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.

Sponsor

Libby Davies  NDP

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

Status

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

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2004 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

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.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2004 / 5:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-436.

The bill seeks to amend Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by granting every citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor, once in the sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class.

The concept of once in a lifetime sponsorship is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed whether such a provision would be workable for several years.

All of us believe in the principle of expanding the family class and making it easier for people to sponsor their loved ones abroad. However, the one time sponsorship option such as that proposed in Bill C-436 is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Past experience indicates that even with more resources, the increase in the backlogs and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants that could be generated by such an open ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the whole immigration program.

Bill C-436 will have the effect of adding a new class to the immigration program and introducing new opportunities for fraud. Since relationships outside the nuclear family are often not well documented and usually are very difficult to verify, the government would need to significantly increase resources to investigate and confirm each claim for sponsorship made under this new section.

In 1988 family intake nearly doubled over two years, thanks to a similar arrangement to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. The escalated number of backlogs arising out of this program, despite its termination in 1993, affected the Department of Citizenship and Immigration for many years.

Even putting aside the potential for huge backlogs, Bill C-436 would undoubtedly undermine our efforts to prevent marriages or common law relationships of convenience and adoptions of convenience since these persons could be sponsored without regard to the merits of their relationship with the sponsor.

It could also undermine the economic component of the immigration program, as many failed economic immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could easily sponsor them.

We have already made provision for sponsoring individuals outside the family class under certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.

Canadians and permanent residents today can sponsor a foreign national who is not a member of the family class, provided that they have no family residing in Canada or abroad. Section 117(1)(h) of the new immigration refugee protection regulations defines a foreign national as a member of the family class with respect to a sponsor regardless of age if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common law partner, conjugal partner or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad. Individuals can also apply to sponsor a non-family class relative under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act itself which allows a minister to grant a foreign national permanent residence status or an exemption from any applicable criteria of the act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

As well, the government passed a series of new regulations just last year to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and significantly expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way. These changes provide for equal treatment under the law for common law couples of the opposite and the same sex by expanding the family class to include the terms “common law partners” and “conjugal partners”.

They also expand the definition of “dependant child” to better reflect the longer child dependencies in certain instances. They also reduce the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 years to 18 years old.

These enhancements to the family class reflect the government's policy intention of easing family reunification while ensuring that the immigration program itself maintains an appropriate balance between the intake of refugees as well as economic and family class immigrants.

We have expanded the family class in a well planned and responsible way. The government has made provision for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.

I therefore find it difficult to support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will not vote in favour of the fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-436.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in the House to speak to my bill, Bill C-436. In actual fact, we had an hour of debate on the bill before the House was prorogued, but under the changes that have taken place we are now going back to the first hour. I am pleased to have this opportunity to have another debate and to hear from other members about the bill.

Since we debated it the last time in that first hour of debate, I did want to let members know that I have had various meetings across the country in various communities. There has been tremendous support for this bill. We have received petitions, postcards and feedback from organizations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and other places that I visited. There has been tremendous support for the idea that is contained in the bill.

Just to briefly recap, this is a very straightforward proposal. It is a proposal that builds on a policy that already exists within our immigration system, and that is to support the reunification of families.

Under this bill, a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident would be provided with a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative who would not otherwise be qualified or considered as a member of the family class as it exists now. What this bill would do is strengthen and assist family reunification in Canada.

We believe that the current family class sponsorship rules are very restrictive. In fact, in a question and answer paper that I sent around to members of the House, we laid out who it is that can be sponsored now under the existing rules, but there are many relatives that cannot be sponsored. Therefore, the purpose of the bill is to simply allow a permanent resident or a citizen to select a family member who does not qualify under the rules. A person could apply for it and bring a family member to Canada.

I do want to deal with some of the questions that arose during that earlier hour of debate. I think that while there was general support for the principle of what was contained here, there were questions such as, for example, would this not create a huge backlog within the immigration system? I would reply to that by saying that I think all of us know--and certainly members who have participated in the citizenship and immigration committee are very aware of the fact--that there are huge problems with the current immigration system. In fact, there are backlogs that exist now. The citizenship committee has, on a number of occasions and in a report just a few months ago, called for additional resources to be provided to deal with this chronic backlog.

