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

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Bill Siksay  NDP

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

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 5, 2004
(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

December 12th, 2007 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

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 counter...to 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.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion for second reading stage of Bill C-272 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 7 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all members who have participated so far in the debate on Bill C-272. I hope others have a chance as it hopefully comes back later in the parliamentary process. It has been interesting hearing the ideas and suggestions about this important legislation.

The bill follows up on a commitment that the NDP made during the federal election campaign to introduce exactly this kind of legislation. We are proud to follow up on a commitment we made to Canadians back in June, and here it is being debated in the House of Commons because quickly we followed up on that promise with the support of our caucus.

We also want to point out that we listened to the feedback from the previous incarnation of this bill, which my colleague from Vancouver East introduced in the last Parliament. In that Parliament, the bill did not define the additional family members. It was wide open. It could have been any family member.

We heard the criticisms made by other members from other parties about that bill. In light of the concerns raised at the time, we changed it to specifically define which family members would be eligible so it would not be an open season on who could come to Canada through this provision. We listened to the debate that took place in the House at that time and incorporated those ideas into the new Bill C-272, which we are debating now. I want to let members know that their comments were taken into consideration.

As we have heard from the member from Windsor West and Winnipeg Centre, families are crucial to Canadian society and to our immigration program. At the very beginning of our Immigration Act, it states how important family reunification is to immigration policy in Canada, although sometimes I think it takes a back seat. That is what the bill hopes to address by putting it back in a place of prominence, by ensuring that families can bring the people who are most important to them to Canada to be with them.

We all know that definitions of families do not necessarily correspond to the relationships that we form in our families and the importance of those relationships. The definition of family in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is exactly like that. It just does not cover the relationships that many people have within their families. This private member's bill will expand that to allow other opportunities for families to be reunited in Canada.

We have heard that there is some problem with expanding the definition, that there might be a flood of people which the system cannot handle. The reality is we do not make the target to which the government is committed. The government is committed to 1% of our population. That would put it up around 310,000 immigrants a year. We only make 66% of that total.

We have never been close to that total and we need to because immigration is important to our society. As the government's own studies show, in the next decade, by 2011, all growth in our labour force will come from immigration. If we do not meet the 1% target, we will not have growth in our labour force. By 2026 to 2030, all population growth in Canada will come from immigration. Therefore, we have to get closer to that 1 %target of the population. We in the NDP believe that family reunification needs to be a key part of reaching that target.

We hear about backlogs. Backlogs are created because back in the 1990s the government cut the immigration department so severely. The Citizenship and Immigration department took one of the hardest hits of all departments in the cutbacks in the 1990s which were targeted for special treatment and special bad treatment in that situation. If there are backlogs, it is because of that.

We need to address the backlogs. We need to ensure that people are not waiting forever for families to be reunited in Canada. We also need to do that in the context of making the targets and ensuring family reunification is important.

It is also important for our competitiveness of our immigration policies. We have competition from Australia and the United States. If we do not improve our program, we will lose out in the international competition for immigration.

Today at the citizenship and immigration committee, we heard the testimony of the Ottawa-Carleton Immigrant Services Organization, OCISO. Its executive director Nancy Worsfold talked about settlement and her experience of helping new immigrants settle in Canada.

She talked about how the immigrants who come through family reunification are doing a much better job of settling in Canada because they have the support of their family members. They are much happier and are much more easily incorporated into Canadian society.

Independent applicants and economic applicants are very disillusioned. They come on a point system and often cannot practise their profession. Family reunification has proven to be important.

I am glad we have had this chance to debate the bill. I look forward to continuing it with the support of members in the committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 7 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to add a few thoughts to Bill C-272 which was put forward by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas.

I come from the riding of Winnipeg Centre where I can say without any hesitation and without any fear of contradiction that this particular bill is of utmost interest and importance to the people I represent.

When the bill was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver East we held town hall meetings. We had ethnic leaders and groups from all walks of life coming forward to say that the bill was what they wanted and what they needed. They asked us to fight for the bill in the House of Commons so they would be able to reunite their family members.

If members have not heard it from enough people, I am here in this final moment of the debate to tell members that the bill has merit, that there is a demand for it and that members should listen to new Canadians when they appeal and plead for help to reunite their families because the current family reunification system does not serve their needs.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to add my voice on behalf of the many new Canadian families in the riding of Winnipeg Centre.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this debate on Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The bill purports to help bring more people and their loved ones to Canada by expanding the current definition of family class. The bill would expand the family class to include siblings, children over the age of 22, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and first cousins. Canadians who are permanent residents would then be allowed to sponsor, once in their lifetime, one of these relatives in addition to those already included in the family class.

I think we all support the principles of the bill and its goal to strengthen the family class. Families bring a sense of stability for many newcomers and often make it much easier for them to adjust to their new lives in Canada. Family reunification also represents a cornerstone of Canada's immigration and refugee program.

The actual provisions of the legislation before us today, however, are unsupportable for a host of reasons.

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.

What did it result in? The increase from 1987 to 1989 consisted almost entirely of never married children of any age and created a massive eight year backlog.

I was quite surprised by some comments made by members opposite. The member for Fleetwood—Port Kells has totally misunderstood the proposal. It just shows how little the member understood the proposal. On one hand, she talked about a huge backlog, forgetting that the backlog was caused by mismanagement of the immigration system by the then Conservative government. It could not manage the system. It had no processes in place and created havoc, which the Liberals then had to handle in 1993.

However, coming back to the proposal under debate, if it were implemented today the family class could potentially overwhelm the immigration program. Who would that benefit? It would benefit neither Canadians nor the newcomers we bring to Canada every year.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas says that the bill is necessary because the government currently achieves only 66% of our annual immigration target every year. This is simply not true.

