House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nay.


Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, the Immigration and Refugee Board should be dismantled and its functions subsumed into the Department of Citizenship and Immigration where refugee claims would be heard and decided by well trained and accountable immigration officers.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address private member's Motion No. 120 which calls for the dismantling of the Immigration and Refugee Board. I will refer to the board as the IRB from here on in.

This motion is in response to more than two years of inaction on the part of the department of immigration and its political management by the current government. For more than two years the former minister and his replacement have skirted issues and generally avoided questions, all the while refusing to take responsibility for the inadequacies which exist within the immigration portfolio.

Under the current Liberal regime the government has brought forward legislation which has juggled the status quo and made minuscule changes. However, it has not addressed the legitimate concerns of Canadians who want the system fixed.

It must be hard for old style politicians to see past the trough of political patronage and grasp the concept of populous opinion. Since the time of Confederation the political machine in Canada has been rife with corruption and the harbour of patronage. The latest Liberal instalment is yet another chapter in the patronage book. Many initiatives are undertaken to accommodate campaign contributors, regardless of the cost to public funds or public safety.

The government is out of touch with the average Canadian, so I will take this opportunity to inform it of how rank and file Canadians view the shortcomings of the current immigration system.

Canadians are a remarkable people. Their selfless commitment to helping those less fortunate has gained the admiration of the world. Canadians want to provide a safe refuge for those who, through no fault of their own, are in legitimate danger of persecution. This is our home and we are happy to share it with those in need.

However, this responsibility has its limits. No one likes to be taken advantage of and that is exactly what is occurring today. Some of those who have come to our land seeking asylum are fugitives, war criminals or people who have not been straightforward in disclosing their situation or their past. The current system does not allow for thorough scrutiny, resulting in heightened risk to Canadians.

This situation did not arrive overnight. There has been a long stream of inept decision making which has brought our humanitarian efforts to the disastrous state which exists today. Contrary to routine embellishment by ministers of immigration, past and present, there is plenty that can be done to rectify the situation. It involves some creativity, hard work and may upset some of those who have been getting fat off overburdened taxpayers. These criteria alone would cause the minister to run away in fear, yet we with a Reform backbone are willing to make the changes in the interest of Canadians.

Let us look at the function and makeup of the IRB. The IRB was created in response to the Supreme Court of Canada's 1985 ruling in the case of Singh v. the Minister of Employment and Immigration. The supreme court, under the direction of Chief Justice Bertha Wilson, had ruled in Singh that all refugee claimants were to be granted all hearings in accordance with standards of fundamental justice and that the prior practice violated those standards. The board was also empowered to hear the appeals of those who had been ordered removed from Canada.

The decision was predicated on the theory that the IRB would be a determining body able to sort out those seeking asylum under the United Nations definition of a conventional refugee from those simply seeking entrance to Canada. From this point on the trouble starts.

Let me start by addressing the makeup of the board. The IRB, which is comprised of over 235 amply remunerated appointees, is both larger and better paid than is appropriate. The body incurs an operating cost of over $80 million a year, not including the cost to legal aid and social services which result from their decisions.

By dismantling the IRB and subsuming its function into the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the system would become more accountable, more cost effective, more ethical and would fulfil our humanitarian obligations.

Like all other appointed quasi-judicial bodies, the IRB is autonomous in its decision making practices. As the minister of immigration is so fond of saying, it is at arm's length to the government.

Unfortunately it was not an acceptable form of recall. This process could take as long as five years and fall outside the mandate of an elected government. Those making decisions on behalf of Canadians should be directly accountable for their actions. Without the direction of the House of Commons, the IRB is pursuing its own mandate regardless of the wants and needs of Canadians.

Many of those who land in Canada as refugees should have been considered immigrants, others should have been denied entry altogether. As Canadians we have an obligation to accommodate only those who qualify as convention refugees under the definition outlined by the United Nations.

The United Nations definition of a convention refugee is one who, because of a membership in a particular political or social group, religion, race or nationality, cannot return to his or her own country for fear of serious persecution. The UN estimates that in 1993 there were over 20 million displaced persons in the world. Of these only 60,000 remain genuine refugees. 1994-95 reflects the same kind of statistics.

The UN reports that 25,000 of the 60,000 who were in need of immediate resettlement were settled worldwide. Canada accepted 25,000 refugees in 1993. Therefore either Canada settled every single refugee in the world or the formula for determining the status is flawed. I believe it to be the latter.

A clear definition has been laid down by the UN. Unfortunately the IRB interpretation of that definition has created considerable uncertainty regarding the determination of refugee status. The average acceptance rate for industrialized countries has traditionally hovered around 14 per cent. Canada's acceptance rate is presently hovering between 70 per cent and 90 per cent. Clearly the definition of refugee has undergone radical expansion in Canada.

Some may argue the merits of having such a high approval rate. However, the ramifications of these practices is far reaching and not as noble as one may think. I will address this issue later in my speech.

The IRB has redefined its mandate and practices outside that of its inception and that of any other practice exercised by signatories of the UN convention.

There must be a clear formula for refugee determination and it must be followed in all cases. Unless a nation has proven itself to be a systematic violator of the terms of the UN treaty, then that nation should be considered a safe third country for the purposes of refugee determination.

Currently the majority of cases heard by the IRB involve inland claimants, those people who enter Canada and seek refugee status. Many of these people have paid their way to Canada and only seek refugee status because of Canada's liberal practices. Canada operates under the legal fiction that there are no safe third countries. As such, virtually all migrants regardless of their previous country of residence, are granted refugee hearings on request. I can point to the United States, England, Germany and even Israel, that according to Canada, are refugee producing nations.

