country.
My grandfather was a Chinese railway worker who arrived here in the late 1800s. My father came in 1922, a year before the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which incidentally happened right here in the House of Commons. The Chinese Exclusion Act refused the entry of Chinese immigrants for the next 24 years. The act was repealed in 1947.
I immigrated to Canada in 1955 as a seven year old. I do not believe for one minute that my grandfather would ever have envisioned that some day his grandson in the future would be standing in the House of Commons debating immigration legislation. I am doubly honoured to rise in the House today.
It is most unfortunate that a minister of the crown during the last federal election made some disparaging remarks about the Canadian Alliance. It was possible that these remarks were made in the heat of battle. We all do that from time to time. Unfortunately these remarks still irritate over three million Canadians who voted for the Canadian Alliance Party. I hope I am correct in saying that the minister did not mean what she said. I only wish the minister would do the right thing to resolve this issue.
The Canadian Alliance Party is pro-immigration. I will read our policy statements on immigration from the past election. Canadian Alliance promised to welcome new Canadians and at the same time keep out the criminals. Canada is a nation of immigrants. We have always been enriched by new arrivals to our shores. A Canadian Alliance government would maintain the current level of immigration. We would make it easier for immigrants who possess advanced skills and training to enter Canada, and we would make the family reunification process truly responsive.
Canadians are also angered by policies which have let dangerous criminals into our country and unscrupulous human smugglers who bring in illegal migrants, jumping the queue and hurting the integrity of the system. The Canadian Alliance immigration policy would accommodate legitimate immigrants and their families who seek to contribute to Canada, while locking it tight to those who would abuse the system.
Immigration is the story of Canada. Immigrants have been coming to Canada since Cartier and Champlain. Canada was built on the backs of the immigrants who came here from around the world. We are fortunate that after the 1900s, Canada adopted a somewhat open door policy to immigration.
Yes, as a country we have had our bleak moments, starting with the aboriginals, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Jews, the Ukrainians and the blacks. Despite all these bleak moments in history, we have fared quite well. Certainly over the last 50 years Canada has become an example to the world. Our diversity is a strength and not a weakness. We have shown the world that people from around the world can live and work together under one tent.
We should always see ourselves as Canadians first before our country of origin. Otherwise we will become a patchwork of ethnic communities, which will weaken our resolve as a nation. I agree with the author John Boyko who in his book entitled Last Steps to Freedom wrote:
Unity should be the goal of diversity rather than diversity existing as an end into itself.
In my opinion this is basically the weak link in Canada's multicultural initiative.
I applaud the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his principal stand during the 36th parliament in his advocacy for those of us who are Canadians by choice in the citizenship act debate. There is no doubt the House will hear more from the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo when we debate Canadian citizenship in the future.
Canada needs to attract the cream of the crop around the world. In today's global economy, all countries are competing for skilled labour.
Canada's only option for population growth is through immigration. Smart immigration policies will create the opportunities for the country to create wealth. We need to keep better track of the different groups to determine how they are doing in the country, both in the short and long term.
The Canadian Alliance believes there needs to be a balance between access to Canada and security of our country from the world's criminals and terrorists.
We need to emphasize integration into Canadian society for both immigrants and refugees. The act mentions integration but does not specify how it is to be carried out. Canada has had many integration initiatives, both long term and administered by the government. They all have some level of success and failure.
However, with a larger number of both refugees and immigrants we need to look at a consistent approach to helping immigrants integrate into Canadian society. We know that most refugees have many needs including language. A clear plan of action should be in place to ensure that refugees receive basic needs, language training, education and skill training so they can become integrated into all aspects of Canadian life.
There is a desire by the populace to see that new Canadians are distributed throughout the country so that they do not all end up in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. All parts of Canada need population growth. The federal government must come up with a new integration program in consultation with the municipalities and provinces.
The parliamentary secretary, the member for Gatineau, and I along with other members had lunch with a Danish delegation to talk about immigration issues. It was interesting that the Danish government had put in place new legislation called the integration act.
