House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was heritage.


Department Of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint John- Veterans affairs.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Victoria-Haliburton.

Department Of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to join the debate and once again speak in support of Bill C-53, an act to establish the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Bill C-53 must be recognized as part of a greater reorganization of government. This reorganization will allow for a more efficient organizational structure in the department which in the long run will prove of greater benefit to the Canadian taxpayer, something all of us should be in favour of.

Although this department had its beginning under the previous government in June 1993, the current government of which I am a member has improved the department markedly. I am pleased to say these improvements are reflected in many accomplishments of the department in the past year in the area of heritage conservation, official languages, national parks and amateur sports to name a few.

With this in mind, the government is now proceeding with the task of confirming the reorganization of the Department of Canadian Heritage to better serve all Canadians. I believe it is important to remember that this department serves a large group of Canadians, not special interest groups as some members across the floor have criticized. The department serves national parks across the country, amateur sports across the country, heritage sites across the country and numerous cultural exhibits across the country. It is truly a national department dealing with Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

In my riding of Victoria-Haliburton in Ontario I think of the Trent-Severn waterway system which has transported millions of people in the last 100 years. It allows users to travel from Trenton to Georgian Bay on a heritage waterway system. In particular, each summer as a direct result of the commitment to heritage by this department, I see the operation of a blacksmith shop along the Rideau Canal system which stretches from Kingston to Ottawa and contains numerous heritage locks. This operation shows the importance of heritage and history in Canada. Add to that the diligent work and commitment of the department in the Trent-Severn and Rideau Canal systems and its important heritage will be preserved for future generations.

Culturally, certain members opposite argue that if the free market does not support certain types of art then they should not be produced. There are many examples of experimental or cutting edge art which appear on display in our National Gallery here in Ottawa. Once again some members opposite see no bottom line need for these pieces of art when in fact some of the

art is worth considerably more now than the original purchase price. Art cannot be judged quickly or haphazardly.

Upon close examination and as a direct result of the department Canadian cultural industries have grown over 40 per cent from 1988 to 1992 when other industries saw their revenue and sales drop. In large part this is due to the benefits of programs like those for sound recordings, postal subsidies for book publishers, as well as film and video departments. As a matter of fact from 1987 to 1992 in Ontario alone the export of critically acclaimed books by Canadian writers increased about 70 per cent.

In addition, because the cultural industries rely so much on innovation and technology the jobs they create are of high skill, long duration and high value. Award winning books and movies, commercially successful theatre productions, million copy selling records and production facilities that attract international film producers are some of the areas in which Canada has become highly successful. All of these successes are signs of creative cultural industries that are increasing and growing each year. With those increases have come successful jobs and businesses for Canadians.

Canada's multiculturalism policy has the noble aim of promoting equal opportunity for all Canadians to participate in the social, cultural, economic and political life of our great nation. I would also like to encourage some members opposite to become aware and consult with those Canadians who are grateful for the multiculturalism policy and its benefits.

Our multiculturalism policy is an effort by responsible government to help Canadians understand one another and develop tolerance. Diversity does not divide us; it can only enrich our society. It is important to remember that if Canada wants to remain competitive in an ever shrinking world, we must pool our resources of diverse cultures and people.

I must commend the members opposite for their continued efforts to find something wrong with the department of heritage. It is apparent they cannot find anything. They cannot find anything new to say about the department until they read it in some newspaper. Perhaps they should concentrate on the fine effort put forth by the minister and his department as well as the policies and issues they manage. I believe if the members opposite focused on this instead of their theatrics, they would agree with me when I urge the passage of Bill C-53.

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4:55 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to address Bill C-53, an act to re-organize the Department of Canadian Heritage.

I must confess I learn fascinating things when I come to the House and listen to some of the comments made by the members across the way. It was fortunate for the hon. member, and I have to be careful how I say this, that a couple of his colleagues came in to give him some support, otherwise it would have been worked pretty thin.

I found out that there are four founding cultures in Canada. That is very interesting. I wonder if they all happened to set foot on Canada's soil at the same time, or whether they came in from four corners and met in the middle. It sounds rather odd. I found out that if we did not have a massive Department of Canadian Heritage we would not have heritage locks in the member's riding. That was quite enlightening, I must admit.

What we really need to do is rethink the very reason for the existence of this ministry rather than talk about some tinkering or on some reorganization of the department and the ministry.

Earlier I believe my colleague from Edmonton-Strathcona referred to Neil Bissoondath and made some remarks on Mr. Bissoondath's position on multiculturalism. I cannot remember if he quoted from his book or not, but I came across an editorial dealing with Mr. Bissoondath's latest book.

The editorial was written in the Vancouver Sun published on November 14. I would like to bring this to the attention of the House. To my knowledge this was not written by a Reform Party member but it quite closely shadows the position taken by Reform on multiculturalism. If I have some time remaining I would also like to bring a few other issues to the attention of the House, but the editorial in the Vancouver Sun reads:

Neil Bissoondath's latest book, a non-fiction examination of the federal multiculturalism policy, is provoking timely discussion of both the merits and the cost of the policy.

Mr. Bissoondath, a Canadian who originated in Trinidad, argues that the policy does not promote understanding and acceptance but instead underscores differences and thereby divides Canadians. Is he right? Is the multiculturalism department of the Canadian heritage ministry doing more harm than good, and would the $26 million spent annually on grants be better used to reduce the deficit?

It sounds a bit like a Reformer asking these questions but it is the Vancouver Sun . It would be foolish to chuck multiculturalism on the mistaken notion that it exists to finance folk-dancing jamborees. Some money may still find its way there but much of it provides substantial support to immigrants trying to fit into Canadian society.

There is support for ethnic communities struggling with intergenerational conflict for seminars to examine family violence and for cross-cultural training for institutions like the police.

While these aspects of the policy seem to attract support for many immigrants and other Canadians, the downside worries some of them. For Mr. Bissoondath, the downside is the weakening of the Canadian fabric as newcomers are stuck with hyphenated labels and end up neither simply Canadian nor whatever they were before they came here.

Some immigrants describe the downside in terms of stolen dignity. Others argue that the policy ghettoizes newcomers instead of encouraging them to develop loyalty to their new land. On the basis of what immigrants themselves are saying, it seems clear that the policy, now more than 20 years old, is due for an overhaul. It does not say a reorganization. It says an overhaul.

The financial crunch provides another reason for an examination of the multiculturalism program just as it does in the case of the Canada Council with its $98 million budget this year, amateur sport with $64 million, Advocacy for Women $8 million and so on.

On a per capita basis, multicultural grants cost each Canadian less than $1. Some of the projects seem worth much more than $1 but in other cases $1 is too much. Why is any money spent on poster and button campaigns against racism or on teaching Armenian?

If Armenians or any ethnic group wants their kids to be able to speak their language, they should find the money for it in their own pockets. Government funding for this kind of language training speaks to Mr. Bissoondath's point about the policy's role in fragmenting Canadians by giving groups a heightened sense of their own ethnicity.

It also confirms native Canadians in their disinclination to embrace immigrants as full citizens. We do not suggest that Canada should opt for the U.S. style melting pot, but our cherished mosiac feels a bit battered. It is time to rethink multiculturalism, its purpose, effects and costs in dollars and cents.

Thanks to Mr. Bissoondath, whose foreign roots make him uniquely qualified to debate multiculturalism, it is now on the agenda along with everything else. I concur in the thought that this ministry needs to be rethought rather than reorganized.

When I spoke to amendments to the bill I talked about the dozens of agencies and organizations that answer to the Ministry of Canadian Heritage. They range from the CBC to the museums and multicultural programs. I cannot help but wonder if many of these institutions could better serve Canadians from the private sector or whether they should have their funding reduced or eliminated altogether. Perhaps their functions could be better performed within other departments and under other ministries.