The hon. member will know that preliminary numbers indicate that last year represents the fifth year in a row that the Government of Canada has met or exceeded annual immigration targets. These targets are set by government each year, in close cooperation with the provinces and territories, as well as other partners and stakeholders.

The hon. member also noted in the last hour of debate that Bill C-272 would make it easier for refugees to reunite with their families.

The truth is that this bill would do little for refugees since family sponsorship is a more financially burdensome course than what is presently available to refugees.

The Government of Canada is fully committed to enhancing the opportunities for family class sponsorship. From 1998 to 2003 the family class in Canada grew from 50,897 to 69,128. That represents an increase of more than 18,000 immigrants in the family class in six years. Such a track record is impressive.

The government introduced new regulations in 2002 to allow even more individuals to sponsor family members and to facilitate the processing of family class sponsorship applications.

The regulations expand the family class to include common-law and conjugal partners of the opposite sex and same sex. They also recognize longer child dependencies and other obligations, such as military duty in some cases, by broadening the definition of a dependent child to include those under the age of 22.

As well, the regulations reduce the age at which Canadian citizens are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years of age. The period of sponsorship undertakings has also been reduced in many cases from 10 years to 3 years.

New application rules have also resulted in the faster processing of applications made on behalf of spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children.

In pursuing these changes, the government has remained mindful of the need to enhance the ability of individuals to sponsor family members while ensuring that the immigration program is managed in a balanced and sustainable way. This approach is clearly in the best interest of every Canadian, every newcomer and every community in the country.

The changes proposed in Bill C-272 run counter to these principles of fairness, balance and sustainability and therefore are not supportable.

We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general and of making it easier for families to reunite with their loved ones. Our recent actions to include out of state spouses in the in-Canada class and the government's commitment to assist the remaining Vietnamese boat people supports and reinforces this commitment.

However the government also has 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-272 or any other special provision that fails to take these considerations into account.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Vancouver Centre B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak to Bill C-272. I know that the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas has had a longstanding interest in citizenship and immigration issues. I know that he intends well with this bill. I wish to say that, while I understand his intent, there are some things that are problematic about the process and the manner that he is proposing to deal with the issue.

All of us understand the importance of strengthening families and bringing families together under the family reunification provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Families are a cornerstone of this nation. Families have been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration for many years. It is the way that people put down roots. It is the way that they build families. It is the way that they build a nation and get a sense of belonging. We are committed in this government to ensure that they represent a vital and vibrant component of our immigration program for the future, so that people can have their families with them.

Today, because of consultations in the past, Canadian citizens and permanent residents living in Canada who are 18 years of age or older can sponsor a family relative or close relative who wants to become a permanent resident. They have the ability to do that.

The list of those who can be sponsored under the family class has been in fact expanded recently. It has been expanded to include: same or opposite sex common law partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, and the age for that has been increased as we know to 21 years; adopted children; as well as certain brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces or grandchildren who are orphans.

Canada's immigration and refugee regulations allow Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor relatives regardless of relationship or age, provided that they have no other way of being sponsored from abroad.

The act itself also has a way for individuals to apply to sponsor a non-family class relative on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Today this act now has several avenues available to cover different individual circumstances or family arrangements. As I said before, many of those were introduced after extensive consultations with stakeholders and Canadians all across this country.

This set of new arrangements in which people can broaden their family members and bring them to Canada upholds certain core principles that must be observed: fairness, integrity and balance.

We know from talking with Canadians that they want a program that will help to spread the benefit of immigration all across Canada. We need to balance skilled workers, family class and economic migrants. Most of all, we want to see, and we are sure that the hon. members here would agree, a program that ensures that immigration will benefit the community where newcomers choose to settle, as well as benefit the immigrants themselves.

We need to be assured that those immigrants who come to Canada have the ability to find work, the ability to have access to health services, education, housing, and all of those things that are very necessary for people to settle. The bill under debate today moves away from some of those objectives. That is the reason why I think we cannot support it the way that it is put forward. It runs counter to any consultative process by arbitrarily raising family class levels to indeterminable limits.

It also runs counter to any principles of the balance that we need when we talk about family class, economic migrants and skilled workers. Experience indicated that even with more resources the increase in backlog and processing times for this sudden influx, or what would be a sudden influx, of immigrants by such an open ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the whole program.

Let me give an example of why we think this is so. In 1988 the government of the day changed the sponsorship rules to include all unmarried sons and daughters in a family class. Total intake in this category doubled over two years. The government did not have the capacity to process these individuals in a timely manner or to integrate and provide health, education and other resources. When the government cancelled the program in 1993, there was an eight year processing backlog in some Canadian missions.

Doing something that sounds great on a piece of paper brings with it the need to have the capacity to do it and process it. It also means that other members who are coming into Canada will also have to find the ability to be processed at the same time. It will certainly increase backlogs.

The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas and the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges indicated in the last hour of debate that this bill would go a long way toward helping refugees reunite with their families. That was one of the arguments that was made, but the truth is that this bill would do little for refugees because those who wish to sponsor family members have a financially less burdensome way to do so under the private or government assisted sponsorship program. They have that option right now and it is less expensive.

The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas also noted that the bill was necessary since the government consistently misses its annual immigration target. The truth again, however, is that the government has met its annual immigration targets for the past five years and still maintains a long term goal of reaching immigration levels equal to 1% of Canada's population. This must be done in cooperation and agreement with our provincial partners who provide the health care services, social services, education, and some of the housing resources that are necessary to absorb and have the capacity to absorb new immigrants.

We can all appreciate the desire for individuals to sponsor relatives from overseas who are not members of the family class. The current legislation allows for this under certain circumstances and has made enormous expansions. Those expansions must occur at a pace by which we are able to absorb and have the capacity in order to provide the necessary means to help families who come here.

