Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend my best wishes for the New Year to all my colleagues in this House.
Today, we are going back to work after a seven-week break. Before speaking to Bill C-44, I would like to salute and congratulate my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and Leader of
the Official Opposition in the House of Commons, Lucien Bouchard. Thanks to his courage and determination he was able to survive a terrible disease and win a very tough fight for his life. He will soon be back in this House and in the political arena. I wish to say to him how happy and proud of him we are. Quebec needs Mr. Bouchard.
I rise to participate in the debate at third reading on Bill C-44, an act to amend the Immigration Act and the Citizenship Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Customs Act. This bill was introduced and read the first time in the House of Commons on June 17, 1994. It passed second reading on September 27 and was then referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The committee tabled its report after hearing many individuals and organizations interested in this bill. Bill C-44 was debated at report stage in this House on December 12, 1994.
According to its authors, the bill has the following objectives: prevent a person convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of 10 years of more in Canada or abroad from claiming refugee status; give immigration officers the authority to seize documents sent by international mail that could be used for fraudulent purposes; remove from the Immigration Appeal Division appeals based on grounds of equity, when the minister believes the appellant to be a danger to the public-from what I just heard, he will use this power very often-; take away from a person affected by this the right to appeal, on the grounds that they represent a security risk.
As I have said time and again, we in the Bloc Quebecois say that the state and the government have the right and the duty to protect Canada and Quebec against criminals whatever their origins.
We agree that entry should be denied to immigrants and refugee claimants who have committed major crimes against persons in their country of origin and decide to flee to Canada, given our reputation as host country. While recognizing that there are problems with the criminal activity of refugees and immigrants, we suggest that the government already has all the legal and administrative means to deal with this situation.
For example, under the present legislation, Bill C-86, the minister has the power to have war criminals and anyone who has perpetrated a crime against humanity removed. But the government is taking no action against criminals in this category. Several Nazis still live in Canada. Léon Mugesera, said to be a Rwandan criminal by his own community, has not yet been expelled, in spite of the questions I have put to the minister in this House.
The law presently states that persons convicted of an offence outside of Canada are inadmissible to the refugee claim determination system when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the offence of which they have been convicted may constitute an offence punishable under a Canadian Act of Parliament by a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more and when the Minister of Immigration is satisfied that they might be a threat to public safety in Canada.
This is good enough for me, but I must point out that the Canadian Council for Refugees wants this clause that I just read to be deleted. Needless to say, they object to it being expanded to include permanent residents.
This bill is an excessive and disproportionate response to the two murders committed in Toronto in the spring of 1994 by foreign nationals. It was produced hastily, without any prior consultations, in spite of the fact that the minister promised when he took office that national consultations on the immigration policy would be held, at a cost of over $1 million.
Even the counsels and groups who work with immigrants and refugees were surprised. This bill is this Liberal government's response to the drastic and reactionary positions endorsed by the Reform Party. This bill, and several statements made by the minister, reflect a shift to the right by the Liberal Party of Canada.
It is very unfortunate that the government rejected every amendment moved by the opposition. The Liberal majority had already rejected the Bloc Quebecois proposals during the clause by clause study of the bill. Moreover, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration took, at the report stage, the same inflexible stance as his Liberal colleagues in the legislative committee, rejecting over 20 amendments I personally moved on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois as well as those put forth by my colleague from Laval East.
One of our amendments, for example, was designed to exclude from the application of the new legislation landed immigrants who have resided in Canada for ten years or more, as is currently the case in Australia and several other countries. Some of these people have no emotional ties with their country of origin. As it stands, there are people who have been living in this country for over 40 years who could now be removed. The minister and the Liberal majority have rejected this perfectly valid amendment moved by the Bloc Quebecois.
Many organizations testified before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, including: the Canadian council for refugees, which is a very well-respected organization in that sector; the national immigration law section of the Canadian bar association; the Canada employment and immigration union; the United Nations high commissioner for refugees; the Canadian section of Amnesty International; the national action
committee on the status of women; the Canadian labour congress-incidentally, I congratulate CLC officials for the quality of their submission as well as for their very supportive position regarding immigrants and refugees; the inter-church committee for refugees; the Quebec association of immigration lawyers; the Canadian ethnocultural council; the immigration and refugee board; the customs and excise union, etc.