For example, I believe we could seriously consider cutting all the funding to institutions such as the status of women in Canada and, as I mentioned earlier, multicultural grants.

Another area where federal spending is unnecessary is on official languages. Why do we need an official languages commissioner? By making this a responsibility of the provinces and private organizations, more relevant service can be delivered with considerable savings to the federal treasury.

Under the Department of Canadian Heritage we have a National Battlefields Commission. I am sure that the forming of that is necessary, but perhaps it could fall under the jurisdiction of the defence department if there was no Canadian heritage ministry.

Then we have the Race Relations Foundation. It sounds like perhaps there may be some justification in that. It is hard to say but if there is perhaps that would fit under justice. Certainly it seems odd that we would want to indicate that race relations were part of our Canadian heritage. It almost has a negative connotation. It is not something we want to be part of our heritage but if there is a problem, it is something we want to fix.

The Public Service Commission might more appropriately fall under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Board.

There are perhaps some things we should do with the CBC. If you asked the average Canadian what they saw as the most outstanding example of Canadian heritage I wonder whether they might talk about our people and the qualities of our people, or whether they might talk about our environment and the wonderful land that we have. I doubt very many would point to the CBC, especially to Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, which certainly could be merged and probably privatized at a great reduction in cost to Canadian taxpayers.

I hate to even mention this because it has been mentioned so many times, but the museums are funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage. I wonder if they could not possibly be privatized as well. Maybe then the people that enjoy these museums would find things that would cause them to want to come to the museum rather than be disturbed by what they saw in some of these museums. It certainly would eliminate some of the boondoggles like the current museum being built in the Prime Minister's riding, I would add again, at great cost to the taxpayers and a study indicating that this thing is doomed to failure.

We find that after thoroughly and objectively reviewing all of the current responsibilities of the agencies of the Minister of Canadian Heritage that this minister may not be required at all. It is possible that once all the unnecessary or obsolete spending is removed there will not be enough left to justify a ministry at all. Perhaps the remaining justifiable responsibilities could be provided by other ministries. We believe that this would provide some savings to Canadian taxpayers.

I will take just a couple of minutes in wrapping up to indicate what they might be. There could be one less car and driver for a minister. There could be one less big office with minister's staff. There could be one less multimillion dollar MP pension plan to pay out, topped up by taxpayers. There would be less chance of letters of intervention to the CRTC if we removed the Minister

of Canadian Heritage. There would be less chance of conflict of interest. The smaller the cabinet the less chance there would be of conflict of interest. There would be one less typical Liberal bigwig to worry about.

I close by again saying let us rethink whether we even need a Department of Canadian Heritage, whether we would be better off in this country and have a better heritage if we had no Minister of Canadian Heritage. Let us rethink this whole thing rather than reorganize it.

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5:05 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, the reorganization proposed in Bill C-53 to make the Department of Canadian Heritage a promoter of Canadian culture from coast to coast is in fact a direct attack by the federal government on Quebec's specificity, in terms of its culture, language and cultural institutions.

This is evidenced by the inclusion of the Canadian culture in Canada's new foreign policy and it demonstrates once again the growing desire of the federal government to marginalize Quebec's specificity by imposing an all encompassing Canadian multiculturalism. This desire was very clearly expressed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage in his speech on Bill C-53, when he said: "We hope to rally the mighty forces of multiculturalism behind a cultural identity that is uniquely Canadian".

The objective is clear. Since the only references made in that speech to French culture in Canada concern the official languages and TV5, we have to conclude that the government feels it must absolutely manage to bring not only Quebec culture but also native culture into the supposedly ideal context of multiculturalism, considering the ever present and ever powerful American culture.

In such a context, you can easily imagine that the Official Opposition feels it would be suicidal to support Bill C-53.

In spite of the noble statements made by the minister, a man of letters if there ever was, how can the Canadian Parliament not be concerned to see today's culture, including our authors and creative artists-what I would call heritage in the making-be considered like an industry such as steel, footwear or poultry?

For example, who will have the last word on the review of the Copyright Act? The Minister of Industry or the Minister of Canadian Heritage? Chances are that the Minister of Industry will keep the powers already vested in him, since nothing in Bill C-53 clearly states how responsibilities are to be divided between the two departments.

Here is another example that should ring an alarm bell in this House. Thanks to the information highway, communications will soon reach a speed of Mach 2. Is it reasonable to reduce the whole issue to the marketing of fibre optics?

Yet, that is the conclusion we must reach since the Minister of Industry will be the one in charge. They are thus refusing to admit that the major technological revolution generated by the information highway will no doubt transform global culture quickly and dramatically.

It is often said that war is too serious to be left to generals. Could it be that a society's culture is too precious to be left to technocrats and businessmen?

I think that Quebec culture is too precious to be left in the hands of the federal government. The state of Quebec must be the only authority responsible for Quebec culture.

Quebec's historical demands in the field of culture have always been based on the recognition of its specific identity and on the desire of the Quebec government to be the only one in charge of promoting and defending Quebec culture. Examples of this political will are not lacking. In 1966, at a meeting on Canada's tax system, Premier Johnson said that Quebec must be the master of its decisions concerning cultural development.

In 1969, Premier Bertrand said that cultural affairs were in Quebec's jurisdiction. In 1973, under Robert Bourassa, Quebec wanted to take back control of all cultural policy, including the federal funding for it. In 1976, Quebec proposed that each province alone legislate on issues concerning the arts, literature and cultural heritage.

More recently, in 1991, the Bélanger-Campeau Commission mentioned the need for Quebec to have exclusive jurisdiction and responsibility for social, economic and cultural development. The same year, the Arpin Report, commissioned by the Quebec government at that time, said this: "We can conclude that overlap between the two levels of government clearly exists in terms of structures, programs, target groups and even legislation and fiscal measures. . . Harmonizing the action of the two levels of government has always been difficult. The federal government never wanted to recognize Quebec's precedence in cultural affairs".

For more than thirty years, the federal government, on the strength of its spending power, has meddled without any scruples in culture. The purpose of these incursions was clearly to downplay the impact of Quebec culture. The result has been to

promote duplication and overlap, while making the arts community dependent on federal largesse.

The federal cultural offensive reflected in Bill C-53 is only the tip of the iceberg. Consider the report of the Special Joint Committee reviewing Canadian Foreign Policy, which confirms Ottawa's resolve to subject Quebec culture to federal standards.

The dissenting report tabled by the Official Opposition condemns this attempt by the federal government to dilute Quebec's distinct identity by stirring it into a Canadian sauce of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Clearly, the sauce makes the dish.

The Official Opposition maintains, and I quote: "Where culture is concerned, the direction of Canada's foreign policy, as prescribed in the majority report, is based on the theory of a single nation, one single culture (so-called Canadian culture), and the resulting requirement that all the provinces must have equal status".

To the Official Opposition, it is clear that "the principles of bilingualism and multiculturalism, which form the political bases for defining so-called Canadian culture, have the effect of denying the existence of Quebec culture, which is original and which developed essentially from its French origins, with contributions from the British, the aboriginal peoples and, more recently, the various immigrant communities".

Quebec will never let its culture be beholden to the federal government. The Official Opposition vigorously condemns this blatant attempt to make Quebec subject to federal dictates.

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5:15 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address Bill C-53 once again. It is my pleasure to talk about the various aspects of the Department of Canadian Heritage and to suggest that what is really needed when we talk about this department is not just a superficial streamlining of the department but a complete overhaul starting with many of the departments that reside within the Department of Canadian Heritage, including specifically departments like multiculturalism, the Canada Council, the National Film Board, status of women, CBC and many more.

Let me talk about some of these different departments on an individual basis and suggest that in some cases we could do completely without them.

Let me talk first about the department of multiculturalism, something many Reformers have talked about already. Hon. members from across the way have suggested that if there were not a department of multiculturalism somehow there would be no multicultural diversity in Canada. That is a crazy notion.