This is a much larger issue around needing adequate resources within this department. I have said many times in the House and in committee that I always feel that the lack of resources in this department is one way that the government actually, through the back door, finds a way to not meet its own commitment of saying that the level of immigration would be about 1% of the Canadian population each year. That policy is on the books, but the way the government gets around it is by actually ensuring that this backlog exists.

My point in debating and seeking support for this bill is that hard-working families should not bear the blame of the problems that are plaguing the citizenship and immigration department. We need to fix those problems. We need to provide adequate resources to that department. For example, one thing we could do is make sure the money that is created through the landing fee is actually going back into the supports and services in that department.

So the criticism was made that we would be adding to the backlog. I understand that point, but I think we need to address that as an overall issue. In fact, bringing this bill to committee I think would allow us to open up the debate and to look at the issue of resources that are within the department.

Second, there were some questions about how many people we are talking about. If this bill were approved, what potentially would we be talking about in terms of people coming to Canada? That is something I cannot answer categorically, of course, because if this bill were approved it would allow a potential for permanent residents and citizens to sponsor someone.

However, I will say this. In 1993, the number of people sponsored under the family class provision was 110,000. Today, though, the projection for the arrival of family members is much lower. It is now at around 60,000. I think members can see that there has been a shift in the program and that the family class program has actually decreased over a number of years.

I feel that Bill C-436 would allow a bit more flexibility. It is not about a major overhaul of the system, which I could argue on other occasions desperately needs to be done. This is actually a very modest proposal that would simply provide more openness and flexibility under the family class rules.

I would also like to point out that the idea of doing this did not come from me, although when I heard about it I thought it was a great idea. It actually came from a former minister of immigration. When she was in Vancouver, this idea was put out to the community. It was not just floated; it was a fairly concrete idea that was suggested by the minister at the time. Of course it received tremendous support immediately, both within the local media and within the community. Within a very short period of time, a large number of petitions went around the community supporting the idea of a once in a lifetime bill.

Subsequent to that, the minister moved on and the idea was dropped. I thought it was a fabulous idea and asked myself why we should waste this kind of good, creative approach that would provide a modest change to the system. I picked up the idea as a private member's bill. I wanted to make that point because the bill actually originated from the government side.

I do think that Bill C-436 is related to larger issues around citizenship and immigration. Today I was very proud to be joined at a press conference by two of my colleagues, the member for Windsor--St. Clair and the member for Winnipeg Centre, where we spoke about this once in a lifetime bill. Also, today we introduced in the House a bill to ban racial profiling in Canada. We also introduced a new website launched by the NDP called Canadians4Justice.

We have done these three things as major initiatives because we are concerned about what is taking place in our society. There is more targeting of people of visible minorities or of different religious backgrounds. We have seen this particularly in the Canadian Muslim community and the Canadian Arab community. Even here in Ottawa an outrageous incident took place in a restaurant not far away from Parliament Hill where the police in effect raided the restaurant and were quite, I would say, over the top in their actions. They handcuffed all the black people in the restaurant and left the lone Caucasian white person alone. So there is the whole issue around the targeting of minorities, both in terms of individual incidents and also in a more systemic way in terms of how the system is functioning. For example, we are seeing an increase in refugees who are being put into detention. We are also seeing more people being stopped at borders by officials.

We are very concerned about this, so we launched these three proposals today. I think this issue is very much resonating in the broader community, because people are very concerned about the targeting of immigrants and visible minorities. Some are people who have been here for generations but happen to have a different colour of skin. This is something we should be concerned about.

I feel that Bill C-436 is a small step in making our system fairer and more accessible to people. I do feel that sometimes it is not very politically popular to talk about immigration or to be supportive of immigration--sometimes it is and sometimes it is not--but I feel that as members of Parliament we have a responsibility to make sure that the system is working and to point out its shortcomings.

Today this bill is really put forward in that spirit. It is about saying that we can support families in this country. It is about supporting diversity. I had a very tragic case in my own riding of Vancouver East that I think dramatizes what the bill is about. I am sure some people may be aware that a young Filipino boy was murdered by other young people near a park in east Vancouver.

The tragedy of the story is that the mother had come from the Philippines as a live-in caregiver, a domestic worker. She had three sons. She was only able to sponsor two sons because one of them did not qualify under the family class. One of her sons was murdered, the youngest one. There was a huge outpouring in the community about this situation. I attended the funeral. There were probably a thousand people at the funeral as well as all kinds of political representatives. There was just such an outpouring of grief about what had happened to this family.