The Danish integration policy is based upon the fact that immigrants and refugees on the whole, and especially the newly arrived, have a disadvantage in linguistic and vocational fields which prevent them from participating in society on an equal footing with the rest of the population.
The Danish policy was necessary, while respecting the principle of non-discrimination, to implement special integration measures which aimed to ensure that immigrants and refugees would be able to participate fully in education, the labour market and all other areas of society.
The integration act shifted responsibility for integration measures for the newly arrived from the federal level to the municipal level, which it felt had the best capacity for implementing a comprehensive and co-ordinated set of integration measures concerning housing, community information, education, vocational training and an introduction to the labour market.
That makes a lot of sense. In Canada it is unfortunate that after the first year of arrival most immigrants somehow end up in big cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. It will be interesting to see the results of the Danish initiative.
The Canadian Alliance Party believes Canada needs to do its part in taking in refugees. We understand that refugees are not immigrants. Immigrants choose to move to another country. Refugees are forced to flee, often leaving family and belongings behind.
Eighty per cent of the world's refugees are women and children. In refugee determination, Canada should enforce section F(b) of article one of the United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees, which states that refugee status should not apply to those who have committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his or her admission to that country. Canada cannot afford to take in another country's criminals regardless of whether they are an immigrant or a refugee.
The government calls the new Bill C-11 a framework document. I agree that all it has is the frame. It is short on content. This type of enabling legislation leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately the regulations are authorized by order in council and sometimes have little resemblance to the legislation. Enabling legislation like Bill C-11 leaves too much authority in the hands of the minister.
Let us take a reality check on immigration happenings in Canada. As the House knows, I was appointed the Canadian Alliance chief critic for citizenship and immigration last August. Since that time there has been no shortage of immigration stories.
Most Canadians would agree that our immigration system needs a serious overhaul. Will the new Bill C-11 do the job at this stage? I do not think so. These stories occur almost daily and show the shortcomings of our immigration system.
Let us look at some of the problems that have occurred over the last year. Last August the supreme court ruled on the human smuggling trial in British Columbia. The trial should have sent a wake-up call to the federal government that it must revamp the immigration system. The federal government continues to tout its tough federal legislation, but after the verdict there is no doubt that Canada will remain a number one target for human traffickers.
In Bill C-11 there is a $1 million penalty, but the problem is catching the culprits. Enforcement is the key problem. All the legislation in the world will not help if there are no resources to see things through. The staff must be commended for the job they do in spite of waning resources. It takes a long time to process those coming ashore, and quick action is needed to determine whether the immigrants are bona fide.
Foreign nationals without status should not be under the protection of the Canadian charter. The new immigration act will broaden the definition of who can become a refugee in Canada, which goes well beyond the United Nations' definition of a refugee. If they are criminals they should not be accepted by Canada as refugees. That is within the convention.
While most other western nations are working to tighten their laws, Canada will remain the easiest target in the developed world. We must not forget who is paying the bill: the poor taxpayer.
The government has learned very little since boatloads of illegal migrants from China made their way to Canada's shore last year. The auditor general's report of April 2000 noted serious deficiencies in the management and delivery of the Canadian immigration program. Such deficiencies led the auditor general to conclude that the program's integrity was at risk and to question whether the department could handle applications and ensure compliance under the act.
Last August 28, the media reported corruption allegations at Canada's high commission in Hong Kong amid reports that immigration officials accepted gifts while working in Hong Kong. There were also reports that the RCMP official who blew the whistle on the scandal may be fired. That should have been reason enough to call for a third party probe.
In September the department had to deal with health problems associated with testing. Following the report of a malaria outbreak in Quebec, the government should have beefed up standard health testing for refugees and overseas applicants.
The auditor general called 10 years ago for serious upgrades of health standards. Medical staff to conduct such crucial tests has been reduced and the results are outbreaks like the one we heard about in Quebec.
