Madam Speaker, I would like to begin my evaluation of Bill C-44 by saying it is a small step in the right direction.
For several years Canadians have been saying they have a deep concern about Canada's immigration system. These concerns have included the fact that many Canadians consider immigration levels to be too high. Other concerns are the skill and education levels of immigrants entering Canada and the effectiveness of the immigration department in enforcing government policy.
If the Liberal government wants Canadians to place faith in the system and the elected officials who administer it then the government has a moral obligation to look at these concerns and to act in the interests of all Canadians.
One of the chief concerns of Canadians in this area is the relationship between immigration and crime. In the past year there have been several high profile cases in which immigrants to Canada were involved in criminal activity which could have been avoided had proper action been taken. The result was an increased focus on the relationship between immigration and the criminal justice system.
Confidential government documents leaked to the media revealed: "There is a sense that the immigration program is out of control". This is the public perception of Canadians who feel and again I quote: "Immigrants need to be better selected". Very clearly Canadians want to see changes in the way the immigration system in Canada operates.
Perhaps not very surprising, this is the view that has been put forward by my Reform colleagues and I for some time. I believe this is because our party has a policy of first of all understanding the wishes and desires of grassroots Canadians. This means our party pays very close attention to what our constituents are telling us. They have been telling us for a long time now that they are losing faith in the immigration system because they believe it is being poorly administered and poorly enforced.
I am pleased to see that the Liberal government is finally listening to the common sense solutions that the Reform Party has been putting forward on this issue for some time. As I mentioned before, I see the bill as a step in the right direction. But our party has chosen not to lend support to this bill for two main reasons.
The first is that the legislation is not properly structured to keep immigrants with criminal backgrounds from entering into Canada's refugee system. The second is the fear that the Liberal government will use the passage of this legislation as an excuse to take no further action on the concerns the Canadian public has about the immigration process.
This bill does take a step in the right direction. One of the elements of the bill which my party is in support of is that it empowers the senior immigration officers who are the first contact applicants have with the immigration system. The bill would allow these officers upon discovery of a criminal back-
ground to stop the processing of an individual's application to enter into the immigration or refugee process.
This will serve a number of purposes. It will save Canadian taxpayers money because they will not have to pay for the processing of cases which would be appropriately rejected in any case. It will save immigration officials time which can be better spent processing the claims of applicants without a criminal background. More time spent studying these routine applications means fraudulent claims are less likely to be approved, giving the immigration department more credibility in the eyes of Canadians. Finally, the measure makes the common sense move of protecting the Canadian public from foreign born criminals who want to come to our country. All of these are excellent goals.
Unfortunately, this legislation does not go far enough to ensure they are achieved. The problem is that immigration officers are still not being given the tools to do their job. Officers now have the power to refuse to process applications if they discover a criminal background. At the same time, they are not being given the power to do background checks on those applicants. In fact it was recently revealed by a member of the Canada employment and immigration union that refugee claimants are not given security screenings before facing the refugee board. The proposed legislation gives the immigration officers necessary new powers but does not grant them the means to exercise them. An illustration of the problem was a news report by the Canadian Press published September 12. The report stated that there are very severe guidelines which restrict immigration officials as to what they may ask refugee claimants. The report also stated that this could mean people who should not get into Canada may be slipping past the immigration and refugee board.
Here are a few examples of those guidelines. Officials cannot request information from the immigration department about a refugee aside from identity papers and passports. This means officers cannot check statements made at a hearing against the claims made when the refugee first entered Canada. Officers cannot investigate claims through sources such as the police. Only board officials can now use public record sources.
Officers may not press reluctant claimants for answers on particular issues because that could be perceived as being adversarial.
The effect of this bill is to grant powers to officers without giving them means to exercise these powers. It would be like giving a highway patrolman the power to arrest speeders without allowing him to use radar to detect those speeders.
This leads us to the second major reason why the Reform Party is opposing this bill. That reason is enforcement.
One of the intentions of this bill is to detect problems early in a system so that deportation orders can be issued to those who do not qualify. However, as we have seen over the past year, there have been serious problems with those deportation orders.
Several high profile cases have demonstrated that the issuing of deportation orders does not ensure removal. The numbers indicate that of 25,000 deportation orders last year, only 8,200 were verifiably carried out. Despite the fact that 1,200 criminals were deported last year, 3,000 more deportable criminals disappeared and have not been found.
Immigration enforcement officers are so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of deportables that they are unable to execute a removal order unless the individual voluntarily turns up.
