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Evidence of meeting #25 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was muslim.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Renuka Rajaratnam  As an Individual
John Amble  As an Individual
James Bissett  As an Individual
Andrew Brouwer  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

5:15 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

I can't answer that. I'm not sure.

March 6th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Okay.

One of the concerns you raised in your opening remarks was the issue of security, which is what this study is all about. You stated that your view is that one of the most important tools we could use to ensure our security is to conduct more human intelligence--in other words, more interviews on the part of our public service of people who wish to come to Canada. At one point, prior to the 1990s, we did that for primary applicants.

If we're going to address the concerns you've raised, and we're going to do that by conducting a greater number of interviews of applicants—if not all—to Canada, it seems to me that there are two ways to go about doing this. One is to increase the resources of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to handle the record volumes of people arriving on our shores. Alternatively, we can adjust the levels of immigration and foreign workers in order to ensure that the department has the sufficient resources to do those in-person interviews. Or we could use a combination of both.

I just want to get your views on what you think is practical, and what you would recommend to the government as the right approach.

5:20 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

I agree that there are two ways of doing it, and maybe a third, which I think is being proposed now by the government, which is to let Canadian employers go abroad to do a lot of the selection.

I was the officer in charge in London in the 1970s, and many Canadian companies would come to England to recruit, particularly machine trades people: tool-makers, machinists, and lathe operators. The employers would interview them, recruit them, and promise them a job. We would give them a very cursory interview to make sure they didn't have a criminal record. If we were concerned—because we weren't really concerned much about security in England—we would refer them for security. But other than that, we processed them quite quickly, and got them here quickly because they had already been recruited by Westinghouse, Massey-Harris, or another firm.

I think the government is thinking of perhaps doing that in future. That's another method of doing it.

My own view is that we're taking too many people into Canada. I'm on the record as saying that. Why are we one of the few industrial countries in the world with 36 million people that has to rely on foreign labour to fill our jobs? That's inexcusable in a modern country. So yes, I would cut back on the numbers and get the quality.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

I have another question for you.

Over the last several decades the federal government has devolved significant responsibility for immigration to provincial governments. This started with the accord between Canada and Quebec. That was revised a number of times, but it's also now spread to the provinces. So one of the things I hear from people is that there is a concern that there are now dozens and dozens of different ways to get into Canada through federal or provincial programs, often with very different rules and very different processes in place.

Is it a concern to you at all that these myriad ways to enter Canada are creating a system so complex that it is more difficult for us to address the security side of immigration?

5:20 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

Absolutely. I entirely agree.

If you look at the 2010 annual figures, 17% of the 280,000 immigrants who came in were selected under the federal government's points system. That's 48,000 and some immigrants out of 280,000 were selected because they met the points. The rest were family accompanying the principal applicants; they were relatives sponsored by other relatives in Canada; they were almost 13,000 caregivers—would you believe it?—who came in; and 30,000 and some more from the provinces.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

5:20 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

They're not required to meet any selection criteria. The province chooses them.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

Go ahead, Mr. Davies.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Bissett, I was quite stunned by your testimony—I wrote it down as literally as I could—that none of the temporary foreign workers go through security or health checks.

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

Some do health. I said criminal and security.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

You know, of course, that under this government the use of temporary foreign workers has exploded. I think it's a fair comment. We issued 185,000 visas, or re-issuance of visas, to temporary foreign workers last year alone. It's been estimated that there are approximately half a million temporary foreign workers present in the country. Your testimony, sir, is that none of them have gone through criminal checks, and this government has let them into our country?

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

As far as I know, they don't have any criminal checks or security checks. If they're working in health-related occupations, they do have to have a health test.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

You were kind enough to say you were old enough to be blunt. And I'm young enough to be impertinent, so I'm going to put a couple of tough questions to you, if I may, just to probe some of these.

You referred to the fact that there were mosques in this country, and implied quite strongly that there are mosques that are preaching unacceptable messages. Can you tell us what mosques those are, sir?

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

No, I can't tell you, but I get this from Muslim friends of mine who are in a position to know. I can name them, and I'm quite sure they could tell you the names of the mosques, and be willing to.

Salim Mansur, who is a professor at Western University, is one who is—

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Is your information second-hand about that? I just wondered if you had direct knowledge.

Second, you said there were some 40,000 Iranians who have entered our country from 2000 to 2009. Are you aware of any cases of Iranian terrorists in this country?

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

There was only one that I can think of, who was eventually actually removed. I forget his name. He was alleged to be an Iranian agent and was ordered deported. That's the only one I can recall.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

In terms of numbers, it's always an open battle, I think, in Parliament about the number of people we let in. You've made, I think, an inference that we're letting in far more people today than in the past.

I've done some research, and from 1860 to 2009, as a percentage of population, we let in 0.97% of our population; from 1900 to 1949, we let in 1.34% as a percentage of population; from 1900 to 2009, a little over 1%. The current rate today is 0.7%. So as a percentage of population, we're actually low by historical standards.

Now, the only possible explanation, if your testimony is accurate, is that we had far more people checking 20, 40, and 60 years ago than we do today. Is that the case?

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

No, that's not the case. But the numbers were lower through the 1970s and 1980s. The largest number that came to Canada was in 1913, we had some 400,000 people come here.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Surely we weren't checking all those.

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

We weren't checking them at all. We were sending them out to the prairies.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you. Some of those immigrants were my grandparents.

If I might just turn to Mr. Brouwer--

5:25 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

All through the 1980s, we seldom went above 100,000.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you.

Mr. Brouwer, I just want to give my remaining time to you. You've been listening to us. What other points do you think we should know, that you feel are important?

5:25 p.m.

Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

Andrew Brouwer

Thank you very much.

There were a couple of points that I did want to follow up on a little.

One is with respect to the screening and the comment of the CSIS officer that only one in ten applications from Pakistan get security-screened. We need to keep in mind that these officers have the tools they need to do the screening. Every decision is made by a visa officer. If the visa officers think, on paper, there's any possibility of a security concern, they can conduct an interview, they can seek advice from the Canada Border Services Agency, they can send the case to CSIS to get advice.

This is the process I see. Of course I deal primarily with refugees and with family members of refugees trying to come to Canada. I can tell you that in virtually all my cases there have been personal interviews, and issues around security have been examined pretty closely.

The other point I had hoped to make is again with respect to the issue of visa officer competence. I'd refer you to a decision of Justice Snider in the Federal Court, from April of last year, in a case called Ghirmatsion. I can forward that to the committee. Justice Snider undertook a very careful assessment of the training and the competence of visa officers overseas. This was all with respect to one particular officer, but her comments about the degree of training and oversight and support for visa officers is enlightening. I'd like the committee to keep that in mind as they hear the comments of the immigration authorities, talking about the wonderful decisions made by visa officers.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, sir.