Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Dufferin—Caledon, during your intervention, and my colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands made a comment about women's attire, and I would like to say that in the American tradition, we should all have the right to bare arms, especially at this particular juncture. That is a position I support.
The other reason I think it behooves the government to take a little extra time for a study, rather than supporting the Senate amendment, is that our parliamentary committee has been charged with reviewing the issue of how immigration consultants are governed in Canada and the impact they have on both citizenship fraud and defrauding people who might be using them.
I want to say why this is important. I am going to start by saying that there are many excellent immigration consultants to legitimately help people navigate Canada's immigration system and become citizens. They are good, hard-working people who have the best intentions and play by the rules. However, there are those who do not. Many people in this place who have had experience doing casework on immigration in their ridings have had a constituent who has suffered the consequences of an immigration consultant who has provided people with illegitimate advice, has advised them to lie on a citizenship application, or has defrauded them of money.
There was a very weighty, in-depth study at committee. We have not yet issued a report, but I want to highlight some of the testimony. We heard over and over again concerns about the ability of the current oversight body, the ICCRC, to regulate this sector. My colleagues from Dufferin—Caledon and Markham—Unionville and I all heard serious testimony from witnesses who were essentially left destitute because of this. To the relevancy of the amendment at hand, more often we heard about people who were advised to lie on their citizenship applications and hence had their applications revoked.
After going through the exercise at committee, I am of the belief that the current oversight process is inadequate and is not working. The status quo cannot be maintained. There are serious governance challenges within the ICCRC board itself, bordering on dysfunction. I am just going to put it out there. This is not just my opinion. This was highlighted in witness testimony. We have to think about the end user.
One of my colleagues from the NDP has made the point that this is about compassion. We need to have compassion for people who are being defrauded in these situations. The oversight situation we have is not adequate. The testimony was very clear and very damning in that regard. It is not working, and there needs to be change.
I know that all members of the committee are going to be considering this testimony and considering recommendations for the government. I would like the government to consider those recommendations in the context of how we deal with both the Federal Court ruling and the response to the Senate amendment. I do not understand why the government has not appealed the Federal Court ruling.
If we are indeed risking sending a message to the international community to not worry, because there is a lengthy appeals process if people lie on their citizenship applications, that is congruent with some of the issues we have been dealing with in terms of how to reform the system for immigration consultant governance.
There was an article, published in January 2016, that spoke to the issue of ghost consultants. This was something we heard about in the course of the study I just mentioned. Ghost consultants are people who are essentially not regulated by our current oversight board, and often that is where many of the instances of fraud occur. The article said:
On the federal government’s website, in no fewer than 21 languages ranging from Arabic to Vietnamese, people looking to immigrate to Canada are warned to be on the lookout for fraud and to stay away from unauthorized consultants.
Don’t be the victim of a scam, the site warns.
And don’t be tempted into using false documents.
Despite the government’s efforts to regulate the industry, however, large numbers of unlicensed consultants continue to operate under the radar, sometimes going to great lengths to dupe the system—or their clients—and making loads of money doing it.
Last fall, Xun Wang, an unlicensed consultant in Richmond, B.C., was handed a stiff seven-year sentence for carrying out one of the biggest immigration frauds authorities say they’d ever seen involving doctored passports and other forged documents.
While that prosecution was successful, critics say so-called “ghost consultants” continue to operate largely in an enforcement vacuum.
This article continues:
Internal records show the border agency fielded more than 400 complaints about alleged unauthorized immigration consultants from June 2011 through September 2015. It opened 71 cases and laid 12 charges.
“Little attention is given to rogue agents, the ghost agents. The public is being taken for a ride,” said Cobus Kriek, a licensed immigration consultant in Calgary, who obtained the CBSA records through an access-to-information request.
A CBSA spokeswoman said the agency reviews all complaints and tips. Investigations are opened if officers believe consultants have misrepresented themselves or the information they’ve put in applications, or if they have counselled others to do so....
If anyone dialed the Halifax phone number Mohd Morelley wrote in his application for citizenship as proof he was integrating in Canada, it would ring out in an office on the outskirts of Halifax. Someone might answer, but it wouldn’t be Morelley or his wife or three children, who all wanted to be Canadians.