In Toronto there are 30 enforcement officers charged with the execution of deportation orders or investigation of legal residency of 40,000 cases. More deportation orders will likely only increase the backlog rather than actually clear many more people out of the country.
The greatest benefit of this legislation is that it would prevent some criminals from getting into the immigration and refugee system, but should the aim of the government not be a bit higher than this? A few simple changes could put some real teeth in this legislation.
To begin with, how about granting more power to individual immigration officers? This would mean giving them the power to do background checks and giving them greater access to data banks. This could save Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars as well.
If I understand correctly the intentions of the legislation before us today, the government is interested in adding an element of common sense to the process. This legislation is saying Canadians do not want immigrants or refugees with criminal backgrounds to come into this country.
Why do we not give the immigration officers the means to find this out before their cases come before the immigration refugee board? It would save all involved time and prevent costly hearings which would only result in the dismissal of the application in any case.
Another measure which would give this legislation teeth would be the beefing up of the enforcement of deportation orders. I am aware that in response to public pressure the minister did appoint extra staff to deal with this problem. Is this handful of extra officers really having an effect? The government needs to devote even further resources to staff and to the enforcement of deportation orders. Warrants should be issued so that the whole police network can enforce these immigration laws.
When 3,000 deportable criminals disappear into Canadian society in just one year, the potential for harm to the general public is tremendous. Justice cannot be served when the law cannot be enforced. If the deportation orders issued cannot be carried out then the immigration system has very little credibility in the eyes of the Canadian public.
These are the two main reasons other Reform MPs and I cannot bring ourselves to support this bill. But do not get us wrong. We think the intentions of the bill are dead on the mark. We are very pleased the government is listening to Reform Party members and putting some of our ideas into effect. We have been listening to the Canadian people on this issue and we are pleased the government is finally starting to do the same thing.
To be quite frank, my colleagues and I did consider giving qualified support to these measures. Our party believes the parliamentary system does not necessarily require opposition parties to always be adversarial. However, after scrutinizing the legislation we came to the conclusion that we could not in good conscience support the bill. We cannot give our support to legislation without teeth. If we fail to oppose this bill the government could claim to have dealt with the issue and simply moved on to other business. But the truth is that the Liberals have not dealt effectively with this bill. Their failure to do this could have terrible ramifications for the people whose interests we are elected to represent.
This bill is definitely well intentioned but it does not go far enough. The Canadian public expects elected officials to deliver a lot more than good intentions.
I believe I speak for the majority of Canadians when I say there are a number of problems with the current government's approach to immigration. The shortcomings of this particular legislation are just a small part of the larger problem. Quite frankly, public support for immigration policy in this country is at an all time low. Canadians have little faith in the current system and want to see changes made. This means that governments must stop serving special interests and instead make decisions in the interests of the country as a whole.
There are four main areas of immigration policy which the government must reform if it is to win back the trust of the Canadian people. These four areas are: enforcement; the growth of the so-called immigration industry; economic self-interest in selecting applicants; and the unacceptably high immigration levels.
I raised the topic of enforcement earlier in reference to deportation orders, but the issue goes much farther than that. When it comes to immigration there are many areas where the government has a policy to protect the needs and the interests of Canadians but simply does not follow through on enforcing this policy. An example is the breakdown of sponsorships.
Sponsorship is one of the cornerstones of the government's current immigration policy. It consists of an individual in this country supporting an immigrant and vouching that the immigrant will not become a burden on the Canadian social safety net. Sponsorship is an excellent idea. It remains a key component in the success of many newcomers coming to Canada. Unfortunately, sponsorship is just one component of our immigration policy in which an enforcement component is almost entirely lacking.
Mainstream media organizations such as the Toronto Star have been reporting on breakdowns in sponsorships for some time now but nothing has been done. What generally happens is that unable to find work, recent immigrants turn to Canada's social safety net rather than to the person who agreed to sponsor them. What are the ramifications of this? To my knowledge, very little is done to counteract this avoidance of responsibility. The end result is negative for all involved.
For the Canadian taxpayer the promise of a productive contributing citizen is broken. It is replaced with yet another individual who will require the expenditure of already scarce government resources.
For provinces and municipalities, it is yet another form of offloading from the federal government. Provinces and municipalities bear the brunt of providing services such as social assistance. When an immigrant sponsorship breaks down, the responsibility falls to the province. It is forced to take responsibility for a situation it had no hand in creating.
The breakdown in immigrant sponsorship is especially an insult to the majority of immigrants who come to Canada, work hard to contribute to this country and remain true to their promise not to become a burden on Canada's social safety net. As is often the case, wrongdoing on the part of some members of a group results in the perception that the entire group is guilty.