We actually helped the family get the older brother from the Philippines to Canada on a special ministerial permit so he could attend the funeral and support his mother--this is the oldest son--and his middle brother. He came to Canada on a special ministerial permit which we luckily, with the support of the minister, were able to get in a day.

The irony is that this fellow will now have to go back because he came on a visitor's permit. He will not qualify. I feel that this is a very good example of where a policy such as this one, based on family reunification, would allow this mother to bring her oldest son to come to Canada to help this family make it through, because there he is, thousands of miles away. Because he is over 25, he would not qualify under the family class as it is now.

I know there are many other situations and really heartbreaking stories. I know that members in the earlier debate spoke about some of those stories.

What do we do about it? The system is not working properly. I hope very much that even if there are questions about the bill, members will support the principle here, the principle of family reunification and allowing this little bit of flexibility within the system to say that once in a lifetime a person could sponsor someone who would not otherwise qualify. All the other rules would apply. There are all kinds of screenings that people have to go through and so on. All of those things would apply.

I hope the bill can make it through debate and go to committee where it can have a thorough examination, as we do in committee. We can hear witnesses and all the rest of it. Then a decision will be made.

I seek the support of other members of the House for the bill, in particular members on the government side. I seek their support for the bill to allow it to go to the next step. When it was first debated the government was not that sympathetic to the idea, but I know that we have a new parliamentary secretary, the member for Vancouver Centre, who I know is very familiar with these issues. I know that she is very supportive and understands the importance of family reunification and what it means to people in our community of Vancouver and certainly in communities across the country as well.

I am hopeful. We have a new minister who I understand is very close to the issues and what is happening. Therefore I am being a little optimistic that with a new minister and a new parliamentary secretary we will get a little shot at this. Instead of them closing the door and saying, “It is a private member's bill, shut the door on that one”, I am hoping that we might have a good debate, that the principle of what is being put forward will be supported and that we can seek the support of other parties as well. I look forward to hearing comments and debate from other members of the House.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

February 11th, 2004 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus briefly on two aspects of the minister's speech. I would indicate to him that I appreciated his remarks with respect to the Winnipeg community.

I want to focus on his statement about strength from diversity and the celebration of our ethnocultural heritage, something that obviously we have in common in our Winnipeg constituencies.

Based on that, my first question is, is the minister prepared to give support to Bill C-436, which is before the House now and which has been sponsored by my colleague, the member for Vancouver East. It is about allowing every Canadian a chance once in a lifetime to sponsor a relative who now would not be eligible under the family class category? That is my first question.

My second question has to do with the need for urban renewal and for a new deal for a city like Winnipeg. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the north end of Winnipeg, where we have had a recreation facility sitting empty for over a decade and for which the community has actively sought federal funding.

I have written the minister myself on a couple of occasions and have yet to receive a response. I would like to know and the people of north Winnipeg like to know if once and for all the wellness centre in the north end of Winnipeg, which has a large aboriginal population and is a high needs area, will receive funding through western diversification?

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2003 / 11:40 a.m.
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Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, 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 on a question that demands serious thought in order to arrive at our position. Here we see reason clashing with passion.

Bill C-436, sponsored by the hon. member for Vancouver East, seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment reads as follows:

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 Bill C-436; immigration priorities, particularly Canada's role in refugee protection; and finally, budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.

What do we mean when we say that the hon. NDP member's proposal lacks clarity? What does she mean by a “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, to 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 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?

That way, 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.

This piece of the pie, which is Canada's immigration plan, is split 60-40. In other words, immigrants are selected as follows: 60% are economic immigrants, meaning business people, and self-employed and skilled workers; the remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.

Of this 40%, approximately 30% are family class immigrants, 10% are refugees, and 1% other. If the number of individuals who qualify for family class is increased, who will pay? Since the total is split 60-40, asylum seekers will clearly pay the price of these new measures.

Those members interested in reducing the 60% should remember that, before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought over, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada 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%, 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, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan—should make democratic countries pay closer attention to refugee claimants. Every year, small budgets cause Canada to turn away thousands of asylum seekers whose lives are in danger in their country of origin. With bigger budgets, Canada could further meet its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention with respect to protecting refugees.

By allowing more immigrants to sponsor 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 distant cousin to Canada or offer asylum to a Colombian family whose members might be tortured or killed if they were returned to Colombia? In an ideal world we could do both, but for now this is not possible.

