An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.


Libby Davies  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Not active, as of May 15, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:45 p.m.
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Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we witnessed today in question period, indeed, immigration is an important issue, an issue that requires vision, and an issue that speaks to the future of our country. When we look at the years 2011 to 2015, approximately 100% of the net labour force growth will come from immigration alone.

We take these private members' bills very seriously. We analyze them. We see how, in a holistic manner, they can address key concerns related to immigration. There is nobody in the House who does not care about reuniting families or helping new Canadians or understanding the economic and social benefits of immigration.

We do this as a modern society that has seen this country transform itself, and this bill is debated at a time when the census report, the 2006 statistics report, was actually released. What do we see? We see that the 2006 census enumerated 6,186,950 foreign born in Canada, representing one in five, that is 19.8% of total foreign born population, the highest proportion in 75 years.

Between 2001 and 2006, the foreign born population increased by 13.6%, four times higher than 3.3% growth of the Canadian born population, 19.8%. It is higher than the U.S. at 12.5%, and lower than Australia at 22.2%.

The census also estimates that 1,000,110 recent immigrants arrived in Canada between January 1, 2001 and May 16, 2006. These newcomers make up 17.9% of the total foreign born population and 3.6% of Canada's population of 31.2 million.

I say this to paint a picture of the new Canada that is emerging and the resources that will be required by this government and future governments to address the key issue of immigration and immigrant settlements. However, as I reviewed Bill C-394 it was déjà vu, because the material in Bill C-394 is not exactly new. Bill C-272 resembled it very much and so does Bill C-436.

This bill would allow Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor once in a lifetime a relative who is not a member of the family class. It defines a relative as a brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, first cousin or child who is 22 years of age or older and is not dependent on sponsors.

It mirrors some of the provisions which already exist in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act regulations to process relatives who do not normally fall under the family class.

The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children. That could happen. It would also further increase processing times for other members of family class, such as parents and grandparents.

Good intentions also have to be followed with proper analysis of numbers and resources that are available. After today's question period, it was pretty clear that the present government does not have enough resources to address the present issues that our immigration system faces. It simply does not make sense at this point in time, unless we are willing to engage in a broader review of the immigration system in Canada with brand new goals and of course greater resources, to look at this particular bill.

We already have a backlog of 800,000 applications. That is stretching the present resources of the government.

I am one of those who has said, as I asked today in question period, that in fact the proper resources need to be made available so that we can reduce the backlog to have an effective and efficient immigration system. A system where we are going to require, as a nation that is an aging society, to really tap for the future not only the obvious social and cultural benefits drawn from immigration. I believe that immigration is an economic imperative as we look at the competition that exists for skilled workers and labour force of the future.

The hon. member will have to answer many questions related to whether or not she has actually crunched the numbers, as we say, in relationship to her bill. My sense is that she actually has not and that in fact this would inflate the demand for applications abroad as well.

This, of course, would result in larger processing inventories for family cases when demand in family class has already exceeded government resources. This would hamper, also, the efforts to process priority family members, such as spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children, as quickly as possible. It would also add pressure to the processing of other family class applicants.

So, these bills cannot be just introduced ad hoc. The immigration system is a bit more complicated than perhaps the hon. member would believe. We need to look at it and balance the various needs.

It is clear, and it has been pointed out already by the parliamentary secretary, that in fact there are provisions that allow people obviously to come to Canada, that is how they get here, and this bill essentially would stress the already stressed resources of the immigration department at home as well as abroad.

Finally, I want to say to the hon. member that I have really not heard anything new from her that was not heard during the debates and presentations of Bill C-272 and Bill C-436. This is kind of déjà vu all over again.

It is a question that, once it has failed, we need to, as members of Parliament presenting private members' bill, present new evidence that in fact things can work better. With a government that is not willing to provide greater resources to immigration, that is going to be difficult.

However, I am one of those individuals who think that, given the challenges that we face as a country, as I said earlier, an aging population, skills shortages and reunification of families, we need to look at immigration in a broader scope. We need to redefine exactly what our targets are and redefine what it is that the government is willing to invest in immigration. Is the present government willing to make it a priority?

Because, quite frankly, what I have seen to date in the short time that I have been immigration critic is a government that has not made immigration a priority, although every indicator, social, cultural and economic, points to the fact that the future of our country largely depends on our ability to attract immigrants.

Whether we are talking about the 800,000 application backlog or whether we are talking about the $100 million shortfall with the Province of Ontario to help it deal with immigration issues, as well as the failure of the accreditation of foreign credentials, there is a lot of work to do in this portfolio.