That is why the federal government must make the enforcement of immigrant sponsorships a priority. It would greatly raise the credibility of the immigration system in the eyes of the Canadian public. It would also honour the efforts of those sponsored immigrants who work to maintain their sponsorships and remove an unwelcome burden from all taxpayers, both those who came to Canada and those who were born here.
Another area in which a lack of enforcement calls into question the credibility of the immigration system is business class immigrants. These are immigrants who have lived in this country because they have capital to invest and have promised to create new enterprises. This is another case where the government policy has the correct priority.
This country needs the influx of capital and the enterprising spirit brought by business class immigrants. The problem is there is not a very stringent enforcement of these regulations. Promises of investment and new jobs do Canada very little good
unless they are acted upon. It is once again the case that immigrants are asked to keep a pledge but face very little reprisal if that pledge is not kept. Again the credibility of the system is called into question and the reputation of honest business class immigrants is sullied by those who fail to fulfil their pledges.
It is understandable that immigration bureaucrats would not invest the time to look into these areas of immigration policy. After all, it would simply create more work for the agency's already overburdened enforcement arm.
These are the words of one federal audit: "Poorly run sector of the immigration department is what is ultimately responsible for carrying out government policy". The August 1993 study of the enforcement branch obtained under the Access to Information Act portrayed the branch as racked by inadequate management systems, poor communications and inadequate safety for its officers.
One of the key criticisms in this report was the procedures that stood in the way of officers getting easy access to unemployment insurance, citizenship and social services records. The report said that allowing immigration officers access to this information would facilitate enforcement activities and increase effectiveness. This is exactly what I was speaking about earlier. Immigration officers need to be able to access information on immigrants and potential immigrants and refugees in order to make the system work. This issue is almost entirely overlooked in the legislation we are debating now. It is one of the major reasons we could not bring ourselves to support it.
One of the demands the Canadian public is making of the immigration system is that it be effective. In order to be effective the department must be able to enforce the policies it operates by. Failure to enforce these policies means a loss in credibility which is why so many Canadians are cynical about the immigration process.
If the minister of immigration would like Canadians to once again have faith in this department, he must take steps to strengthen enforcement. This is not being done by the current legislation.
If the government is going to re-establish the faith of Canadians in this country's immigration system, the second area it must make a priority in reforming is ending the support for the burgeoning immigration industry. I am talking about the bureaucrats, the lawyers, the academics and the social engineers who rely on a high immigration rate to either further their own careers or justify their own jobs.
The people I am referring to here are not necessarily bad people. Often times they feel they are doing what is best for all involved. Unfortunately, however, they have ended up creating a system funded by taxpayers in which the primary benefits go to those who collect salaries and not to the immigration needs for the Canadian public as a whole. I am referring for example to immigration lawyers who are paid to try the cases of the huge backlog of refugees.
The amount of money spent on these lawyers and on the commissions they appear before is astronomical. The cost of the Immigration and Refugee Board alone is $250 million a year. Think about that: one-quarter of a billion dollars for a system which deems only 15 per cent of refugees inadmissible to this country. To contrast this the Canadian government gives only $30 million a year to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the organization responsible for caring for many of the 20 million refugees who currently exist on this planet.
I ask members of this House which would be a more utilitarian use of this money: paying lawyers to spend countless hours preparing appeals of board decisions or providing fresh water and medicine to war ravaged refugees in Africa?
I recognize there is a need for due process in the admission of immigrants and refugees to this country but I maintain there has to be a better way. This bill takes an important first step by stripping the appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of its ability to overturn deportation orders on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. I suspect this will have little effect on the $250 million spent every year on hearings and appeals.
I spoke to several constituents this summer who expressed their anger over the amount they correctly assumed this department must cost the Canadian taxpayer. Their common sense solution was to find a way to speed up the process to better serve the interests of genuine refugee claimants and immigrants and the Canadian public as a whole. The people I spoke with are not angry with immigrants. They are angry at the immigration system.
The annual expense of this immigration industry to Canadian taxpayers has never been properly calculated but we can safely assume it is tremendous. It involves a myriad of expenses. What is the cost to the provinces of immigrants who use social housing? What is the cost of English as a second language programs in different school districts? Getting this type of information is difficult because the provincial and federal governments rarely share this data.
What must be understood is that all of these expenses are the result of federal immigration policy. Therefore it is the responsibility of this House to consider these costs when making its decisions.
I must again stress that the increasing anger of Canadians over immigration policy is not with the immigrants themselves. It is anger with the system that administers this policy in a way which is not in the best interests of Canadians as a whole.