I remind members across the way that when we settled the west in this country we had cultures from all over the place. We did not need a department of multiculturalism. Those people had their own cultures, they preserved them with their own money, which is a new concept for Liberals. It is something that is still done today. People do not need the government to tell them they need to preserve their culture. They will preserve their culture if they see fit with their own funds. That is what makes sense to most Canadians.

For some reason this government has decided that some cultures are more deserving than others, that there should be a list of priorities in terms of cultures and that some groups should get money and others should be shut out. I think that is very divisive.

I point out to the members across the way who have often said that Reformers offer no solutions on cutting spending, here is an area where we can cut spending, something like $21 million. We could cut it today, I would argue, and most Canadians would be very much in favour of it.

I want to talk for a moment about some of the other problems with the department of multiculturalism. A minute ago I said that sometimes I think having a department of multiculturalism creates division. As an extension of that, not all behaviours are equal. Some cultures advocate types of behaviours that are clearly not supported by most Canadians. For instance, some cultures suggest that women should be somehow subservient and that they should play a lesser role. I do not agree with that.

I think when we start to fund cultures and give people money to support cultures, it stops what has become a standard in Canada, sort of an ethical or moral standard from spreading into these other cultures where sometimes they do not treat people with respect on the basis of gender. That is something I very much oppose and I hope the government across the way would oppose as well. We can make the argument that the department of multiculturalism has outlived its usefulness.

I would also argue that when we see things like what the justice minister proposed on the weekend or what came out of his department, that there be something like a culture defence in law, I think we can see the danger of this whole attitude toward setting up special status for certain cultures and what it can lead to, possibly opening up a Pandora's box.

Thankfully Reformers were on guard for Canadians and quizzed the minister about this immediately. He backed away from it, and well he should have.

It is not because they saw this was flawed from the outset. It was only because Reformers jumped up, raised the point and forced the minister to back down and hopefully we will always be there to do that.

In the meantime we would certainly encourage the government members across the way to take another look at this whole department of multiculturalism and to acknowledge that this approach to governing can lead to division, can lead to some of these strange ideas in the justice system.

Another departmental organization that should be looked at in the Department of Canadian Heritage is the Canada Council. The Canada Council provides grants for all kinds of Canadian artists and people who should be and would be producing art anyway. We spend tens of millions of dollars through the Canada Council every year to pay people to produce what they at Canada Council call art.

I would argue that before there was a Canada Council and in spite of the Canada Council people still create art. I know in my own riding there are many people who are painters, writers, who are thrilled to try to produce art not because they get paid to do it but because it is a creative impulse that they have. In order to satisfy that impulse they produce art and all of society is enriched for it.

What I really like about it is taxpayers are not expected to pay for it. They are not expected to either fund the artist or to buy the art. Contrast that with the Canada Council where we have tens of millions of dollars going to publishers so that they can produce books from writers who are also funded and then of course they sit on shelves forever. I read a book actually that was funded by the Canada Council about the abuses in the Canada Council, believe it or not. It is a great irony that it is almost impossible to write a book in this country without it being funded by the Canada Council because those funds go directly to Canadian publishers. That is one of the strange ironies.

This particular writer talked about a warehouse being devoted to all these volumes of Canadian literature that people simply would not buy. They could not even give it away.

When they proposed to send packages of Canadian literature around to schools, even to prisons, they were rejected. I suspect rightfully so because at the end of the day beauty is in the eye of the beholder and people have to make these judgments for themselves.

I think that is the best argument of all for not having an organization like the Canada Council that completely distorts the marketplace and really cheapens the product because many very good Canadian writers are lumped together with the ones who are not very good. In the eyes of people who try to follow this they get a jaundiced view of Canadian culture because so much stuff comes out that is not good. It is funded by the government and people get a jaundiced view and at some point say perhaps all Canadian culture is not very good. That is very unfortunate. There is a lot of good stuff out there. Because of organizations like the Canada Council people get a prejudiced view of what we can produce in this country. That is very unfortunate.

Another institution that causes people to wonder about the government's spending of tax dollars is the National Film Board. My colleagues from the Reform Party in this House have raised the issue of a series of videos funded by the National Film Board on lesbian love. They were restricted videos, ones that contained very explicit scenes. This causes us to pause and wonder whether this government is serious really about cutting spending at all.

There are many millions of dollars spent by the National Film Board every year. Should there not be some strict guidelines that that say anything that is pornographic in nature or is x-rated should not be produced particularly with taxpayers' dollars when so many taxpayers would reject that?

That is not what the Liberals think. It begs the larger question of whether there should even be a National Film Board. It seems to be largely unaccountable.

I would argue that many private producers of films would love to step in and provide films for schools as is done actually in the United States. I had a lady in my own riding who came to me and said she would like to show National Geographic films in the school. She wanted to know how she could go about getting the rights to them. As it turns out it actually offers these to schools for free. The National Geographic Society is a society that is funded by individuals, not by taxpayers. Why could that not happen in this country? I would argue very strongly that it could.

Let us talk for a moment about the department for the status of women also under the aegis of the Department of Canadian Heritage. One of the jobs it has it seems unfortunately is to fund private interests including the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, a group that is highly politicized, very narrow in its focus and absolutely and completely does not represent the views of all Canadian women no matter what it tells us. If it is so certain of its position, if it really does believe that it represents Canadian women then it should go to Canadian women and get its funding from them directly. I would absolutely support it in doing that.

At this point in this country when we are in such a terrible fiscal situation I encourage the government to take a look at the complete Department of Canadian Heritage to seriously evaluate whether we need great gobs of that department and to really finally get its fiscal house in order.

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5:25 p.m.


Michel Daviault Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I realize I have only a few minutes. I have the pleasure to rise to speak for the second time on Bill C-53, An Act to establish the Department of Canadian Heritage.

When I first spoke on this bill, I pointed out that this department was a "grab bag" with a hodge-podge of programs, as a result of dividing up responsibilities and bringing together parts of federal departments.

I also stressed the very relative political say of the Minister of Canadian Heritage as compared to the real power of the Minister of Industry who would hold the purse strings.

I ended my remarks by denouncing the fact that the existence of Quebec's culture was completely ignored since the bill was totally silent on it. And finally, I noted the unfair treatment given by management to the French network of the CBC as compared to its English counterpart, mentioning that many regional stations had to shut down.

In this respect, in a brief submitted to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Mrs. France Dauphin, from the coalition for the defence of the French network of the CBC, raised a number of issues. For example, investment in programs per hour of broadcast time has increased by approximately $7,000 as far as the English network is concerned, but only marginally in the case of the French network. In just five years, from 1987 to 1992, investment rose from $30,500 to $37,500 at the CBC while rising from $17,500 to $18,300 at SRC. In other words, a mere five per cent increase for the French network, as compared to a 20 per cent increase for the English network.

I want to go back to an important aspect of this bill, namely the sharing of responsibilities. In our opinion, this legislation reflects a firm desire to make this department a tool of promotion, if not propaganda, for Canadian multiculturalism.

As for the management of this new department, I agree with the comments made by the member for Calgary Southeast to the effect that there is no management strategy or plan. However, I would say that the Liberals are "seemingly" giving the Department of Canadian Heritage very extensive powers, and in that sense we have every reason to question the rather mysterious mandate of this new department.

For example, why maintain this artificial sharing of culture and communications technology? This dichotomy was created by the Conservatives with culture and the management of the cultural industry.

The fact is that the Minister of Canadian Heritage is only left with responsibility for cultural content, while the Minister of Industry is responsible for the means of communication. In other words, he is the one who has real control.