I believe it is entirely appropriate and does not contravene the decision to deny claimants refugee hearings who come from safe third countries. This is in accordance with the UN definition. This opinion is shared by Canadians but not by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The practices of the IRB have caused two streams of immigration into Canada; those who qualify as immigrants and those who slip through as refugees. There are two losers in this scenario: the legitimate refugee who is not granted access to Canada and the taxpayer who is forced to support huge bills which result from appeals, legal aid and social assistance. Claimants that do not have a legitimate claim to seek asylum in Canada carry a huge price tag.

The average cost to the taxpayer per claimant in terms of legal aid, court time and social assistance is between $30,000 and $60,000, multiplied by 25,000 refugee claimants accepted annually, the bill is well over $1 billion. This amount comes close to matching the total budget of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. With that budget the UNHRC manages to care for, resettle and repatriate five million displaced persons a year.

In other words, Canada spends the same amount of money on a few thousand cases as the UN does on five million. There is definitely a problem. The primary goal of Canada's refugee system is to provide humanitarian relief. Therefore, a reduced emphasis on

inland processing is needed in order to focus a greater reliance on overseas selection.

Overseas claimants are confined to refugee camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed soldiers. These people have been denied the most basic of human needs, yet their plight is forsaken by those who abuse the Canadian refugee system.

In addition to the humanitarian gains inherent in this approach, costs to the taxpayer would be substantially reduced. Contrary to the exorbitant costs attributed to inland claimants, the cost of resettling overseas claimants averages between $2,500 to $3,000 per claim. This is fair, it is ethical and it is what the IRB was established to do, help those most in need.

We may ask ourselves why dismantle the IRB, why not just change its mandate? I do not believe it is that simple. The IRB is a hotbed for political patronage appointments. Merit is not always a factor or a motive. The IRB is unresponsive to the interests of Canadians and has become a representative of special interests from the immigration industry perpetuating a system which drains public moneys for its own gain; the more the merrier as long as the taxpayer is paying. This is accomplished by broadening the definition of refugees beyond either what the people of Canada or the United Nations for that matter have ever proposed.

In many instances IRB members have been confused between the terms of persecution and prosecution by allowing fugitives, terrorists, outlaws and political dissidents into Canada under the guise of refugees. Some of these undesirables are believed to be channelled through Canadian social assistance funds back to the political regimes which perpetuate violence, genocide and drugs, not the element which tugs at the heart strings of generous Canadians. I believe Canadians have been duped into believing otherwise.

Under current guidelines refugee hearings conducted by the IRB are to be non-confrontational. In other words, board members and staff must take pains to avoid engaging in questioning, introducing evidence or employing a tone that would suggest to the claimant the onus of providing proof of legitimacy lies with them.

It is a privilege to be granted access to the best country in the world. There needs to be a system of determining refugees which is thorough, efficient, cost effective and fair. The IRB is not, hence the fact that it must be dismantled.

The House may ask what will serve in its place. I am glad that question was asked because no responsible piece of legislation should be presented unless it is well researched and includes a plan of implementation. I assure the House this motion includes both.

I am proposing the IRB be entirely dismantled and replaced by a body of well trained immigration officers who have the ability individually to determine refugee claims. These officers would receive intensive training in refugee acceptance guidelines. This measure would establish government policies and procedures which would need to be followed in each and every case.

The performance of these officers would be scrutinized and regularly reviewed by departmental officials under the jurisdiction of the deputy minister of immigration and citizenship, thereby implementing the element of accountability which has been absent from the present model.

Some may argue replacing the IRB with a body of trained immigration officials directly accountable to the deputy minister will lead to political intervention in the determination process. There could be a valid argument here. However, Reform proposes that members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees monitor refugee acceptance guidelines in Canada and act as a check and balance on the process.

Our mandate to accept and resettle convention refugees is obligatory as signatories of the treaty. The UNHCR would be able to inform the minister and Canadians of questionable trends in refugee processing.

This intervention would end the pandering of the immigration industry interest which is so prevalent thus far. Immigration officers would be empowered to investigate and question the legitimacy of all claimants in the interest of Canadians. The decision of verifying and accepting a claim would be rendered by individual hearing officers rather than by an IRB member, a patronage appointment.

This method of intervention would ensure full disclosure of information, including that which is incriminating. Why should we provide asylum to those who have committed crimes in other lands? I know the Liberals prefer to see that, as they have often expressed, but unfortunately most Canadians do not agree with that. There are far too many needy claimants in the world to take risks on those with chequered pasts.

By empowering our immigration officials with fact finding abilities there is a greater chance of weeding out those who are not deserving of asylum in Canada.

The IRB is ineffective in determining refugee claimants as described in the UN definition of a convention refugee. The IRB has a history of catering to the immigration industry, lining the pockets of immigration lawyers, advocacy groups and organizations with hard earned taxpayer dollars.

The IRB has broadened the Canadian definition of a refugee to the point that anyone entering Canada has a nine out of ten shot at refugee status. Of all who reach Canada, only 1 per cent are ever deported. This is a joke that undermines the immigration and refugee system in the eyes of Canadians.

The IRB has repeatedly cost the Canadian taxpayer, the board itself, $80 million a year. That is a disgusting display of partisan patronage which must stop now.

One would think the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration would embrace a plan such as this. It would restore integrity and accountability to a portfolio which is severely lacking. It would demonstrate to the Canadian public that she cares about the situation and responsible with their hard earned tax dollars. It would portray her as a minister concerned with the safety of Canadians, dedicated to Canada's humanitarian obligations.

There is only one problem. She would have to fire all her friends and those of the previous minister, which I do not think would happen. That is a serious obstacle for this minister and the entire Liberal Party. The only jobs, jobs, jobs they care about are patronage jobs.

