Honourable Chair, members, it's a privilege to be before the committee.
This weekend the federal Secretary of State for Multiculturalism was in Vancouver. He said that an official apology is coming. He also announced $2.5 million compensation, or a memorial, for the Komagata Maru incident, which happened 94 years ago in Canadian history.
You are probably wondering why I'm raising this issue, as I'm here to talk about old age security. I'll come back to it later, but you will kindly keep note of the situation I just mentioned.
My name is Balwinder Chahal. I am the secretary of the Old Age Benefits Forum. We have been pursuing this cause for the last ten years.
To summarize everything in five minutes is a challenging task, but I will try to do it. Then I'll let it for you to ask questions later, if you have any.
What we are asking here is this. First, for any senior to have to stay in Canada for ten years is just not justified; it's unduly harsh; it has an unjustified impact on seniors and their living conditions, their families, even their ties. Ten years is not the right thing to do.
By itself, the ten years is a harsh thing. There is another dimension to the whole thing. We have two classes of seniors in the country, one class who access it when they are 65, without waiting for ten years. There are others who are 65 who have to wait ten years.
Whatever the rules or the regulations, whatever agreements we have put in, can those agreements in any way touch the charter? The charter gives us equality. This is a matter of equality.
I will ask honourable members to consider the necessity of all those social agreements we are talking about. Do we have agreements for MSPs? Do we have agreements for EI benefits? Do we have agreements for CPP? No. So where is the need for an agreement at all? I'll show the fallacy: that agreements were used simply as a tool to deny benefits to a group.
When the Old Age Benefits Forum undertook this issue, at a time when another party may have been in power, they looked into it and saw that something was wrong. They brought out the papers, which I have in front of me. This is on access to the public...immigrant seniors, and it is part of the government regulations.
What they have done here is a change. From now on, seniors from agreement countries will be paid on a different schedule. If agreements haven't changed, how can the government change the pattern of payment? That shows that agreements didn't carry any force earlier and agreements don't have force today. But they're being used as a tool to deny benefits.
Secondly, on financial service fees, my honourable representatives were talking about.... Finance is an important matter, I won't say it's not, and it should be looked into. But looking at a greater angle, if the figures are right that have been quoted in Parliament, there are 4.3 million seniors over the age of 65 at the moment, of which number 4.078 million are being paid old age security. This leaves us with 4% to 5% of seniors who are not getting it.
The point is not about millions. Certainly it is a millions thing, but the point and issue here is that we are already spending billions on 95%. How justified is it to say we don't have the money for the 5%? That's the whole thing. Yes, it will be millions, but if we are already spending billions, why don't we do it? That's another thing to talk about.
Another thing is about the law challenge. Yes, it went to the courts of law, that's right, but the courts do not make the law; they interpret the law. They say this doesn't fall under discrimination as emphasized in the charter. Yes, that is so. But I say, before this august body, you have all the rights. If there is a difficulty....
Now I will come back to what I was saying earlier: 94 years after the Komagata Maru incident, today we are offering a national apology and money. It was legal to deny that ship--it was legal--but it was unjustified.
Similarly, this provision might remain legal, but it's unjustified. It's unequal and it's unfair.
That's what we are imploring you on. Is it talking about legality? Certainly not. It is talking about the basic system of justice and fairness. It has to.
Is it a good policy to give security to my friend and deny it to me? We are both Canadians.
Let me pull out my citizenship card. What does it say on the back of it? I'll read this and then I'll close my statement. I hope everybody will kindly take their copy, which says:
This...is a Canadian citizen under the provisions of the Citizenship Act and, as such, is entitled to all the rights and privileges and is subject to all the duties and responsibilities of a Canadian citizen.
It doesn't have any subject. It doesn't say anything about the fact that if I'm coming from this country, my citizenship is subject to that.
With that, certainly the current bill does not go 100% the way we would see it, but it is reaching a compromise where fair, reasonable provisions of residency are taken care of. Financial security is part of that, as is getting seniors their fair and due share so they can live with respect and dignity.
That's my respectful submission. Thank you very much.