Madam Speaker, I am very happy to talk about Bill C-16 which will replace the current Citizenship Act, if and when it passes. There are some things about the bill which I support and others which I do not and I will get into that during my presentation. However there are other issues which have to be mentioned today.
It is a clear error in judgment on the part of the government to bring in legislation to replace the current Citizenship Act before legislation which will overhaul the Immigration Act has been passed by the House. The government has been saying for the last four years in particular but really for the six years since I have been here in Ottawa that it is going to bring forward legislation which will provide a massive overhaul of the Immigration Act immediately, next year. The government always says it will be later this year or next year but this has been going on for six years. It has not happened and it is very hard to explain why.
The Citizenship Act changes should not come in until the changes to the Immigration Act are made. The Citizenship Act refers to the Immigration Act in several places.
I will talk about the unfortunate order of events and why this has happened. The government does not seem to be willing to make the necessary tough decisions to change the Immigration Act so it has gone ahead with changes to the Citizenship Act so it can say it has done something. I understand that but I do not think it is acceptable.
As my colleague opposite has said, citizenship is something we are all extremely proud of. Canadian citizenship is seen by many people around the world as something they would like. Many people cherish the thought of becoming a Canadian citizen. It is not only Canadians who see Canadian citizenship as something of great value, as I know all Canadians do; others would like to become Canadian citizens.
As we put in place a new citizenship act, which this bill will do, it is important that it is done right. The government presented Bill C-63 in the last parliament, which was its idea of doing it right. The government dropped that legislation because it was so flawed and the government could not see putting it through. That became very clear in committee.
Bill C-16 is the government's response to the problems seen in committee. This is good, except the government has not dealt with a lot of the problems which were pointed out again and again in committee. I will talk about some of those things. I cannot pretend I am going to touch on all of them but I will focus on three or four of the main areas.
We went through the whole committee process on Bill C-63 in the last parliament. Witnesses suggested many changes. Many excellent suggestions were made. The government listened to a few but not nearly enough of them. That is not acceptable for an act which governs something as important as citizenship, something which we are all so proud of.
I would love to see a citizenship bill which I could support. This is not it, unless changes are made at committee which would make it something Canadians and I could support. It is not that important what I support as one citizen, but it is important that the Canadian public generally support the legislation. I do not believe this legislation is something that Canadians can support.
This bill is the second attempt and there have been some changes, a few changes which are beneficial but not that many.
With reference to the previous legislation, I want to make it extremely clear that it was not only witnesses but members of the immigration committee which reviewed that legislation who pointed out very strong concerns with Bill C-63, the predecessor to Bill C-16. They expressed their desire for change.
A few changes were implemented, but very few. In fact, there were only three changes from Bill C-63 to Bill C-16, yet the government dropped Bill C-63 because it was flawed. I do not understand why it did not fix the bill before it brought it back as Bill C-16. The bill has been re-tabled, and I say re-tabled because there have been only three or four changes made.
There are some good changes. For example my colleague from Dewdney—Alouette can express some claim to victory for the change that was proposed at committee by the Mennonite community. It requested that the new law contain measures to facilitate the acquisition of Canadian citizenship for the people in its community who still wished to return to the country or who had already done so.
In essence clause 57 allows a three year period for individuals born to Canadian parents outside of Canada between 1947 and 1977 to acquire Canadian citizenship upon application. Members of the Mennonite community explained that very well at committee. It was supported by the member for Dewdney—Alouette. That is a good change. That is a committee working as it should.
One other change is that the part of Bill C-63 which allowed bureaucrats or the minister without approval of parliament to redefine spouse has been withdrawn from the bill. A couple of weeks ago when I saw this bill I thought that was a positive move. That was something my colleagues and I called for quite strongly during the debate on Bill C-63. It was something some Liberal members on the committee called for. It was withdrawn and I thought we had made some progress.
Then last week Bill C-23 was tabled in the House but not in a way that is acceptable. I then understood why that clause was taken out of the citizenship bill. It was no longer required as a result of the omnibus bill which would give same sex benefits in several pieces of legislation. The modernization of benefits and obligations act tabled by the justice minister amends 68 federal statutes, affects 20 departments and agencies and extends benefits to same sex couples on the same basis as common law opposite sex couples.
The government has chosen to extend benefits based on a person's private sexual activity while excluding other types of dependent relationships. I fail to see why it would do that. Why would it extend these benefits on the basis of sexual activity rather than on a relationship of dependency? That is exactly what has happened.
The change was made to the citizenship bill which took the power away from civil servants or the minister to make a change. That was the right thing to do. The government has brought the changes it is proposing to deal with that before parliament, which is the right thing to do. However it has been done in a way that is unacceptable to Canadians. It has been done on the basis of sexual activity.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau said that the government had no place in the bedrooms of the nation yet that is what Bill C-23 does. The official opposition believes that any discussion of extending benefits should be accompanied by an affirmation of the definition of marriage.