In the April 2000 report from the auditor general, several deficiencies within Canada's immigration program were brought forward. Questions were raised about the standard health tests used by the immigration department and the number of physicians involved in checking for infectious disease. Some 240 refugees who came to Canada from central Africa in August were exposed to the malaria virus. Several of them started turning up in hospitals after joining host families when they arrived.
Again in September the minister stated that she would act on Health Canada's recommendation to test immigrants for HIV and reject applicants who tested positive.
The threat of AIDS is nothing new. The government has failed to protect the health of all Canadians by not acting sooner. In 1994 the hon. member for Calgary Northeast raised a motion in the House calling for AIDS testing and the government voted it down.
Is that the kind of leadership Canadians can trust in the 21st century?
Five years ago there were 44 physicians to check for infectious disease. Today there are something like 22 and they are expected to process over 200,000 claims. The government has failed to address the work overload thrust upon immigration department physicians.
By November Canada had become the home of Mr. Lai Changxing, arrested for allegedly having smuggled billions into China. It was discovered that he had been residing fraudulently in Canada for the past 15 months.
Mr. Lai is a prime example of what is wrong with our immigration system. A wanted criminal from China simply walked into Canada without the benefit of a background check and in doing so compromised the safety of the people of this country. If he is a proven criminal beyond a reasonable doubt, then he should be deported to his home country which is eager to welcome him home.
The supreme court decision on deportation has really thrown a monkey wrench into the case. A wanted criminal of Mr. Lai's stature should never have been allowed into Canada. The court's decision served only to send a message that if people break the law they can hide here. That is why Canada is the most attractive destination for the criminals of the world. Under the current system people can claim to be refugees and immigration Canada will allow them to remain in the country regardless of their criminal record.
Are we about to create a new category called a criminal refugee?
My colleague, the hon. member for Provencher, the former attorney general of Manitoba and our Canadian Alliance justice critic, expressed strong disapproval at the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Minister of Justice v Burns and Rafay.
The member for Provencher said it would create a haven for any violent criminal, Canadian or otherwise, who would come to Canada to escape the death penalty in the United States or any other country. He also stated that after this precedent setting decision Canada would become a sanctuary for murderers and other violent criminals, putting the safety of law-abiding citizens at risk.
I agree with the member for Provencher. I believe the decision rendered by the supreme court, if it was to have been made, should have been made in the House. There is no doubt the decision has tied the hands of both the immigration minister and the immigration legislation.
In December the people of Hamilton received a scare when it was reported that some 1,200 people had been exposed to a deadly strain of drug resistant TB carried by a new immigrant. That is another example of the quality of screening that takes place before entry into Canada. Again, the first priority of the government should be to protect the lives of its citizens.
Even after the Hamilton scare I wonder if immigration has fixed the problems relating to health testing standards. The auditor general in his April 2000 report made recommendations to improve co-operation between the immigration and health departments, to make adequate resources available to enforce the testing process, and to have a clear definition of what tests should be administered before entry into Canada is allowed.
The auditor general has been telling the immigration department there were serious risks and flaws in the system as far back as 1990. I believe very few improvements have been made since then. It is time the auditor general's advice was taken seriously. We need a defined list of diseases to be tested for, both here and abroad, and resources need to be made available to employ adequate numbers of physicians.
At the very least there must be a very clear and definitive minimum standard of health requirements for entry into Canada, a set of diagnostic procedures for each test administered and an accountable process to monitor immigrants admitted into Canada while undergoing treatment.
Other questions that need to be addressed regarding the health screen process followed by Immigration Canada in granting entrance to immigrants and refugees are: How is it kept up to date? Are there minimum standards? How are they enforced? Is there a process for follow up?
The auditor general made further recommendations for improvement, and here they are. The first one was to ensure in establishing a regular review system that the current list of prohibited diseases keeps pace with world health issues.