Moreover, the Minister of Industry managed to set up a consultative committee on the electronic highway. This is another example of overlapping, duplication and lack of co-ordination within the federal administration itself. The telecommunications and cable television industries are converging on this new department of Industry and this is a source of concern to us because it may have a bearing on the Canadian content, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

The fact is that real power over Canadian culture is in the hands of the Minister of Industry. Moreover, by granting the CRTC exclusive power to set the rules governing telecommunications in Canada, Ottawa downplays Quebec's interests and puts them on a par with those of the industry and consumer groups, which goes totally against Quebec's traditional claims.

Finally, let us not forget that Quebec was excluded from the broadcasting and cable television sector in 1974, and then the telephony sector in June 1993, at the expense of the CRTC which was granted extensive regulatory powers, thus confirming Ottawa's control over the whole telecommunications industry.

Department Of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

moved that Bill C-249, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (right to citizenship), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to rise in the House today to speak on behalf of my private member's Bill C-249, an act to amend the Citizenship Act concerning the right to citizenship.

The bill amends the Citizenship Act so that a child who is born in Canada after December 31, 1994 will not have Canadian citizenship if at the time of his birth neither of his parents is a citizen or a permanent resident. However such a child will be granted citizenship when one of his parents becomes a citizen or a permanent resident and an application to that effect is made by the authorized person on behalf of the child.

This matter relates to concerns from my own constituency of Port Moody-Coquitlam and was further underlined in discussion as a member of the citizenship and immigration committee. Current events and policy descriptions made me increasingly aware of the weaknesses of and the necessity for change within the immigration system in Canada. Along with many other Canadians I can no longer passively accept the choices made for us by governments whose agenda for establishing policy in this area is dictated not by the realities of our country but too often by political and special interest agendas.

Canada's immigration and citizenship policies must work for the benefit of both the country and the new Canadian. It is of utmost important that both interests be served. Policies that hurt the country hurt the future of all citizens of that country.

It is from this conviction that Reform's policy springs. In order for the country to best serve the interests of both new Canadians and the Canadian born, the economic needs of the country must be given highest priority when setting targets and policy for immigration. We must come down hard on criminal abuse and put the safety of the Canadian community as the uppermost priority. We must deal with the reality that Canada has one of the most open immigration policies in the western world, in fact all the world, and that very openness has led to some of the worst abuses.

Where does the issue of my private member's bill fit into all this? Because of our open and subsequently abused immigration policy, especially in the area of visitors' visas and refugee claimants, the pride of citizenship in Canada may be the casualty. We have developed a category of citizenship by convenience for those who can easily circumvent the system.

Visitors can take advantage of citizenship of convenience. They can arrive with the sole purpose of having their child born in Canada to have Canadian citizenship. On our present visitor applications no questions are asked about such medical conditions. Visitors can stay in Canada for up to six months and need only legitimize their stay by naming a contact they wish to visit, or even the fact they have travelled before and have not yet visited Canada. There is an agreement that they will not work and must guarantee that they will return to their home country.

The system is established on the basis of trust and honesty and in turn Canada's hospitality has been abused. The possibility for an actual citizenship by birth industry becomes obvious where a fee for service is demanded for accommodations and arrangements for childbirth in Canada.

Under the present rules for a visitor who has a child born in Canada the child automatically becomes a Canadian citizen. Let us take, for example, the issue of the so-called passport babies reported in the Vancouver Sun in November 1993. They reported that the number of babies born to non-resident mothers in B.C. has been between 246 and 333 a year for the last three years according to B.C.'s vital statistics division. These numbers may be much higher as they do not take into account those maternity cases that only appear to be resident because of a B.C. address on their hospital records.

The Toronto Sun in January of this year reported that there were about 400 such births of non-residents last year in Canada. It reported that immigration officials find the trend disturbing and are now calling for changes to ensure the parent is either a citizen or a landed immigrant. The United States and Britain are clamping down on the practice and are tightening up their citizenship laws. One immigration worker was quoted in the article as saying that it was like buying Canadian citizenship when these mothers came here for the sole purpose of having their children born here.

The potential for abuse is wide open on this issue. It concerns all of us who place pride of ownership in the citizenship we hold so dear. The citizenship of convenience is available to those who are able to afford it by personally paying the cost of $1,500 a day for hospital coverage as well as the cost of staying in Canada for, say, a month previous to the birth. In other words Canadian citizenship can be bought for the price of $30,000. Here is yet another privilege for the wealthy and their provision for the future of their children. Might I add it may not have been such a great coincidence that the first child born in Vancouver in 1994 was to a mother without any permanent status in Canada.

I conducted a telephone poll in my riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam this spring on the issue of whether or not legislation should be introduced. Over two-thirds of the respondents said that the act must be changed to stop this type of abuse and the trivializing of Canadian citizenship.

Why is it important that Canadian citizenship not be given out so freely? Why should those who are born here, regardless of their parents' status or their intention to stay in the country, be deemed Canadian? As I have examined the issue it has become increasingly clear to me that there are very real consequences that relate to the very rights and privileges of citizenship we as Canadians hold dear.

Citizenship should come not only with a list of rights. It should also come with responsibilities which help make us better citizens and our country one of the very best to live in. This sentiment was repeated time and time again in the spring of this year as the citizenship and immigration committee conducted hearings on possible amendments to the act. It was on my initiative that the committee pursued the issue of citizenship of convenience by birth, and the committee unanimously agreed with the proposals.

New Canadians seldom take their place in Canada for granted. The freedoms we enjoy and the wealth and beauty of the land should make us all uniquely proud to be Canadians, but the pride in the land comes from participation and shared responsibilities for the future of our families and our communities.

As another witness so eloquently put it, nationhood is built around shared values, a shared history, indeed a shared commitment to the country. This calls for responsible interaction and a commitment to being in this country. It is a willingness to become part of the community and to be committed to the pursuit of learning together what it takes to make the country great.

In the case of passport babies there is no commitment to the country and there is no fulfilment of the responsibilities of citizenship. There is no growing up in the country or understanding what it takes to be a good citizen. There is no commitment to the country until the child possibly chooses to return at, say, age 18. Is the original motive simply to sponsor their parents when they arrive? The whole essence of the intrinsic value of citizenship is rendered meaningless and in the long term society is not strengthened or furthered in its advancement in terms of the contribution of its members.

Furthermore at any point in time as a citizen that child is entitled, after a minimal residency requirement, to complete medical coverage and full education rights as well as all other Canadian social programs. In the extreme case these children could grow up to a life of crime in their home country and then decide to come to Canada. Because of their birthright citizenship, there would be nothing we could do to prevent them from coming here even though it would be obvious they would not share the values or responsibilities we cherish.

For those whose parents use our freely given citizenship as only a means of security or convenience in the future there is no shared contract or demonstration that they are committed to our country. It is a convenient and easily obtained commodity for the future value it may hold. This is a flagrant abuse of the generous visitor system.

Preservation of the integrity of Canadian citizenship became part of another consideration within the refugee determination system. The complexity of the system in our country has led to abuse by those who make refugee claims as a means of circumventing the immigration system. We have created an inland refugee system in Canada where the process of determining the claim of status can take up to three or four years before a final decision is rendered. During that period life goes on and of course babies are born.

How can a rejected refugee claimant be asked to leave in a final determination when one or two children born here in Canada have citizenship? Those rendering the decision must take into account the fact that the children are Canadian and are entitled to all the accompanying rights and privileges of Canadian citizenship.

Let us examine for a moment the process so we can appreciate the factors that go into the delay that creates the dilemma. First, let us consider a bogus refugee claimant, an individual with absolutely no right to legal status but with intent to use the system. He or she is interviewed by a senior immigration officer to assess grounds for a claim. They are given at least one month to supply supporting data and more time is often requested. Most would have no such original documentation with them so they must create it.

They are also entitled to legal representation. On request legal aid will be provided to them. At that stage those claimants who fall into predefined categories are given an expedited hearing. All applicants are provided with a scenario for the qualifying categories of expedited hearing. The claimants then can tailor their claim according to what the government has given them as an outline.