They were all living in Kuwait.
Along with the bogus phone number, Morelley and his family bought a full-service bogus citizenship package from an immigration consultant, including a Halifax address for a home he never lived in, tax returns and employment records for a job he never held, payment of utility bills he never used, ATM withdrawals to show local transactions he didn’t make and a letter from a local Islamic society saying he was deeply involved in the activities at a mosque he didn’t attend.... Morelley’s phantom phone—and fake life—were far from unique: more than 140 cell phones, labeled with the number and name of a client, were organized in the Bedford Highway office of the Canadian Commercial Group, run by immigration consultant Hassan Al-Awaid....
“The CBSA sets priorities and focuses criminal investigations on cases that are likely to have the greatest impact, for example large-scale fraudulent operations,” the statement said. As of late November, the agency said 16 investigations had closed, resulting in 15 convictions.
Critics say it’s not enough, that unsuspecting customers are falling victim to crooked consultants who lack qualifications, fail to file paperwork, or simply take their money and run.
This is what is important:
....not all clients are victims. Some clients are willing participants in the fraud, paying consultants to create documents that make it seem like they’re living in Canada when they’re not.
I do not want to politicize the issue, because this has been an issue that has crossed different governments, but something needs to be done.
We are sending a message to people. I can just imagine how a conversation would go in a situation like this if someone had any qualms about perhaps not being truthful on the application. What I do not want to happen is a ghost consultant or someone who is not regulated saying, “Don't worry. You can appeal the decision. You would have a long period of time. If you are found out, the penalty has been reduced.”
What is the government doing to ensure this situation does not happen?
I will continue, because there are some other excellent points. It says:
Before foreign nationals can apply for Canadian citizenship, they must spend 1,095 days in Canada in a four-year period.
Bill C-6 would change that. It continues:
The Federal Court of Canada has said this residency requirement protects “precious Canadian citizenship,” and ensures would-be citizens have “the everyday opportunity to become ‘Canadianized.’”
“This happens by ‘rubbing elbows’ with Canadians in shopping malls, corner stores, libraries, concert halls,...”
Many, however, are paying to skirt these rules.
“We do not have to be Pollyannas here,” Phil Mooney, past president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants told a parliamentary committee in 2011.
Again, this issue has been ongoing for a while. This is the second time, and probably more, that the citizenship and immigration committee has looked at this issue. It goes on:
“A large number of individuals participate willingly in attempts to defraud the system … and there are hundreds of thousands of people who will do anything, sign anything, pay anything to come here.”
That said, many prospective immigrants are falling victim to ghost consultants, who also “take money away from legitimate consultants who follow the rules and pay a high price to be regulated,” Mooney said.
“Further, we suffer added indignities because the public cannot easily distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.”
The problem is the CBSA doesn’t have enough resources to investigate the bad ones, said Dory Jade, current president of the industry group.
The public cannot easily distinguish between the good guys and the bad guy.
We heard at length over numerous meetings that preventing ghost consultants from defrauding people was a problem. However, what we hear in this article, and what we heard in testimony, is that some people choose to defraud the system and willingly put false information on their citizenship applications. How is the government going to address this problem given what is proposed in the Senate amendment? It is a huge mess and we should reject it outright.
There is one recommendation that I support, and I want to speak to it. It was made out of a spirit of compassion and would improve the immigration system in Canada. I will at least provide the House with some positive things. This was an amendment supported by Senator Victor Oh. I will read a statement that was put out by Senator Oh on June 12. It states:
Senator Victor Oh commends the government for its decision to support an amendment to Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and make consequential amendments to another Act, which would provide equitable access to citizenship to children and youth under the age of 18 who meet all the requirements.
Bill C-6 is a government bill that seeks to make changes to the legislative provisions regarding grants of citizenship by naturalization, grounds for citizenship revocation, and the authority of the Minister with regard to fraudulent documents. However, it did not address barriers that prevented certain minors, including children in the care of child welfare authorities, from obtaining citizenship in Canada.
Under the current laws minors submitting an application with a parent or guardian or who have a parent or guardian who is a citizen face no significant barriers. However, those without parents or guardians and those whose parents or guardians are unwilling or unable to apply have virtually no option but to wait until they are 18 years of age to apply on their own. The only exception is to request a waiver for a grant of citizenship on compassionate grounds from the Minister — a highly discretionary process that is simply ineffective...