We all support strong families. We also support strong family class provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and regulations. Our track record is good and it will continue to be so in the future. If we need to discuss ways of encouraging more family class members to come in, let us do so, and do so in a manner in which we can absorb and have the capacity to deal with this, so that the integrity of the program will be there for future generations.

I strongly support the government's overall direction and I am opposed to Bill C-272 or any special provision that would weaken our ability to support and assist families when they come to Canada.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-272 which was introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

I would like to say at the very outset that all parties in this House support the intent of this bill seeking to reunite families, to help Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada bring members of their family to Canada so that they can live here together. Naturally, we are all in agreement. And not only does the government agree but I think that, at this point, it is essential to point out that the opposition members who support this bill have not read the legislation, the act and its regulations, on citizenship and immigration.

Our Canadian legislation on immigration and refugee protection already provides that a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may sponsor a relative who is not his or her brother, sister, child or spouse, regardless of age, if the sponsor does not have a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner, a child, a mother or father.

It is clear in the regulations what is already in there and what would be pointlessly added through this bill: a relative who is a child of that mother or father, that is to say a brother or sister; a relative who is a child of a child of that mother or father, that is to say a grandchild, and so on and so forth.

The regulations, which are already part of the legislation, state very clearly that members of the extended family of a permanent resident of Canada or of a Canadian citizen can be sponsored by this citizen or permanent resident.

So, what is the point of this bill? I think the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, who introduced this bill, did not read the legislation or its regulations very well. I invite him to do so.

I want to point out that it was the Liberal Party of Canada that, from the beginning, opened Canada's doors to the immigration of non-whites and non-Christians, an immigration that treats everyone in the world equally. It was the Liberal Party of Canada that opened up immigration to persons of colour, people not only from northern or eastern Europe, but from Africa, Latin America and Asia, East Asia in particular.

I do not understand what the members opposite mean when they talk about unfair immigration. This is simply not so since we know that our government, for several years now, has done everything it can to ensure that immigration is as fair as possible, regardless of race, religion, gender and so forth.

It is important to remember that our government now has a new policy to allow members of the extended family—and I emphasize, the extended family—during their sponsorship period, to come and stay in Canada while their sponsorship is being processed.

This is another indication of what the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada has done. Let us say that aging parents are involved and a son or daughter has applied for sponsorship. These parents can come to Canada while their sponsorship application is being processed. In that sense, families are reunited in a humanitarian way that, I think, is an example to the world.

Canada's immigration and refugee protection legislation is indeed a model for the entire world. Everywhere we go in the world people talk about our immigration law.

I represent the riding of Laval—Les Îles in Quebec. It is a riding with many francophones, but it is also multicultural. I can tell the House that many people come to my office asking for help sponsoring a family member. Adopting a private members' bill that repeats what the regulations already say is not the way to help these people come here. Instead, our government is trying to help these people to wait with their families, here in Canada, until they can be legally sponsored by a family member.

Thus, I would like to emphasize that the key point here is that an extended family is already accepted in the regulations governing sponsorship. The wording, which I read a few moments ago, saying, “a relative who is a child of that mother or father”, may seem quite muddled. Still, it was a way for the legislator, when drafting these regulations, to be very clear about the definition of a relative or family, since we know that families are defined differently according to the culture and the country from which they come. Consequently, this definition in the regulations of the extended family, which includes the grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and cousins is meant to be as broad as possible.

In conclusion, I would like to say that we, the Liberals, the government in office, do not oppose the spirit of this bill. We will vote against the bill, but not because we disagree with its principle; we agree with that. It is simply that the bill is totally unnecessary, because it simply repeats what already exists in the Canada's immigration act.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-272.

I would like to congratulate my colleague from Burnaby--Douglas for resurrecting this important issue. It was first brought forward in a different form by the member for Vancouver East, who was originally the champion of this. She tried to bring some sense and some clarity to the issue. More important, she tried to ensure that there would be some justice in our immigration policy. I congratulate her for continuing to support this initiative.

The New Democratic Party has long sought changes to the Immigration Act relating to reunifying families. We want to ensure that they will be able to build their families over here which in turn will make our nation successful through their different contributions in lifestyles, cultures and economic activity.

Many nations seek individuals from other countries for different reasons. They want to expand their economies and their cultures. Canada has benefited from this type of experience. We have led the world in many respects. However, we have watched our system erode the principles that have made us successful.

Bill C-272 would reaffirm the elements of the family unit. The legislation would make it easier for people to be reunited. It would expand on the family unit. In particular, the bill states:

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.

It is important to note that we are not looking to open the floodgates. We do not want people bringing in several family members, flooding our immigration system. Bill C-272 would allow an individual to be reunited with family members who are currently restricted through our class system. That hurts not only those families, but it hurts Canadians in general. I will give the House a specific example.

A gentleman residing in my constituency came to Canada and set up his own business. He wants to bring over his brother to help with the business but he is not eligible at the present time. He has to go through all kinds of hoops to be reunited with the family. This individual is needed for the family business because he has particular skills and abilities. I am talking about a very successful, law-abiding family that has contributed to the Canadian economy. They would like to have this individual become part of their family business.

Why should a family that has given so much of itself and has committed to this country be unable to bring over a brother over the age of 22 to make their life more complete?

It also would be beneficial on a selfish perspective for Canadians to bring this family member over because he would be able to help take care of the aging mother and father. He would ensure that they were cared for, nurtured and kept the healthy attitude required during the aging process. Those aging parents would be supported by another family member as opposed to being separated.

The human aspect is really important. The brother is living in another country by himself while his entire family is over here. These people are going through a considerable amount of stress because he cannot be a part of the life they have built here in Canada.

It is important that we reward those people who have the moxie to come to this country, often not knowing what is awaiting them and often not having the financial resources to set themselves up in a way they would like. When these people come to Canada, they often have to struggle to find employment. They work long hours to gain a position that would give them some degree of comfort. We should look at rewarding them for their contributions and reuniting them with family members.