I hope that the Prime Minister, as well as cabinet, begins to really realize that immigration in this country should not be an afterthought. Immigration is a key issue. It speaks to the future of our country and it should be taken more seriously by the Conservative government.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:40 p.m.
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Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

This private member's bill would grant every Canadian citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor once in his or her lifetime one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the existing family class. The existing family class is a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner, a child under 22, a parent, or a grandparent. In that sense, there is an opportunity to sponsor family.

All of us appreciate the importance of strengthening families. Family reunification has been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration for decades, and this government is committed to ensuring that families represent a vibrant component of our immigration program in the years ahead. Indeed, that is what Canadians expect. Canadians expect a government that is firmly committed to families and to strengthening the ways that families can be reunited with their loved ones from overseas should they choose to make Canada their new home.

The issue raised by Bill C-394 is not new. There is a considerable history to it. The bill was previously introduced on two occasions and was defeated by significant margins at second reading. Bill C-272 was previously defeated on March 23, 2005 by a margin of 167 to 76. Bill C-436 was defeated on April 18, 2004 by a margin of 149 to 40. It is worth noting that both our party and the then Liberal government were clearly opposed to the previous incarnations of this bill.

The bill defines a relative as a brother or a sister of the sponsor, an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin, or a child who is under 22 and not dependent on the sponsor.

The management and implementation of a provision for once in a lifetime sponsorship of a family member is problematic for a number of reasons, all of which apply to the private member's bill before the House today. Such a wide open expansion of the family class category would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources.

It is interesting that the member did not answer the question about the uptake, or how many people this might bring into the system. If, as she said, the targets were not going to be changed, where would those numbers come from, where would they be taken away from?

There is no doubt that it would increase inventories exponentially and likely result in substantial delays for processing other applications, including those from immediate family members or applicants from other family class categories. This clearly is not in the best interests of Canadians.

The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park knows there are extensive family reunification provisions in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the regulations and guidelines thereunder. These regulations, passed in 2002, significantly enhance the family reunification program and more closely reflect today's social and cultural realities.

It is easier today for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad in a well-managed and sustainable way.

These changes, for example, provide for equal treatment under the law for common law and conjugal partners. They expand the definition of dependent child to better reflect the new realities of children being reliant on their parents for longer periods of time. They lower the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 years of age to 18 years of age.

Under the immigration and refugee protection regulations, Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor any other relative, regardless of age or relationship, if the sponsor does not have a more immediate living family member.

These enhancements to the family class facilitate family reunification while ensuring an appropriate balance between economic and non-economic immigrants. In the absence of a significant increase in admissions and resources, the adoption of this bill would have significant impacts on the balance and on the overall inventory and processing.

While the previous Liberal government allowed the backlog to balloon to over 800,000, the ever-increasing number of applicants wishing to make Canada their home continues to put additional pressures on the immigration system which many say is already too cumbersome and slow. These pressures would be compounded exponentially by the implementation of Bill C-394.

Simply put, implementing this legislation would impede CIC's ability to ensure the program is balanced and responsive to government priorities, including the ability to meet labour market demands.

The proposed amendments would also have potential impacts on matters of provincial and territorial concern. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has consulted with other levels of government, partners and stakeholders to find a way to work on immigration issues in a more coordinated and cooperative way.

For example, under provincial and territorial immigration agreements, the government has removed the limit on the number of immigrants provinces can nominate each year, allowing the provinces a better opportunity to meet their unique economic, social and labour market needs.

We have also committed to find ways to help temporary foreign workers and students settle in the provinces. In recent years most have gone to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver because large, established ethnic communities in those cities have made them attractive to newcomers. This has been a major challenge for the immigration system. Therefore, we have aligned our system to make it more responsive to labour market and regional needs.

As all members know, part of the government's plan for the coming year involves introducing a new avenue to immigration, a new economic class that will help attract and retain certain skilled temporary workers and international students with Canadian degrees and work experience.

We must ensure that the immigration program continues to meet the needs of all Canadians in the future. It is how the government will move forward in the future.

We agree with the concept of making it easier for families to reunite with their loved ones. We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general. But, the government has also a duty to properly manage the immigration program and ensure the principles of integrity and balance are upheld.

It is worth noting that the previous Liberal government was vehemently opposed to this legislation when it was introduced in previous sessions. On November 3, 2003, a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration said:

Such a wide open approach would significantly increase processing delays and the size of existing backlogs for every immigrant category. it would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources, and it would help to undermine the integrity of the entire immigration program by increasing the opportunities for fraud.