The second was to establish, review and ensure a minimum standard of health requirements for entrance into Canada that is strictly enforced.
The third was to establish minimum qualifications and requirements for physicians completing or interpreting test results that would certify an applicant's admissibility.
The fourth was to establish a minimum of diagnostic procedures that must be completed before entry is granted, i.e. TB skin tests, chest x-rays and blood tests.
The last was to establish standards and guidelines for follow up of those who are allowed entrance while undergoing treatment.
In April 2000 the auditor general also said:
We are also very concerned about the lack of rigour and consistency in the overall management of medical assessment activities, including the procedures for supervising the designated local physicians who perform medical examinations of prospective immigrants abroad.
I ask members of the House what is more important in immigration than health standards. Perhaps it is time to incorporate these core principles into the act.
Last week federal statistics were released which show the number of deported individuals is up and that there are about 15,000 missing individuals with warrants. Of the 8,640 deportees in the last year 2,000 were violent criminals who required a personal escort by Canadian officials as they posed a threat to the public. The missing 15,000 are believed to have gone underground and into hiding.
That should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the news. Rarely a day goes by without an article on immigration. Canadians should know that we do not keep exit data. We do not know how many foreign nationals are here at any given time. Even if they came into the country on a visa, we do not know if they left the country when their visa ran out. Why would Canadians therefore be surprised at the high number of individuals with warrants?
Canada is the number one destination for criminals to hide out from the law. We should not be surprised that with the recent supreme court ruling on deportation the numbers being deported will dwindle.
It looks like Canada will become the destination of choice for the world's criminals. Even Toronto police chief Julian Fantino agrees. He said “You commit your crime in one place, you run from consequences and accountability and where do you go? You go to a place like Canada”.
In Bill C-11, the government borrowed from private member's bill, Bill C-333, an act to amend the Immigration Act and criminal code, refugee or immigration applicants convicted of an offence on indictment. This was tabled in the 35th parliament by the member for Vancouver North.
I liked the tough talk from the minister last week in the media about deporting criminals. Unfortunately, it is tougher walking the talk, especially now that we are living in a post-supreme court period.
As recent as last Friday the Montreal Gazette reported that a suspected Italian Mafia hit man moved freely across the Canadian and U.S. border while courts in Europe were charging him with murder. Immigration Canada alleged that the man knew about the charges but failed to mention them while renewing his visa, a violation of Canada's Immigration Act.
According to the papers it appears that Canadian security and Interpol did not compare notes on this dangerous criminal. What will happen at this deportation hearing if this man claims harm and fears for his life if deported? The examples are endless. They all show the same thing. Our immigration system needs a major overhaul beyond the creation of a new act.
Even the lawyers in the country are not happy with the current immigration system. I will quote from the August-September 2000 issue of the National , a publication of the Canadian Bar Association. In fact, the minister of immigration is in that very publication. This was what some of the members had to say when asked what was wrong with Canada's immigration system.
The first quote is from Allen Ruben of Fredericton, New Brunswick. He said “The 1994 budget cuts at the immigration department sliced away one-third of its human and financial resources, leading to processing delays of up to three years in the entry of urgently needed foreign workers”.
The second quote is from Isabelle Dongier of Montreal. She said “The immigration rules are so complicated and hard to understand that they are very irregularly applied and interpreted. If you present a case at the border you can sit there with five different officers and have five different interpretations of the same situation”.
The last quote is from Michael Greene of Calgary. He said “There is hardly any regulation for unscrupulous immigration consultants, some of them disbarred lawyers who prey on ill-informed and vulnerable immigrants. It is astounding that a government department would take so little care of the people it deals with, especially when they know they are dealing with people who are particularly ignorant of our laws and customs”.
Even the lawyers are frustrated with our immigration system. The most reliable scrutineer of the government of the day, as we all know, is the office of the Auditor General of Canada. Much of what was said 10 years ago by the auditor general on the immigration file was repeated in his April 2000 report.