We on this side of the House see things a whole lot differently. We want to take the immigration system and make it effective, accountable and ethical. We want governments to implement programs which serve Canadians without the added expense of patronage jobs. We want the refugee determination process to be conducted by well trained, non-partisan immigration officials. This is not a Christmas wish list. This is the bare minimum which is to be expected from a responsible government.

Our plan would result in the number of persons accepted as convention refugees through the inland process being be sharply reduced.

I am bringing forward a motion which is in the best interest of Canadians by implementing a more effective system of refugee determination without the pomp and circumstance of bloated patronage appointments and the pandering to special interest demands.

Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion No. 120 by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast advocating the elimination of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Let us examine that which is to be destroyed by this motion. The IRB, an independent administration tribunal, was to identify those who need our protection as convention refugees.

In 1989 the IRB was established so that refugee claimants would have the right to a hearing in order to explain their claim personally. This resulted following a supreme court decision which indicated the claimants had a right to an oral hearing when questions of credibility were at stake. As well, the IRB was formed in order to respond to charges that the former system was not impartial. A return to the former system would only lead to the same criticism and legal challenges which plagued it.

The IRB is comprised of three divisions. The refugee division of the IRB deals exclusively with claims to convention refugee status. Before the division comes into the picture, a senior immigration officer of Citizenship and Immigration Canada determines whether a claimant is eligible to claim convention refugee status. If eligible, claimants are referred to the IRB for determination. Claims are usually heard by a two member panel, although in a number of situations decisions can be made by a single member.

The IRB also plays the key role in adjudicating all immigration inquiries. This is handled by the adjudication division of the IRB which is mandated to conduct immigration inquiries and detention reviews. Inquiries are held at the request of department officials to determine whether persons are to be admitted to or removed from Canada.

The appeal division of the IRB is in charge of handling appeals by Canadians citizens or permanent resident sponsors in cases where the department officials have rejected an application for permanent residence made by a close family member.

It also handles appeals for removal orders issued by the board's adjudication division or department officials against permanent residents, visa holders or convention refugee claimants who have been convicted of a serious crime in Canada, who have made a material misrepresentation on their application for permanent residence, or who have not complied with the terms and conditions of their landings.

As well, the appeal division handles appeals by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration against decisions of the board's adjudication division. The minister may reject or admit the subject of an immigration inquiry.

As everyone can see from this description, the IRB performs an extremely important and complex function. Transferring the IRB's function to the department would not be a small feat. It would be expensive and would not add anything positive. Most important, it would seriously compromise the impartiality of the refugee determination process.

We must do everything possible to avoid a perception that refugee determining officers are seen as simply doing the will of the government of the day. Impartiality is imperative. The independence of the IRB ensures the principles of our charter of rights and freedoms are preserved.

Our charter provides that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Refugee status determination requires particular skills and expertise. It requires personnel who have knowledge and understand-

ing of the refugee experience. Departmental officials could be trained to do the job of IRB members, but we must keep in mind current members were selected because they already had many of the qualities necessary for the job.

As such, there would in essence be no sense in moving these positions to the department. Moreover, regardless of whether the IRB were dismantled, the qualities required of refugee decision makers would not change one bit. The bottom line is that transferring the functions of the IRB to the department would mean significant and unnecessary expenditures and would also compromise the impartial nature of the refugee determination process which the IRB performs so effectively. This latter point is crucial. It is the reason I must reject the hon. member's motion.

It is important to be aware that the previous Minister of Citizenship and Immigration recently introduced changes to the IRB. This includes downsizing the IRB from 175 members to 112 for a cost saving of $6 million. Also, an independent panel will be set up to choose new IRB members and reappoint current ones. The selection process prior to this change was previously the responsibility of the minister.

This is evidence that the IRB is continually reacting to a changing environment and is evolving. The need to evolve however does not imply that we should dispose of the entire system. If there is a problem, we fix it. We make changes. We do not mindlessly destroy what is already created and in place.

To destroy and dismantle will not solve anything. It will not accomplish a thing. This government has worked hard ever since its inception to make sure that Canada's refugee determination system is fair, to be certain that it is affordable and that it is also sustainable. The changes that have already been made to the IRB are a clear example of this. We have an excellent refugee program that will only continue to improve.

Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Motion M-120 tabled by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast, who wants the Immigration and Refugee Board or IRB to be dismantled.

This motion has already been debated on December 14. The hon. member wants IRB functions to be subsumed under the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

He put forward several reasons to justify his motion, and I agree with some of them because they are quite valid. He wants to end patronage, partisan appointments and the renewal of commissioners' mandate. He wants to end political patronage, the tradition of rewarding election campaign friends and supporters by appointing them to highly paid, prestigious positions, like that of IRB commissioner.

However, I totally disagree with the hon. member's opinion that the board should be dismantled. Although I recognize that there are indeed some operational problems, I think the IRB is a valuable organization that must be preserved.

The IRB was created in 1989 following a 1985 Supreme Court ruling on the Singh case. The ruling stipulated that refugees and asylum seekers too are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and entitled to a hearing in accordance with the standards of fundamental justice.

The Supreme Court ruled that the charter of rights and freedoms must be respected in the refugee determination and admission process.

This process must also take place before an impartial organization, an independent tribunal, as is the case with the IRB.

The IRB is the largest independent quasi-judicial tribunal in Canada. It was established by Parliament to rule on refugee claims and immigration appeals.

Since 1993, it is also responsible for the arbitration function as it relates to immigration inquiries and the review of the grounds for detention. The IRB administers a budget of approximately $77 million per year and, as of May 1, had 178 board members, whose wages range from $73,400 to $142,400. These are well-paid jobs, board members earning $90,000 a year on average.