A full hearing is held for others. There is usually a two to three month wait before the hearing can be convened. To this point the claimant has usually been in Canada for at least six months. The hearing takes place before a two-member board and both must agree on a decision not to grant refugee status, that is only one member must be convinced to grant refugee status.

If the claim is rejected a written statement of reasons must be given and these reasons will be examined by the Federal Court of Appeal. If rejected by the Federal Court there is a further review by the department on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The entire process can take two, three or even four years.

It is a fact that almost 80 per cent of refugee claimants eventually end up staying in Canada, even though only 35 per cent of claimants fit into the UN definition for convention refugee. Upon inquiry it seems impossible to garner data on how many of the 80 per cent are affected by the added consideration of having had children born in Canada.

It is unfortunate there are those who choose to abuse the very system designed to protect them. The vast majority of visitors and refugee applications are not seeking to use the present rules to their own end. The bill fully recognizes the need for provision for children born to bona fide participants in the due process of our refugee system. They will be fully recognized as citizens upon application after their parents have obtained their permanent status.

One consideration remains to be addressed. Some accommodation in law, perhaps through a simple amendment to the bill, is necessary to avoid a condition of statelessness for those born on Canadian soil. In conclusion, the present system that grants automatic citizenship to all those born in Canada regardless of their parents' residency status invites the intentional abuse of a shrinking and unpredictable world.

Immigration should provide access to those who choose to strengthen the fabric of their new home. The value of our citizenship and the value of our great country will be the sum of the values and the sense of belonging of its proud and prosperous people.

The practice of citizenship of convenience of birth must be addressed by this House. To thus raise the integrity of our citizenship process is to impute added pride and purpose to all Canadians, past, present and future.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam indicated before the debate began that she wished to share her time. Approximately seven minutes remain in the hon. member's time but I do not see the member who was going to share this time with her. Shall the Chair assume the time is not going to be shared?

Very well, the hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam has roughly eight minutes.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

November 16th, 1994 / 5:45 p.m.


Daphne Jennings Reform Mission—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I might ask you to help me out a little and let me known when my conclusion time approaches so I can maybe finish the sentence I am speaking.

I rise today to speak in support of my friend's private member's bill which deals with the growing problem of people coming to Canada just in time to give birth, their babies therefore gaining Canadian citizenship.

This bill would eliminate the conferring of Canadian citizenship on the baby unless one of the parents became a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada and an application is made on behalf of the child for it to become a citizen. The automatic conferring of citizenship would cease.

When I first was made aware of the situation of people coming to Canada to occupy our maternity wards to have children and then go back to their country of origin, I thought this to be an unusual state of affairs. It could be argued that Canadians should be flattered that people from other countries thinking so highly of Canada and the benefits which flow from Canadian citizenship that they will actually come to Canada to give birth.

As well, I understand that in the majority of cases people who are doing this pay for the medical care they receive. Therefore, what is the harm? The health care system is compensated. We should be flattered that people from around the world want to give their babies Canadian citizenship. It is difficult to argue that this is a method to ensure that 18 years hence the child will sponsor his or her parents into Canada as immigrants because the child, now 18, is a Canadian citizen.

I suppose there is a good chance this would eventually happen. I do not think this is the most grievous flow with the act as it is presently written. The Citizenship Act should be changed to that this practice of using Canada as a birth place of convenience stops. This practice should stop because to continue it is to make a mockery of the system we presently have in place by which people become Canadian citizens.

People come to Canada from all over the world. They come here for many reasons, but for the vast majority they come because Canada is a land of opportunity, a land of fairness and equality, a land where all are to be treated alike.

If this is true, and I believe it is, how do we reconcile the complicated procedure which immigrants and refugees have to go through to become Canadian citizens with the fact that a mother can come here for a few days, have a baby which automatically assumes Canadian citizenship and then leave? To my mind these two procedures cannot be reconciled and the latter must be eliminated.

Those who make a conscience decision to come to Canada and then to apply for Canadian citizenship do so because they have certain expectations about citizenship, what it is, what it means and what flows from it. These people understood what it means to be a Canadian citizen. They each must take an active part in building this country we all share.

A sense of being Canadian is something that can take time to develop. It means being part of a large family and as such it means assertion of certain rights and responsibilities that are based on our traditions and shared values.

Under the charter of rights there are certain guarantees that all Canadian citizens have: the right to vote in the federal and provincial elections, the right to be a candidate in federal and provincial elections, the right to enter, remain in or leave Canada, the right to earn a living and reside in any province, and minority language education rights.

Canadians also have other rights as citizens. They may have a Canadian passport. They may be considered first for some jobs. Along with these rights come responsibilities to strengthen our communities, participate in a political process, obey Canada's laws, eliminate discrimination and injustice, respect the rights of others, respect private and public property, care for Canada's heritage and support Canada's ideals.

Canadian citizenship today is I believe about all of us as citizens participating fully and equally in our national life. It is about promoting our national symbols and values and building a Canada where all of us can feel at home.

It is my belief that those who practice active citizenship strengthen our democracy, our national identity and our sense of responsibility for Canada, strengthen our relations with another, improve the quality of our institutions, help us deal with society's problems.

The oath of Canadian citizenship is taken by many people every year. It is a solemn declaration which places responsibilities on the person who takes it. It can only be taken after the applicant meets the following standards: is at least 18 years old, is lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence, has

lived in Canada for a total of three years in the four years immediately before applying for citizenship, can speak one of Canada's official languages, has enough knowledge about Canada including the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, is not under deportation order or in prison, has not been convicted of an indictable offence within the last three years and is not considered a threat to the security of Canada.

Even after meeting these standards, an interview must be held by a citizen court judge. I therefore urge all members of the House to support the bill to end the standard by which citizenship is dealt with in Canada.

Citizenship in my opinion should be used as a vehicle to promote an active critical participation in public affairs on the part of Canadians. Passage of this bill will show the world how seriously we value Canadian citizenship and all the benefits that flow therefrom.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regard this private members' bill as a very serious bill and one on which I am very pleased to speak.

Yet I cannot help feel that I have heard from Cassandra's prophets of doom and gloom who see conspiracies under every bush. One would swear that our shores are about to be invaded by pregnant women, plotting to have their babies on Canadian soil so that these cunning infants can somehow steal their Canadian citizenship and thereby threaten our national security.

It is really surprising to hear what I regarded as a very serious private members' bill treated so flippantly and lightly. I am surprised at that and I am really disappointed. I just hope that this invasion is not imminent of these pregnant women.

During the election campaign our government called on Canadians to examine our policies in the red book, to look at what we consider to be our priorities and commitments as a party. They responded rather clearly coast to coast to coast in the endorsement that they gave to this party.

The Reform Party members opposite who are interrupting and do not want to hear this, that is fine but Canadians are looking for that new decorum they speak of and it is interesting that it does not apply when they are hearing ideas with which they disagree.

Be that as it may, we acknowledge the importance of building a nation in which citizens view themselves not as isolated individuals or rival interest groups but rather as a mutually supporting community. Fundamental to such a vision is the need to build a Canada based on mutually held privileges and obligations.

It is difficult to promote the acquisition of Canadian citizenship without conveying a sense of the fundamental values that are inherent in that commitment.

At the present time our security is undergoing fundamental changes, serious changes. Canada is confronted with a variety of economic, cultural and social challenges and one of them is not this perceived invasion by pregnant women to have their babies on our shores.

We are faced with a serious need to integrate a population that is more culturally diverse than ever before into a society that is more complex than ever before.

As I said earlier today in this House, Canada is more than ever a polyglot nation. We draw from virtually every single culture in the world. The members on this side and the majority of Canadians regard that as one of our fundamental strengths, regard that as what it means to be Canadians, the essence of the Canadian identity.