The amendment, which was passed by the Senate on April 11, 2017 with 47 votes in favour, 27 votes against, and 3 abstentions, would allow children and youth with a permanent resident status to submit an application for citizenship separately from a parent or guardian. “This change would not only ensure that these minors can have a permanent and secure status in Canada, but also provide them with increased opportunities to succeed and thrive” said Senator Victor Oh.
"It is my sincere hope that now that the bill will return for further consideration my colleagues in the House of Commons and the Senate will vote in favour of the amendment with the changes made by the government to clarify who can apply for citizenship on behalf of the child” added Senator Oh. “This would be a landmark moment in the history of advancing the rights of children and youth in Canada, and I am proud to have played a role in it.”
I actually agree with the sentiment presented here by the Senator. I actually think this is a common-sense, compassionate amendment that will give us all, regardless of political stripe, great pride in the Canadian citizenship process. I commend Senator Oh for his work. I certainly support it. It is my understanding that the government will slightly amend his amendment. This is where it gets complicated for the viewers at home, but with that, when I read what is being proposed by the government in terms of amending Senator Oh's amendment, it looks fine to me.
For once, on a very hot and muggy June day in the House of Commons we can agree between the government party and my party that this is something that is worthwhile, so we will be supporting that particular change. As it is implemented, it will certainly support better immigration processing in Canada.
Just for people who might be asking me, I often find after I give these speeches, people write to my office and say, “Why are you supporting this? What is going on?” Just to be very clear on what this amendment does, the issue is that permanent residents that apply for citizenship in Canada must be either 18 years of age or apply concurrently with a permanent resident parent or guardian. For minors whose application is attached to that of their parents or guardians or whose parents or guardians are Canadian citizens, the current process presents no serious issues. However, minors without parents or guardians, or whose parents or guardians are unable or unwilling to apply, have virtually no option but to wait until they are 18 years old, as Senator Oh said.
The objective of this amendment is to provide a direct pathway to citizenship for minors under the age of 18 that meet all the requirements, but do not have a parent or guardian to make an application on their behalf or whose parents are either unable or unwilling to apply.
Right now, subsection 2(1) of the Citizenship Act defines both “minor” and “child”. A child “includes a child adopted or legitimized in accordance with the laws of the place where the adoption or legitimation took place”. A minor “means a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years”.
The proposed amendment does not affect the processes for minors who would have entered Canada and qualified for permanent residence. Minors who make an application will still have to meet the eligibility requirements for citizenship, including the physical presence requirement.
Just to be perfectly clear, to anyone who might be watching or to my colleagues who might not have read the substance of the amendment, there is no need to worry that this amendment somehow changes the process by which a minor might be looked at for admissibility. Essentially what this does is it changes the eligibility, but it does not change the review process itself.
To remain consistent with the proposed changes under Bill C-6, the children would not need to meet the language or knowledge requirements. Under the proposed amendment, minors whose parents or guardians are submitting an application concurrently or whose parents or guardians are citizens of Canada will continue to apply under subsection 5(2) of the Citizenship Act.
In contrast, minors without a parent or guardian, or whose parents are unable or unwilling to make an application, will be able to directly apply under subsection 5(1) of the Citizenship Act, because it will no longer be necessary to be the age of majority. A main outcome of the proposed amendment is that the applications for citizenship of minors will no longer be dependent on their parents' citizenship and the parents' willingness or ability to apply for citizenship. However, a child will still need assistance from a legal guardian to make his or her application.
The child will also be required to countersign his application after the age of 14. This process is consistent with Citizenship Regulation No. 2, paragraphs 4(a) and (b), which apply to the applications under subsection 5(2) of the Citizenship Act. My understanding is that the reason this safeguard is in there is to ensure that children are not being abducted or forced away from a family unit against their will.
I read through the Senate testimony and I talked to Senator Oh. He has done a good job in terms of laying out the case for this. What I am not certain about is how this relates to other countries that might have best practices in this regard, but certainly going forward if we implement this and do it well, we would have some best practices to share with the world.