There is a serious problem, which has been raised by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast, with appointment and reappointment of members. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration periodically reviews some of these appointments, and we have noticed that many are politically motivated. Sometimes, those selected lack the necessary expertise. Never having worked with immigrant or refugee serving organizations, they do not always have the skills required to carry out their duties.

The board has heard the testimonies of two former board members, who condemned the incompetence of some board members. There is even one board member who was disbarred as a lawyer only to be later appointed to the board by this Liberal government.

The government told us it wanted to improve the board member selection process. An advisory committee, the Gordon Fairweather committee, after the name of its chairman, was established. This is some obscure committee, whose operations we know nothing about. For instance, we do not know on what basis the board members are selected, whether or not interviews are conducted and if appraisals are taken into account. The role played by the IRB in

appointing and reappointing members when their terms of office expire is not known.

The official opposition, and the hon. member for Bourassa in particular, have asked that the chairman of this committee appear before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration along with an IRB representative to explain to us what procedure is used to select and appoint board members. Unfortunately, our request was denied by the Liberal majority on the committee.

We Bloc members oppose Motion M-120, even though we agree with some of the points raised by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast. We do not think that the solution is to dismantle the IRB, but to bring about major changes to this paralegal body. Transferring the IRB's functions to public servants is not the solution, because the minister and the government display partisanship when appointing the deputy minister or senior officials to whom these public servants are accountable.

In the past, when public servants were responsible for the refugee status determination process, the decision was sometimes made in secret. There was no obligation to hear those who were seeking asylum. This is why the Supreme Court ruled that a paralegal body was required to make decisions on such requests.

Moreover, I cannot agree with a motion from a party that has shown no interest in the cause of refugees. This motion only seeks to force Canada to drastically reduce the number of refugees currently allowed into the country. The Reform Party has shown a great deal of hostility towards immigrants and refugees, while also recently making discriminatory comments towards homosexuals and blacks. It also displays some animosity towards women and minorities. Therefore, we cannot support this motion.

There are problems with the IRB. One of the most important ones is, in our opinion, the fact that it takes much too long to hear claims, particularly in the case of an appeal. The IRB must improve its productivity, and its members must make better and more consistent decisions.

There are many problems in the IRB office in Montreal. Last week, a board member was arrested, and charged with making death threats to an IRB hearing officer. He was charged with intercepting private conversations, having a restricted weapon in his possession, harassing and of making harassing phone calls. These are serious charges. As things stand, the board member has not been suspended, even if his case is already before a court.

Incidents such as these do undermine the credibility of the IRB. This is why I am asking the minister and the chair of the IRB to react and to suspend this board member until a final decision has been reached in this case.

I would like to point out another problem with the IRB. I was told that the IRB wants to privatize its documentation, information and research service. This is an important service that provides board members with the information they need about the asylum seeker and his or her home country. I have even heard that a Liberal member is involved in these efforts to privatize the documentation service of the IRB. I do not think that would be a good idea. I think we should reassure the employees who are afraid of losing their jobs.

The situation worldwide is alarming: the number of refugees is still on the rise. According to the High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 27 million refugees, and 80 p. 100 of them are women and children. Today's newspapers reported a very serious problem in Liberia, an African country thousands of refugees are trying to flee. I would like Canada to provide them with humanitarian assistance and to welcome a number of these refugees here.

Let me say in conclusion that we will vote against this motion.

Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of my colleague's private member's motion to get rid of the Immigration and Refugee Board. I support him 100 per cent.

I have heard from former members as well as those who are presently sitting on the IRB. They are very concerned about the attitude, the prevailing culture as they call it, within the Immigration and Refugee Board. There are individuals who feel that the prevailing attitude or culture of the board is very biased, one sided and certainly is not balanced. They are very concerned because they see this attitude as being one of supporting the advocacy groups and the refugees over and above any consideration for Canada and for the safety of Canadian society. This concerns me.

The board is a quasi-judicial body which operates at arm's length from the government. There does not seem to be any accountability. I appreciate that somebody has to be there to be concerned about the refugee and immigration applicants who appear before the board, however I feel there are other options. There are other options and opportunities within the Canadian system for their concerns to be addressed. My colleague has given his concept of what he thinks the alternatives can be.

I would suggest that having a government department with individuals who have the knowledge and training to deal with this

is probably the preferable way of dealing with it because they are accountable. If it can be shown they are not doing their job or that there is bias or a lack of consideration for any of the different parties, they can be held accountable and they can be removed from their job.

The members of the IRB are not treated in the same way. They are removed from any accountability. When they make decisions that are not in Canada's best interests, nothing really can be done. Making people accountable for their decisions is a very important consideration.

Another reason departmental representatives are in a better position or should be allowed that jurisdiction is that decisions would be done in a timely manner. It is not fair for any applicant to have to wait four or five years to know whether or not they are going to be allowed to stay in their country of choice. It is not fair to the Canadian public nor to the applicants themselves to be held in the situation of not knowing where they belong.

I have talked to many applicants who have gone through a very long and drawn out process to try to get some kind of determination. It is very difficult for them when they have established roots in a new home in Canada to be told four or five years later that they cannot stay.

I am concerned with what is happening to the Immigration and Refugee Board in that its decisions are also bringing disrepute to Canada's whole immigration system. I can cite a number of cases of where its decisions have been contrary to public opinion and the opinion of immigration officers. There are decisions where the immigration officers have appealed the IRB decision because they felt so strongly about it. A number of them have happened within the last year or two.