This is the type of person we want to bring to Canada, someone who has a vested interest in a family that is prospering here. What better security is there than to have people come to our country where they will have family stability. They will have a vested interest in the current status of their family and also in perpetuity for generations to come. Such people are more likely to be valuable citizens which is very important for our society. It is very important not to miss that mark. It is not just opening the doors to anyone. We are offering our hand to help bring the partnerships back to people who really should be reunited.

We need to talk about the subsection referred to in this bill and what the technical aspect of it boils down to. We are talking about a sponsor's brother or sister, an aunt or an uncle, a niece or a nephew, a first cousin, or the sponsor's child who is 22 years of age or older and is not dependent on the sponsor. That is important to note. These are the people who will strengthen the extended family unit. That is so important in terms of our society today.

We often talk about issues that are plaguing Canadian society right now. There are issues such as child poverty and single mothers attempting to put food on the table and putting their kids through school and having to do so on their own.

We are talking about family members being able to reunite in order to strengthen the family unit. The extended family is very much part of the Canadian tradition.

In past generations extended family members were more likely to live together because of economic or social and cultural reasons. Then things shifted. I have an extended family. My parents divorced and then remarried and my family has grown because of that. It has been a benefit in many respects to my personal life. They are still part of my family. That is the reality we are dealing with today.

We are all stronger when we have people in our lives connected in a personal way. They add value because of the sustainability of their contributions, whether it be in finding a job or going to school. It is important for people to have that structure around them.

People in Windsor West are really suffering from the immigration process right now. It has been deplorable in terms of the processing of claims, the waiting and the lack of government support to deal with the backlogs. It is a net loss for this country. There are people who could be reunited.

One must also understand that families are sending money outside the country to support family members elsewhere. In countries such as Jordan individuals have to pay a daily head tax for their relatives who are waiting in limbo to be reunited. Some family members are paying hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per month to support people overseas who could be reunited with them in Canada.

We are watching that resource dissipate. The mental grief of those families pushes them to the edge. It often affects their work, their social elements and their contributions to society. Often they have to leave the country.

I know of one family in particular. They are very successful individuals. The gentleman wants to bring his mother-in-law and father-in-law, who are very healthy people, to Canada from another country and cannot do so right now. He would very much like to do that.

He and his family will probably have to leave the country. They have to support their relatives in South America. They are aging. They have the financial capability. They are not a burden. They are an asset. Their relatives should be brought here so that we can strengthen that family and not lose these well educated professionals to another country because we will not let their law-abiding mother and father be reunited with them in this country.

This type of nonsense is unacceptable. It really erodes the traditional values of Canadian culture and society that were based upon asking people from other parts of the world to have the conviction and strength to come to our country where they would be valued and would be able to contribute. Through a series of processes we have distanced them from their heritage and culture by not allowing them to reunite with their brethren, which is very important. These are people who contribute to the Canadian economy. They are not a burden.

I have a hard time understanding the motivation of the government. It is moving backwards in terms of what individuals have been told. It has done this in other cases with people who have credentials. It has done this in other cases by denying visitation permits to people who want to spend some together.

We ask people to come to this country. We say that they are a strong asset, that they could actually become citizens and that we trust they will make a contribution to our society. Why would we not at least once in their lifetime provide them with the opportunity to bring somebody over here to strengthen their lives and their neighbours' lives and all of Canada?

That is why it is very important to support this bill. This is a very modest and practical approach to deal with a significant problem in Canadian society right now. Economically it benefits this nation. More important it is about justice for those individuals who have been successful law-abiding citizens in our country to be able to reunite with family members.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells to participate in the debate on Bill C-272, brought forward by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

The bill would permit a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative to come to Canada who does not fit into the family class as currently set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Specifically, Bill C-272 proposes allowing for sponsorship of a son or daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependent, an uncle, aunt, a brother or sister, a nephew or niece or a first cousin.

I would like to commend the hon. member, who I sit with on the citizenship and immigration committee, for his thoughtful and laudable effort to fix some problems with the immigration system.

I know both from first-hand experience and from the people who pour into my constituency office that the immigration system is broken and is in need of emergency care. The status quo immigration system is inefficient and ineffective. Let us consider some of the problems afflicting the system.

Due to major resource cuts by this government, there is not enough personnel to process the backlog of applicants seeking to come to Canada. There is now a bottleneck of 700,000 applicants waiting to enter the country. Some will wait eight years just for an interview. This is unacceptable.

Sponsors' Income checks and applicants' medical and security checks are not done in a coordinated manner. Sometimes one expires and the other is valid, and then the other expires and the first one is valid.

Here is an example from my riding and it is in no way unique. It concerns four members of an Asian family who applied to come to Canada under the family reunification program. The medical and security checks were conducted, but one family member, an old man, had some minor medical problems. The medical had to be redone. By that time, the medical checks for the other family members had expired and had to be redone again. Once they were complete, the security checks had expired. This happened three times. By the time everyone's medical and security checks were completed and up to date, five years had elapsed. Medical checks are expensive.

This poor management is both expensive and frustrating for the applicants and their family members here in Canada. The staff should be better trained and more common sense should be used. It boggles the mind why the department does not simultaneously conduct sponsors' income checks and applicants' medical and security checks.

These are people's lives the government is playing with and, quite frankly, it is treating them shabbily. While our taxes have increased significantly, the services have worsened.

Just eight years ago, it took 22 months to process a family class immigrant from New Delhi. The former minister testified before the citizenship and immigration committee last fall that it now took 58 months for family reunification. Imagine that. That is 22 months then versus 58 months now. It is unbelievable.

How dare the Liberals claim to be immigrant-friendly. Arbitrary criteria are used to evaluate immigration cases. Staff receive inadequate training in local customs and traditions and they reject spousal cases based on outdated traditions and norms. Many of those cases go to the courts where they win on appeal. However, there are some unscrupulous lawyers and unregulated consultants who milk potential immigrants and visitors of their money without offering real service or value and thus add to the mess.