There is a point that I forgot to make that was very important. I am going to jump back to the amendment I was addressing prior to Senator Oh's and that is the amendment around the appeals process for citizenship revocation in cases of fraud. I would be remiss not to mention that one of the reasons the government and all members need to reject this amendment is the strain on the backlogs that we see in the Federal Court. We have had rigorous debates about the appointment of judges and the fact that the government has not been on the ball in appointing judges, as there are many vacancies. In Calgary, there are courtrooms that are empty. It is a shame and I know there are many qualified applicants in Canada. I do not understand why the delay is happening.
Prior to adopting this amendment, the government needs to deal with this issue. When we think about how many people have had their citizenships revoked that this would apply to, it is going to create delays and backlogs. In terms of the current processes in place, the Federal Court will examine appeals if the department errs in interpretation or application of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. A quote from the IRCC website, which details the current process of citizenship revocation, reads:
The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (SCCA) introduces new grounds for revocation of citizenship and provides for a streamlined revocation process. Previously, the citizenship revocation process generally involved three steps: the Minister, the Federal Court, and the Governor in Council. Under the new revocation process, the Governor in Council will no longer have a role except for some transitional cases.
The new process has two decision-making streams:
the vast majority of revocation cases will be decided by the Minister;
certain complex cases will be decided by the Federal Court.
Note: The Case Management Branch handles all cases considered for revocation of citizenship. Local office staff are not involved with these types of cases, other than to alert the Case Management Branch should information come to their attention regarding a case that should be investigated for possible revocation.
As the IRCC website makes clear, under the current process, some special cases are sent to the Federal Court. The cases that currently go to the Federal Court are examined if IRCC erred in interpretation or application of IRPA. This is a particularly important caveat as it ensures that errors of the department do not lead to revocation; however, it also maintains that people are not incentivized to lie on their applications.
It is important to consider that the courts are facing serious challenges in terms of existing backlogs and hearings. These backlogs exist largely due to the fact that under the government there is a growing number of judicial vacancies, which have contributed to a large number of serious criminal cases being thrown out of court. We have not heard from the minister if he has actually worked with the Minister of Justice to figure how the volume, if the government decides to accept this amendment, is going to impact the backlog further or if she is going to somehow take action in appointing or expediting some judicial vacancies that are currently unfilled. This appeals process will likely put an excess strain on the courts, which are already strained by judicial vacancies.
To illustrate how problematic the issue of judicial vacancies are and for one to understand what the Federal Court ruling could impact, I want to read from an article in the Toronto Star, on August 11, 2016, which states:
...Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin linked the number of empty seats on federally appointed court benches across the country—44 at the moment—to unacceptable trial delays, especially in the criminal courts.
McLachlin said she has no argument with the Liberal government’s effort to overhaul judicial appointment processes across the country, but said “I hope we can find a way to bridge the gap while we’re perfecting the processes—but that’s in the government’s hands, properly, under our Constitution.”
Asked what options might bridge that gap, McLachlin emphasized “it’s not for me to tell the government how to appoint judges. That’s not my business. But there are names, I understand, that are in the system from the previous (judicial advisory) committees.”
She said it is the current government’s “prerogative to appoint in accordance with their processes” but added there is a pressing need for vacancies “be filled in a prompt manner.”
McLachlin made clear there is a lot at stake for the justice system, saying the vacancies are “a huge difficulty. It’s more than a challenge. It makes it very, very difficult to comply with the constitutional requirement that people be tried within a reasonable time,” she said in an interview at her office west of Parliament Hill.
McLachlin pointed to the Supreme Court’s July ruling in a case called R. vs. Jordan, a split 5-4 decision in which she dissented.
In the interview, she said the court addressed the “lamentable delays” in criminal trials. She said the decision was clear that “we have to have strict compliance with the constitutional right of people to be tried within a reasonable time,” adding that “this is going to be a challenge for the justice system in the years to come.”
The majority ruling warned past approaches to how the courts considered delays—based in part on the high court’s own rulings on issues of procedural fairness—have created a “culture of delay and complacency.”
It set out a new framework that set limits on how long the justice system should reasonably take from the laying of a criminal charge to the actual or anticipated end of a trial.