One that strikes me as being totally uncalled for is a decision for Jhatoo to remain in our country. Jhatoo has a fairly lengthy criminal history and ended up once again committing a serious crime. He beat to death with a baseball bat a mother of six children. He did it for money. The IRB determined that he could be rehabilitated even though he had a long criminal history and he had murdered a mother of six children. He was put out on parole. The decision was made that while he was on parole he could remain in Canada on the condition that he not associate with other criminals. When the IRB decision came down his parole had already been revoked and he was in jail associating with criminals. This did not seem to concern the IRB.

There is another case of an applicant who had been ordered deported, whose deportation order had been stayed by the IRB and then had been appealed and overturned. Although that individual had a charge of manslaughter, a charge for a sexual offence against a 13 year old, and charges of aggravated assault, he was allowed to stay in Canada. As a result there is one woman who is dead and a 13 year old girl who was shot and badly wounded before he committed suicide. There is a price to pay for decisions such as these.

When somebody thinks that the department officials have not given a good decision or that their deportation order is unjustified, there are the courts of the land to deal with those cases. There is nothing that denies them the ability to appear before the courts in those cases.

We have made it so easy for individuals to stretch the process, to stretch the courtesy and the kindness of our country to the point where our acceptance rate is nigh on 75 per cent. Although as a country we are compassionate and we want to open our doors, it is a question of making sure that those most in need, the genuine refugees who are in camps and do not have the means to relocate in another country, are the people we look after, not those individuals who have the financial resources to reach the North American continent and to make their claim from here.

Some comments have been brought to my attention from the Rwandan community here in Canada, the Tamil community here in Canada, the Hong Kong community here in Canada, and the Sikh community here in Canada. They are concerned about the decisions which are being made by the IRB. They are concerned about the representation in the IRB hearings which they see as very one sided and very biased. They ask: "How is it possible that this is happening? We are the victims. We are being victimized in Canada by the people the IRB is allowing to come in. Why is somebody not protecting us in Canada from that which we left in our home countries?" I cannot answer them because I do not know why we are allowing that to happen.

The situation we find ourselves in was brought to my attention by somebody within the community. This person is concerned that in 1994 there were 68 Chileans who made claims to the board in Montreal. In February 1995 Canada removed the visitor's visa regulation for Chileans. In 1995 Montreal had 1,483 applicants for refugee status. That is a jump from 68 claimants to 1,483 claimants in one year.

One has to ask why this happens. Is it for legitimate reasons or is it because Canada has a reputation for having such a weak, soft system that it makes it easy for people to take advantage of us? In the interests of Canadians, in the interests of the integrity of our immigration system it is very important that Canada start looking at organizations and boards like the IRB to determine whether they have been successful in maintaining the status and the stature of Canada in the international community. If they have not, then this country should be looking for other alternatives. I would suggest that now is not soon enough.

Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Beaches—Woodbine Ontario


Maria Minna LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, to characterize a system as being biased against the safety of Canadians is not only not fair, but it is not just.

Over 50 years this country has opened its doors to thousands and thousands of refugees. This is something I am sure everyone is proud of. There are individuals in this House right now who know firsthand the hardships and perils refugee claimants have to face, the persecution, the sorrow and the fear.

For the rest of us it may sometimes be difficult to understand or comprehend the refugee experience. People in Canada do not have to worry about soldiers coming to their doors in the middle of the night to take them or their families away. We do not have to worry about being tortured or killed for our political beliefs. We do not have to worry about suddenly losing our homes and possessions because of war. We must never forget that many others do.

There are places in the world where speaking one's mind can get one thrown into a cell without a trial or a sentence, or worse. We live in a time when terms like ethnic cleansing and genocide have become part of the daily vernacular. I am proud to say that in Canada we have chosen to confront these issues head on. It has long been recognized both here and abroad that Canadians care and we take our responsibilities as good citizens of the world very seriously.

That is why we accept the international obligations we took on when we signed the 1951 Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 protocol. By signing those agreements we promised to protect those in need, to open our arms and hearts to victims of oppression and misery.

A key element of the strategy to deal with refugees was the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board in 1989. The IRB, on behalf of Canadians, reflects our commitment to promote a peaceful and humanitarian response to global issues of conflict, mass migration and human rights. The board's goals and challenges have remained constant: to identify those in need of Canada's protection and to adjudicate fairly and efficiently all immigration appeals, inquiries and detention reviews.

There have been times when the IRB has met all of these goals and challenges. However, we have had problems. There have been times when the IRB's judgment has been questioned. There have been times when the integrity of the system has been placed in doubt. However this does not mean we should scrap the whole thing. This type of haphazard tearing down is inefficient and uncalled for. Characterizing the system by using a few criminal sensationalistic cases is irresponsible.

In 1985 the supreme court ruled that refugee claimants are entitled to a hearing on the merits of their claim in accordance with the charter right to fundamental justice. In the Singh case the court pointed out that fundamental justice required that the claimants had a right to an oral hearing before the decision maker where questions of credibility were at stake. The opportunity to be heard is only one element of fundamental justice. The decision maker must also be unbiased and impartial. There is a requirement not only for justice to be done but for justice to be seen to be done.

We have a board of professionals who are well trained to deal with the intricacies and complexities of refugee cases. Refugee status determination has been described as one of the most difficult forms of adjudication. It is emotionally demanding and requires a commitment to justice and fairness. Board members are chosen because they have the qualities deemed necessary to carry out this important and often heart rending work. They bring with them different perspectives and knowledge of the international community.

The board's record of success far outweighs the few instances of problems. Last year alone the board heard over 20,000 claims. Unfortunately when dealing with that many people inevitably a few people may slip through the cracks. A criminal few have cast some serious aspersions on a good system. That is why the government recently took action to protect the integrity of our system. I am talking about the passage of Bill C-44 which hon. members opposite know well.