Although the humanitarian intent of the NDP member 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 recorded drop in population and filling the need for skilled workers, particularly with economic category 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 past spring, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's trip across Canada gave us a good idea of the inadequate funds available for settlement of newcomers and the unfortunate consequences of this situation. The quality of services to new arrivals is as important as, if not more important than the quantity of newcomers. What is the point of bringing in distant cousins and neighbours, if we are not even in a position to properly service those already here in Quebec and in Canada?

It is important to clearly understand that the Bloc Quebecois recognizes the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-436, and if the hon. member agrees to take it back to the drawing board and fine tune her proposal, particularly by improving its focus and clarifying those who would be eligible, it is possible that we might support it when time comes to vote. For the moment, however, common sense and responsibility dictate that we instead favour providing proper settlement services for those who are admitted. As well, our humanitarian duty toward asylum seekers requires us to afford them priority when resources are being allocated. For them it is often a matter of life or death. As the old saying has it, “You should not bite off more than you can chew”. We are better to not bite off so much that we develop problems later.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2003 / 11:25 a.m.
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Brampton Centre Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, family reunification has long been a key objective of the Government of Canada's policy and legislation. It helps ensure the well-being of each newcomer we bring to Canada and it substantially contributes to community growth and prosperity. Debates on how to strengthen this important cornerstone of Canadian policy to allow more family members to sponsor their loved ones from abroad therefore have a long and rich tradition.

In June 2002 Canada opened a new chapter in this regard with the passage of regulations to significantly enhance the family reunification program, which more closely reflect today's social and cultural realities. These changes reflect extensive public consultation as well as the government's commitment to expand the family class and balance the number of family members we bring to Canada each year with a sustainable plan.

The new regulations allow individuals in a common law or conjugal relationship with a Canadian to be sponsored. They broaden the definition of dependent child by including children under 22 years old, up from under age 19 in the previous regulations. The regulations also reduce the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to become sponsors from 19 to 18 years old, and they decrease the period of sponsorship undertakings from ten years to three years in most cases.

These changes are based on careful deliberations and reflect the recommendations of individual experts in the field as well as stakeholder organizations in every region of the country. They support our commitment to the family. They also help ensure that Canada maintains the appropriate balance of economic and family class immigration.

As part of the public consultations concerning the new regulations, the government gave careful consideration to a number of options to further expand the family class, including a suggestion that each Canadian or permanent resident should receive a one-time opportunity to sponsor a non-family class relative. The once in a lifetime sponsorship option was found unworkable for a number of reasons, all of which apply to the private member's bill before the House today.

Bill C-436 would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to grant Canadian citizens and permanent residents the right to sponsor, once in a sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class. The bill contains no definition of relative nor any apparent restrictions or limitations on intake beyond its once in a lifetime provision. 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.

Canada's recent experience with the removal of limitations on sponsorships clearly demonstrates the flaws in the private member's bill under consideration. In 1988 the government of the time changed the sponsorship rules to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. Total intake in this category nearly doubled over two years, going from 53,033 in 1987 to 104,199 in 1989. When the government cancelled the program in 1993, it was after an eight year processing backlog had been incurred at some Canadian missions, and some of the effects are still being felt today.

Think of it this way. The increase from 1987 to 1989 consisted almost entirely of never married children of any age. If the proposal under debate today were limited to never married children, family class intake would at least double in the next two years. However, if all distant relatives are included with their spouses and children, family class intake could increase even more. Since the newly landed relatives could themselves sponsor any relative as soon as they were qualified to do so, the family class could potentially overwhelm the immigration program. This is clearly not in the best interests of Canadians or the newcomers we bring to our shores.

We agree with the concept of expanding the family class and making it easier for families to reunite with their loves ones in Canada. We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general. Our recent actions clearly support and reinforce this commitment, but the government has also a duty to properly manage the immigration program and ensure that the principles of fairness, integrity and balance are upheld. We therefore cannot support Bill C-436 or any other special provision that fails to take into consideration all that I have mentioned earlier.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2003 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House to speak for the first hour of debate to my private member's bill, Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

I thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for supporting the bill. I know it is an issue that he supports very much. He has had a lot of feedback in his riding about the bill and I am very happy that he is seconding the bill today.