It is not something to be feared, not something to be cut down and sliced down into a much more limited vision of what it means to be Canadian.

We need to develop a clearer sense about what we can expect from our new citizens and what this nation has to offer. To achieve this we need new citizenship legislation. We agree with that. We need a new Citizenship Act that will reflect the times.

Within the year this government will introduce new comprehensive citizenship legislation. It will provide a blueprint for Canadian society as we enter the 21st century.

I agree with the hon. member that Canadian citizenship is precious but it is not something to be hoarded and hidden away in some sort of xenophobic fear of those people who want to come here from these other countries.

It is something that should never be taken for granted. Citizenship encompasses civic rights, duties and responsibilities. It means defining the principles underlying our citizenship and democracy, including equality of opportunity, informed participation, respect for the Canadian rule of law, non-violence and mutual respect.

Such a vital issue is not something to be tinkered with lightly. Frankly I fear that the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam is doing that. The hon. member spoke about not trivializing Canadian citizenship. Then I heard and could not believe the latitude that was taken in the remarks she made and the litany about the perceived refugee problems. I think we ought to be very careful not to lump in problems real or perceived around the issue of refugees with citizenship and granting citizenship to new-born babies. I was frankly surprised to hear those remarks.

One cannot and should not make changes to citizenship lightly in a bit by bit, chip away at it fashion. It is much too important to be done in that manner.

It would be premature in my view if not irresponsible for this House to pursue in isolation just one small aspect of the citizenship question at this time. It would seem that there are members in this House, thankfully not on this side, who are obsessed with these perceived problems, almost seeming to me at times to border on xenophobic fear of people coming here from other nations. I am surprised to hear that.

Despite the protests from the members opposite at this time I am very surprised to hear this initiative repeated time and again. Our government has undertaken a review process which will help us to create stronger, better and more efficient citizenship legislation. A new bill will soon be tabled.

I accept the fact that the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam probably means well in her initiative but it is at the wrong time, it is far too small in its scope and it is simply something that needs to be done in a more comprehensive way.

When this occurs the appropriate time will come to address this issue more fully in what I say must be a comprehensive, responsible manner.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take part in this debate on Private Member's Bill C-249 to amend the Citizenship Act. The motion tabled on May 11, 1994, by the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam will ensure that a child born in Canada after December 31, 1994, will not have Canadian citizenship if, at the time of his birth, neither of his parents is a citizen or a permanent resident.

This issue was barely touched on in the consultation process carried out by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in June. At present, the Citizenship Act states that every person who is born in Canada is a citizen, except children of foreign diplomats and diplomatic staff. The existing Citizenship Act is 20 years old. It was not until November 1993 that the daily newspaper Vancouver Sun came up with figures on the number of children born in Canada to parents who were not permanent residents.

No scientific study has been carried out on the issue yet. The story was based on information provided by nurses at Saint-Paul Hospital in Vancouver. It was reported that the majority of these children were born to parents originally from Hong Kong who wanted to become Canadian citizens. There was a lot of controversy about this news story in the Vancouver Chinese community, but community leaders dismissed the issue as a minor problem.

A Citizenship and Immigration official vaguely mentioned something about some 400 children having been born to foreign nationals in Canada in 1993 and not all of these births being used to secure a Canadian passport.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration does not have any statistics on Canadian-born children whose parents are not citizens or residents of Canada. There is a very simple reason for that: birth registration is a provincial responsibility. The federal government has no authority in this area.

Is the bill proposed by the Reform Party based on exact figures showing a large-scale conspiracy from abroad, an endless flow of foreigners knowingly taking advantage of the Canadian government? Some parents are here legally, like students, temporary workers or refugee claimants.

Clearly the situation is not serious enough to call for radical changes to the law at this time. The motion aims at creating a new category of people living in Canada. Children born after December 31, 1994 whose parents are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents would not be given automatic citizenship.

One of the principles behind the Citizenship Act is that of jus soli or law of the soil. This fundamental principle is applied by most countries. The motion put forward by the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam rejects the territorial principle out of hand.

In my opinion, this bill reflects the biased feeling that immigrants abuse the system. However, it must be pointed out that Canadian-born children will grow up as Canadians and will not need language training or other reception services involving government expenditures. They will integrate more easily into the Quebec or Canadian community.

If this bill is adopted in its present form, a child born in Canada may run the risk of becoming stateless. According to article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1959, the child is entitled, from birth, to a name and a nationality. I stress the word nationality.

This motion will create a legal vacuum for these children. And this is supposed to be the International Year of the Family!

We know that visa officers in this country and in various Canadian embassies are very reluctant to issue tourist visas to pregnant women. So there are really no figures to support allegations of abuse in this respect.

I agree with the previous speaker who said there had been no invasions of pregnant women in Canada.

The declaration of the rights of the child signed by Canada stipulates that children are in need of special protection and care, especially appropriate legal protection before and after birth. This country owes to our children the very best we can offer.

Governments must recognize these rights and ensure they are observed by passing the appropriate legislation. These rights shall apply to all children without exception and without distinction or discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, income, birth or any other situation, whether it applies to the child itself or to its family. The child must grow up in an atmosphere of love and moral and material security.

The figures we have so far on children of non-residents born in Canada are very tentative and there have been no major problems. If there is any abuse, it is certainly minimal.

In any case, we will wait for the text of the bill to amend the present Citizenship Act which the minister has promised to table this fall, before we make a definitive statement. For the time being, I am against Bill C-249.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Beryl Gaffney Liberal Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here and speak to Bill C-249 from my colleague on the other side of the House, the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam.

In doing my research starting yesterday in preparing myself to speak to this today at first blush I thought the bill had merit but on getting deeper into the subject material I discovered that it probably was premature. The bill before us today represents a very small fraction of a much larger debate concerning the direction which Canadian citizenship will take in the future.

Bill C-249 does draw our attention to the important citizenship questions which will be coming into play in the coming months and I agree there is a need for change in the way that Canada addresses its citizenship issues.

It is unfortunate that Bill C-249 does present an ad hoc approach to dealing with citizenship issues. Something as important as changes to the citizenship act should not be tinkered with one small piece at a time.

In April this government committed itself to the development of a new citizenship act. We recognize the need to amend the current legislation and we recognize that we must remove anomalies in access to citizenship and to reinforce citizenship integrity. Right now the key to reinforcing this integrity lies not in the introduction of an individual specific legislation, it rests in the development of a broad citizenship strategy. We must have a clear sense of the direction we wish to take before we can even begin discussing the specifics.

We must develop a plan which reflects the will of the people. It must also encourage those seeking Canadian citizenship to obtain a knowledge of and commitment to this country. It must call for new citizens to become actively involved in community life. This is the essence of the government's approach. Yes, it will be a complicated process. It is a process we have already started and is one we are committed to seeing through.

A standing committee was formed in April to review ideas which would enhance the visibility and value of our citizenship. This group tabled its findings in June. I might add that the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam was a member of the standing committee that did produce the report "Canadian Citizenship: A Sense of Belonging".

The report on page 17 does state that it appears some women may be coming to Canada as visitors solely for the purpose of having their babies. However, the committee recognized that it was a very small problem and that children born in Canada should not automatically become permanent residents. In so concluding the committee considered testimony of those who supported this position.

In this same report there are 28 recommendations of changes to the citizenship act. Of the 28 the one the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam mentions is number 12. It is one of the 28 recommendations in this booklet. The minister I believe will be tabling a new citizenship act in the new year and I think all of those 28 recommendations can be addressed and spoken to. It certainly will come before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration at that time. This is probably when I changed my mind in that I think it is a bit of ad hockery to be dealing with this one particular aspect of this report.

These recommendations by no means stand alone forever. Ten months ago the Department of Citizenship and Immigration launched a process of consultation with Canadians. From February to September in town hall meetings and study groups thousands of Canadians told the government what they thought. More than 10,000 Canadians from communities across the country and from all sectors of the economy and society expressed their views on the important bonds between citizenship and immigration and how these values linked to form their visions of Canada in the next century.