Bill C-44 is an enforcement tool which is tough on serious criminals who would abuse our nation's goodwill and hospitality. It stops serious dangerous criminals from claiming refugee status simply to delay their removal from Canada. It also allows our government to stop a refugee hearing after the hearing has begun if it suddenly receives new information about a claimant's criminal dealings.

Before the passage of Bill C-44, we would not stop the process once it started. Likewise, Bill C-44 takes away the right of serious criminals to appeal removal orders to the immigration appeal division of the IRB. The withdrawal of appeal rights will only occur in the most serious cases involving real danger to the public.

We have done a great deal to address the concerns that hon. members across the way are talking about. Perhaps it should be noted right now that improvements to the board are not always legislated in the House. In order to maintain its relevance and efficiency, the board continually assesses its performance and examines ways to improve. The IRB has willingly undertaken an ongoing process of critical self-examination of policies, practices and procedures.

In recent years the board itself has concentrated on developing and identifying best practices. Another example of this positive development was the introduction of guidelines in examining

claims from women refugees fearing gender related persecution. Canada was the first country in the world to undertake such an initiative. This reinforces our image as a world leader in upholding the rights of women.

It is a system which is continually evolving and developing. It is a system which builds on its successes and learns from its mistakes. Countries such as the U.S., which has been admonished by the UN a number of times for its lack of sensitivity and understanding in its dealings with refugees, are not the kinds of countries I would like to compare Canada with.

We have a system in place which is at arm's length from the government, is professional and is doing a good job. We need to improve it, but scrapping it is like sticking our heads in the sand.

Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps we could call it 12.03 p.m. rather than having someone speak for three minutes.

Immigration And Refugee BoardPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed from May 10, 1996 consideration of Bill C-12, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Clark's Crossing, SK


Motion No. 75

That Bill C-12 be amended by deleting Clause 63.

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11:55 a.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB


Motion No. 76

That Bill C-12, in Clause 63, be amended by a ) replacing line 19, on page 60, with the following:

"63.(1) Subject to subsection (2), the Commission may, with the approv-"; and b ) adding the following after line 34 on page 60:

"(2) Where the government of a province notifies the Commission in writing that it wishes to enter into an agreement to provide for the annual payment by the Commission of contributions equivalent to all costs and expenses relating to the employment benefits and support measures that are to be made each year by the Commission in the province, the Commission shall enter into such an agreement forthwith."

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11:55 a.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are getting near the end of this stage which unfortunately, just as all other stages of consideration of this bill, has been cut short by the government. First of all, this bill did not follow the normal procedure since it was referred to committee before second reading, where the official opposition usally has the opportunity to talk about the principles of a bill. And now, at report stage in the House, the government has once again decided to limit debate.

I think the government does not want to give us the opportunity to tell the truth about this reform in the House of Commons because it is afraid that, if people learn the truth, there will be even more pressure on the government.

After all these demonstrations in areas where there had not been any in a long time, we had further proof of the people's dissatisfaction in the 40,000 cards Quebecers sent to the Leader of the Official Opposition so he could give them to the Minister of Human Resources Development, who was not there to receive them. But the cards are there.

If people are so much opposed to this bill, it is because it changes dramatically the conditions of the unemployment insurance program, which is the only protection available to ordinary people, to those who are not rich, to those who do not have lifetime job security, and that includes a lot of people.

The only people who will be less affected by this bill are those who already have a steady job, who already work 35 hours a week or more. But even these people will be affected by the level of maximum benefits and by the reduction of the benefit period to 45 weeks. Even they will be affected, because their sons, wives, friends, and people from their areas will be affected, because economically, as well as socially, this bill is a bad bill.

I would say it is a bad bill for Canada as well. And you might look at me and consider it ironic, coming from a member of the Bloc Quebecois. Yes, Mr. Speaker, but on this issue, as on so many others, the official opposition has fulfilled its function because, when we are here, we are defending not just Quebec's interests in this Parliament, but also the interests of Quebecers, which are just as affected as Canadians in Atlantic Canada or anywhere else in Canada by this UI reform.

This reform has an impact on the economy and on Canada. Why? Because since the beginning, UI was, in my view, a form of transfer from the richer regions, those where work is the most plentiful, to the poorer regions, where it is harder to find a decent-paying job.

But the purpose of this bill, and it is there for anyone who reads the documents put out by the department, is to reduce equalization payments. People in the regions quite rightly protested. They were being targeted. But they are not the only ones targeted, far from it.

In addition to tightening up eligibility requirements, as was mentioned, in addition to reducing benefits, in addition to slashing the level of benefits for those without stable jobs, this bill has the

detestable feature of increasing the arbitrary and discretionary power of the commission, which has dwindled to a shadow of its former self, because, to all intents and purposes, the department takes over what used to be the commission's role. Employees are now employees of the department. So, there is more arbitrary power, and definitely more punitive measures.

As proof, I offer the amendments presented by the government, because it was the only one able to present any, on all the provisions involving expenditures and revenues. These amendments solve very few problems for very few people and, in themselves, will not offset the department's intended cuts. Those cuts will be replaced with additional sanctions.

It is important to note that there is a very low level of unemployment insurance fraud, based on what we know about the incidence of fraud in various public programs. It is important to point out that, of the nearly $14 billion paid out in benefits, cases involving fraud accounted for $94 million this past year, or far less than 1 per cent. The number of individuals found guilty of fraud is also far lower than that figure.

I have heard from so many lawyers working with people who have been having horrendous problems with UI. Moreover, numerous rulings by both the umpire and the federal appeal court have repeatedly shown that people are very much at a disadvantage when it comes to unemployment insurance. If they do win their case, all that they obtain as a judgment is that the commission will review its decision, so many people do not even protest, because they cannot afford to.

