Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in this debate on behalf of my colleague, the hon. member for Laval Centre, who could not be in the House today and asked me to speak for her. Here, then, is the message she would have wanted to present to the House at this time.
There are certain debates in this House that require making decisions in the light of a particular context and realities that cannot be ignored.
Today, I have the opportunity to speak to such an issue, one which calls on our judgment and demands thorough reflection, in order to determine our position.
The purpose of the bill put forward by the hon. member for Vancouver East, Bill C-436, is to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment says, and I quote:
Subject to the regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may, once in their lifetime, sponsor one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.
We are well acquainted with the hon. member for Vancouver East. This proposal reflects her humanitarianism and her great generosity. We commend her on the spirit behind this bill.
Unfortunately, we cannot support her bill as it is currently formulated. Three major reasons underlie our position: the lack of clarity of the bill; immigration priorities, particularly Canada's role in refugee protection; and finally, budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.
However, the Bloc is prepared to discuss this further before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The reason the Bloc is expressing its reticence about this bill is its lack of clarity. When we say that the proposal by the hon. member for Vancouver East lacks clarity, I wonder, for example, what she means by:
—one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.
What are the acceptable limits of the definition of “a relative”? For example, is a third cousin counted as a relative? Is there a requirement that they share a genetic ancestor and, if so, in what percentage? What is the dividing line between an acceptable relative and one who is not, if the list of admissible persons has not been defined?
We easily see that there is a great deal of room for arbitrary decisions. If the hon. member for Vancouver East wishes to broaden the family class to include other specific family members, she should state that in her bill, because without that, it is too vague and does not make it possible to determine which cases are admissible and which are not.
For example, we know that certain cultures consider family much more broadly than blood relations. For some people, a very close friend or neighbour is like a brother or at least like a member of the family.
The current list of persons admissible in the family class is already well defined. How could we justify an amendment this far-reaching without including some limits?
The hon. member should be able to show how many people would be affected by this new measure. Has she any credible and relevant studies on this? For now, we can only presume that this kind of proposal would have allowed 229,091 additional sponsorship applications in 2002.
With respect to the priority given to asylum seekers, Canada's immigration plan is split 60-40. In other words, immigrants are selected as follows: 60% are economic immigrants, meaning businesspeople, and self-employed and skilled workers; the remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.
Of this 40%, more or less 30% are family class immigrants, 9% are refugees and 1% others.
Clearly, it is the asylum seekers who will pay for the new measures to increase the number of people who qualify for family class. Anyone tempted to decrease the 60% should consider the fact that before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought here, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada first, as part of the 60% in the economic class. So, this proposal, which would reduce that percentage, does little to improve the situation.
With respect to the 40%, the headlines show deportation cases for asylum seekers being dismissed almost every week. Clearly, the numerous conflicts and civil wars in a growing number of countries—Colombia, Algeria, Palestine-Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan—should make democratic countries listen more carefully to people seeking refugee status. Because of inadequate budgets, Canada turns away thousands of asylum seekers every year whose lives are in danger in their homelands. With larger budgets, Canada could better meet its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention with respect to protecting refugees.
By allowing more immigrants to sponsor “distant” relatives, we are using resources that could save lives by accepting more asylum seekers. Politics and public administration are no exception; as with daily life we have to make responsible choices while taking various constraints into account.
Would it be better to bring a cousin to Canada or offer asylum to a Colombian family whose members might be tortured or killed if they were returned to Colombia?
Now, to touch on the budget limitations. Last of all, although the humanitarian intent of the member for Vancouver East is praiseworthy, her bill does not take into consideration the realities of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's budget.
Canada's immigration objective is to admit the equivalent of 1% of the Canadian population, or 310,000 immigrants annually. There are two key reasons for this: compensating for the drop in population and filling the need for skilled workers, particularly with economic class immigrants.
In 2002, Canada admitted 229,091 immigrants, compared to the 2001 figure of 250,484. The drop was in part a result of the department's inability to process any more because of budget restraints and the costs related to settlement and integration. It is not enough just to admit people into the country; it is also important to ensure that they receive proper services for a smooth integration into the host society.
This is the major problem with the whole immigration issue. The virtual absence in the recent throne speech of any reference to insufficient resources for immigration is the reason we support this bill in order to have the opportunity to discuss it in committee. In fact, if it is passed on second reading, there will have to be a debate in committee and we then be in a position to prove that the Department of CItizenship and Immigration is incapable of meeting its responsibilities because of insufficient funds. What it more, an analysis in committee would enable us to propose some essential points to be incorporated into the bill of the member for Vancouver East.
By recognizing the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-436, and by accepting its referral to a committee, the Bloc Quebecois would help prove that common sense and responsibility dictate that we ask for sufficient funding to provide proper settlement services for those who are admitted, while not ignoring our humanitarian duty to asylum seekers. They must be given priority access to resources.