The bill before us would allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to make a once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative who would not otherwise be considered under the family class sponsorship rules that exist today.

I brought forward the bill because one of Canada's key immigration objectives is to help families reunite in Canada. In fact we just received information from the minister a couple of days ago showing us that 28% of Canada's new immigrants are under the family class.

Upon examination of the current provisions, it becomes very clear that the current legislation defining the family class is quite restrictive, leaving many potential relatives ineligible for family reunification. I know in Vancouver East, my own riding, and indeed across the country, because I have heard from many people, many families are desperate to reunite with a family member who is still in the country of origin.

The bill is actually a very modest one. It does not change the system in any dramatic way. It lays out that a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen could sponsor, once in a lifetime, on a one time basis, a family member who would not otherwise qualify under the existing rule. It is that straightforward and it is that simple.

Just to give some context to this proposal, the Liberal red book has long put forward a goal to move immigration levels to 1% of the population, which would be about 300,000 people per year. However, as we all know, we have never come close to meeting this target. On average about 219,000 immigrants arrive each year in Canada.

In 1993 the number of people sponsored under the family class provision reached a peak of 110,000. Today the projection for family member sponsorship is around 60,000. We can see that there has actually been a decline from that peak in 1993.

The federal NDP and our leader, Jack Layton, have been very outspoken on this issue and very supportive of the bill. We do support the government target of 1% of the population for immigration. We consider immigration to be a powerful and positive contribution to the economic, social, cultural and political life of our country. We are a party that has always stood for supporting immigration.

We have seen too often a backlash against immigrants. I read a front page story in the Vancouver Sun last Thursday, the day I held a press conference in my own community around the bill, which linked immigrants to terrorists. We all know we are in an environment where there is increasing hostility toward immigration.

I am proud to say that in the federal NDP we have always supported immigration. We want to see the federal government meet its own targets. We know there are Liberal members who support those goals as well. We can help achieve the goal of 1% by supporting the bill without drastically changing the system.

Currently, under the family class section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, only the following relatives are eligible for sponsorship, and it is quite restrictive. For example, one can sponsor a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age. One can sponsor a dependent child who is under 22, is a full time student, is dependent on a parent for financial support or has a disability. One can also sponsor a parent or a grandparent.

My bill would allow a further step such that someone not eligible under those restrictions could be sponsored. A brother or a sister over 18 years of age could be sponsored. A first cousin, an aunt or uncle or a niece or nephew over the age that now provides the restriction could also be sponsored. A child over the age of 22 could also be sponsored. My bill gives more flexibility.

I want to make it very clear that my bill is not opening up the floodgates to family class sponsorships. Sponsorship would be on the basis of somebody being able to do this once in a lifetime.

I am sure that all members, based on their own experiences in their own ridings, have heard of heartbreaking cases of families spending years in the system trying to get a family member to Canada from their country of origin. I find it heartbreaking to see the psychological impact and sometimes the economic impact that hits these families that have been broken up. I feel that if my bill were supported and acted upon it would be a small step in helping to provide family reunification.

Bill C-436 has received tremendous support. When this idea first came up from the former minister of immigration in 2000, 15,000 signatures were collected in Vancouver alone in support of this policy change. Unfortunately, the then minister decided not to go ahead with the change.

Even today the bill is gathering a lot of support across the country from groups like MOSAIC in Vancouver, Storefront Orientation Services, Falun Gong members, the B.C. Latin American Congress, the Inland Refugee Society of B.C., members of the Fijian community, the Iranian-Canadian Community of Western Canada, the Vancouver Association of Chinese Canadians, and well known writers like Lydia Kwa and Sook Kong, a writer, a poet and a teacher. There is also support from groups like SUCCESS, which is the largest organization in the lower mainland of Vancouver serving the Chinese and was one of the organizations that obtained those 15,000 signatures in 2000. Just yesterday I was advised that the all presidents' meeting of the Chinese Canadian National Council voted to support this once in a lifetime bill.

Word is now going out across the country that Bill C-436 is being debated in Parliament and in due course will be voted on. I think there is very strong community support. Groups and agencies that support new Canadians understand how difficult this issue of family reunification is. They understand families' desperation at trying to bring family members over. No matter how hard they try, the rules are so restrictive they are not able to accomplish it. I think this bill would help move us toward family reunification.