This position was echoed by another former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration, the current member for Vancouver Centre, who, on February 12, 2004 said that the actual effect of the legislation would be:

--anyone could sponsor nearly anyone else as a member of the undefined relative class without any thought to fiscal support or employability. The new person could then repeat the exercise, as could their sponsored applicant, and so on, creating a multiplier effect. The result would be an almost limitless chain of family class immigration based simply on loose associations.

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

Moreover, this could result in new frauds and it could undermine the integrity of the economic class immigration, since a significant number of economic class immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could sponsor them.

The changes proposed...runs the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

That is what that member said. Those are not our words.

Implementing Bill C-394 would have far-reaching negative implications on the integrity of the current immigration system. Its specific proposals to expand the family class are both unsustainable and unmanageable. We therefore cannot support Bill C-394 and urge all hon. members to do the same.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 10th, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.
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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to present a petition signed by a number of people from the Toronto area who call for family reunification. They point out that family reunification has long been and remains a cornerstone of Canada's immigration policy. The petitioners support Bill C-436 that would amend the act to allow a family member to sponsor a family member who would not otherwise qualify under the existing rules.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2004 / 6:20 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-436 under private members' business.

After the taking of the vote:

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2004 / 7:05 p.m.
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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House to finish off the debate on Bill C-436, a bill that I have put forward. I appreciate the comments that have been made by members in the House today.

Bill C-436 has a very basic premise, and that is to assist with family reunification in Canada. As the member for Winnipeg North Centre pointed out so eloquently, when we talk to Canadians, particularly those in urban centres who have gone through the immigration system and know the frustrations and the flaws that exist within the system and the difficulties they have experienced in trying to bring a family member to Canada, they see Bill C-436 as a way to fix the system. For some members to blame family members for the lack of resources from the Liberal government is quite astounding.

I also was astounded to hear the member for Parkdale--High Park say that the bill would create chaos and violate government policy. Maybe she is not aware but it was actually her own former minister of immigration who first brought forward the idea of once in a lifetime. The minister came to Vancouver and put forward this suggestion which was hugely responded to by the local community. When the minister dropped the idea because she received a lot of pressure from her bureaucrats, I thought it was a terrific idea, which is the reason I brought the bill forward in the House.

The suggestion that somehow this would create chaos in the system is simply not the case. I believe it is really an attempt to scare people about what is taking place here.

The bill has had tremendous support across the country. I met with various groups in Vancouver. I know my colleagues from Winnipeg North Centre and Winnipeg Centre have held meetings in Winnipeg. The member for Windsor—St. Clair held meetings in his community. Meetings have been held in Toronto, Edmonton and other places. The simple proposition of allowing someone, once in a lifetime, to sponsor a family member who otherwise would not qualify has received strong support in the community.

I would argue that at this point Bill C-436 has a lot of merit to go to the next stage, which is to go to committee where it can be debated and we can look at the definition. As it exists now, as has been pointed out, the definition for family class is incredibly restrictive. It does not reflect Canada's cultural diversity, which is why we have such a problem with the system. The idea of examining the bill, looking at the definition of family class and hearing witnesses on that basis, is what this debate is about. It is about ensuring that the bill can go to committee.

I hope that members will support the bill with the idea that it is about family reunification. It is quite tragic that the Liberal government cannot meet its own established target of 1% immigration levels in Canada. We have to blame the government for that because it has not provided the resources to deal with the backlogs. For members to blame family members for that problem is absolutely unacceptable. If we were to go out to any community, I believe people would be quite horrified to hear that.

I thank the members who have supported the bill and who understand its principle. I even thank the former immigration minister who first proposed this idea because it is a good idea and it should be looked at. For those members who just see the bill as something they can shoot down for whatever political reason, that is unfortunate.

I hope that when the bill comes to a vote it will be supported so it can go to committee where it will get the examination that it deserves. We will be able to hear witnesses and maybe agree upon the fundamental principle that reuniting families in Canada is something that all members of the House should support.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2004 / 6:50 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to speak to the bill, Bill C-436, sponsored by the hon. member for East Vancouver. The bill is entitled, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with respect to sponsorship of relatives.

First, I would like to commend the hon. member for her thoughtful and laudable efforts to fix some problems in the immigration system.

Of course there are various pros and cons with respect to the bill. Probably it is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be fine tuned. Some of the objections need to be carefully reviewed and brought to the attention of the authorities so they can be refined and reviewed and the con part can be tackled and the pro side can be highlighted.

I certainly believe the family is an institution which needs to be strengthened. With stronger families, communities are stronger and with stronger communities, then nations become stronger. Canada is a country of immigrants. Some people are first, second, third, fourth, fifth or whatever generation.