Ministerial permits are another pressing issue. Lately, we have had in the media stories of how government members are using these permits for political gain. A defeated Liberal candidate has been bragging about his unfettered access to the immigration minister and claims he has personally secured 11 minister's permits as of last September. Such abuse must stop. Ministers of the crown should not be telling Canadians to bypass their MPs in favour of Liberal hacks.

The immigration minister has almost unbridled discretion to issue special ministerial permits, which of course are politically motivated and causes political interference.

The figures indicating the acceptance date for the visitors' visas, or the TRPs, also seem to be misleading. CIC data suggests a 76% acceptance rate from Delhi but practically, the actual acceptance rate on any single day is much lower.

Last year, 12,069 ministers' permits were issued. Permits are ripe for abuse and the evidence suggests abuse is continuing. In this climate it is little wonder Canadians and their MPs are looking for solutions to what is becoming an immigration crisis. Bill C-272 is just one example of a private member trying to force reform on a reluctant government.

Bill C-272 has support from immigrant communities. A woman from my neighbouring riding wrote to me asking for my support for this legislation. She writes:

It is needed because many families who are desperate to reunite their family members will be able to do so in a reasonable and compassionate way. I am in support of this new bill because I was one of those families stranded back in Turkey, getting out of Iraq, and my sister here in Canada was not able to bring us here because such a bill did not exist in 1994. Please consider my voice and I am hoping to hear the good news very soon. I believe in my country Canada and I believe in you and the awesome work you do speaking out for us.

The Conservative Party of Canada supports a well managed immigration system to serve the best interests of Canada, a system that is fair, transparent, effective, efficient, compassionate and sensitive to the needs of family reunification, skilled workers, economic migrants, genuine refugees and visitors.

Canada is a country built by immigrants. Immigration was and continues to be at the heart of what Canada is all about and is accordingly of central importance to all Canadian citizens. In the last few years, however, our immigration system has become sick. It is rife with systemic problems. There is currently a widespread consensus on both sides of the House and among the general public that our ailing immigration system must be reformed.

The Conservative Party will be conducting round table discussions with people across the country and making recommendations on how to improve the immigration system and ensure that it is open, fair, efficient and beyond political interference. It should work well on autopilot.

Over a period of time, the Liberals have given Canadians and immigrants bitter medicine by sugar-coating it. They have been fearmongering about my party and have literally abused the immigration system for political and electoral gains. Canadians and immigrants will not be fooled anymore.

Again, I wish to thank the member for Burnaby--Douglas for bringing forward this initiative. This is an idea that has support among almost all Canadians, especially new Canadians who are all too well aware of the problems plaguing the immigration system. I now urge members from all parties to consider the merits of the bill and vote accordingly.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Roger Clavet Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on the act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative). This bill was introduced by my NDP colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Essentially, the intent of Bill C-272 is to expand the right to sponsor an additional relative. Until now, there have been serious restrictions. Clause 13 of the bill changes this to permit any citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative who is not a member of the family class.

Until now, some members of the family class were excluded: brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and a number of others. This will finally allow families to reunite.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe Bill C-272 is vitally important. We therefore support this bill because this motion has already been discussed in the House. We have made recommendations, which have been heard. We have introduced measures to correct some of the lack of clarity we saw in the bill at the time. The Bloc had many reservations about the vagueness that remained and surrounded the concept of the family. Now, however, it has all been corrected. Today we have greatly improved the bill before us. That is one of the beauties of a minority government. The Bloc Québécois has been able to make changes that improve the bill introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Consequently, we will support this bill because, all too often, refugees live through really incredible dramas. A person would have to come to our ridings to realize this. In my riding of Louis-Hébert, for example, we often get requests to assist and intervene from immigrants and refugees. All the refugees want after experiencing such pain and cruelty is live near their families. Often, their intentions are good but unfortunately the definition of family class is too narrow. Protection for refugees or even the way the Immigration Act was interpreted until now have worked against refugees.

We need only listen to their stories which, at times, might cause us to believe that Canada does not always live up to its commitments. We believe that it is unacceptable for families already suffering from being apart, in addition to the family drama to be subject to indefinite separation.

This bill corrects this flaw because, again, the delays in our immigration system are much too long. In half of all asylum claims, it takes over 13 months to process the claims of family members. One out of five cases takes over 26 months. It is unbelievable. At the slowest visa offices, some cases can take more than 27 months. So, people in one family can wait two years and three months. Some refugees wait even longer. These dramas are multiplied indefinitely and drag on. It is an agony for families.

This bill will, among other things, contribute to reconstituting a group of persons that will bring stability to life and help people move on to the happier times of integration. I prefer the term “inclusion” rather than “integration” because it is really about inclusion in a society. It is not about recreating here what they experienced elsewhere, but at least some things can be familiar.

The first of these are immediate family members. The previous legislation was not broad enough. It was too narrow. The bill introduced by my NDP colleague seeks to broaden the definition. We cannot but applaud this stage of integration, which then leads to times happier than the drama in which people are all too often trapped.

There is also the whole aspect of protection of family which, under this concept, is being ensured. Protection of family is an obligation stemming from international rights. International texts like the ones dealing with human rights ratified by Canada recognize the protection of family as an obligation.

In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.

As for the priority given to refugee claimants, there is a 60:40 ratio. Canada's immigration plan is essentially divided 60:40, which means that immigrants are selected in the following way: 60% of our immigration comes from the economic category, that is, business people, manufacturers, self-employed as well as skilled workers, and the other 40% involves family reunification, refugees and others.

