Evidence of meeting #6 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was applications.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Hughes St-Pierre  Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Catrina Tapley  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Daniel Mills  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Marian Campbell Jarvis  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

In broad terms, Mr. Chiu, as I've already mentioned, we have an asylum system that allows those fleeing persecution and conflict to come to Canada. There is a process in place to assess those claims, and it is carried out by the Immigration and Refugee Board. We are making the necessary investments in the IRB and our asylum system, which sets a gold standard, in my view, around the world. I'm confident—

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Sorry, Minister, for interrupting, but your time is up.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

I'm happy to leave it there, Madam Chair.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

With that, we will now go to Ms. Martinez Ferrada for five minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Soraya Martinez Ferrada Liberal Hochelaga, QC

Madam Chair, I want to let you know that I'll be sharing my time with the member for Orléans.

Thank you, Minister, for being here.

We know that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on all immigration systems around the world. Certain situations have had a significant impact on the Canadian immigration system.

You've already touched on a few measures throughout your late-morning appearance before us. I want you to elaborate on the issues faced by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and also on the adjustments implemented.

You specifically spoke about foreign workers. However, I think that concrete action has been taken to help the immigration system and processes as a whole.

Can you also elaborate on the current measures during the easing of the lockdown? How do we return to a “normal” immigration system? What measures are in place to facilitate the immigration processes?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Thank you, Ms. Martinez Ferrada, for your question and for your work with our team and with the committee members.

I can give you several examples. The department created new processes, used new technology and established new teams with a mandate to prioritize the country's urgent needs.

I'll highlight a number of ways in which our department has responded to COVID-19.

As I've said, we've truly evolved in a number of ways. We've leveraged new technologies. We've set up new processes. We've stood up tiger teams to ensure that the urgent needs of Canadians around food, fuel and health are met, and that medical supplies are still flowing across our international borders. That is a concrete demonstration of the way our department has proven to be very resilient in meeting the needs of Canadians.

In the long run, I believe we will be able to take on some of those lessons and apply them equally to our longer-term plans in immigration, which of course are captured by our three-year levels plan.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Soraya Martinez Ferrada Liberal Hochelaga, QC

Madam Chair, how much time do I have left?

June 17th, 2020 / 12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

You have two minutes.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Soraya Martinez Ferrada Liberal Hochelaga, QC

Go ahead, Madam Lalonde.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-France Lalonde Liberal Orléans, ON

Thank you, Minister, for being here today.

As you know, the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for the entire government, particularly your department. You aren't the only ones affected by constraints and changes.

I would like you to talk to us about border closures. They are commonplace around the world. In this public health situation, we have had to make decisions here in Canada, as we've seen around the world, to keep Canadians safe.

Minister, could you tell us a bit more about the circumstances surrounding the closure of the Canada-U.S. border? What considerations and adjustments were needed to maintain the functionality of the border that sustains our Canadian industries?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Certainly, the interim non-essential travel ban, which we have entered into on a reciprocal basis with the United States, is truly an extraordinary moment. I think it demonstrates the high degree of collaboration that exists between our two countries as we share the longest unguarded border in the world. It has proven to effectively eradicate all non-essential travel, and for good reason.

You asked about the context in which we arrived at this interim agreement. It's, as I said, to help reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19, which has proven to be very contagious.

One of the ways in which we have accomplished that goal is by coming up with this agreement. It's extended for another 30 days, and it's an agreement that has worked well to protect the health and safety of all Canadians.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Minister, your time is up.

We will now move to Mr. Hallan.

Mr. Hallan, you have five minutes.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jasraj Singh Hallan Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Thank you, Minister, for being here.

Also, thank you again to your staff for all their help throughout this process we're all going through.

The supplementary estimates ask for an allocation of $200 million to the interim housing assistance program.

When was the minister first aware that a significant allocation in the magnitude of hundreds of millions of dollars for the program would be necessary?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Thank you, as well, for the kind remarks at the outset.

The short answer, Mr. Hallan, is that this is an ongoing priority. Our need to invest in interim housing and supports to facilitate the integration of asylum seekers and refugees is one on which we have been collaborating with provinces and municipalities for some time, so it's an ongoing need.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jasraj Singh Hallan Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Okay.

The departmental plan indicates a significant net decrease from the 2019-20 forecast spending to the 2020-21 budgetary spending total. The plan attributes the significant net decrease largely to grants and contributions related to the interim housing assistance program and the initiatives for the resettlement of Syrian refugees, for which funding would have ended on March 31, 2020.

Can the minister confirm that this funding was set to expire March 31, 2020?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Yes, and that doesn't obviate the need for us to continually assess what the needs of provinces and municipalities are, but you're quite right in your summary. Part of the reason we were adjusting those funding levels was to reflect the fact that the significant work that had gone into the Syrian resettlement program was starting to sunset, but that in no way has altered significantly the rate at which we have seen asylum seekers come to Canada.

The year 2020 will prove to be an exceptional one for the obvious reason that there has been much in the way of disruption around travel, but our commitment to having a robust asylum system remains, and that requires the investments that are outlined in the supplementary estimates, which I hope to bring forward shortly.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jasraj Singh Hallan Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Thank you.

Knowing that this funding was going to end, was there always an intent to request additional funding, grants and contributions related to this program?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Again, Mr. Hallan, as I said, these are ongoing needs. We are continually assessing internally, within our department, what the appropriate allocations are, what the appropriate funding levels are.

Part of this is also driven by events that can be difficult to predict, as we have seen. There is, I think, an exercise that does require taking a look at historic levels and needs, which I believe are informed by the evidence, by the data and the statistics around the rates at which we are seeing asylum seekers come to Canada, and sometimes by circumstances that may be difficult to anticipate.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jasraj Singh Hallan Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Thank you.

The 2018-19 departmental results report states that up to $474 million was previously set aside to provide financial support to affected provinces and municipalities for interim housing costs incurred. Has all of the $474 million been spent?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

My recollection is that the answer is no, but again, that does not mean we should not be bringing forward the supplementary estimates request.

I will defer to my officials if they have a more precise answer on that question.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

You have one minute left.

12:30 p.m.

Hughes St-Pierre Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Yes, Madam Chair. The department will have spent, as of June 2020, $371.5 million in interim housing so far.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jasraj Singh Hallan Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Thank you for that.

Can the minister please provide an update on the anticipated immigration levels for this year?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

A 30-second answer, please.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Very briefly, Mr. Hallan, I hope to have a comprehensive update in the fall. In the meantime, I want to assure members of this committee that we continue to land immigrants as a result of the alternative processes that our department has stood up throughout COVID-19.

We are very concerned that immigration continue to be a draw for economic immigrants and that it allows us to reunite families and to live up to the long-standing tradition that we will protect the world's most vulnerable.