When we held a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday some local media were there, after which a story appeared in the Vancouver Sun. A couple of immigration lawyers were quoted as saying that the family class is “traditionally a net drain on public funds”. I was actually quite alarmed by these kinds of statements and by the fact that anybody who works with new Canadians and families would say that new immigrants and family class sponsorships are a net drain on public funds. We know that under the existing rules financial support has to be provided for anywhere from three to ten years. All kinds of existing provisions are in place to ensure that there is no financial drain on society generally. None of those rules are being proposed for change. All my bill would do is ensure that someone could sponsor one additional relative.

Other comments were made that if the bill were passed it would somehow trigger a backlash. I was very alarmed to read those kinds of comments, particularly from immigration lawyers who should be familiar with what we need to do.

It seems to me that as members of Parliament we should be supporting and advocating for family reunification. This is actually one of the core programs of the government's immigration program. It is something that is based on compassion and on the well-being and wholeness of families. Any of us could imagine what it would be like if we were here in Canada and wanted to have a relative who was a very important part of our family in this country yet were prevented from doing so.

I will be the first to say that clearly there have to be rules and regulations. My bill would not change any of the provisions around medical requirements or even the definitions of family in the existing bill. Based on the conversations I have had, there are many people who actually would like to change those definitions because they think they are too restrictive. However, that is another debate and maybe another bill for another day.

This bill is actually quite limited in that it takes in the existing definition of family class and the existing provisions for approval. It would simply allow someone, once in a lifetime, to sponsor an additional family member who would not otherwise be eligible under the sponsorship rules.

I hope members will consider the bill and look at it as a step toward actually accomplishing what I believe we all support and agree on, which is support of families and reunification. I hope members will agree that it should go to the next step, to committee. Then we would have a further discussion and there may be all kinds of suggestions about how to improve the bill, which I would certainly welcome.

One of the things I hope we can draw visibility to in putting forward the bill is the real difficulties people face in dealing with the immigration system. In our party we are actually setting up a website so that Canadians can tell us first-hand about the experiences they have had with the system. I know that many of us are familiar with that because of the cases that too often, unfortunately, we are compelled to take on.

We want to draw attention to the facts about just how difficult it is to deal with this system. Some of it is a question of resources. I think one of the reasons we do not meet the 1% target is simply that government offices overseas do not have the kind of staff resourcing they need to actually process applications. This is actually something that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has investigated and documented in a very thorough way. I think many of us are very concerned about the fact that while these goals exist, we are not able to meet them because we simply do not have the resources, particularly in some key offices, or we do not even have enough offices to make sure that these applications are processed in a timely way. This becomes a sort of backdoor way of keeping a gate closed on the system. I think members on that committee are very well aware of that systemic problem that exists now.

I will close by saying that I think the bill is a small step to help families with reunification. It is a very modest proposal. It would not dramatically change the system in any way. It was actually proposed by the former minister of citizenship and immigration at one point in 2000. It has tremendous support in the community. I think people see it as a practical and concrete step which they would be able to use. I look forward to the debate. I encourage members to think about the issue and to support in principle the idea of what is being put forward. I look forward to further debate at committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

May 15th, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the Housetoday to introduce my bill. I believe it will help reunite families in Canada.

The bill, called “once in a lifetime”, would, simply put, allow someone to sponsor a relative to come to Canada who otherwise would not qualify under the immigration family class rules.

I know in Vancouver East and across the country there are many families desperate to reunite with a family member. The bill would allow them to do that in a reasonable and compassionate way.

I truly hope that members of all parties will support the bill to strengthen our multicultural diversity in Canada and to support families.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canada Transportation ActRoutine Proceedings

November 21st, 2002 / 3:30 p.m.
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The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent that Bill C-314 standing in the name of the hon. member for Lethbridge, entitled an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, be deemed to have been introduced, read a first time and ordered to be printed, and reinstated at the same stage Bill C-436 would have been at had we not had a dissolution of the previous session?

Canada Transportation ActRoutine Proceedings

November 21st, 2002 / 3:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, due to illness, the member for Lethbridge will be unable to reinstate his private member's bill, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, formerly Bill C-436 from the last session, before the deadline pursuant to Standing Order 86.1. I request that it be deemed introduced by the member and that it enjoy the same status as it did in the last session pursuant to Standing Order 86.1.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 21st, 2002 / 3:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second item has to do with a private member's bill in the name of the member for Lethbridge, Bill C-436 from the last session.