Honourable members of the standing committee, ladies and gentlemen, I'm hopeful that my comments will reflect an attitude that comes from wanting the very best for CSIC and for the Canadian consumer of immigration services.
Let me first introduce myself. My ancestors came to this country some 15 generations ago. I'm very proud to be Canadian and proud of the very two distinct cultures that laid the strong and well-anchored pillars of our country in such a manner that we are able to accept so many from around the world who, like the founding cultures, come to these shores in search of a better life.
My name is Bruce Perreault. I'm a native son of Nova Scotia and had my early education here. I attended St. John's High School in New York, where I obtained my high school diploma. I received a bachelor of arts degree from Loyola College at the University of Montreal, and a law degree from McGill University. I completed the bar admission course of the Law Society of Upper Canada and practised law in the province of Ontario for some ten years. I was and continue to be a member of the Canadian Bar Association and of the immigration section of the bar.
I believe I have a very unique perspective on some of the issues you've been asked to report to Parliament on because I have been a member of both the Law Society of Upper Canada and CSIC. To the best of my knowledge, in Ontario there are no other CSIC members who are members of the bar and continue to be a member in good standing of the Canadian Bar Association.
I was a founding director of CAPIC, an organization that advocates for education and legal reforms in the field of immigration before the Government of Canada and was the predecessor organization to the founding of CSIC. CAPIC was initially composed of a majority of CSIC members.
Today, to be a full member of CAPIC, you must be a member in good standing of CSIC. You have already heard from the president of CAPIC, Mr. Phil Mooney, whose views I fully support; you have heard from the chairman of the board of CSIC, whose views I fully support; and today you will hear from Ross Eastley, the chairman of the board of the Canadian Migration Institute, whose views I fully support.
I did not come here to speak against anything, but for something. I came to share my views on a profession that came into being very recently, a profession that is still experiencing some growing pains, and with them, different views on how that growth should take place.
You have heard many testimonials and submissions for reform. Some have been born out of fear and anxiety, and others out of political posturing to gain an advantage by one group over another. I wish to address my own perspective as an observer of the process you are investigating.
The dilemma of men and women engaged in the practice of immigration law, other than lawyers or public notaries, was comparable to the Wild West, prior to the inception of CSIC. Apart from a vast majority of honest and hard-working practitioners, the professions also comprised a number of less than honourable people who brought disrepute to our country. The practice of immigration law was totally unregulated. Many ministers of immigration, from both the Liberal and Conservative parties, spent long hours trying to grasp the issue of how best to deal with this Wild West. It was finally decided that recommendations of this very committee would be acted upon, and CSIC was born.
There were caveats placed on the heads of CSIC members, however, and it may well be that we find ourselves here today because those warnings from this committee came at a very high price to the cowboys of the then industry.
I was appointed to the education and standards committee before any member of CSIC was a full member. It is my feeling that this committee, headed by a well-known British Columbia lawyer, Elizabeth Bryson, planted the seeds of discontent we see today. That committee demanded that all members be fluent in either the French or English language as a prerequisite of entering into the organization. It demanded that all future members be tested for language proficiency, whether they, like I, were born in Canada or came from another country whose language was different from mine. This brought a storm of protest from those who could not pass the required and mandatory language testing. This alienation remains to this very day, with organizations that have appeared before you claiming, quite wrongly, as in one case, that they represent over 9,000 immigration consultants.
They were determined to undermine the very core of what this standing committee required, and they set out on a path to condemn any measures introduced by CSIC to educate its members, and, far worse, used their connections with newspapers and indeed with politicians to scuttle the standards. They were relentless and unforgiving, and they still are. There is to be no reasoning with them unless we agree with them that standards do not apply and are irrelevant.
I take as an example the Law Society of Upper Canada, which has over 200 years of experience and resources to provide the types of regulations and protection to the public that CSIC is being asked to provide in only four years' time. The law society has over 30,000 members to draw financial resources from, while CSIC has 1,200.
I would invite the honourable members of this committee to thoroughly investigate the services provided by CSIC by first visiting their website and visiting the many operational resources that are available to the public and CSIC members, and visiting the CSIC headquarters, where a small but very dedicated staff are devoted to maintaining standards and implementing regulations that are required on a continuing basis. I am amazed, and I know you will be as well, that an organization with such few members has, in a few short years, risen close to the bar set by the Law Society of Upper Canada. With respect, this must not go unnoticed by you, for it speaks to the very issue of CSIC attempting to meet standards that are demanded by this committee, by CIC, by Parliament, and most importantly by the Canadian people.