As we know, the definition of family could be by marriage, or by blood relationship, or by adoption, any of the three. When this sponsorship issue is dealt with, it is for family reunification. The intent is pro family, and I am very proud to support anything which is pro family. However, we have to deal with the con part, as I said.

Certainly the official opposition welcomes immigrants to Canada. I am sure everyone in this chamber wants legitimate immigrants to come to Canada. However, if they have a shady past or any of the characteristics which make them ineligible to come into Canada, no country wants those people. We welcome legitimate immigrants to Canada. Their legitimacy is defined by different criteria in the Immigration and Citizenship Acts.

I used to be a member of the immigration committee for quite some time and I am quite familiar with the immigration system in Canada, particularly because I come from a constituency which happens to be the largest constituency in population in Canada. More than 210,000 people live in my riding. Most of them are new immigrants, and they have problems dealing with immigration. Some of the problems are pretty reasonable and legitimate, and my staff works overtime on immigration issues. Why? The Department of Citizenship and Immigration is not efficient or effective and the system is clogged.

The caseworks related to different categories of prospective immigrants is entered into the system from one end. It takes a very long time before their cases are processed, then they come from the other end as finished products. Due to the inefficient and ineffective immigration system, the offices of members of Parliament are involved. In fact immigration is like any other department.

Why are members of Parliament not involved with other casework as much as with immigration? Because the immigration department is inefficient, particularly with different categories, whether it is landed immigrants, or family reunification, or other categories of landed immigrants, such as entrepreneurs, even visitor visa cases. All of them are so messed up that it demands there should be some sort of interference in the system from the elected officials on behalf of the constituents they represent.

So even the ministers' permits have been abused--not now but in the past--to give political favours to their constituents. They were politically oriented ministers' permits in the past, many years ago, but I believe there are less of them now. There should be absolutely no political interference in the immigration system or immigration cases. That would be the most preferred choice, but since the system is not working there has to be political interference under the present circumstances, which I believe one day will be eliminated.

It becomes very important because, as the hon. member from the Bloc pointed out, the word immigration is not mentioned even once in the whole budget. The government is completely ignoring the advantages and disadvantages of the system, particularly so with the past cuts in the budget which have meant that the immigration staff, the front end of the security lineup, are not properly trained and do not have proper resources. The system is naturally inefficient.

Many times, the system looks only at the black and white. There is no cultural aspect, no compassionate aspect, and there is no humanitarian aspect reviewed when the initial review of the case takes place outside the country. I can give so many examples, but I will not go there yet.

On the other hand, while we criticize the system, when we say that the system is inefficient, ineffective and clogged, it is also incumbent upon immigrants not to abuse the system. When people in Canada, as well as those outside who want to come to Canada, abuse the system, the system has to draw a line somewhere. When the system is abused, then we have to take hard measures to stop that kind of abuse. No one wants abuse of the system.

I have always given the analogy that Canada is like a home. If someone comes to our front door and rings the bell, we open the door and welcome our guests. On the other hand, if we are sleeping, someone enters through the back door and we wake up in the morning with someone is sitting on the couch, we do not like that. I wish that our immigration system would be such that the front doors are open but the back doors are closed; even the windows and ventilators should be closed.

Some of the delays that cause the abuse to occur are sometimes really very legitimate delays in this system which upset people. For family reunification at present, I think the waiting period is 42 months, which is a very long time. In other countries such as Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, the waiting time is not as long as it is in the immediate relative category of 42 months in Canada. Moreover, when these people are frustrated after applying for reunification with their relatives, they call the 1-800 number at the department and they are always told to check after three months. When they call after three months, it is another three months and so on until two or three years have passed. That is not fair either.

Certainly in the case of spouses, the criteria become that someone has not been wearing the traditional clothes for 45 days after the marriage, or that 700 people did not show up at the marriage, only 200 people showed up, or that the reception was held not at home but at a community hall or something like that. Those kinds of criteria become impediments in the selection or rejection of that particular case. Such arbitrary criteria really become a pain for people to understand, and in fact it becomes inappropriate to judge a case based on that kind of criteria.

I know of a case in my constituency where a husband and wife have been married for eight years. The husband is a Canadian citizen and sponsored his wife to come to Canada. They have a child who is about eight years old. They still have not been reunited in Canada. Such unnecessary delays cause serious problems in families.

On the other hand, in some cases with respect to spousal reunification, the system has been abused. Many cases have been reported recently of husbands or wives coming to Canada and then running away at the airport. They do not go to their intended family. They simply get married in order to come to Canada, which is a critical problem.

