Evidence of meeting #138 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was migrants.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Craig Damian Smith  Associate Director, Global Migration Lab, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Steve Stewart  Co-Chair, Americas Policy Group, Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Matt DeCourcey  Fredericton, Lib.
Ivan Briscoe  Program Director, Latin America and Caribbean, International Crisis Group
Tanya Basok  Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor, As an Individual
Dean Allison  Niagara West, CPC

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Mr. Tilson.

4 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and departmental officials to update the Committee on the 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, including Canada's immigration Plan for 2019-21.

Despite the minister appearing on the supplementary estimates last week, we were hardly able to ask any questions due to the Liberal filibuster the entire hour the minister was with us. I'm of the opinion that the levels plan requires its own separate meeting. We've heard through our migration study alone lots of testimony that raises questions about Canada's immigration levels, and I believe we owe it to Canadians to examine the levels plan in a separate meeting.

There are a wide variety of opinions with respect to immigration levels in Canada. Some advocate for higher levels and some for lower. There are many arguments to be made for both, and I would like to know what the minister's arguments are for the levels numbers he has presented.

What are the underlying economic assumptions? How did he conclude they were solid enough to base his numbers on? With whom did he consult in arriving at the numbers he has presented to the House? Has he adequately budgeted the necessary integration services needed? These are all questions we should be asking the minister in a separate meeting.

I'm going to quote, Mr. Chairman, from a recent piece that I read in the press:

The Trudeau government is ramming through its plan to boost immigration levels, despite survey after survey showing that Canadians oppose this idea.

An Angus Reid poll from August 2018 found that half of Canadians want lower immigration compared to only 6% who want increased numbers. Likewise, another Angus Reid poll from earlier that month, which focused on illegal immigration, found that two-thirds of Canadians believe we accept too many asylum seekers.

These numbers represent the lowest public approval of Canada’s immigration program since pollsters started tracking this data in the 1970s.

While public opinion on immigration has hit an all-time low, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is boosting immigration to an all-time high.

The Liberal government announced its annual immigration targets this week—unveiling an aggressive plan to boost immigration numbers to the highest levels in modern Canadian history.

By 2021, the Liberals plan to welcome 350,000 new permanent residents per year.

Under Trudeau’s plan, Canada will add a city the size of Victoria, B.C., London, Ont., or two Prince Edward Islands each and every year.

The Liberals will have welcomed 1.3 million new permanent residents in by 2021, the equivalent of the city of Calgary or the province of Manitoba within the next three years.

Trudeau’s plan will bring in more people than the current populations of Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick, combined.

New permanent residents are just half the equation. The Trudeau government also plans to boost the number of temporary foreign workers to 250,000 per year.

When we add together permanent residents, temporary workers, foreign students and other long-term visitors, Canada will welcome roughly three-quarters of a million people into our country each year.

That’s more than 2% of our total population.

Where will these newcomers live? Will they disperse across our vast country, or, like most newcomers over the past few decades, will they join the already congested major cities?

Will these newcomers learn English or French and adopt a Canadian identity? Will they learn about Canadian history, will they celebrate our culture and adopt our values?

Or, will they follow Justin Trudeau’s cue that Canada is a “post-national state” with “no core identity”? Will they live in isolated communities and fail to learn English or become economically self-sufficient?

Trudeau has created a toxic brew when it comes to immigration. He’s flung the door wide open, repeatedly inviting the world to come to Canada on social media.

His government has welcomed and even helped to facilitate the stream of illegal border crossers coming in from the United States; a problem that those same Angus Reid polls show two-thirds of Canadians describe as a “crisis” and 70% do not trust Trudeau to fix.

Alongside the Trudeau government’s unwillingness to protect our borders, Trudeau has embraced a postmodern attitude that neglects the Canadian identity and downplays the importance of integration.

Canada has long been a country made up of different people from different parts the world who came to Canada for new hope and opportunity. Immigrants from all backgrounds worked hard and come together over our shared values and way of life.

Canadians are intrinsically open to immigration and welcoming to newcomers, so long as they are willing to work hard, play by the rules and embrace our Canadian values.