For the record, I will read the auditor general's news release dated in Ottawa on April 11, 2000. It was titled, “Immigration services abroad are in trouble and need urgent attention”, chapter 3. It said:
In his Report tabled today in Parliament, the Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, notes serious deficiencies in the management and delivery of the economic component of the Canadian Immigration Program, whose aim is to recruit skilled workers and business immigrants. Immigration offices abroad are overtasked, controls to protect health and safety of Canadians are deficient, and the Department is vulnerable to fraud and abuse. In addition, the Department is open to criticism of the quality and consistency of its decisions.
“Immigrants provide a steady flow of talent and new skills to our labour force. The deficiencies we noted in our audit seriously limit Canada's ability to get the economic and social benefits that immigration affords and seriously weakens the level of protection for Canadians intended in the Immigration Act”, said Denis Desautels. He added that it is highly questionable whether the Department has the capacity it needs to meet the annual immigration levels set by the government.
We know that immigration levels have been set for the past two years at between 200,000 and 225,000. In 1999 approximately 190,000 immigrants were admitted to Canada; 56% were economic immigrants, skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors and self-employed workers.
Among the findings of the report were the following. First, selected criteria and process were not conducive to a rigorous selection of immigrants who were highly qualified and able to contribute to our economy. Second, applicants could wait up to three years for a decision. That is intolerable. Third, there were significant weaknesses in medical assessment of prospective immigrants. The same routine tests have been required for the last 40 years, despite the emergence of new diseases. Canadians should be concerned about their health. Fourth, some immigrants were admitted to Canada without reasonable assurance that they had not committed crimes abroad. Fifth, there were inadequate controls over revenue, visa forms and computer systems in offices abroad.
The auditor general urged the department and the government to take immediate action to address both policy and administrative issues. The statement of Mr. Desautels from April 2000 went on to say:
“It is disappointing to note that several of the problems we raise today are similar to those reported in 1990”, said Denis Desautels. “Employees responsible for processing applications in offices abroad are deeply concerned about the present state of affairs and I share their concerns”.
As hon. members can see, our immigration system is in dire need of a major overhaul. The question is how will the new act fix the old problems that go as far back as 1990? How accountable will the minister be in getting these problems rectified. The buck does stop at the minister's desk.
The old saying goes that it is always easier to criticize. In other words, what would the Canadian Alliance do to fix the problems? Let me, on behalf of the Canadian Alliance, present some solutions. Let me begin by saying that we will make the system work. The current system of immigration is workable. It is just very badly mismanaged and underfunded.
The department works with at least three other federal departments; health, foreign affairs and human resources. Better co-operation and communication among all these other parties would be a good first step in correcting what is wrong with the department.
Staff at all levels need to be better educated as to their role. The roles need to be standardized across the board. Those with the most experience in security, for example, should probably handle security matters. If the RCMP and CSIS are on board to help at all immigration offices around the world, then their expertise in determining security risks should be utilized. If the RCMP and CSIS are not using their expertise in determining security risks, then it is high time they were.
It is long overdue for an overhaul of the Immigration and Refugee Board system, beginning by making this system more transparent, less partisan and more credible. Members of the IRB should be hired on merit, not politics.
The department needs to undergo a full financial audit to determine areas of overlap and waste. There is currently not enough staff to handle the workload. The latest budget cuts have reduced the medical staff both in Canada and overseas assignments. It is interesting that the auditor general made these same complaints 10 years ago. There must be put in place an evaluation process to determine whether the system is working as a unit. There is no doubt that better co-ordination needs to take place between overseas offices as well as those in Canada.
The definition of what a bona fide refugee is must be clear. We need to follow the UN convention to which we are a signatory. As is currently happening, almost anyone entering Canada can claim refugee status. By the time they are processed and heard, many years have passed. Most Canadians agree that refugees should not be detained for long periods of time and that the determination process must be compressed.