Something we fear will happen, and it will if the government continues along this path, is that there will be more work done under the table, more arrangements between employers and employees to get around this legislation.

The government still has time, there is no urgency. The purpose of our proposed amendment is to encourage the government to take the necessary time for proper consultations aimed at true reform. There is no rush to precipitate regions into very high unemployment levels, no rush to hurl those with no security except unemployment insurance into far greater poverty.

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12:10 p.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the employment insurance legislation before the House.

The bill is key to our government's commitment to the reform of the social security system. As Secretary of State for the Status of Women and as a B.C. MP, I am pleased to say fairness and inclusiveness are hallmarks of the bill. It retools the outdated Unemployment Insurance Act of 1971 for our times.

In the 1990s structural unemployment created a new problem that the old UI system had not been designed to address. Through no fault of their own, workers were being laid off and found it difficult to get permanent work. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the advent of a new era of technological and information based industries.

The end result was that UI, which was meant to assist workers through temporary short term job displacement, was ill equipped to respond to the frequent recurrent, and in some cases permanent, job loss characteristic of structural unemployment.

The only way to deal with structural unemployment, as the rest of the industrial world is beginning to find out, is to become relevant to the new industrial reality. To do this means retraining and providing workers with the tools and skills for the new world of work. Canadians want to work, to be independent economically and to provide the infrastructure for Canada's competitiveness in the global economy.

This bill creates a new and modern employment insurance system for Canadians who agree we need to realign our social programs and who want these changes made with fairness and with flexibility, with a human face.

Canadians have had a direct hand in shaping this reform and the result is an insurance plan that focuses on employment, training and entrepreneurship, not unemployment. This new system will help more Canadians prepare for, find and keep work in the new economy, and goes so far as to create jobs.

One of the most significant features of this reform is that while 96 per cent of current UI recipients will still be eligible, 500,000 new claimants will be able to receive benefits, a majority of whom are women and youth.

The new bill also recognizes the regional diversity of the country. For the first time, fewer hours will be required to qualify in high unemployment areas such as northern B.C. and the maritimes. The bill recognizes for the first time the inherent differences in the work patterns of men and women and seeks to remedy them.

The evolution of women's aspiration for equality has created a different dynamic in the workforce. Today women make up 45 per cent of the paid workforce.

Women have become such a force in the labour market in the past 25 years that addressing issues of interest to women means addressing the numerous characteristics of the new economy, issues such as nontraditional work, conflicts between job and family responsibilities, and various models for entering the work force.

Women tend to work fewer hours than men and to earn less. They are more likely to be in nontraditional jobs.

The new EI recognizes the different realities of women and men because it is the first major federal initiative designed with the benefit of formal gender analysis. I point out how this has been reflected in Bill C-12.

One of the major strengths of this legislation is the move from weeks of work to hours of work as the basis of the plan. In today's fluid job market the week is no longer the best measure of labour force participation. The hour is a more accurate measure of work effort since it will acknowledge the efforts of all part time workers who put in under 15 hours of work a week, often doing so in more than one job, and who were not allowed to participate in the benefits other workers enjoyed. Now premiums are paid from the first hour worked. Every hour counts toward a claim.

For the first time women may be able to qualify for maternity, parental and other special benefits they were previously ineligible for. Almost 70 per cent of part time workers are women. This change means 500,000 more Canadians will have their work insured for the first time. Concerns have been raised that if women in this position cannot get more hours of work they will lose their claim to maternity or parental benefits.

Gender based analysis showed that at most 2 per cent of current maternity claimants would need to work longer to qualify for these special benefits but that they will get them. Also, now that every hour counts, employers will have less reason to limit the hours of their part time workers as they did in the past. Many Canadians who hold down multiple jobs will be eligible for EI for the very first time.

Another group of workers who will benefit under the new system are seasonal workers, 38 per cent of whom comprise the B.C. workforce. These people working in logging, mining, fisheries, tourism and construction. They often have a gap in the off season which breaks up their continuous weeks of work criteria. Now, not only will they carry over for up to a 26 week gap, but the hour system will increase their eligibility by recognizing the intensity of their work over the on season.

Bill C-12 will help low income Canadians. Some 350,000 Canadians with family incomes of less than $26,000 a year will be eligible for the family income supplement. Two-thirds of these are women who will receive a top up for up to 13 per cent of their benefit. They will be able to keep a foot in the job market door by supplementing their benefits by $50 or 25 per cent of their weekly benefits, whichever is higher.

About 1.3 million low income Canadians will now have their EI premiums refunded, including almost 700,000 women and about 300,000 youth.

The new EI plan is a pro-employment plan where benefits will be balanced by five active employment initiatives designed to help unemployed Canadians find their place in the labour force. Wage subsidies will give employers an incentive to hire people in targeted groups who face barriers to employment. Many of these beneficiaries will be women and youth.

An innovative new benefit, targeted earning supplements, will top up the income of eligible claimants who take a low earning job.

Self-employment assistance has already helped more than 34,000 Canadians to start their own businesses. This is especially exciting for women who now make up one in every three entrepreneurs. Skills, loans and grants support individual initiative and commitment.

Access to these benefits has been broadened to include more Canadians. Anyone who received insurance benefits in the previous three years and anyone who has claimed maternity, parental or adoptive benefits in the past five years, will now be included.

This new system is both economically and socially responsible. It is proactive and balanced.

It will bridge the difficult transition in a world that is moving out of one industrial era into another, where the status quo no longer works, where a plan designed to meet the needs of a boom generation has become irrelevant.