None of these organizations supported the bill. The overwhelming majority of them strongly opposed this legislation. Some even made suggestions to help the House ensure that this bill is better designed, and that it is fair and efficient. Some asked for the outright withdrawal of that legislation because it is unfair and it violates commitments made by Canada regarding political asylum.
To that effect, allow me, Mr. Speaker, to quote from an article written by Nantha Kumar, which appeared in a Montreal publication called Hour , on December 15, 1994. The author alludes to a war said to be fought against refugees within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
The war is being fought on two fronts. Abroad, plain clothed immigration officers sit at major international airports, intercepting people they suspect are heading for Canada to apply for refugee status. At home, a propaganda war is being waged against claimants in order to convince Canadians that a more hard line approach is needed.
Montreal immigration lawyer, Richard Kurland, says that he has discovered "a department within the immigration department". Kurland says the communication strategy is clearly intended to sell the Canadian public on an enforcement oriented immigration policy. For example, when a government sponsored report by Professor James Hathaway criticized the fairness and legality of some practices at the Immigration and Refugee Board, it failed to make the front pages of most newspapers.
What instead made headlines the day the Hathaway report was released was the first of a series of immigration abuse stories. "The anti-immigrant and anti-refugee stories at the time were extraordinary", adds Kurland.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, says Kurland, "is not only under serious political pressure from the Reform Party. He is also under siege by the department within the department".
We, Bloc Quebecois members, deplore this regrettable swing to the right by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Such a move, which signals a dangerous shift towards intolerance, is made so as to manipulate public opinion and make Canadians forget that the vast majority of them, including myself, have come here in successive waves of immigrants, since the discovery and founding of this country.
I agree that something must be done regarding criminals in Canada, including those who are not Canadian citizens and who are seeking refugee status. However, any measure must comply with the Charter, as well as with the international conventions to which Canada is a party. I should also add that the minister and all of us agree that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are honest and law-abiding people.
The question therefore arises whether we really need legislation to deal with this very small minority. After all, the government already has a whole arsenal of laws, regulations and resources to deal with the small number of criminal immigrants.
At the very least, this bill raises some very serious constitutional questions. For instance, since its decision in the Singh case in 1985, the Supreme Court has determined that everyone in Canada, not just every citizen or every permanent resident but everyone in Canada, is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to the Supreme Court, an inquiry is necessary in situations that are not clear.
The Supreme Court also says that the potential cost of conducting an inquiry on certain refugees does not constitute reasonable grounds for restricting that right, even if the government says it would be too expensive. According to the Supreme Court, this would not justify depriving someone of the right to an inquiry.
We are very critical of Bill C-44. The powers of senior immigration officers, which are already very extensive, have been considerably expanded with respect to the exclusion of claimants of refugee status at the Canadian border or at points of entry. The bill gives these senior immigration officers the authority to issue a warrant for the arrest of a person who fails to appear. Such warrants may be issued in the case of any person with respect to whom a decision is to be made or an examination or inquiry is to be held. The warrant may be served by the police in order to force the person concerned to appear.
I am very concerned about the excessive authority vested in senior immigration officers. In any democratic society, judges, and not mere public servants, are authorized to issue arrest warrants.
Regarding the right to appeal on compassionate grounds, the original wording of the bill was amended to read that the minister must issue a statement that a person constitutes a danger to the public, before he loses his right to appeal, and the minister has said he intends to make frequent use of this authority.
The term "danger to the public" is very ambiguous. No definition is given, which opens the way to arbitrary decisions and abuse. Who will make the very crucial decision to state that someone is a danger to the public? The minister, public servants, the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service? On what grounds? Will they go through thousands of files with a fine tooth comb to find out whether someone constitutes a
danger to the public in Canada? The decisions will be secret. This is contrary to the practice in our judiciary system, where hearings are public. Those are just a few of our concerns.
There is another aspect I would like to discuss. The bill does not weigh the seriousness of the crime and the danger to the host country, in this case Canada, as provided under the Geneva Convention on refugees. According to many authors and legal experts, if a person is threatened, on political grounds, with certain death, life imprisonment or serious abuse if he returns to his country of origin, he should be granted refugee status even if he is guilty of a serious crime.
The seizure of international mail by immigration officers just mentioned by the minister constitutes another very dangerous provision in a democratic society.
The Refugee Convention distinguishes between crimes of common law and those of a political nature, a distinction completely absent from Bill C-44.
According to the manual of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, consideration must first be given to the nature of and reason for the crime, in other words whether it was committed for truly political reasons or whether the motive was monetary or purely personal.