A big part of the problem is that Canadians see a large and rapidly increasing sum of money being spent on immigration programs at a time when funds are being cut back for health care and education. They are asking if this money is being spent unnecessarily. They have every right to ask without being called racist or small minded. I say this because proponents of the current approach to government policy often refuse to enter into a debate about these issues, preferring instead to attempt to sully the reputation of those who raise the issues in the first place.
Does Canada really need the immigration industry we have built up over the years? About 15 years ago Canada, along with other countries in the western world, was asked to respond to the plight of Vietnamese boat people. These were genuine refugees who because of their political situation were forced out of their homes.
Canadians opened their doors wide to these people but in a very different way than we do today. Community groups and churches took it upon themselves to sponsor individual refugees and families. They made sure they had a place to stay, taught them English and French, and helped them integrate into the fabric of society. These immigrants in turn laboured to quickly adapt to their new home, learning English and French and furthering themselves through education and hard work.
Today instead of community groups and churches we have subsidized housing and government sponsored language training. Instead of inviting immigrants and refugees into our social circles we stick them in downtown high rises and housing projects and ask why these groups have so much trouble adapting to the Canadian way of life.
The only explanation is the growth of the immigration industry. It is a well intentioned and highly paid group of individuals whose own self-interests are reflected in the decisions they make for everyone. Proper enforcement of immigration policy and curtailing the growing immigration industry could go a long way toward re-establishing the faith of Canadians in our immigration system.
A third and equally important consideration is ensuring the admission of immigrants to Canada is done with the best economic interests of the country in mind. Current statistics vary on how many immigrants come to Canada based on their ability to contribute to the country economically.
In his column in the July 14 Globe and Mail Michael Valpy said: ``Immigration policy used to be selective. Now only 15 per cent of it is selective. The rest is determined by family reunification and a policy of refugee acceptance that is the most liberal in the world''.
The Canada immigration facts and issues publication put out by Citizenship and Immigration Canada noted: "About 15 per cent of immigrants are evaluated for their potential economic benefit to Canada". The same publication noted that over half of all immigrants, 55 per cent, were admitted either as family class immigrants or refugees.
Quite frankly the government is giving too little priority to admitting immigrants to Canada based on their potential economic benefit to our country. This is especially disturbing because, as the government has often pointed out, we are now a part of a global economy and this is changing the nature of our economy at home.
There is currently little demand for an abundant supply of unskilled labour. Education is now the key to the success of individuals. There is little opportunity for employment and advancement for anyone with less than a high school diploma.
A good example of this point can be seen in my riding of Cariboo-Chilcotin, specifically in my hometown of Williams Lake. When I was growing up jobs were relatively abundant in the area as there were many mills, ranches and mines. A capacity for hard physical labour was often just as important as any type of education one might have.
Today the area is much different. Employment is hard to come by if one does not have a proper education. The jobs once performed by a large payroll of semi-skilled labourers have now been replaced with machines and technology. On the positive side this has meant an increase in well paying jobs for highly skilled workers such as engineers, agriculturalists and technicians, and a better quality of life for those employed in these industries.
In the past immigrants were drawn to Williams Lake because of the economic opportunities provided by resource based industries. However over the years less and less of these opportunities have been available.
The lesson to be learned from this experience as a parent and relevant to the debate we are having today on the topic of change to the Immigration Act is that the government must place more of a priority on attracting immigrants to Canada that have the necessary skills and education. I would suggest this be accomplished by reducing the number of individuals admitted to Canada as family class immigrants.
A confidential report prepared for the immigration minister and leaked to the media suggests this very idea. It has recommended family class immigration be redefined to grant automatic acceptance only to spouses and children sponsored by Canadians or landed immigrants. I would suggest the shortfall made by reducing this category be replaced by immigrants that
have the economic skills and education to make a greater contribution to this nation.
We should also remember that family reunification here often means family disunification in the immigrant's native country. I am sure, Madam Speaker, you and other members of the House are familiar with the Statistics Canada report entitled Canada's changing immigrant population. The report noted how immigrants compared in many respects to native born Canadians. It found that a higher percentage of immigrants, 19 per cent, than native born Canadians, 13 per cent, had less than a grade nine education.
With the requirements of the Canadian economy changing to demand a stronger educational background in workers the government must place more of a priority on admitting people to this country that will be employable and competitive in our markets.
Proponents of unbridled immigration would probably argue against this policy. They would suggest tight restrictions on the sponsorship of family class immigrants are unduly cruel and uncaring. I am sure they would also suggest that emphasis on attracting immigrants to this country based on their potential economic contribution would be crassly materialistic and greedy.