I just want to leave members with one quote from this article, which states:
[Justice] McLachlin said she first started expressing concern about empty seats on Canada’s courts in 2006 when “I think there were 35 vacancies and I said that was unacceptable at the time, and today there are—how many?—41?”
The issue of judicial vacancies is not something that is a partisan political construct. It is something coming out of a concern raised from groups such as police associations across the country and victims advocacy groups. The reason this is material to why I think the Senate amendment on the appeals process should be rejected by this place is that we have not addressed the issue of vacancies in the courts, and this will add a significant burden to the Federal Court process. We have not had the minister come in and talk about that important procedural component on how we will do this.
We have also had some discussion at committee on this. I believe my colleague moved a motion to study the issue of the resourcing of the Immigration and Refugee Board. We know that there are significant amounts of delays happening in that particular body. Why has the government not addressed this?
The point I am trying to make is that we have not had any material debate on these issues, either at parliamentary committee or in the House. The minister has not been out in the media on these issues. The ramifications of the Federal Court ruling and the Senate amendment that we are debating tonight, which I do not think the government has done a particularly adequate job of shaping, have huge impacts on the integrity of our immigration system in that it could incent people to lie on citizenship applications.
The integrity of our immigration system is currently threatened according to the findings of the Auditor General's report, for which the minister has not yet responded to the House or committee with respect to what the government is going to do to address that. There are also issues with respect to backlogs at the Immigration and Refugee Board.
There are issues with regard to resourcing in the Federal Court process. There are issues around the processing of ghost consultants. There are issues related to awareness campaigns on how people should be accessing immigration consultant support services. There are issues around the provision of benefits, and other rights and privileges afforded to Canadian citizens who may have obtained this through fraud.
The point I am trying to make is that there is so much to study here. This is not immaterial, yet the government has treated it as immaterial.
I have spoken for almost two and a half hours on this. There is more than two and a half hours' worth of study that is needed on this issue. We have not had this debate. The government cannot continue to come forward, say “Welcome to Canada”, and expect Canadians to say that everything is great when it is not putting material scrutiny or any sort of effort into addressing these challenges.
Oftentimes, one is arguing for or against immigration. I am arguing for an adequate process, with integrity. There are serious problems with it right now, as I have outlined in detail, that the government has not addressed.
What are we doing tonight? With the minister coming forward and saying that this is how he is going to alter this amendment and support it, he is saying, “I don't care about the rest of this stuff. We're just going to proceed.” I would like to tell him, let us put partisanship aside for a minute. Everyone here on this side is saying to take a bit more time. Get this right. If you do not get this right, there are serious implications not only for Canadians, but for people who are seeking to enter the country.
There are so many people who are trying to enter the country legally. We hear of spousal sponsorship, inland sponsorship, people who are waiting for years to come to this country, and they are doing it the right way. What we are debating tonight is something that incents people to do it the wrong way, without addressing some serious concerns. It is not the Conservative Party of Canada that is raising the issue—certainly we are shining a light on it tonight—but people like the Auditor General and Justice Beverley McLachlin. These are not partisan people. These are people whose job it is to raise issues. The minister has not responded to this.
Every once in a while, we have to take a bit more time in this place. That is why I had the right to speak as long as I did tonight. I feel it is very important to put on the record the fact that this particular amendment is so wholly inadequate. It has not been studied. Send this to a parliamentary committee. I would love to do a summer study on this. Let us have experts come in to talk about the implications of this ruling.
I would like to move an amendment. I believe my colleague, the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, would be amenable to this.
I thank my colleagues for their indulgence. In closing, with an impassioned plea to my colleagues—I know I have spoken for a long time tonight—from the bottom of my heart, and I know it is June, we have to get our immigration system right. We cannot just keep saying “welcome to Canada” and not deal with these process gaps. That is the form and substance of my intervention.
Based on everything I have laid out tonight, I am very happy to sit here—adequately happy—and look at my colleague who is passing me a note, and implore the House to not support this amendment around the revocation of citizenship in cases of fraud. I think we all want to incent people to come to Canada the right way. I want to, from the bottom of my heart, encourage the minister to take the time to get this right, rely on parliamentarians to help him with the scrutiny of this—it would be great if he could come to committee once in a while—and to actually care about how we process citizenship in Canada.