Neither does the bill make a distinction between prosecution and persecution. According to the manual of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, a person guilty of a common law offence who is liable to an extreme penalty may be in a situation that is tantamount to persecution as defined by the Geneva Convention. In certain countries, prosecution may be a means of persecuting someone, and the law may be applied in a discriminatory manner.
The bill refers to a person convicted of an offence that, if committed in Canada, would carry a term of imprisonment of ten years or more. It mentions the maximum sentence for the offence, not the sentence actually handed down. As you know, the circumstances of a crime may vary from one extreme to another, justifying a maximum or minimum sentence accordingly.
It should be pointed out that, in general, Canada's Criminal Code does not specify minimum sentences for offences. Thus, an individual convicted of an offence for which a term of imprisonment of ten years or more may be imposed might not be sentenced to jail or even fined. He might simply be put on probation or given a suspended sentence.
Among the most important briefs submitted to the legislative committee, I would like to cite the very comprehensive document and testimony of the Inter-Church Committee for Refugees. This organization is concerned that certain classes of refugees will be found inadmissible at a point of entry or elsewhere in Canada, and that they will be deported without an impartial examination of their need for protection. This organization, which includes about ten Canadian churches, is therefore asking that refugee claimants be allowed to present arguments against their deportation before an impartial and independent tribunal.
They object to legitimate refugees claiming refugee status at the border being turned around without even considering their need for protection. The right of asylum is entrenched not only in the Geneva Convention but also in the Charter of the Organization of American States, as well as several other international instruments.
Notwithstanding the excellent presentations from such organizations and individuals, who are very knowledgeable on the subject, the government is rigidly standing its ground, except for making a few minor changes.
On the other hand, section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that no one may be deprived of the right to liberty and security, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Section one of the Charter says that these rights may be subject only to reasonable and demonstrably justified limits.
It should be pointed out that Bill C-44 is a very technical, difficult, complex and sensitive bill.
The Liberal government is showing a blatant lack of sensitivity towards immigrants and refugees who are victims of persecution. In so doing, the Liberal government goes back on promises made in its red book.
Today, the minister stated the same inflexible position as he did at first and second reading. He paid no attention to the opinion of the opposition.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration already had the means, as I said earlier, to deny criminals entry into Canada and to send them back to their country of origin. Several administrative measures like the ones mentioned earlier by the minister have been taken to do so. The minister created working groups made up of immigration, RCMP and local police officers in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in order to arrest and deport criminals in the process of obtaining immigrant or refugee status.
This House is also considering Bill C-37, an act to amend the Young Offenders Act and the Criminal Code. This bill also deals
with young people who do not have Canadian citizenship and have been convicted of criminal offences.
Finally, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and Correctional Services Canada in order to make deporting foreign criminals faster and easier. Hundreds of people have been tracked down and deported from Canada. RCMP officers and others have been posted in Canadian embassies and at major airports abroad in order to prevent criminals from entering Canada.
In November 1993, the recently appointed minister stated that he wanted to reduce political influence in refugee matters. He told La Presse that he wanted a system with as little political involvement as possible. Yet, this bill contradicts what he said in 1993. He wants to politicize even more the immigration and refugee determination process. He will issue statements to the effect that someone constitutes a danger to the public and will also stop appeals. This bill raises questions on the independence of the IRB and all administrative tribunals.
He also said that he wanted to introduce a more progressive approach and move away from Tory positions. Indeed, the minister's approach differs from that of the Conservatives. However, it is not because his refugee policies are more progressive, but because they are more reactionary and harsher than were those of the Conservatives. A Liberal minister is actually doing something the Conservatives never dared to do.
When the minister took over his portfolio, he immediately separated the immigration component from the department of public security, a measure which we welcomed at the time. However, Bill C-44 now links immigration to crime. Once again, the minister, like his government, does exactly the opposite of what he preached during the election campaign.
This bill gives the impression that all criminals in Canada are immigrants and refugees, which is utterly false and unfair. In fact, the crime rate among new Canadians is lower than that for those born in Canada. It should also be pointed out that, in recent years, the crime rate has been on the decline in Canada, which is of course a good thing.
Let me say a word on the issue of patronage at the IRB. In 1994, the government appointed, or renewed, the mandate of over 100 IRB members, including 65 new ones.