I want to summarize now by mentioning the visitor's visa case. There should be some provisions allowing people to either give a personal guarantee or post a bond so that they can bring in legitimate visitors, particularly in a situation like attending a marriage.

Canada's immigration policy has to be fair and competitive. Such issues should be reviewed so that we can be more efficient in judging immigration cases.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2004 / 6:45 p.m.
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Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-436 which has been put forward by the member for Vancouver East.

The House should know that the member for Vancouver East has become quite a celebrity in my riding these days because she has been using her franking stamp to promote her leader throughout my riding. So it is wonderful now to not support this bill.

I am here, not as a current member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, but I did serve as a member on that committee last session.

I am pleased to talk about some of the ways the government is making it easier for Canadians to sponsor their loved ones from overseas. It is important that we set the record straight and not be misled, as I feel we have been by the previous speaker.

All of us understand the importance of strengthening families and the family reunification provisions that are found in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Families have been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration for many years and the government is committed to ensuring they represent a growing and vibrant component of our immigration program for the decades ahead.

I too am a first generation Canadian, as my parents immigrated to this country. Today, Canadian citizens and permanent residents living in Canada, who are 18 years of age or older, can sponsor close relatives or family members who want to become permanent residents. The list of those who can be sponsored from abroad is quite extensive. It was this government that increased the list of members. It includes: opposite or same sex partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, including those who are adopted; as well as brothers; sisters; nephews; nieces; or grandchildren who are orphaned.

Canada's immigration and refugee protection regulations also allow Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor foreign nationals who are not members of the family class provided they have no family residing in Canada or who could otherwise be sponsored from abroad. The act also has a way for individuals to apply to sponsor a non-family class relative on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

There are several avenues of sponsorship available to cover different individual circumstances or family arrangements. Many were introduced after extensive consultations with stakeholders across Canada as well as Canadians from every walk of life. All upheld the principles of fairness, integrity and balance.

Canadians have told us what they want. They want an immigration program that strikes an appropriate balance between economic and non-economic immigrants. They want a program that will help to spread the benefits of immigration across Canada. Most of all, they want a program that ensures that immigration will benefit the community where newcomers choose to settle as well as the immigrants themselves. This private member's bill under debate today deviates from all of these objectives, and therefore is not supportable.

The government is aiming to achieve its long term goal of reaching immigration levels equal to 1% of Canada's population. In order to do this we must have a balanced, sustainable and well managed plan. As immigration levels increase, so too will family class levels.

However, we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure this is done in a responsible manner after consulting with stakeholders, Canadians and local leaders. The vast majority of newcomers to Canada settle in cities. We, therefore, need to hear from them.

Bill C-436 runs counter to any consultative process by arbitrarily raising family class levels to indeterminable limits. It also runs counter to any principles of balance by leaving the term “relative” undefined. Under the provisions of this ill-conceived bill, the door would be wide open for nearly anyone to sponsor anyone else, regardless of their relationship to each other or whether they had even met.

Since the newly landed relatives could themselves sponsor any relative as soon as they qualified, the family class could potentially overwhelm the immigration program. This is clearly not in the best interests of all Canadians.

I think we can all appreciate the desire for some individuals to sponsor relatives from overseas who are not members of the family class. The current regulations make provision for this under certain circumstances.

All of us also support strong families and strong family class provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and regulations. The government's track record is impressive in this regard and will continue to be so in the future.

As I have said time and again, we also have a responsibility to ensure the integrity and stability of the immigration program for future generations. The provision in this private member's bill under debate would violate this trust.

I, therefore, strongly support the government's overall direction and I am completely opposed to Bill C-436 or any special provision that would leave us open to such chaos and to such abuse.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2004 / 6:35 p.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-436 which was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver East. It is a constructive proposal before the House to deal with a serious shortcoming in our immigration policy and legislation. At the same time, it provides the House with a pilot project.

It does not lock the government into any particular entrenched position. It offers a solution for the government to do something that Canadians have called for, for a long time. It is founded on and grounded in the notion of compassion and caring.

We are in the final hour of debate and I want to do everything in my power to persuade members of Parliament to support the bill and to join the efforts of my colleague from Vancouver East in making this a reality. Many people across the country are counting on us to do the right thing, to ensure that we in this Parliament find a way to recognize the importance of families and the ties that bind.

We heard from previous speakers who suggested this would open the floodgates, that the bill would attract people who do not have an attachment to the country, and that we would not have the resources to settle additional family members.

