Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.
I am very pleased with the tone of the debate this evening. I think that this is an important issue. Evidently, everyone here thinks so and sees the importance of our efforts as parliamentarians.
My colleague's question about an exceptional case was quite pertinent because, after all, the minister—we have to recognize this—is speaking with a great deal of experience, and will only point out the positive aspects of this bill, which is not his bill but that of his colleague. His reply to my colleague's question revealed precisely the element of discretion in a decision about a private case, and that is what bothers me the most about this bill.
I am not an immigration expert, but like all MPs, many cases are brought to my attention and my staff does a good job of handling them. I am the MP for the riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher. Many people choose to settle in this riding when they come to Canada. On many occasions we have to deal with the problem of people who apply for citizenship and then are confronted with a very unwieldy system.
I find it reassuring that the government has decided to address the state of the immigration system and that it has chosen to move forward with legislative reforms because the immigration mechanism seems to be broken and unwieldy today.
In my riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, I see some very serious problems, which have particularly serious consequences for the human beings who come to our offices because they are caught in a process that is literally frozen. These are individuals, families and people who have come from elsewhere to earn a living, to work on a project and quite often to contribute to their adoptive country.
The people who come here have not seen their families in sometimes two, three or four years. They hope that by filling out the right forms and being patient, they may perhaps bring their loved ones closer to them. However, the crisis in the system that handles immigration applications is more serious than ever.
Every day in Longueuil, I hear about men and women who have been waiting for months or years to see their spouses. This situation is the result of the decisions and the policies of our friends opposite, our Conservative friends. It is also the result of budgets that have been reduced while needs have grown. Those decisions have tremendous repercussions on people's lives.
Actually, the processing times beggar belief. In June 2014, to sponsor a spouse or a dependent child, the processing time was 23 months at the Canadian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. To sponsor a spouse living and waiting in Kenya or South Africa, the wait is 21 months. At our embassy in Senegal, you have to wait 25 months before getting a call back; in New York, it is more than 30 months. More than two years, that is ridiculous!
These are figures, but for the people on the waiting lists, they are not just figures. For the people that I met in Longueuil and those my team met in our offices, these are not just figures. These are real lives. They spend months and years of distress, helplessness, sleepless nights and loneliness worrying about their loved ones. It is their host country that is imposing this on them.
These are the consequences of poor decisions made in Ottawa relating to money invested far from where the needs are the greatest. That is the real problem. However, there is nothing tangible before us today that addresses this specific emergency.
We have seen demonstrations here on Parliament Hill. Take for example the 10,000 people who had filed their applications at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada office in Buffalo, in the US, shortly before the government closed that office. Every one of those applications were redirected, sent from one office to another and lost for more than a year, leaving the applicants worried and apprehensive.
The minister of immigration at the time reacted by calling this huge blunder an effectiveness measure for taxpayers. I kid you not. When a government proves itself unable to run a visa office, it is certainly not a measure of effectiveness for our international reputation.
We know that the challenges are enormous. However, we regret that the government has not been up to the challenges of the immigration file. The resulting chaos has reached proportions that are, frankly, embarrassing and unworthy of a G7 government and a country that would impose quality standards in the provision of services to citizens.
When the cries of those caught up in the mess were heard loudly enough to have a bearing on the Conservatives’ electoral prospects, then we finally saw money being thrown at the problem in the 2013 budget. We are talking about $44 million over two years. Since the money will not go any further, we are in the last year of that spur-of-the-moment cash grab.
In view of the crisis, the government resolved more than once to resolve the problem, but we saw that the situation got worse, not better. We see today that the processing times and the backlog of applications have doubled since the Conservatives came to power. That is really something!
Despite this disastrous situation that has particularly affected many residents of Longueuil, we see that Bill C-24 contains no effective solutions for reducing the bottlenecks in the immigration system, which really seems to have broken down completely.
I would like to focus on what is probably the most appalling and the most worrying aspect of Bill C-24, and that is the across-the-board attribution of powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. This is a trend we have seen frequently and in many different forms. The Conservatives prefer to put powers in the hands of ministers and their staff, because it allows them to act without accountability and behind closed doors.
Bill C-24 proposes giving the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to revoke citizenship in certain specific cases. For example, a person who has been convicted on certain grounds, in Canada or abroad, may have his Canadian citizenship revoked, not in a fair and equitable trial in the courts, but by the minister's office. This means that the minister will be asked to make such decisions by himself.
This is also the case when the minister, or his staff, is convinced that a person obtained Canadian citizenship through fraud. While previously these issues were decided by cabinet or the courts, now it is the minister's office that will have the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship on the basis of suspicions. In other words, this is a power that will not be exercised in a fair environment.
We are being asked to trust the Conservatives. Really? We are being asked to close our eyes to the exercise of this discretionary power. I do not think so.
We are right to ask questions about this procedure. When someone commits a crime, there are consequences and penalties that are applicable to everyone, regardless of ethnic, national or social origin. This is how things happen in Canada, as they do in countries that respect fundamental rights. Our courts are the tools we use to judge illegal acts and impose punitive or dissuasive measures.
The powers that would be granted to the person holding the office of minister of citizenship and Immigration under Bill C-24 are also dangerous because they would allow the minister to base his decision to revoke citizenship on a judicial decision handed down in another country.
For example, let us look at the power of the minister to consider a conviction handed down in another country carrying a prison sentence of five years or more for an offence which, if it had been committed in Canada, would have been classified as a terrorist offence under the Criminal Code. This means that decisions made by Canada would be based on judicial rulings handed down even in a non-democratic country, or in autocratic or totalitarian regimes, or even in states where the justice system is corrupt.
What Bill C-24 proposes is that while most citizens would receive a criminal sentence, others could lose their Canadian citizenship. We are talking about a two-tier citizenship: some fully benefit from the rights associated with being a Canadian citizen, while others have conditional or temporary rights.
This very problematic way of doing things is also reflected in the government's proposal to now require that a citizenship applicant confirm his intention to reside in Canada. That is an unreasonably vague condition, and it puts a heavier burden on applicants. In other words, by obtaining his citizenship under this condition, a new Canadian may have doubts about rights that are usually taken for granted by other Canadians. He can legitimately wonder whether he has the right to travel over long periods of time and whether he can work abroad without getting his citizenship revoked by the government because he did not demonstrate an intent to reside in Canada.
Freedom of movement should be a prerogative of all Canadian citizens, not just those who were born here. The president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers talked about an “implicit threat” that will generate a sense of insecurity and worry among people, given that the government may decide to arbitrarily revoke their citizenship if they leave Canada too soon, or if they stay abroad too long.
Since I only have one minute left, I will now talk about our strong feeling that this bill gives too much power to the minister and his office.
We have reasons to find it sad to see a party that keeps boasting about its love for multiculturalism, and whose ministers tour immigrant communities during election campaigns, suddenly turn around and make family reunification harder and Canadian citizenship less accessible.
We, on this side, are convinced that a more humane approach to immigration is needed. We know that immigrants contribute tirelessly not only to our economy, but also to the common good. We know that when family members are allowed to live together, their lives and health are better, and we make sure they have an integration and support network to better connect with their host community in Canada.
I sincerely hope the Conservatives will take note of our concerns and will acknowledge them, not only in the context of this bill but also in their actions over the year and a half left to the 41st Parliament.