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Evidence of meeting #30 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was consular.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Leonard Edwards  Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Luc Portelance  Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency
Gerald Cossette  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Julian Falconer  Falconer Charney LLP, As an Individual
Suaad Hagi Mohamud  As an Individual
Johanne Durocher  As an Individual

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Madame Deschamps.

August 26th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you very much.

Along the same lines, I would like to know whether the person who made the decision to withdraw Ms. Mohamud's passport from her did so after consulting superiors. From what we are told, that individual did not at least conduct an in-depth investigation. Ms. Mohamud's passport was withdrawn without anyone even taking the trouble to do what she asked and examine the many photo ID cards that she had with her or even to check her fingerprints.

Our migration integrity officers may well be under a great deal of pressure. As a result of this obsession with crime and rising terrorism, there are increasing numbers of new directives complicating the procedures so that we wind up with situations like that of Ms. Mohamud.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Merci, madame Deschamps.

Are there any comments?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency

Luc Portelance

I'm going to answer, Mr. Chairman.

Perhaps it would be useful to clarify the role of our immigration officers outside Canada. Their primary role is to provide advice to the airlines. These details are not very well known. The job of our officers who work at airports outside Canada is to guide and advise the airlines. The airlines have an obligation under the act not to allow people with inadequate documentation to board airplanes. The decisions are not necessarily made by Border Services Agency officers. They are made by the airlines whose responsibility that is. Our officers are responsible for training the airlines and working with them in order to prepare them. Most of the time, they are there when flights leave various airports for Canadian destinations.

Our officers' decision-making and law enforcement powers are nevertheless very limited when they are outside Canada. These are decisions that are made by the airlines, which subsequently must be guided by the laws of the city or country in question.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

I think your time is up. Just a quick comment, please.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Edwards, I consulted the Foreign Affairs website concerning situations in which one finds oneself abroad. It's very well done; there's a lot of information. I invite my constituents to consult it as well. However, once I get there, I expect to receive services from the people who are there. Consequently, if I had had to go through the same situation as that lady, I would probably have done the same thing as she did, that is to say sue the ministers and senior officials.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Madame Deschamps.

We'll move to Mr. Obhrai.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the officials for coming here today.

There are some questions that are really disturbing about what is happening here, specifically with the member for Pickering, who is having his coffee. Maybe if he would come to his seat, we could address some of our concerns.

As the deputy minister has stated, over 50 million trips are made abroad every year. There are a large number of Canadians travelling overseas, and as pointed out, there are unfortunate circumstances that require consular assistance--this year alone, 250,000 new cases, as the deputy minister said. Right now, there are 26,000 open cases being handled by consular people.

The members opposite were in the government and were responsible for the administration of government services. As you can see in their title, they write the word “Honourable”, which means they were members of the Privy Council and subject to the highest clearance available to see the operations of the Government of Canada. This then goes to the point very clearly that they know exactly how the Government of Canada works, because they were part of the Government of Canada.

But what is really disturbing is when they go out publicly and, for cheap political points, accuse the same department that they had been working with, insinuating that it is racist, that there's racism in the department and a two-tier system in the department.

I want to ask the member for Pickering, who was in charge of consular services at that time, what was he doing if he feels that this department that he's talking about--

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Obhrai, on that, we need your questions to be directed to the witnesses and not to the honourable member for Pickering.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

All right.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

On a point of order, thank you, Mr. Chair, for doing that, but I'd be quite willing to put my record of accomplishments--

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you. That's not really a point of order.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair, he has raised a question; it's an important one. Any time he wants to look at it....

No one here is questioning the officials of the department. They're questioning that member of Parliament's own incompetence.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. McTeague.

Continue, Mr. Obhrai, and please direct your questions to the witnesses who are here from the department.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

It is an amazing thing that a person who has the highest clearance and knows how the government works accuses the same officials of racism, implying that there is racism there, when, as a matter of fact, he knew how it worked. Many of the instances that this member has given—Omar Khadr, Mr. Abdelrazik, and others—were done when his party was in power, when he was officially a member of the Privy Council.

The question that really bothers everyone here in this regard is, why is this issue now coming out, accusations that there are second-class citizens? Yes, sometimes with all the massive work that you have pointed out, there may be cracks in the system that do happen, and in this case, I cannot talk about Ms. Mohamud as there is—

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair--

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, can I have my time?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Obhrai, just one moment.

Mr. McTeague, on a point of order.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair, if Mr. Obhrai has in fact any evidence of those allegations of racism against the department, I'd ask that he table it now; otherwise, that he withdraw them and apologize for those remarks.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

I think, Mr. McTeague, you misunderstood what he said. I think he said that you or members had alleged there was racism within the department, not that--

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair, in fact you've just confirmed what he said. I'm asking for an apology or that he table those comments here and now or that he withdraw them immediately.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Okay, but let's go back. Everyone here, let's just take a deep breath.

Mr. Obhrai, in fact all of us, make certain that our language--

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you, Chair.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

--is language that we would use in a committee in the Parliament of Canada. If there are allegations of the term that was used here, Mr. Obhrai, perhaps you should disclose that, or let's try to refrain from using such language.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, there is enough evidence out there. I do not have to disclose anything. If he looks at what he has given in interviews, that will be stated.

But the point of the matter still remains here, which is very important to underline. The department officials are here. They have been working very diligently with thousands of cases that have come along. But not just that, in my case, where he has been accusing me of not working very diligently, I want to tell this member for Pickering--including Mr. Volpe, Ms. Lalonde, and Mr. Dewar--that over 30 MPs always contact my office to do that. We don't ask people their nationality or whatever; we ask how we can solve their problems. As a matter of fact, when somebody is accusing us of having people be second-class citizens, Mr. Chair.... Even I have undertaken visits to--