Trudeau’s immigration and integration policies are testing the limits of Canadian openness and generosity. Canadians want a responsible, rules-based immigration program that benefits the entire country. That’s simply not what the Trudeau government has offered.

That's the end of the quote, Mr. Chairman.

To be clear, the Conservatives are steadfastly pro-immigration. Under our previous Conservative government, we oversaw historic levels of immigration each year. The difference here is that we knew how to properly plan and manage it to ensure that newcomers and Canadians alike had faith that it was working in a fair manner. Instead of fixing the problems they have created with border crossings and increasing wait times, the Liberals have launched a pro-immigration campaign to convince the public this government is in fact managing immigration well. Nothing to see here, Mr. Chairman.

Members of this committee consistently hear about the benefits of immigration through our work here. However, we should avail ourselves of the opportunity provided by this motion to dig into the nuts and bolts of the minister's levels plan to see if we're providing Canadians with the best possible immigration policy or if we are doing our economy a disservice.

It has been noted the Liberals have reduced the focus on economic class migrants by a number of percentage points in terms of the overall total in favour of family class migrants. In 2015, the numbers were 63% economic class, 24% family class and 13% refugees, protected persons and humanitarian class. By 2021, under the minister's numbers, that shifts to 51% economic class, 30% family class and 19% refugees, protected persons and humanitarian class.

While family class and refugees are important and a demonstration of Canadians' openness to immigration, Canadians also expect our immigration policies to support the economy and our job market. By reducing the percentage of economic class migrants in the overall number, the minister may be undermining Canadian support for robust immigration numbers. Labour shortages in certain parts of the country and certain industries are acute. As members here know and understand, employers need access to a robust labour market to continue our economic growth, and migration is an important source of labour—especially as Canada's population ages. Our worker-to-retiree ratio is dropping quickly and we need access to labour to maintain our economy and social programs.

Mr. Chairman, Canadians support that.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm just going to interrupt you for one minute. I will let you continue after because it's your right to have the floor as long as you need for this.

I just want to explain to the witnesses that obviously this is an opportunity for you to stay and see the work of the committee; however, you also have the opportunity to take a break. My instinct is that this could go on a while.

Out of respect for you, as professionals, and for your time—you may be open to this—a procedural point is that once a member has the floor in any meeting, he or she may bring forward a motion that is in order. There was a motion we appropriately had a notice of motion for, a brief motion from Mr. Tilson. He is in order to present this motion today, and he is in order to continue his comments as long as he doesn't repeat, which he has not. Thank you. He can continue on for as long as he would like.

I just wanted to give you two notice that this could go on for a while. You're welcome to stay, and you're welcome to have lunch.

Mr. Tilson.

4:10 p.m.

Associate Director, Global Migration Lab, University of Toronto, As an Individual

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As I have indicated, our worker-to-retiree ratio is dropping quickly, and we need access to labour to maintain our economy and social programs. Canadians support that. We mustn't lose sight of that important fact. Under this government, Canada has dropped on the OECD rankings for immigrant employment. Additionally, the average earnings of economic migrants have dropped 6% under Trudeau. With all this spending, what are they actually doing to help new Canadians who are playing by the rules?

There are other factors at play when it comes to support for immigration levels as well. The government's handling of the illegal border-crossing situation, and all the fallout from it, is certainly testing the public's patience and confidence in the government's ability to maintain integrity in our immigration system.

The Province of Ontario has asked for $200 million to handle the increased costs they've had to incur to deal with the influx from Roxham Road in Quebec. To date, the federal government only plans on reimbursing $50 million for Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

I submit, Mr. Chairman, that this is not a good way to increase public confidence in our immigration system.

We see Canadians' concerns reflected in last week's report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, regarding costs associated with illegal migration at our southern border. He noted that it currently costs $14,321 per migrant, which he predicts will rise to $16,666 in 2019-20. This means that at current levels we're talking $340 million for the last fiscal year, rising to $396 million in 2019-20. This is just the federal costs that they were able to nail down.

As this committee knows very well, there are huge burdens on the provinces and municipalities in terms of housing, education, and social and integration services that are not reflected in these numbers.