Those positions are not based on fact. The fact of the matter is that we are talking about residents in the country who would dearly love to bring in other family members not now eligible under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

We are not talking about ineligible immigrants. We are not talking about immigrants who do not meet the normal standards in terms of security checks and health provisions. We are talking about aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, and not some undefined notion of family. We are talking about blood relatives.

The present law presents us with a very narrow definition of family based on the nuclear family. It does not recognize the fact that for many cultures there are different notions of what constitutes a family. The bill says to the government that here is one way to deal with that concern on a trial basis. Try it out. It is a once in a lifetime proposition. It does not lock the government to a change in policy over the long term. It offers the government a choice to try it out and see what the benefits are.

I would dare say that at the end of this pilot project we would see enormous benefits to our country. We would see enormous cost savings because the family that brings together other relatives from around the world has supports built in to that unit. It has a way to deal with loneliness and isolation that can otherwise present costly challenges for our society.

This is about family reunification which is the bedrock notion of our society. I want to reference the debate that we had in committee on the bill dealing with immigration and refugees.

The valuable role that the presence of family members can play in setting down new roots has also been undervalued.

We are attempting to change that today. Wanting to have family members close at hand to share in our lives is common to immigrants and non-immigrants alike. It contributes to our sense of community. As well, family members can provide familiar and trusted support, especially during a period of adjustment.

Expanding the family class definition to include more extended family members would ease some of the strain on immigration. Speeding up the family reunification process that sometimes can drag on for years would also reduce the stress of prolonged separation.

Members will know that currently under the present administration, there are enormous backlogs and problems in terms of family reunification, as it now stands. We can point to, for example, a country like the Philippines where people can expect to wait a year to 18 months for a spouse and up to three years for parents. There is already a lack of recognition on the part of the government to address what is a vital component of any reasonable immigration policy that makes us competitive on the international scene.

Our challenge to the government is to deal with those current administrative problems, those backlogs that prevent families from getting together as well as to apply a modern notion, a realistic concept of family that captures the meaning of all cultures around the world. Let us do it as soon as possible so we can deal with the loneliness, isolation and lack of supports in which many new Canadians feel and experience.

I was hopeful that we could convince the government to accept this bill until we saw today that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration put out a note to her colleagues saying that she would vote no to the bill. I am afraid once again we are in a situation where cabinet is putting down the law and expecting members to fall in line with this dictate. I hope that is not the case, but I am afraid we are confronted with a similar pattern on the part of the Liberals.

I was hopeful until I started raising this issue in the House with a member in my own community, the member for Winnipeg North—St. Paul, the Minister of Western Economic Diversification. He did not seem to grasp the importance of the bill. In fact he said that this would be blanket bill that would allow once in a lifetime a non-eligible immigrant to come to Canada. That is wrong. We are not talking about a blanket bill. We are talking about a once in a lifetime project and about relatives who would be eligible under any other circumstance, except for the fact that we apply a very narrow definition in our legislation.

I hope the member for Winnipeg North—St. Paul gets a better grasp of this issue and realizes the importance of the bill from the point of view of the numerous ethnocultural groups in our community of Winnipeg today.

In fact I want to point out that in short order I received over 2,000 signatures on petitions in support of the bill. It is the tip of the iceberg in terms of indicating the support for the bill across the country. It is a policy that makes sense from the point of view of just plain human compassion. It is a policy that makes sense from the point of view of a cost effective approach to immigration. It is a policy that would help us address a fundamental problem with our immigration policy today, which is we are not competitive internationally for immigrants.

Our targets are never met. The government continues to fall short of our target by at least 50,000 a year. We cannot even get up to 1% of population as a target for this country. We have been unable to compete with other countries because we do not address the fact that people make a decision based on ties, based on feelings about a country and based on a sense of community.

What can be more important in that construct than opening up our notion of family and allowing just once in a lifetime aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins to come to Canada and join other family members, where they have the supports they need, are not a burden on society and in fact nourish and nurture the whole community?

I would urge all members in the House to look at the bill as a very positive suggestion for an otherwise difficult situation, and that is the need for the country to attract immigrants. Seven years from now the only growth in our labour force will be a result of immigrants. If we are concerned about preserving our population, or being able to support the baby boomer generation and or being able to fund programs for people in retirement, then we must seriously approach this proposition and support it wholeheartedly.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2004 / 6:20 p.m.
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John Bryden Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, I know my riding of Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot is a bit of a mouthful but I have to say that I am the fault of that because I was the one who originally named the riding. I suspect, however, that it will be renamed very shortly to a somewhat shorter name.

I rise to speak to Bill C-436. It is an act that would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act pertaining to the sponsorship of relatives.