Of this 40%, some 30% involves family reunification, 9% is refugees and 1% is others. Yet, headlines tell us on a weekly basis of the deportation of numerous refugee claimants who have been refused. One has to recognize that the many conflicts, crises and civil wars in a growing number of countries make it necessary for democratic countries to lend a yet more caring and compassionate ear to refugee claimants.

Once again, the fact that the budgets provided by Canada are insufficient has to be denounced. Canada continues to refuse thousands of refugee claimants every year, despite their tragic situations. Their lives are in danger in their home countries.

When, as MPs, we request interventions, it is sometimes suggested that the claimants' lives are not in danger. One need only listen to them and read the fear in their eyes as they tell us what they face on a daily basis to realize that their lives are definitely in danger. We cannot play games with people's lives.

At the very least, this bill will reunite families rather than forcing them to live in great psychological distress because the father or mother is elsewhere. It will very humanely make it possible to reunite families.

The shortage of resources constitutes a problem. Budgets must be appropriate so that Canada can not only keep its word but also meet its commitments as a signatory to the Geneva Convention. When Canada signed this, it was not just a pious gesture; it was a commitment to protect refugees.

There are not enough resources, and this is a major problem for the whole of the immigration sector. Because of the inadequate resources for immigration, we in the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We will at least be able to discuss it in committee and make some improvements. If it passes second reading, that will force a debate in committee.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We can always make improvements. It is somewhat in that context that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration provides us with regular proof of its inability to meet all its responsibilities. Sometimes the willingness is there, but there are still some major shortcomings. Often it is a vicious circle, because financial resources are lacking.

This time the humanitarian aspect is being recognized in Bill C-272. We accept its referral to committee. We in the Bloc Québécois know that it shows a sense of duty and responsibility to call for sufficient funding.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-272, introduced by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas, for the various reasons I have had the pleasure of setting out for you. First, it acknowledges the essential contribution made by newcomers, and that is important to point out. Above all, it includes the dimension of human compassion so essential to our society.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2004 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas for giving us the opportunity to talk about Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

It is a pleasure to consider again a motion that has already been discussed in the House. We are pleased to see that our recommendations were heard and have led to measures to remedy the lack of clarity the bill originally suffered from.

Our greatest reservation was that the concept of family was vague. This concept has been defined, and this has greatly improved the bill under consideration today.

I remind the House that, for refugees who have found protection in Canada, one of their most pressing concerns is their families, who currently must wait an extremely long time abroad. There are long delays and so many people must live separated, against their will, from their closest family members.

It is understandable that they are so eager to be re-united. Being refugees adds to their worries. In many cases, family members were left in precarious and even dangerous situations. As long as their loved ones are in danger, refugees cannot enjoy the security they have found in Canada.

At a time when we applaud the speed at which information travels around the world, we are frequently presented with the same atrocities that these individuals have fled. Members can understand how distress can grow and push many of these people into despair. The government encourages the reunification of families but we must consider the day-to-day reality of those who are waiting, in order to understand,.

I would underscore the depth of love demonstrated by those waiting for their file to receive approval.

All too often, the experiences of refugees trying to bring their families here are at painful odds with the good intentions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and of the civil servants applying it. The tales of these refugees reflect a cruelty that is a disgrace to Canada and that, we believe, would be considered unacceptable by the vast majority of Canadians if they were to learn what refugees face.

In half of all asylum claims, it takes over 13 months to process the claims of family members. One out of five cases takes over 26 months. At the slowest visa office, 50% of all cases take more than 27 months. Some refugees wait much longer than that.

When asked about the consequences of slow processing, the Canadian Council for Refugees indicated the following:

The long delays prolong risks to family members overseas, who may be in conflict zones orrefugee camps. Families are often subject to the same risk of persecution that caused theirspouse or parent to be granted Canada’s protection. Living conditions may endanger their healthand the children’s education, leading to increased social costs when they finally come to Canada. Psychologically, the toll of such long separations is heavy. Many refugees say that their familymembers suspect them of not wanting them to come, because they cannot believe that a countrylike Canada could be so inefficient in its processing. Families that finally reunite after years ofseparation face the stress of trying to live together after having grown apart. Some families’ tiesdon’t survive.

Since this bill will, among other things, contribute to reconstituting a group of persons that will bring stability to life and help people move on to the happier times of integration and making a contribution to society, the House must support this motion.

Protection of the family is an obligation upon society and the state, according to the international human rights texts ratified by Canada. The Universal Declaration of Human RIghts stipulates that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

Similar terms are repeated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 10(1) states that “The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains very explicit provisions regarding the reunification of refugee families. Article 9, paragraph 1 reads:

States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.—

Article 10, paragraph 1 reads:

In accordance with the obligation of States Parties under article 9, paragraph 1, applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.—

That demonstrates how important this motion is in relation to the role Canada claims to play on the international scene, with respect to the protection of refugees and the rights of children. Thus, the choice facing the House is unequivocal and leads us to some important reflection on the family.

As for the priority given to refugee claimants, Canada's immigration plan is divided in a 60:40 ratio, which means that immigrants are selected in the following way: 60% of our immigration comes from the economic category, that is, business people, self-employed and skilled workers, and the other 40% involves family reunification, refugees and others.

Of the 40%, 30% involves family reunification, 9% is refugees and 1% is others.

Almost every week the headlines tell us of the deportation of refugee claimants who have been refused. Clearly, the many conflicts and civil wars being waged in a growing number of countries make it necessary for democratic countries to listen more attentively to refugee claimants. Inappropriate funding mean that Canada refuses thousands of refugee claimants every year, although their lives are in danger in their home countries. With bigger budgets, Canada could better honour its obligations as a signatory to the Geneva convention on refugee protection.

Insufficient resources is the major problem with the whole immigration issue. 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 at second reading, there will have to be a debate in committee and we would then be in a position to prove that the Department of CItizenship and Immigration is incapable of meeting its responsibilities because of insufficient funds.

By recognizing the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-272, 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.