We have heard from Canadians and we have already taken action. These consultations have been invaluable for several reasons. First, they have let us know how the Canadian people feel. Second and just as important, the consultations have prompted Canadians to reflect on their hopes and dreams concerning what it means to live in this great nation.

The government's citizenship legislation will seek to achieve a range of goals. It will strive to promote among all Canadians the exercise of civic rights by strengthening citizenship education and promotion. We must consider the mutual privileges and obligations ingrained in the relationship between Canadian citizens and our society.

A new citizenship act will also modernize the technical apparatus presently in use. Too many people who are currently entitled to become citizens and desperately want to are delayed by an administrative system which has become cumbersome and awkward. There are blockages in the system. There must be a better way.

Through consultation and thoughtful action we will find it. The minister has already decided that the new system will no longer include citizenship court judges. This duty will in future be performed by distinguished Canadians drawn from the ranks of the Order of Canada.

The issues discussed in Bill C-249 are important, far too important to be dealt with on such a basis. The standing committee has addressed the subject before us today. Recommendations have been made, but it would be premature to cut off one issue from the body of work done until it can be properly placed within the context of a comprehensive citizenship plan. Such a plan is being developed. Let us have the good sense to wait for it.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the Reform Party's critic for citizenship and immigration I am very pleased to support the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam and her proposed changes to the citizenship act in Bill C-249.

I would like to begin by saying that this bill was tabled on May 4 of this year, almost two months before the committee's report was produced. When the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was formed it was given five general goals to accomplish. Among them was the goal to find ways to enhance the value and visibility of Canadian citizenship.

During the committee's proceedings members of Parliament were told many times that the value of Canadian citizenship has become trivialized. As one witness said, to be a citizen of this wonderful country all you had to do was pass the tests, pay the taxes and that is it. Others expressed concerns over how Canadian citizenship has become little more than a convenient commodity for foreigners or an insurance policy that can be cashed in during times of trouble.

The committee heard stories of women coming to Canada for the sole reason of having their babies here. Under current Canadian law any child born in Canada is automatically granted Canadian citizenship without question. It would appear that the word has spread around the world about this Canadian generosity.

According to recent Vancouver Sun reports, upwards of 300 babies a year or more have been born in British Columbia over the past three years to non-residents. That is over 900 children in British Columbia alone. Some of these births were of course the result of unusual circumstances.

Hospital staff claim however that the vast majority of these babies were born to Hong Kong residents hoping to either queue hop into Canada or at the very least offer their child or themselves an insurance policy in case the transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule does not proceed smoothly.

In time these so called passport babies will be eligible for all the benefits that Canadian society has to offer: subsidized college and university schooling, access to social programs, job training programs, old age security, and on and on. All of this for people who may not have a single connection to this country aside from a piece of paper saying they were born in Canada.

As well, at the age of 19 these children will be able to sponsor their own parents into Canada even though the children themselves have spent little or no time in this country. This in my opinion amounts to little more than an insurance policy for the parents involved and makes a mockery of our citizenship.

I admit that the passport babies issue is a minor one, especially when compared to other issues in the Citizenship and Immigration portfolio. It is however an obvious loophole that is being abused and therefore must be closed.

I believe the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam has struck an excellent balance between taking a firm stand against abusers of the system and showing compassion for newborn children. She advocates that a child born in Canada will only be granted Canadian citizenship if at least one parent is either a permanent resident of this country or a Canadian citizen.

Parents such as these have clearly shown a commitment to Canada by becoming residents or citizens and should therefore be rewarded for this commitment by granting their children all the rights and privileges that come with citizenship.

Children born in Canada to refugee claimants will automatically receive their Canadian citizenship as soon as at least one of the parents becomes a permanent resident or a citizen. On the other hand passport babies will be required to take on the citizenship of their parents.

This bill if passed by Parliament will in my view have a two-sided effect. First, it will send a clear message to the rest of the world that Canada places a high value on its citizenship. For a newborn child to become a citizen, the family must show a strong commitment to Canada by striving to become residents or citizens. Such a commitment will be too strong for some and

will end both the flow of passport babies and the pursuit of Canadian citizenship to act as a child's or parent's personal insurance policy.

Second, it will send a clear message to Canadians that the federal government values citizenship and takes a firm stand on who can acquire it. Fewer Canadians than ever before I feel are viewing their citizenship as a valuable commodity.

The words Canadian citizen have been devalued because of many stories like this one of the passport babies and the flagrant abuse of citizenship requirements. This amendment would be a first step in restoring the value of citizenship to those who cherish it most, that is Canadians.

In closing, I wish to point out the consensus that I feel Bill C-249 holds within this House. The standing committee made these very same recommendations four months ago in its report "Canadian Citizenship, A Sense of Belonging". This report authored by an all-party committee unanimously recommended:

"Children born in Canada should be Canadian citizens only if one or both of their parents is a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen. Children born to a parent who has been recognized as a convention refugee or to a parent who is a refugee claimant subsequently recognized as a convention refugee by the Immigration and Refugee Board should automatically gain Canadian citizenship".

I must emphasize that these very recommendations were both endorsed by all members of the committee, Liberals, Reformers and members of the Bloc Quebecois, and are here in black and white in Bill C-249.

Clearly the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam in drafting this bill has reflected the concerns held by Canadians as well as the thoughts and intents of the standing committee. I call on my fellow members of this House to listen to the Canadian people, set aside their partisan differences and support these very important amendments to the Citizenship Act.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address this House regarding Bill C-249, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, proposed by the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam.

We have before us the opportunity to address the process by which we confer citizenship upon new Canadians. Prior to addressing the specifics of the bill, I would like to speak briefly about the importance of the citizenship process. The integrity of this process must be protected because, as all members in this House are aware, it is considered a great honour to be a Canadian citizen. Canadian citizenship is renowned and respected worldwide. In this regard we are admired for our tolerance and our fairness.

Despite this, we do have an understanding that there is a need for a reform of our Citizenship Act. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration indicated on April 14 in this House that the time had come to introduce amendments to the 20-year old act:

We need a Citizenship Act that also ensures fairness and integrity, one that removes certain discriminatory aspects of current legislation, eliminates inconsistencies in the granting of Canadian citizenship and improves the process of acquiring that citizenship.

To attain this goal important steps have been taken such as the elimination of the role of citizenship judges and the introduction of significant administrative and regulatory changes aiming to expedite the process more efficiently such as increasing the daily number of hearings, establishing group hearings, extending business hours, et cetera. The termination of partisan judicial appointments was especially supported by many Canadians.

At the same time the minister also requested the standing committee to study our Citizenship Act and provide recommendations for improvements. Shortly thereafter in June the committee released its report entitled "Canadian Citizenship: A Sense of Belonging" which presented a series of recommendations.

Of particular relevance to the private member's bill up for debate today are three recommendations which have already been referred to, but I would like to paraphrase them. Children born in Canada should be Canadian citizens only if one or both of their parents is a permanent resident or Canadian citizen. Second, the provision should be made to ensure the above rule need not apply if its application could cause a person born in Canada to be stateless. Third, an exception to the first rule should provide that children born to a parent who is a successful refugee claimant should automatically gain Canadian citizenship.

In light of the above recommendations I feel compelled to point out some serious deficiencies in Bill C-249, the private member's bill being debated today. Although the basic principal of this bill has been agreed upon by the committee, the bill remains quite incomplete in that it has not addressed the latter two recommendations which I have just alluded to. Moreover, the danger exists that this bill can be employed as a vehicle for inciting unwarranted fear among Canadians by exaggerating statistically negligible abuses of the Canadian citizenship process.