Change is always difficult at best. How to change in ways that moves us forward competitively into the new world reality is what the EI bill proposes. It reinforces the value of work and our belief as Canadians that we can create prosperity and security in the new millennium. I urge the House to pass this bill and to help Canada accept the challenges and benefits that the 21st century offers.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to intervene once again on Bill C-12. I do not understand how the secretary of state can boast that this is a bill for women. I do not believe it for a minute.

I do not know whether the secretary of state heard or read the same news as us, but it is a fact that no more than two weeks ago a press conference was held here by a number of women's groups. They included NAC, the Fédération des femmes du Québec and a number of other groups that criticized this bill, because it is bad for women.

Why is it bad for women? Because it will penalize part time women workers, and not only women but young people. The secretary of state for the status of women said that 77 per cent of women worked in part time jobs. How is it she is alone in saying so-because she represents the Liberal government, which supports the bill-when women are criticizing this bill, which will penalize part time workers?

The government is boasting that UI benefits are counted and paid as of the first hour worked, but these women, who work less than 15 hours, will not qualify, as we know very well. A lot of women work part time and less than 15 hours a week. What is going to happen? These women will not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.

I am not the only one saying so, and my colleagues in the Bloc are not the only ones saying so. Women's groups in Canada and in Quebec, and not just Quebec, are saying so. It is not simply for partisan reasons we are speaking to this issue, a lot of people outside the Bloc have criticized it.

I do not know whether the secretary of state watched the news on the weekend, but as late as yesterday, on Mother's Day, a press conference was held in Montreal where unions and Françoise David, representing the Fédération des femmes du Québec, criticized this bill on behalf of women because it is no good.

I very much regretted the absence of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. It could have taken the government to task and could have expressed its opinion on this unfortunate bill, which hurts women. The government deplores poverty among women, but what is it doing with this bill? It is going to increase poverty among women, because women will not be able to qualify.

Also, the secretary of state is boasting that it will be a good piece of legislation for women, and that pregnant women will be entitled to more UI benefits. I wonder how the government intends to help women when, in the case of pregnant women, they will need 716 hours of work to qualify for UI benefits.

A number of people will be affected by this bill, especially seasonal workers. I assume women too have seasonal jobs. For instance, women in the tourism sector, or fisheries; this is seasonal work. Will these women be penalized because they do not hold full time jobs, either by choice or because they have children at home and cannot work full time? Yes, they are going to be penalized.

I will say it again, I do not understand why this government is insisting on passing this bill, which will be bad for women. It should go back to the drawing board and review this bill.

When the Liberals were in the opposition, they criticized certain aspects of this legislation, they criticized the Conservative Party. They said it was on the wrong track, and was going to penalize people. Everything we are saying now was said then by the Liberals. Why? Because they were in the opposition.

Now they are in power and they do not have the courage to go ahead with what they criticized in the past. Today, I am criticizing them for it. I am criticizing the lack of realism on the part of this government with regard to unemployment.

We all know that times are tough in terms of employment. People are without a job through no choice of their own. This weekend, we learned in the news that hotels Le Méridien and Auberge des Gouverneurs are facing financial difficulties. What does that mean? It means the employees of those hotels will soon be unemployed. This is disturbing.

The unemployment insurance fund is going very well; there is a $5 billion surplus in the fund. Five billion dollars! Instead of helping these people make it between two jobs, they are reducing the number of benefit weeks and making criteria more exacting.

The secretary of state for status of women said earlier that the employment insurance program, which is no longer called the unemployment insurance program, will not necessarily deal with unemployment, but instead will give grants so that people can receive training and return to work.

This is another case of duplication and overlapping, and I regret this way they have of interfering in areas already under Quebec's jurisdiction. Instead of sending the money and budgets necessary for the implementation of a real employment policy in Quebec, instead of helping workers and facilitating their training, they keep $5 billion and adopt a piecemeal approach to solve the unemployment problem which is still prevailing in Quebec and in Canada.

Several groups testified before us and are shocked to see the government's lack of compassion for the precarious circumstances of some people who find themselves on unemployment insurance through no fault of their own. So, it is no longer an unemployment insurance.

As I was saying recently in a speech, it is no longer an insurance that makes sure people will have a minimum of money to provide for their needs when they lose their job. If 77 per cent of women work in part time jobs, they will be doubly penalized by this bill.

They will be penalized because they will no longer have a job and they know very well that these are very precarious jobs. There is no continuity in part time employment. They will have a hard time finding another job. This will mean these women, men and young people will go on welfare. You know, going on welfare is a vicious circle. What does it mean for these people? It means moving further away from the possibility of finding another job.

When the government was in opposition, it was against discriminatory measures targeting the unemployed. It should reconsider because it will have to pay the price.

As we have seen, the people of Quebec and of Canada are against this bill that does not provide unemployment insurance in case of job loss. The government will penalize people over the number of benefit weeks and will raise the criteria, so that the unemployed will no longer receive the assistance they expect.

Yet, these people have paid their premiums. I too am paying premiums and I hope I will not have to rely on the UI system some day. But these people have paid so that other people, perhaps even themselves, can receive UI benefits some day. It is not by penalizing them, by increasing the hours of work required that the government will solve the problem.

Moreover, they take the money from the pockets of people who will never qualify for unemployment insurance because they did not accumulate the 700 to 910 hours of work per year required to be eligible for UI benefits.

Meanwhile, as I said before, the government is keeping $5 billion in its own pockets. But that is not all. It is only for this year. What will happen with next year's surpluses? This government is responsible for social cohesion. Only the future will reveal the impact of today's unemployment, and the government will be responsible.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 76. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

A recorded division on the motion stands deferred.

Shall we call it 12.30?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members