No one wants families of refugees to remain separated. International standards in human rights advocate speedy reunification. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act aims at reuniting families. We need to bring meaning back to the expression “human compassion”, far too often rendered meaningless by acts that are not consistent with the family reunification programs. The social costs of prolonged periods of separation must not be forgotten in our decision. Let us work together on reducing the wait times starting today.

The government has tried to speed up family reunification by making a few minor amendments to its policies. Unfortunately, these efforts have not resolved the problem. The time has come for change.

I call on this House to support Bill C-272.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2004 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

London West Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-272, a private member's bill before the House. I am grateful because it is important to recognize the initiatives of individual parliamentarians. I know that the parliamentarian who has sponsored this bill here today is well intentioned, but I have some thoughts on this bill.

I am speaking not only as a parliamentarian and a member of the House but also as an immigrant to Canada. I am now a Canadian citizen, but my family and I immigrated from the Mediterranean island of Malta. I am certainly very grateful to this country for everything it has provided to me and my own children.

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 a once in a lifetime sponsorship is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed whether such a provision would be workable for very many years now. All of us believe in the principle of strengthening the family class and making it easier for people to sponsor loved ones who now live abroad. However, the one time sponsorship option as presented in Bill C-272 is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Past experience indicates that even with more resources, the increase in backlogs and processing time for this and other categories of immigrants that could be generated by such an open-ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and the credibility of the whole immigration program. The bill before us today addresses one of the many shortcomings of earlier legislation from another honourable member by defining an eligible relative as a brother or sister of the sponsor, an aunt or uncle, nephew or niece, first cousin or child of the sponsor who is 22 years of age or older, and is not dependent upon the sponsor.

However, past experience indicates that such an expansion of the family class would be unsustainable, unmanageable, and seriously impede the government's ability to uphold the will of Parliament by maintaining the current sixty-forty mix of economic to non-economic immigration. This has also been noted by other parliamentarians in the House.

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 rising out of that program, despite its termination in 1993, is still having an impact and effect on the Department of Citizenship and Immigration even today.

We have already made provision for processing applications from relatives who would not normally fall under 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 relative, regardless of relationship or age, if they have no family residing in Canada or abroad. Section 117(1)(h) of the new immigration and refugee protection regulations defines a foreign national as a member of the family class with respect to a sponsor if he or she is “a relative of the sponsor, regardless of age, if the sponsor does not have a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner”, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.

In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class, if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist. Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.

The government passed a series of new regulations in 2002 to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad, and significantly expanded the family class in a well managed and sustainable way, even though I and other colleagues in the House still have backlog problems with this department.

These changes provided for equal treatment under the law for common-law couples of the opposite and same sex by expanding the family class to include the term “common-law partners and conjugal partners”. They also expand the definition of dependent child to better reflect longer child dependencies. They reduce the age at which Canadians citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years of age.

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 also 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 find it difficult to support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will not vote in favour of what I still consider a flawed scheme as set out in Bill C-272.

I also know that in every community there is stress on the receiving end for municipalities and other levels of government that must put the programs in place. I see it in some of the relocation and training programs, whether it is skills or language. We want to properly resource on location when people come to this country. I think we do have a proper balance in this country. There could be more resources so that the system could run smoother.

I thank the hon. member for bringing this up. He has good intentions. I know he contributes in a meaningful way in the House and will continue to do so. With regard to this situation and in these particular set of circumstances, I do not agree with him, but there may be another time when I will.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2004 / 11 a.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

moved that Bill C-272, 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 pleased to speak today to my private member's bill, Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I would like to acknowledge the help and support of my colleague from Vancouver East and pay tribute to her hard work, especially on immigration issues. She and her staff have worked tirelessly for family reunification and her bills from previous parliaments have paved the way for this bill.

As well, the commitments in the bill are a key component of the NDP platform from the recent federal election. This has been a long-standing commitment of the New Democratic Party and I know it was important to our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, as well as to my colleague from Winnipeg North and my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh in the recent campaign, something that people in their ridings were particularly interested in and found particularly important.

Family reunification is a key objective of our current immigration law, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, sometimes called IRPA. Section 3 of the act says that one of IRPA's goals is “to see families are reunited in Canada”. With regard to the refugee program, section 4 of IRPA says that an objective should be “to support the self-sufficiency and the social and economic well-being of refugees by facilitating reunification with their family members in Canada”.

Family reunification is particularly important to refugees given the experience of dislocation that their families have experienced when they became a refugee. This bill and the whole discussion of family reunification is of particular importance to refugees in Canada.

Family reunification is a cornerstone of immigration policy in Canada because it recognizes that families are key to building this nation. That is the way immigration has always functioned in Canada. Families bring the important multicultural values. The family is the focus for multiculturalism that is now so important to our national understanding of who we are as Canadians.

Bill C-272 is very important, not only for people in my riding, but for people across Canada. It would allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative who does not fit into the current definition of the family class under IRPA to come to Canada.

IRPA currently defines the following as a family member: a spouse, a common-law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years old; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student and is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled, a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under 18 and is not a spouse or a common-law partner; and one relative of any age if there are no family members who fall into the above categories.

My bill would expand the definitions in the family class and allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident once in their lifetime to sponsor a son or a daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependant, who is independent in other words, an aunt or an uncle, a brother or a sister, a niece or nephew and a first cousin.

The bill is similar to one debated in the last Parliament which was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver East. However there has been a crucial improvement. We listened to the concerns expressed by the members in the debate then and have made changes.

The old bill did not define “relatives” but left it completely open so that any relative might be sponsored. At the time, while there was significant interest from other members in the ideas contained in the bill, members were concerned that this definition was far too broad. That is why we have been much more explicit in delineating just which relatives are eligible for this once in a lifetime sponsorship. We have acted on the concerns that members expressed in the debate and hope that this makes the bill something that they can accept and support fully.