A relevant example in this respect involved cases of foreign mothers, be they visitors or refugee claimants, who give birth to children on Canadian soil for the express purpose of attaining Canadian citizenship for their children. I should point out that I have been informed by the Department of Citizenship and

Immigration there is no evidence to indicate we have a significant problem to this end as claimed by the Reform Party.

The committee concluded in this regard indicating in their report that passport babies, as this phenomena is affectionately referred to, does not appear to be a major problem. Nonetheless, the committee provided recommendations designed to prevent the possibility for abuse.

We should all be very clear in this respect. The committee did by no means imply that a problem of any significance existed when it provided suggestions on how we might prevent the possibility of abuse. As such I caution members across the way that it is terribly irresponsible to initiate unwarranted anxieties based upon unsubstantiated claims.

Some members of the House appear prone to taking advantage of occasional and statistically insignificant occurrences and blowing them out of proportion to advance a political agenda. We have seen this many times.

As I alluded to earlier the member's bill is suspect in that it is incomplete. It appears to address a simple problem with a common sense solution. However we live in a complex work in which situations are precipitated by not one factor but often myriad variables which may not at first glance be readily apparent. Most problems require thoughtful and careful analysis and sometimes demand complex solutions to yield optimal and fair outcomes.

The bill is not well rounded nor fair because it has not considered certain scenarios. Although reflecting the essence of the committee's first recommendation found on page 17 of the committee's report, the bill fails to take into consideration the two accompanying recommendations which provide important exceptions to the first rule.

Let me elaborate in this regard. It would be ruthless and uncompassionate to deny children Canadian citizenship if they could not be granted citizenship from another country. We could not leave children in a predicament such that they would remain stateless. I am appalled that the member did not see fit to include this reasonable exception.

Furthermore, regardless of the hon. member's stated intent, the bill indicates very clearly or in no uncertain terms that the children of foreign mothers might gain citizenship only after one of the child's parents became permanent residents or citizens.

This poses a serious problem given that it does not take into account the case of successful refugee claimants who do not choose to seek permanent resident status or citizenship. Because accepted refugee claimants are not obliged to seek permanent residents or citizenship, the possibility exists that their children would for all intents and purposes be denied citizenship.

I was most disappointed to note that there was absolutely no reference to the above two exceptions in the member's bill. I am confident that had a careful and indepth analysis been conducted the contents of the bill would have been more complete and comprehensive.

Without an acknowledgement of these exceptions outlined by the committee, the essence of the hon. member's bill is rendered unfair and our citizenship process rendered incomplete. This is simply not the Canadian way.

In conclusion, Bill C-249, although commensurate with the general essence of the first recommendation on page 17 of the standing committee's report, remains incomplete to the point where it would render the citizenship process unjust and exclusionary. For the above reasons the amendment should be exposed for what it is, a vehicle for partisan gerrymandering.

On the bright side, in the near future the House can expect a comprehensive and fair reform of the Citizenship Act. I am confident that the revised act will prove well balanced and will seriously consider the recommendations presented in the June report of the standing committee.

In the meantime the Reform Party would better serve the interests of Canadians by contributing in a positive manner to the citizen reform process rather than dwell upon the-

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired.

Pursuant to Standing Order 96(1) the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Citizenship ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, on July 10, I asked the Minister for National Defence and Veterans Affairs if he recognized that additional changes were needed to Bill C-84 and, if so, would he put these changes on the legislative agenda now as time for our merchant navy war veterans is running out. He stated that the Department of Veterans Affairs was working on reforms that would speed up the processing of veterans' claims. I agree with this. However it is not the only thing that the merchant navy war veterans require.

Bill C-84 is a complex bill which amends various war pension acts. By rejecting the principle of equality with war veterans, veterans affairs locked the merchant navy under a civilian act instead of including it under an amended War Veterans Allowance Act.

One solution to the inequities of Bill C-84 is a simple amendment to include the wartime merchant navy in the War Veterans Allowance Act.

The government has said that Bill C-84 is a good bill. I say it is a start. Some merchant seamen and their families are receiving some benefits and that is a positive step in the right direction. Unfortunately it is not as inclusive as it should be.

Bill C-84 is not satisfactory as it does not extend full veterans status to merchant navy veterans. Nor does it provide equal status to the full range of health, disability and income support benefits by the department.

This past March the deputy minister of Veterans Affairs who was involved in the 1992 act admitted at a House of Commons committee hearing that the act was not perfect and contradicted himself by saying he did not see a need for major change. As well, last Friday the Secretary of State for Veterans stated on a CBC program that all merchant navy veterans qualify for all veterans benefits, but this is not so.

After 50 years the present labour government in Australia has granted merchant mariners full benefits under its Veterans Entitlements Act. In granting them full benefits and equality the government has fully recognized the contribution merchant seafarers made in the defence of their country.

During the war Canadian merchant ships carried essential war materials needed for the war effort to succeed. The merchant navy was a constant target for German surface raiders and U-boats. It is no small wonder why they had the highest casualty ratio of any of the services with one seaman in ten being killed.

The current Deputy Prime Minister last week stated that Canada's merchant navy made the seas wholesome once again and kept open the gates of freedom.

After the war merchant navy veterans were officially civilians. They were not eligible for veterans benefits. We as a country have recognized the injustices against our merchant navy seamen and women. Why have we not compensated them adequately?

Last week the government moved closer to recognizing the war efforts of the merchant navy. First was the dedication of the Book of Remembrance for the Merchant Navy War Dead . The book is a lovely symbol of remembrance for the over 2,200 merchant navy seamen who died in both world wars. Second was the participation of the merchant navy war veterans in the vice regal wreath laying ceremony which was agreed to by the legion.

The number of surviving merchant seamen and women is about 3,200 and their average age is 74 years. All they are seeking is equal status, treatment and access to benefits.

I am asking the Secretary of State for Veterans to start the changes to the legislation now so it can be put on the legislative agenda before it is too late. Time for our merchant navy veterans is running out. Let us once and for all fully recognize the merchant navy as the fourth arm of the armed services.

It is my hope that the parliamentary secretary will not just deal with the issue of pension reform which the Minister of National Defence addressed in his first answer. I am asking if he acknowledges that changes are necessary to Bill C-84 and, if not, why not and, if so, when will the reforms be initiated.

Citizenship ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Bonavista—Trinity—Conception Newfoundland & Labrador


Fred Mifflin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for outlining the alleged shortcomings of the previous government's legislation. Perhaps to complete the irony in that remark, this government will certainly consider correcting any legal or technical flaws in the legislation.

I have personal knowledge of this subject because I was a member of the standing committee that fought for and won these benefits for merchant seamen. The real point is that the legislation is succeeding in doing what it was intended to do. Merchant navy veterans have the same access to veterans benefits as their military counterparts. They are eligible for disability pensions, war veterans allowance, the veterans independence program, long term care and veterans funeral and burial grants.

There is no veterans program currently available to military veterans that is not also available to merchant navy veterans.

Listening to the hon. member for Saint John this House would wonder if merchant navy veterans are receiving anything. They certainly are receiving all the benefits. In fact an estimated 2,000 merchant navy veterans and their dependants are receiving veterans benefits and that is certainly a long way from the theme suggested by the hon. member.

Having said that, the merchant navy representatives have identified several areas where they believe that legislation could be improved. The Secretary of State for Veterans met with the groups involved and their proposals are presently under review.

From this review changes with respect to the merchant navy veterans benefits will take the form of amendments that would be considered for inclusion in a general housekeeping bill. That kind of bill is put forward from time to time to modernize language and to address technical matters.

The merchant navy representatives at this meeting were also asked to bring to the secretary's immediate attention any specific case where it appeared that benefits were being denied because of a shortcoming in the legislation. May I conclude by extending to the hon. member the same invitation. I thank her for her question.

Citizenship ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Under Standing Order 38(5), the motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. under Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.36 p.m.)