I would say to these people that they are out of touch with current economic realities. Canada needs skilled workers if it is to remain competitive. By the same token what it does not need is further pressure placed on the social safety nets which are stretched to the breaking point at this time in any event.
Grassroots Canadians have been telling the Reform Party for a long time that they would like to see more emphasis placed on admitting to the country individuals with job skills and education and less emphasis placed on admitting individuals with little to offer. If the minister hopes to restore the faith of Canadians in the immigration system, responding to these desires would go a long way toward doing this.
Finally, I believe reducing current immigration levels would go a long way toward re-establishing the faith of Canadians in immigration policy and in the immigration system.
Before I begin making my argument for a reduction in immigration levels I must point out that it has been the policy of the Reform Party for some time to pursue lower immigration levels than are the current Canadian norm. Our party policy, which is based on the wishes and desires of our members, states that current immigration levels should be reduced to approximately 150,000 people per year.
Despite our opponents' attempts to label us as anti-immigrant we are in fact pro-immigrant. We simply believe current immigration levels are high and are not based on providing social or economic benefits to this country. It is clearly the desire of a majority of Canadians to see immigration to the country lowered from current levels.
In March a survey commissioned by the federal government found that an unprecedented clear majority of Canadians, in the words of the Globe and Mail columnist, Michael Valpy, thought immigration levels were too high. As the same columnist noted, other research found the decision to set high levels was based on increasingly unrealistic economic expectations of immigrants.
It is very clear the majority of Canadians would like to see lower immigration levels. By refusing to lower the government's current level of 250,000 people per year the federal government and the immigration minister are quite clearly denying the will of the people.
I believe it is because of our emphasis on consulting our constituents that Reform became the first party in the House to pursue a policy of lower immigration levels. The government is beginning to see the wisdom of this approach. It is my sincere wish that the Liberal government and the minister of immigration soon alter their own policy.
Senior advisors working in the immigration department have recently recommended that immigration levels be reduced by 20 per cent to 200,000. This information was contained in an 18-page confidential report prepared for the minister of immigration. It notes that as a result of public consultations there was a sense the immigration program is out of control and urges that immigrants be better selected. Now that the minister has completed his tax funded study of public opinion on the issue of immigration I hope he will act on the knowledge he gained in the process.
The minister and the Liberal Party have a distinct disadvantage in this regard. Unlike Reform they do not believe in voting with or in some cases representing the interests and opinions of their constituents. The Reform Party has a distinct advantage in this area. We truly believe in listening to our members and constituents and voting with their interests despite our personal stance. This means during times the Liberal caucus met to discuss how they felt Canadians should be governed the Reform Party was out asking those same Canadians how they wanted to be governed. This meant very early on the Reform Party knew very clearly what actions Canadian people wanted to be taken.
I do not understand why the immigration minister and the Liberal government remain so irrationally committed to maintaining high levels of immigration. Canada continues to have the highest immigration level in the industrialized world. The result of this is that Canada has the highest growth rate in the west and ex-Soviet block at 1.4 per cent a year. That is a higher growth rate than Argentina, China, Thailand, Korea, Sri Lanka and Uruguay. This growing population requires an increased quantity of government provided services every year at a time when
governments at every level are finding it difficult to raise sufficient revenues.
One of the best ways to judge what should be our current immigration level is to look at the immigration levels in countries similar to our own. A good example would be the United States. Americans have long prided themselves on being a country which welcomes immigrants with open arms by saying: "Give us your poor, your tired, your hungry". Another common phrase used in describing the immigrant experience is the melting pot. This terms implies tremendous ability on the part of Americans to welcome and assimilate newcomers from different countries.
The Canadian public has spoken loudly and clearly in its desire for lower immigration levels. I hope the minister recognizes that Canadians will continue to display a notable lack of faith in the government's immigration policy until those numbers coming into Canada are reduced.
I am going to move a motion at the end of my speech, but I conclude by noting that in all decisions it makes regarding immigration, and indeed in all decisions it makes regarding any government business, the government must take into consideration the economic implications of its actions.
We are a country of immigrants. Canada was founded and was settled for the most part by peoples from every nation on earth. The result has been growth and creation of a very spectacular country with a tremendous amount of history and accomplishment and an even greater potential ahead of it. However, our party would find it necessary to go much further. Consequently we find ourselves unable to lend unqualified support for the bill. Despite a number of appealing features it ultimately lacks the substance necessary to meet the needs and desires of the Canadian public.