What the act does or what it purports to do is it would give all citizens and permanent residents of Canada a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative of their choice. What it does is it gets around the limitations that currently exist in legislation that restricts the sponsorship of relatives to direct relatives, like parents and grandparents, or to nieces and cousins who are in particular situations, like being orphaned or things like that, but it does not allow for the sponsorship broadly of distant cousins, uncles and other relatives.

The bill before the House, however, would get around that limitation that now exists in the Citizenship and Immigration Act and allow this one time sponsorship of any relative.

One can appreciate why the member for Vancouver East would bring forward a bill of this nature, because she comes from a riding that has a very large number of new Canadians and landed immigrants. Of course anyone who has come to this country from another land would naturally want to bring in as many relatives as possible.

I was on the citizenship and immigration committee when we dealt with this problem in the early 1990s and the difficulty was that the sponsorship program, as inherited from the Mulroney regime, was so broad that we were getting so many newcomers to Canada who could not be expected to contribute significantly to the nation, and it was felt that the sponsorship program should be limited in the way that we see in the legislation now.

There are some major difficulties with what is proposed by the member for Vancouver East. What she is saying is that every person in Canada ought to have the right to sponsor a relative. Well, there are 30 million people in Canada, so what the bill would do in effect is invite every Canadian and every permanent resident to sponsor a relative. I would suggest that basically would make it very difficult for Canada to control the type of newcomers who would like to come into the country, because every nation in the world has the right, and indeed it is a privilege, to want to have some say in who comes into the country to become a part of the nation's society.

There is another problem that is even more difficult and that is the problem that the bill would extend this privilege of sponsoring a relative once in a lifetime, not only to Canadian citizens but to permanent residents. Now the difficulty is that out of the 30 million people who are part of Canadian society, 1.5 million of them are not Canadians.

Indeed, we saw what happened late last year when the government introduced a program whereby people who did not have Canadian citizenship but were permanent residents were required to take a permanent residency card. There was a lot of conflict in our constituency offices over that. What was amazing was to discover in my own constituency office that many of those people who were captured by this requirement to have a permanent residents card had been in the country for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years. These people had come to the country many years ago. and many of them actually from the traditional countries that sent people to Canada, the United States and particularly Britain and Western Europe, but these people had come to Canada and they could not be bothered to take out citizenship and they could not be bothered to acquire the right to vote, even though they had been in Canada for many years. Often we had a situation where they raised their children under the citizenship of another nation.

What the bill would do is allow this type of person, who is not sufficiently attached to Canada, to acquire citizenship, to bring in relatives to become part of the country, to acquire the wealth and benefit of the country, to follow the same pattern and not bother about having a real attachment to Canada. I think this would be very unfortunate because Canada is a fine country and I think it is respected worldwide.

At the very least, we should try to attract people who want to be here because Canada is a fine country and who want to become part of Canadian society because they want to share in our values, our values that have to do with freedom of opportunity, freedom of speech, the respect for the rule of law and democracy and the respect for basic human rights. We do that when we become Canadian or when we at least hold it out as an option.

However to say to people who have chosen not to be Canadian, who have chosen only to take advantage of the material benefits of Canada, that they should have the right to bring in their relatives, just the absolute right to bring in their relatives to take advantage of the material benefits of Canada again, just like them, is quite unacceptable.

I would suggest that while I appreciate that the member for Vancouver East has proposed the legislation because she genuinely sees in her riding and among her constituency a desire for family reunification, which is very understandable, the legislation, unfortunately, as written, particularly because it includes permanent residents and provides for no criterion of adherence to the values of Canada, I regret to say it is legislation that I do not think the House should support.

I commend the member for Vancouver East for bringing it forward because I think the intent of the legislation is fine and we do want to be a country that welcomes people. However every nation ought to have the opportunity to screen people for their potential desire to come to this land to adhere to our values.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

April 27th, 2004 / 10:25 a.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to present two petitions this morning. The first petition pertains to Bill C-436, the once in a lifetime legislation, which is again before the House today for debate.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to take this proposal seriously and to ensure that family reunification is again an important part of the government's immigration policy.

The petitioners acknowledge that nothing is more important than the family when it comes to the health and well-being of our society. They deeply regret that the government has failed to move on a more modern definition of family that allows for aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters to be joined together in one place and to support one another.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

April 21st, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased and honoured to present a petition signed by hundreds of citizens in my constituency and residents throughout the province of Manitoba who are concerned about immigration policy. They are very concerned that the government has neglected to consider that the family remains a cornerstone of Canada's immigration policy.