Canadians want an immigration system that protects their borders from the criminals and terrorists of the world. Our security system needs to be addressed. Proper training in criminal background checks and risk assessments should be mandatory for all these officers.
As I have illustrated throughout this debate, there are numerous problems with the issue of security. The question which is always raised is how did these undesirables get here in the first place? Our research shows that there is very little communication or information sharing, sometimes none between the RCMP, CSIS and other international security agencies such as Interpol. A recent Montreal case is a good example.
Another problem we learned is what information is shared is sometimes undisclosed in a court during an appeal on an application. Therefore, visa officers are reluctant to decline applications on the basis of inadmissibility for security reasons. It is very difficult to prove the standards of inadmissibility. Further, there is no deterrent against applicants repeatedly submitting false applications, therefore increasing their chances of getting through the system. There needs to be sharing of information between RCMP, CSIS and visa officers.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in its report entitled, “Refugee Protection and Border Security: Striking a Balance”, recommended that the Government of Canada increase resources for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and the RCMP so that they would be able to meet the challenges posed by traffickers in people and ensure the safety and security of Canada and its people. Perhaps it is time Canada stationed members of both the RCMP and CSIS permanently at our overseas locations.
We believe that once an applicant has been found to have willingly turned in a false application, which is a breach of the act, that person should not be allowed to reapply for entry into Canada. If we take our security seriously, the penalty for lying needs to be equally harsh. The minister should have the authority to deport an individual or decline the entry of an individual based on criminal, violent or terrorist acts without question or appeal.
The whole system of processing refugees must be addressed. We need to process refugees expediently. It is inhumane to detain or lock up refugees for long lengths of time, as was the case on the west coast where foreign nationals who claimed refugee status were locked up for over a year.
We would make the process work smoother if we adhered to the definition as written by the United Nations, that a refugee arrives, not by choice for economic gain but is here due to persecution based on race, religion, ethnic origin or political opinion. I must say that 95% of the refugee claims are credible. It is the 5% that we are concerned about and many of them are criminals who we do not need.
One way of dealing with these criminals who claim refugee status is that we should not be giving them full charter status until they have been declared bona fide refugees. Canadians wonder how foreign nationals can have full charter protection when they are foreign nationals before being declared bona fide refugees.
Penalties for those abusing the refugee claimant system should be steep and serve as a deterrent for all future would be fraudulent claims.
There is another point I would like to raise. Perhaps it is time that Canada should keep exit data so that we know who is in the country. Otherwise Canada is a pretty easy place to hide once inside its borders. Maybe it is time to photograph all those entering across our borders.
The minister must be more accountable for the operation of her department. Canadians are tired of hearing immigration problems almost daily on the news. They are asking the question, who is minding the store. There is a consensus that the immigration system in the country needs a major overhaul. Bill C-11 is only one step to help rectify the problems. It is long overdue that the government of the day to introduce new legislation since this current act is of 1976 vintage. The bill needs changes like all bills at second reading.
I close by saying that immigration is everybody's business. I would say that most Canadians can relate personally to immigration, if not in their immediate family, then certainly in the heritage of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. We all know that immigration will play a major role in the future of the country.
The Canadian Alliance will take a constructive approach to Bill C-11 at committee. We will continue to hold the government accountable for its lack of action. We will put forth amendments to strengthen the bill. We will listen to Canadians as they come forth with their ideas for improvement. Immigration is everybody's business. All Canadians need to be aware that a new immigration bill is in the making. Persons wanting a copy of the bill should contact their member of parliament.
I invite our viewers and all Canadians to communicate with their members of parliament, or with me as chief opposition critic, concerns and changes that they would like to see in this draft piece of legislation called Bill C-11.
The standing committee will be travelling across the country, probably in the spring, to listen to Canadians. Perhaps anyone who cannot attend these hearings would like to send in a written presentation to the clerk of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and anyone who would like to appear before the standing committee could please contact their member of parliament, myself or the clerk of the standing committee.