I have had the opportunity to read some of the submissions before you on the matter, submissions made by immigration consultants as well as members of the bars of various provinces. It would seem that lawyers complain CSIC does not discipline its members who are in violation of the rules of conduct. Allegations of complaints are being made and decisions by reputable panels are being made. The discipline committee is very active and is headed by an extremely able and dedicated barrister and solicitor by the name of Wanda Woodman. With respect, a meeting with her would allay the fears of whether or not discipline is tough and fair.
On the other hand, CSIC members complain of high fees and a non-responsive and non-transparent board. The mandate of CSIC is one that amounts to a regulatory board. Transparency would be a lot different were CSIC merely a representation and an association of consultants. This is not the case. I have written extensively on the role of a regulator, the responsibilities that are inherent in it, and the distinction that must be made. Some do not wish to make that distinction and feel that the role of CSIC is to lower standards and make life easier for the members, all at the expense of the public to whom CSIC has a responsibility.
Most of the lampoons thrown at CSIC come from the fact that neither the organization nor the board of directors is able to stop what is referred to as “ghost consultants”. CSIC is blamed, but the blame should be directed elsewhere. Enforcement of the law lies with the government and enforcement agencies. Neither the government nor these agencies take action. Prior to the establishment of CSIC, people who were found to be practising law without a licence were prosecuted by the law society of the particular province they were located in. Law societies have that power granted to them by provincial legislatures to regulate and enforce their own laws and to lay charges against someone practising law without a licence. In fact today it is quite obvious, as it was not in the past. Immigration consultants must be licensed to practise and be a member of CSIC, and any law society can lay charges against a non-CSIC member for unauthorized practice. To me, that seems clear and simple. Law societies have far more substantial means than a young struggling organization such as CSIC.
CSIC members have given evidence that would be of serious concern in a free and democratic society if it were true. In June of this year, all consultant directors will have been elected by CSIC in a free and open election. CSIC will come of age this year and consultants will have the opportunity to elect or not elect their own representatives. It would be a sorry Canada if once having elected our members of Parliament we tried to go outside Parliament to complain they were not doing what we wanted. Sometimes parliamentarians do not, and the price is paid at the polls. Why should CSIC be held to a higher standard of freedom and democracy than a law society or a parliament?
This brings me back to people who failed to gain entry to CSIC because they could not meet the standards of language and education. Surely this committee would not suggest that the standards be lowered to a point where we would have immigration consultants who speak neither French nor English, or alternatively, fail the required examinations that are fundamental to the fair and reasonable operation and interaction between the licensed consultants and the immigration department.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that while this standing committee holds hearings across the country, action is already being taken by the Government of Canada, through the Immigration and Refugee Board. On April 10, 2008, the chairman of the board issued clear and concise regulations on dealing with unauthorized representatives. It is clear that the IRB will take action against anyone who is not a lawyer, a public notary in Quebec, or a member of CSIC.
Sometimes the solutions we spend thousands on are before our eyes, but we cannot see. With respect, reading these new regulations will give you a better knowledge of the correct way that the government, in the future, will put an end to what has been known as “ghost consultants”, and I commend them for it.
There is an old song that talks about life and seeing both sides now. I have seen both sides. If I choose to be a barrister and a solicitor, I may reapply. I have little to lose if CSIC is defeated by a few who feel and desire it to be, but I know many of the more than one thousand good and decent members of the profession who will suffer tremendously. It is for them I am here today. The calibre and quality of professionalism that is being shown today in the industry, as compared to the pre-CSIC days, is astounding. Ask any immigration officer and even a member of the bar or public notary, and all will admit that there has been a stunning change in the quality of professionalism and respect of this new profession. We can give thanks and praise to the leadership and foresight of the board of directors of CSIC, who deserve, at the end of the day, some small thanks of gratitude. We can thank the members of CSIC who qualified to join by passing rigorous examinations, tests that most lawyers would fail to pass. I say this with respect to the legal profession, which I admire and was part of.
In closing, it is my hope that you let the profession of immigration consultants, known as CSIC, govern themselves in the belief and knowledge that only a strong regulator, as represented by CSIC, will be able to make the people of Canada have trust in those who represent new Canadians.