Madam Speaker, I listened very closely to the statement of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. However, I must deplore the minister's failure to co-operate with critics from the other parties.
We did not receive the text of his statement-a document prepared months ago-until 1 p.m. and we received only one copy, despite the fact that we had requested two. This is not the first time this has happened. The same problem occurred a few days ago when the minister gave a press conference. We received a copy of his statement only as the press conference was getting under way. What happened to the minister's promise to work with us? I must deplore this lack of co-operation.
Regarding the substance of his statement, I would say that immigration policy does represent an enormous challenge not just for Canada, but also and above all for Quebec. In referring to the new levels of immigration announced yesterday, the minister neglected to mention if he had consulted with Quebec. If he did, when did these consultations take place and under what circumstances?
The minister also broached subjects not directly tied to new immigration levels. For example, concerning criminals, I agree with him that Canada should not let them in, but I hope that he is not merely stating good intentions. Precedents in this regard were set by former governments, and even by this new government of which the minister is a member. We agree that immigrants and bona fide refugees should be allowed into Canada, but not criminals.
Regarding appointments to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, more commissioners are expected to be appointed in the coming months. We will be watching the minister closely to ensure that the appointments he does make are not based on political affiliation. I hope that he will consult with all interested parties, including Quebec.
Naturally we share his concern about women refugees. This new issue is also a priority for us. We must protect women who have been persecuted, raped and abused and when appropriate, we must grant them political refugee status in Canada.
Madam Speaker, as you can see from my accent and my name, I am a Quebecer of Chilean origin. I came to Quebec 20 years ago following the 1973 military coup in Chile. I have to say that I was warmly welcomed by Quebecers, labour unions, religious groups and international co-operation agencies as well as agencies working in the field of human rights.
Before I arrived here, I was told I would be going to Canada and I was issued a visa. I was happy because in my mind, Canada was, and still is, a democratic country. However, when I arrived in Quebec, specifically in Montreal, I realized that there were two countries within Canada, two founding nations and peoples, two official languages and two cultures, each with its own history.
Then, I understood the great aspirations of Quebecers, their desire to defend the French language, their traditions, their culture and their history, all the more so because I came from a country where the people had fought for similar goals against powerful forces, against the penetration of English into Chile and throughout Latin America, and for the right to develop their own culture and traditions.
I became a sovereigntist. I have nothing against English Canada, where I have many friends especially within ethnic communities and within the labour movement. However, I support the creation of a country, Quebec, which is the deepest aspiration of Quebecers.
During my term in office, I plan to travel throughout Canada and discuss these ideas with my friends everywhere. When a couple has problems and cannot continue to live together, it must face reality. I think this analogy can be applied to Quebec and next year, the referendum will prove that this is so.
Like my party, I am a staunch supporter of immigration and I would hope that members of ethnic communities will not fear Quebec sovereignty as we sovereigntists feel that they will prove to be a formidable asset for Quebec and for Canada.
At this time, I would like to dissociate myself from the position taken by other members of this House who are afraid of immigration and afraid of refugees. At times they propagate anti-immigrant sentiment and demand not only that harsh restrictions be placed on Canadian immigration levels, but also that claims of refugee status on political grounds and under the Canadian Charter be denied. I wish to dissociate myself because my position is vastly different from that of members who view immigration and refugees in this light.
The minister is not telling us anything new about immigration levels this afternoon. He is quoting the same figures a the Conservatives: 250,000 immigrants will be admitted to Canada in 1994. We have no qualms about this figure as long as Quebec can have its say on the numbers admitted to Quebec.
As far as the mix of immigrants is concerned, we are in favour of Canada and Quebec throwing open their doors to political refugees. Canada and Quebec must honour their commitments. Canada was a signatory to the Geneva Convention relative to political refugees and we have to meet the humanitarian assistance requests that we receive from all over the world, where over 20 million refugees live in various countries. We discussed the situation in Bosnia a few days ago and I mentioned at the time that Canada should be open to Bosnian refugees.