The border security minister is quoted as saying the system is working. Mr. Chairman, try telling that to the IRB, which is buckling under the load being imposed by these numbers. Their backlog is just shy of 65,000. This is well beyond their capacity to handle. The wait times are going nowhere but up, which isn't fair to either those coming in via normal channels or to border crossers.

Canadians are watching this and wondering why this government can't seem to manage their immigration system in a way that is orderly, planned, fair and compassionate. This is what Canadians expect, but it's not what they're getting.

Further eroding public support in our immigration system is a new loophole—“a loophole within a loophole”, my colleague, Ms. Rempel, calls it. Canada Border Services Agency officers have identified a phenomenon where one claimant enters Canada illegally and acts as an anchor relative to other family members. Those family members can then enter at a port of entry and not be considered illegal migrants. The PBO asked for data, but the CBSA said it's not currently being tracked.

This means that a migrant can cross into Canada from the United States of America between official entry points, avoiding the safe third country agreement that would otherwise have made them ineligible. Once a claim has been made, the migrant can access Canada's generous welfare system, as he or she navigates the asylum claims process that gives them multiple hearings and appeals. In the meantime, they can effectively sponsor other members of their family, who can arrive as regular migrants, also avoiding the safe third country agreement.

Due process should work both ways. In this case, the integrity of this system is being violated.

The anchor relative position does not just apply to nuclear families, but to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. The obvious solution is to close both loopholes in the safe third country agreement, amend it so it applies between official points of entry and more tightly define who migrants can bring in.

It's incumbent on the government not only to have solid numbers to back up the economics behind the levels plan, but to put in the hard work required to maintain and increase public support for it. The minister may well have the economics to support his numbers, but simply laying out a policy and saying that this is the way it is going to be doesn't guarantee buy-in from Canadians, nor is it acceptable to demonize those who may not share the government's views for whatever reason.

This committee understands the need for an orderly, rules-based and compassionate immigration system. It's up to the government to make that case to Canadians much more effectively than has been the case for the past couple of years.

An August survey by the Angus Reid Institute set off alarm bells. The consensus that has characterized Canadian attitudes toward immigration for the past four years is in danger of shattering. The poll found that the number of respondents who felt immigration levels should stay the same or be increased, which has registered at over 50% for 40 years, had fallen to 37%. Half of those surveyed said that they would prefer to see the federal government's 2018 immigration target of 310,000 new permanent residents be reduced.

This must be treated as a warning to the government. It needs to do a better job of managing Canada's immigration system in a planned, orderly and compassionate way, and it needs to do it now.

It's clear that the public's patience is wearing thin when it comes to this government's handling of our immigration system. They are not impressed by the government yelling “racist” every time someone questions its stewardship of the system. There are legitimate questions to be asked. There are systemic failures at play.

This is something that I think the minister needs to explain to this committee. The long-held consensus in Canada that strong immigration is a net benefit for the country is being challenged by Canadians themselves. The case for it can be made, most certainly, and it's the minister's responsibility to tell us how he plans to do it.

In closing, I believe that this committee has a duty to examine the policies set forth by this government that fall within our mandate. No one would argue that the immigration levels plan falls outside of our mandate. This topic is certainly important enough to warrant its own meeting with the minister.

I have one final note, Mr. Chairman, as we approach the Christmas season. As my colleague Ms. Rempel indicated in a response to you, we are amenable to leaving this meeting until the new year so that we can continue with our work on the current study.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you.

I have Ms. Kwan on the list.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I just want to make a quick comment here. It's interesting to note that the Conservatives decided to basically filibuster this committee meeting with expert witnesses offering their expertise on forced migration in South America. I can't help but speculate as to why that might be. It might be because they recognize that the expert testimony, time and again in terms of the information they provided, undermines, frankly, the rhetoric that the Conservatives espouse, particularly related to the safe third country agreement and particularly related to the fact that the U.S. is not a safe country anymore for many of these inland asylum claimants.

The issue, of course, is that the experts are clear, over and over again at this committee and elsewhere when they say that the agreement should be suspended. The Conservatives are, of course, trying to suppress that aspect of it, and they are suggesting that the entire border should have the safe third country agreement applied to it.