They call upon the government to amend our present legislation to ensure that members of families not now included in the family sponsorship category have a way to come to this country. They specifically call upon Parliament to endorse and support the legislation before the House, Bill C-436, once in a lifetime legislation.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 31st, 2004 / 5:10 p.m.
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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my second group of petitions deals with an immigration issue. The petitioners argue that new Canadians should be able to sponsor, once in a lifetime, one family member who would not normally qualify under the family reunification class; in other words, we would vote into effect Bill C-436, which would change the immigration act to broaden the family sponsorship category so that once during a person's life one family member could be sponsored who otherwise would not qualify.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 31st, 2004 / 5:10 p.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the other four petitions all have to do with immigration and family reunification. These are petitioners from all across Canada who believe that the federal government has fallen short of its own targets in recent years with respect to immigration and that family reunification is a cornerstone of our policy.

They call on the government and Parliament to support Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which would allow people to sponsor, once in a lifetime, a relative not now eligible under the family reunification class.

I respectfully submit these petitions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 29th, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.
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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition recognizes that family reunification has long been and remains a cornerstone of Canada's immigration policy and that the current regulations are very narrow, excluding many family members, and that these concerns can be addressed by the swift passage of Bill C-436.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2004 / 6:10 p.m.
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Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to speak about the commitment of our government to strengthen families and about the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on family reunification.

Families are both an anchor and a source of strength to newcomers. They represent the strongest possible foundation and roots for the health and prosperity of communities and of Canada as a whole. It is important to ensure that new families are vibrant and have the tools and resources needed to integrate, participate and feel a sense of belonging to Canada.

Over the past two years the government has achieved this objective through prudent management of the immigration program and a commitment to expanding and integrating the family class. From 1998 to 2001 the family class in Canada moved from 50,882 to 66,713. That represents an increase of almost 16,000 immigrants only in the family class in just four years.

However we felt this was not enough so the government introduced new regulations in 2002 to allow even more individuals to sponsor family members and to speed up the processing of family class applications.

We have expanded the family class to include common-law and conjugal partners of the opposite and same sex, and have increased the dependent age to 22. As well, we have reduced the age at which Canadian citizens are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years and the period of sponsorship undertakings has been reduced in most cases from 10 to 3 years.

These are significant changes and they are designed to facilitate family reunification.

New application rules will assist in the faster processing of applications on behalf of spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children.

In making these changes, we took into account the need to increase people's ability to sponsor family members, while ensuring that the immigration program is managed in a balanced and efficient fashion. This approach clearly serves the best interests of everyone: Canadians, newcomers and our communities.

Currently the government is expanding the consultation process to ensure municipal leaders and other community stakeholders have a say in immigration matters. The overwhelming majority of newcomers to Canada settle in cities placing enormous demands on their resources, so their input is vital.

Earlier this week the minister met with municipal leaders in Ontario and over the coming months she will meet with other municipal leaders across the country. This dialogue will allow us to increase immigration levels in a way that benefits both the communities and the newcomers themselves.

Provincial stakeholders must be consulted before any changes are made that could radically change the balance between family class and economic immigrants since they could face insurmountable demands on health, educational and social services.

While government has met or exceeded annual immigration targets in the last three years, these targets are developed in close co-operation with stakeholders. We are determined to continue this trend of increasing family class over time but we must do so in a fair, balanced, sustainable and consultative way.

The changes proposed by the hon. member for Vancouver East in Bill C-436 runs counter to this process and to the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

Besides, Canadians or permanent residents who wish to sponsor someone not in the family class can already do so provided they have no family members living in Canada or abroad whom they could sponsor in the family class.

Bill C-436 would expand this concept to grant all citizens in Canada or permanent residents a once in a lifetime sponsorship opportunity, regardless of their circumstances, with little consideration given to their familiarity or relationship with a sponsored individual.

Under Bill C-436, anyone could sponsor nearly anyone else as a member of the undefined relative class without any thought to fiscal support or employability. The new person could then repeat the exercise, as could their sponsored applicant, and so on, creating a multiplier effect. The result would be an almost limitless chain of family class immigration based simply on loose associations.

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

Moreover, this could result in new frauds and it could undermine the integrity of the economic class immigration, since a significant number of economic class immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could sponsor them.

We on this side of the House are committed to the principle of uniting families. I know the hon. member for Vancouver East's heart is in the right place but past experiences show that this should be done with appropriate intake controls in place to prevent abuse and to make sure that changes do not overwhelm the integration and immigration program.

We need to consult with local stakeholders to ensure increases in family class levels are achieved in a way that benefits everyone, and the minister plans to do that.

By following all of these processes, all Canadians can then be sure of a fair, efficient and equitable immigration program for many years to come.