So, I maintain that Canada must also tackle the causes of this form of immigration, that is to say political or economic refugies, and try to solve the problem that exist in the countries of origin. People leave their countries because of problems such as racism, religious strife, poverty, the widening gap between industrialized countries and developing countries, political repression. We want Canada to be generous with refugees, while at the same time addressing the problems that brings them here in the first place.
Based on the minister's announcement, we can see that the number of refugees admitted will increase only slightly, by 3,500. We think that this is not enough, in view of what is going on in the world, in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and other countries, including El Salvador.
I questioned the minister about the situation of Salvadoran refugees, but I did not get an answer in this House. Today, we read in the papers that the expulsion order has been suspended. That is not what we asked to minister to do. We were asking for a policy stating that Salvadoran refugees would not be returned to El Salvador because there are violent troubles in that area. Last December, the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself was telling us that political violence had flared up again in El Salvador. Death squads are still active there. Reports from various organizations, Development and Peace, Amnesty International, the UN and even the Salvadoran Human Rights Commission, all note the violence with disapproval.
What the minister was asked to do was to apply to El Salvador the same policy as for Haiti, China, Iraq or Somalia. That is all we were asking and all the fifty or so Salvadoran refugees in Quebec were asking.
What the press reports today is that there will be a review, but that has already been done. What we asked the minister to do is to exercise his jurisdiction. He has that power, under the Immigration Act, to intervene on humanitarian grounds, and he should use it to resolve the case of these Salvadoran refugees.
He announced to us a few days ago what he intended to do about work permits for refugee claimants. We agree, we said so, but we would also like the minister to act more quickly.
Why wait three months to give a political refugee claimant a work permit, as well as a medical certificate which he must have obtained before? This still takes a long time. If we do not want the refugee to collect welfare, he must start working as soon as possible.
So far, the minister has not answered requests that these permits be granted quickly. In any case, we know that these refugees will not compete with Canadian workers because refugees will usually get only low-paid unpleasant jobs that other people cannot or will not do.
I noted a glaring omission in the minister's statement, in that he said nothing about Quebec and the Ottawa-Quebec agreement. As you know, immigration is a shared federal-provincial jurisdiction. Quebec has always been concerned about immigration, even in the last century, because it is a vital problem for Quebec as it is for Canada. I would say that it is even more vital for Quebec because Quebec's birth rate is less than the Canadian average. Immigration in Quebec must make up this population deficit.
Immigration is also intended to ensure economic prosperity and openness to the world. Quebec is open to the world, but immigration to Quebec must ensure the perpetuation of the French fact. Quebec is the only French-speaking state in North America. We made demands, we fought the fight and in 1968 we created the Quebec Department of Immigration. In 1978, the Couture-Cullen agreement gave Quebec the power to choose its immigrants. Later, this agreement was improved by the ministers, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay and Barbara McDougall. Today, regrettably, the Quebec Department of Immigration and Cultural Communities has been merged with the Department of International Affairs.
But our main concern is the survival of French in Quebec, and it is closely tied to immigration. You know, as I myself have seen, most immigrants to Quebec integrated with the English-speaking minority. This has been aggravated by the federal government's policy of bilingualism in Canada.
We want Quebec to have immigrants. We also want them to be French-speaking as much as possible or at least able to join the French-speaking community as I was. I speak Spanish; I learned French because I joined the French speaking majority in Quebec.
We also want immigration in Quebec to be regionalized. Too many immigrants are concentrated in Montreal, 90 per cent. That is why we say and repeat that bill 101 is absolutely necessary in Quebec and we would like English Canada to understand that.
Since Bill 101 in 1976, our children must attend French schools. I hope that this concern for immigration in Quebec, a distinct society, will become part of the minister's message in the future. Moreover, we want the agreements reached between Quebec and Ottawa to be honoured. For instance, by increasing the number of people admitted under the family reunification program, the minister is imposing a burden on Quebec since Quebec has no say in this program. The federal government sets objectives and Quebec does not have anything to say about it. I hope that in the future you will pay more attention to this aspect of the immigration policy.
The final objective of our party, and of the entire sovereigntist movement in Quebec, is to put the immigration policy under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction. Again, Quebec is open to foreigners and immigrants; we want to build a just, democratic and fraternal society that is open to the world and based on solidarity.