On and on this goes. I don't disagree with having the minister come back. In fact, at the last committee meeting, I called for the minister to come back. The Liberal members voted against it, which is unfortunate. The minister should see the light of day and answer questions that are pertinent and important for committee members, but it's disappointing to me that the Conservative member has decided to filibuster this committee meeting in that context, and in some ways, I suppose, I'm not that surprised, given their position and perspective on asylum seekers.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Mr. Tilson.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Just to respond to that, Mr. Chairman, I rather resent the NDP member saying that this is a filibuster. This notice of motion was made some time ago. All members saw it. If they know me, they know that when I make a notice of motion, I'm serious about it. I just don't make notices of motion for the heck of it. I do it because I sincerely believe it. I've even talked to you privately about having a meeting with the minister to discuss the levels plan, and I still want that.

There has been no time set aside by this committee for me to make this motion. It's unfortunate that the member thinks that I am trying to block the evidence that's being given today, but it's the only time I have. I don't know when else I can do it other than today. We're not having a meeting on Thursday. I could have done it then, but the meeting has been cancelled.

I'm simply saying this is an important motion. This is an important topic. Much of it fits into the study we are processing as we speak, so it is most relevant, I would hope, that the members of the government would support this motion and have the minister attend the meeting with officials to explain his rationale for the levels plan and justify where he intends to go in the years ahead.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Mr. Maguire.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I would just like to reiterate that I believe all members, including my colleague from the NDP who has just indicated that she is not against having the minister appear before us.... There is a very important question here with regard to my colleague Mr. Tilson's presentation on the need for more information and perhaps some explanation on a number of these areas that he has pointed out today.

I'd be fully in favour of having the minister appear before us as well.

Thank you.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm going to read the motion, seeing no other hands up:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and departmental officials to update the Committee on the 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, including Canada's immigration Plan for 2019-21.

All in favour?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

I'd like a recorded vote, Chair.

(Motion negatived: nays 5; yeas 4)

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

We have come to 4:30, which is the time for our second panel to begin, so I'm afraid I need to thank the witnesses.

Witnesses, if you want to stay on and listen to the next panel, you're invited to do so. We can then ask questions of any of you, but I also recognize that your time is valuable. That really will be up to you. If you'd like to stay, you're welcome.

We'll need a small suspension for a minute to make sure our next group of witnesses is available.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

We're going to call the meeting back to order.

I'll just let you know what is going on. Professor Smith is going to stay and be available for questions. Mr. Stewart has left. We have two individuals on telephone: Professor Basok, whom we had here on October 25, when she presented a statement but didn't have time for questions; and Professor Duhaime from Montreal, who we also saw on October 25 and who will be available for questions. On telephone as well, we have Ivan Briscoe, program director for Latin America and Carribean for the International Crisis Group, who is in Bogatá and was called at the suggestion of Sofia Martinez Fernández.

I just want to check whether any of the witnesses would like to have a statement. Professor Basok and Professor Duhaime have already made statements, and we've had a statement from the ICG, but Mr. Briscoe might want to make a statement.

Mr. Briscoe are you there?

4:35 p.m.

Ivan Briscoe Program Director, Latin America and Caribbean, International Crisis Group

I'm here. Thank you very much.

Good afternoon.

I don't feel any great need to make a statement. I would be perfectly happy to just answer your questions as they come up.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Very good.

Let's begin. We're going to start with Mr. Tabbara.

You have seven minutes to ask questions with respect to migration and Latin America.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all those who are still there, whether you are on teleconference or video conference. We appreciate your presence here.

My first question will go Dr. Basok. From your research, what strategies and programs are being implemented to manage the status of these irregular migrants? How can these programs be improved to provide more comprehensive status regularization mechanisms for them?

4:40 p.m.

Prof. Tanya Basok Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor, As an Individual

Since 2010, there have been two status regularization programs, one in 2015 and one in 2017.

The number of migrants that they were able to regularize is relatively low, as I said in my presentation in October. The major obstacles are lack of knowledge about the procedures on the part of front-line immigration officials, inadequate communication channels to make migrants aware of status regularization programs, financial costs of the program and complicated procedures. Migrants are required to bring many documents and sometimes it's difficult for them to obtain the documents that they need to bring. These are the major obstacles.