I would like to talk a little about why this bill is so vital. It is because the bill has one main aim and that is simply to reunite families: families who have spent years apart, families who never had the chance to be together, who never had the chance to live and settle near each other, and families for whom separation is a daily reality. We would like to ease some of that heartache and stress.

In my riding, there are families who have not seen a loved one for years and who have no hope of being united. This is both unfair and unacceptable. As I have pointed out, a stated goal at the heart of Canada's immigration policy is the desire to reunite families, but despite this goal, immigration legislation has created a narrow definition of family. The family class must be expanded because it is simply too restrictive.

Family structures are complicated and varied. Many people in my riding can attest that a brother can be as close to a person as a grandfather and an aunt can mean as much to someone as a parent. The current family class does not respect how our families work today. It does not recognize family histories, cultural differences or changing times. The current family class definition excludes family members who surely we would all consider close.

Let us take, for instance, the requirement that a child must be under 22 years of age to be sponsored. This line of 22 years of age seems entirely arbitrary. For parents, their sons or daughters never stop being their children, and for children, no matter what age they are and no matter how financially independent they may be, separation from their parents can be difficult. A parent never stops caring for a child, no matter how old the child is. Being a parent is a lifelong commitment. It does not stop simply because a child moves out, gets married, has his or her own child, gets a job or moves to another country.

I know many members will recognize this as I say it. At no matter what stage they are in their lives, whether they are buying a house, having a child, going through a difficult patch, getting a job or losing a job, our children always need our support, and in later years we hope children will be there to support their parents. That is how our society functions. Expanding the definition of family to allow parents to sponsor their adult children to immigrate to Canada can be of great benefit to families and to our society.

I hear stories from my constituents which I am sure are familiar to most MPs. People tell me that they have completed their families, their children have moved out and their partners have perhaps passed on, and they would like to be reunited with a brother or sister who might be in another country and in the same situation they are. This bill would allow them that opportunity, the opportunity for companionship, friendship and mutual support. Above all, it would allow them the opportunity to be with their loved ones.

On a more practical note, another of the positive aspects of the bill is that it would help Canada reach its yearly immigration target. The government acknowledges that the target for immigration to Canada should be 1% of our population per year. That would put it at somewhere around 325,000 if we use the current population statistics, and yet we never reach that goal. In 2003 approximately 221,000 new immigrants were welcomed into Canada. That is only 66% of the target number, which means we are not doing very well. We have not ever really managed to reach that target of 1% of the population.

The government also acknowledges that by the year 2011 immigration will be the only source of growth for Canada's labour force. By 2026 to 2030, the government also notes, any population growth in Canada will come solely from immigration. These are significant changes in our employment and population base. We need to make sure we have the base to work from to ensure that jobs are filled in Canada and there is the population base to support our important programs and our way of life in Canada.

We need to encourage immigration to Canada. We need to be looking forward to those important markers that are not too far off in the distant future. We need to build the foundations for those changes now. What better foundation can there be than family reunification?

I know we will hear from some members that the bill would only increase the backlog of immigration applications. I do not want to do anything that would further delay applications which in many cases already take far too long to process. This backlog has haunted us for years, but it exists only because the government refuses to put the necessary resources into the department. Rather than government addressing the needs of Canadian families and Canadian society, there have been cutbacks and shortfalls and wait times are often therefore unacceptable, but this can be addressed should the government choose to or should it have the political will to make those changes.

The existence of this backlog should in no way be used to squelch the legitimate hopes of families for reunification or the important needs of Canadian society. I think it is interesting to hear the government refer to this backlog as the inventory of applications. The inventory could certainly be reduced and it is probable that we are carrying far too high an immigration inventory given the hopes and needs of Canadian society and Canadian families.

Family sponsorship comes with a promise. Under this program, sponsors promise to support family members who come to Canada, for three to ten years depending on their relationship. This means that families bear a huge part of the cost of reunification themselves.

I do recognize that there are settlement costs and language training costs, but the fact remains that there can be no better group to ensure the effective integration of new immigrants into Canadian society than their already established Canadian families. This is a win-win-win situation: for families, for Canadian society and for new immigrants.

Nothing can be better than to be welcomed at the airport or at a port of entry by family members, who then take home these new immigrants and help establish them in Canadian society. They can help them with living arrangements, job requirements and the cultural differences that they will no doubt face as they integrate into Canadian society. This is the best way to ensure that people integrate into our society and take their full place as participating members of society.

Canadian families want to be reunited with their family members. All too often they experience the definition of family in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as arbitrary and exclusive. They do not see it as appropriately reflecting the complex relationships that comprise their own families.

The bill seeks to recognize those realities and expand the possibilities for family reunification under IRPA. This would have obvious benefits for families but it would have benefits for Canadian society too. Canada needs immigration. It will need an even larger number of immigrants in the coming decades. We must ensure our ability to welcome the best immigrants possible. We must ensure that we maintain our place in the worldwide competition for immigrants, the competition that we have with Australia and with the United States. To do that, we must ensure that our immigration legislation recognizes the hopes and realities of families.

I think this bill would be an important contribution to Canada's immigration law. It would be an important expansion of the understanding of what family means in our immigration act. I hope hon. members will support the bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

November 5th, 2004 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this private member's bill which would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is seconded by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre but also strongly supported by my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh.

This bill, which we prefer to call the once in a lifetime bill, would allow any Canadian citizen or landed immigrant to sponsor, once in their lifetime, one family member from outside the family class as defined in the act. Specifically, this could be a son or daughter who is not a dependant and who is over 22, a brother or sister, an aunt or an uncle, a niece or a nephew, or a first cousin.

This bill would ensure that family reunification is key to immigration policies. The bill is similar to one introduced in the last Parliament by the member for Vancouver East; however, eligible family members are now more clearly defined.

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