The IRB was created in 1988 by an act of Parliament. Although the board is a quasi-judicial tribunal, it has been used, since the beginning, as a patronage instrument.
The board is the largest administrative tribunal in the country; it is made up of 210 members appointed by the governor in council, as well as 40 adjudicators, who are public servants.
Since the beginning of the 35th Parliament, the Bloc Quebecois has been asking that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration fulfill its mandate and review the appointments of IRB members. It must be understood that, while the IRB is subject to the power of review of tribunals, it is also subject to the administrative control of Parliament.
Since January 1994, the committee's Liberal majority only once allowed a review of a dozen or so appointments. Although very little time was allowed for this exercise-just one morning-we could see to what extent the Liberals had reproduced the same kind of patronage system established by the former Conservative government.
Take the following appointments made by the present government. These are Liberals and friends of the party, appointed as members of the IRB with an annual salary of $75,000: Auguste Choquette, former Liberal member for Lotbinière, Quebec, from 1963 to 1968, who was even temporarily disbarred by the Barreau du Québec; Joan Kouri, former Liberal candidate in Brome-Missisquoi, Quebec, in 1993 and former president of the Liberal Women's Federation; Philomen Wright, supporter of the hon. member for York West and current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and member of the York West Liberal Riding Association in Ontario, a friend of the minister; Elke Homsi, former assistant to various Liberal MPPs in Ontario; Sherry Wiebe, director of research for the Manitoba Liberal Caucus; Inderjit Bal, appointed in 1994, who had to resign following a review and revelations before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and who sought the Liberal nomination in the riding of Bramalae-Gore-Malton, Ontario, in 1993 and organized the campaign of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Ravi Naqvi, who unsuccessfully sought the Liberal nomination in Mississauga West, Ontario; Patricia Davey, wife of a former aid to Pierre Elliott Trudeau; Ethel Teitelbaum, executive assistant to the former Liberal Minister of Finance, Donald MacDonald.
Some of these board members had no previous knowledge or experience of refugee problems, as we realized during meetings of the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship. The case of Mr. Michael Schelew, former deputy chairperson of the board, appointed by the present minister, goes well beyond the most fundamental limits of decency.
Because of internal wrangling within the board between Liberal and Conservative factions, Mr. Schelew was suspended and a legal inquiry was ordered by the minister. Pressured to resign, he agreed to do so only the day the inquiry was to start
and after he was promised more than $100,000 of public money, although he had not completed even one year on the job.
The minister never really explained what happened in this rather embarrassing case for the government. It bought the silence of this deputy chairperson of the board with a substantial amount of money, while cutting payments to the unemployed, welfare recipients and the neediest in our society.
Worse, with this outlandish settlement, the minister prevented the judge from looking into the board's mismanagement. The Bloc Quebecois has asked for, and will continue to demand, a public inquiry into the operations of the IRB which, at the very least, is going through a serious crisis. The Bloc Quebecois will continue to denounce patronage appointments by the minister and his government. We will demand a review of all future appointments by the committee. It is high time that the minister put into practice the recommendations contained in Professor Hathaway's report, that he personally commissioned.
I ask the minister and his government, instead of blindly and stubbornly defending Bill C-44, to try to counter the rise of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment in Canada. We must promote better understanding among Canadians, regardless of their origin.
On many occasions, in this House, I have decried the climate of hostility towards newcomers which is spreading across this country. I also reminded members that we have to meet our international humanitarian obligations and provide a safe haven for victims of political, religious or social persecution.
Unfortunately, immigrants, and especially refugees, are increasingly being used as scapegoats for the social and economic problems Canada is facing. In this context, Bill C-44 only serves to reinforce prejudices linking crime to immigration.
As an immigrant, and the official opposition critic for immigration and citizenship for over a year, I have noticed that Canada is becoming increasingly less generous and welcoming with refugees, in spite of the commitment made by the Liberal government in the red book to develop a humanitarian refugee policy and to admit a fair share of them.
I will point out that Canada is only taking in less than 0.25 per cent of persecuted and displaced people throughout the world. As you know, Mr. Speaker, there are more than 100 million of these people. Therefore, I ask the minister and his government to promote a more humane and more generous attitude toward newcomers, especially refugees, instead of defending Bill C-44 which is so full of injustices and will lead to abuses.
In this international year of tolerance, the government should organize an awareness campaign highlighting the contributions of immigrants to Canadian society and the benefits of immigration.
For these reasons, I will vote against the bill.