How can the system be improved? I think training for the front-line immigration officials who receive documents would be a must. Another must is better communication channels for migrants, particularly in rural communities. There are many undocumented migrants who reside in remote communities. They are not aware of the regularization programs, but also they are afraid to travel to major cities because of immigration checkpoints. It would be good to have some arrangements made that they would receive some kind of a pass, so they would be able to travel to urban centres without fear. Another improvement would be the reduction of costs and maybe simplification of some bureaucratic procedures.

December 4th, 2018 / 4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you.

My next question will be to, I believe, the first witness, Mr. Smith. You mentioned that El Salvador had 49% of its GDP lost because of violence and that was close to the losses in GDP to some failed states that we see: South Sudan, Afghanistan, etc.

I'm reading a report here that was released not too long ago by CIGI, the Centre for International Governance Innovation. On page 8, it says “The Venezuelan Exodus”. It's talking about the mass movement of migrants out of Venezuela. I'll read you some numbers. “Estimated Venezuelan population in the major destination countries as of July 2018” and it just shows the mass exodus of Venezuelans going to Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Equador—basically large neighbouring countries.

As you've heard in the first hour, the opposition was mentioning that there are too many asylum seekers coming, but we can see these numbers that are coming from Latin America and not too far a distance from us. This is something that governments need to take into consideration, similar to the global compacts that we have discussed. Can you tell us what would happen if countries don't sign onto the global compact? What we're seeing in Venezuela we could see in other countries like El Salvador, with the numbers that you've shown with GDP losses, etc.

4:45 p.m.

Associate Director, Global Migration Lab, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Craig Damian Smith

This is precisely the purpose of the global compacts. We really need to understand, and I said this last week, that the compacts came about after two years of negotiation and consultation and, therefore, reflect a balance of interest between host states and donor states.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's in donor states interests, like Canada's, to ensure that there's the capacity for these mass migration and reception events in the host states in regions of origin. It's slightly ethically ambiguous to state this, but doing that prevents the types of irregular migration dynamics that we could see in Canada. We want to do our best to attenuate those beforehand, and the cheapest and most expedient way to do that is through the compacts in regions of origin.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

I want to remind some of our witnesses who were here that the past government did have cuts to border security of around $300 million plus. We've reinvested $2.7 million into expanding our biometric screening. We've invested more into outreach strategies of $1.1 million. These are the types of things that our government has put forward. We understand the need, and as academics have shown and testified, this problem isn't going away. We need to be prudent in our investments and in solving these issues that may arise in our future.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you.

I need you to end there.

Mr. Maguire.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I move:

That the Chair send, on behalf of the Committee, a letter to invite the Auditor General to examine irregular migrants crossing in the southern border, and that this examination include a review of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the functioning of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration.

At this time, I'd like to walk through the reasons why I believe this committee would benefit from such a report.

Since January 2017, close to 38,000 people have illegally walked across the border and then claimed asylum. From the latest available data, 17,120 have been intercepted by the RCMP at the border so far in 2018 with the vast majority of these individuals crossing in Quebec. Contrary to the claims by Liberal ministers, the overall number of people intercepted by the RCMP is not declining. Comparing this year to last year, the number of people who crossed last year in the exact same period was 16,992.

While the numbers are comparable, saying that the number is declining is factually incorrect. It boggles the mind why Liberal ministers keep repeating that talking point when it is clearly wrong.

At our committee, we've had multiple appearances by ministers and departments but it wasn't until I requested a financial analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that we got a better understanding of what the total costs are across departments.

I want to thank the PBO and his staff for the report as it gives all of us around this table—

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, on a point of order, with respect to this current motion, it would appear to me that we actually have witnesses, expert witnesses available to us right now who could provide testimony on the very topic of interest before us in the motion and that by speaking to the motion, he's actually defeating our ability to get information from experts on irregular migration.

It's somewhat surprising. I'm not sure it violates the terms of order of the committee, but it just seems not to be using the committee's time.

I'm not sure if the motion is in order. When we have witnesses who can speak to the very topic and then someone brings a motion to ask them to speak to the topic, that violates all principles of logic.