There was no definition of marriage in Bill C-63. Was that too much to ask for? An opposition day motion was passed in the House with support from all political parties which ensured that the current definition of marriage would be retained, yet the government has not seen fit to have that included in this new act.
I point that out that the unacceptable part of the citizenship bill, the former Bill C-63, was taken out, but it has not been properly dealt with in this new citizenship bill. It is way off target. That debate is taking place in the House as we debate Bill C-23. I will not go into it in any great depth. The problem has not been solved. It has been shuffled off to another piece of legislation and the response by the government has been inappropriate.
My colleagues and I have talked and will talk about that in great depth as we debate that piece of legislation. That is a positive thing that is not included in this bill. The reason for it not being included does not leave me with a very positive feeling.
I will get into more particulars about the bill, but I want to talk a little more about something I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. It is unfortunate that the citizenship legislation came before the House before those major changes were made to the Immigration Act. It is clearly in the wrong order. The changes to the Immigration Act may well require more changes to the Citizenship Act in the very near future. It is in the wrong order because the Citizenship Act does refer to the broader, more encompassing Immigration Act in several areas.
Beyond that, there are so many reasons that the Immigration Act changes should be before the House today rather than the Citizenship Act. There are serious issues facing Canadians today regarding immigration. These issues have been pointed out by Canadians across the country, and certainly by us here, but there has been no response to them.
It has been recognized by various parties, including CSIS, the RCMP and American officials who recognize and talk about the problem, that Canada is a haven for terrorists and criminals and is a favourite destination for people smugglers. Is that something that makes us proud to be Canadian? I do not think so. It is something that points out the need for changes to the Immigration Act, changes which should have come before this bill.
Polls show that immigration has become one of the top concerns for Canadians today. They want it fixed. Why is it not being fixed?
Farrell Research reports 71% of greater Vancouver residents believe the refugee system is too lax and 76% believe that Canada has been made an easy target for people smuggling. That is no big surprise. Canadians across the country feel like that.
Additionally, in 1998 an Environics survey revealed that 69% of Canadians agree that many people seeking asylum in Canada are not real refugees. That has been borne out by some of the things we have seen over the past year where even the refugee determination system has determined that many people making claims are not genuine refugees. Unfortunately, many are finding their way into our country anyway. Even if they are not accepted they are allowed to stay.
Our formal acceptance rate for refugees is 44% which is more than double and triple other countries that are comparable to Canada, like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Forty-four per cent is high, but our acceptance rate is more like 80%. I have explained that in committee and there is no argument, even from officials. Only 20% of those who claim refugee status are actually ever known to leave the country. That means that the other 80% are allowed to stay. Many just abandon their cases, withdraw their cases or are refused status and just stay in the country. The end result is the same: They are allowed to stay in our country, illegally in many cases.
We have an effective acceptance rate of 80%. The 44% who are chosen through the system are, hopefully, genuine refugees. However, the other 36% who make up the 80% are not. Clearly they are not because they have never been accepted. Many have been rejected by our system and yet they are allowed to stay. So in effect we have that 80%.
The refugee determination system is badly broken. Why was this not dealt with before the Citizenship Act was presented to parliament so the Citizenship Act would be based on and fit in with or mesh with an Immigration Act which has been overhauled? Canadians recognize the need for that. The government recognizes that.
For four years now the government has been saying “Maybe this year or next year we will bring in major changes to the Immigration Act. It has really been saying this for six years but it has been an open promise for the last four years. Not one change has been made. It is completely unacceptable that this would be put forward now before those changes are made.
There is another side of the Immigration Act that demonstrates very well that our system is not working. People who come under the independent categories have to wade through a bureaucracy that is unimaginable. They have to go through a process that can take up to two and a half to three years, and many times much longer. Often the process takes so long that people who are needed in this country by businesses and by the country, people who will add to our economy immediately, give up. They go to the United States, to Australia or somewhere else because the process there works a lot better. That is unfortunate because we are losing good people. Why was that not fixed before we got to the citizenship bill? It is very unfortunate that it was not.
I have heard dozens and dozens, probably hundreds, which is not an exaggeration, of heart-rending stories of families begging to be reunited that just cannot be reunited. These are families of people who have qualified under the independent categories. They will add to our economy right away. Of course they want to bring their husbands or wives and their dependent children. Who would not want that? Canada would expect that would happen. Often, even after they are accepted, it takes years and years to reunify the family. That is shameful. It causes uncalled for pain. Once somebody is accepted as an immigrant, why on earth would the process to bring their families in not be almost immediate? Why would it not be a matter of a few months not years? Commonly and most often it takes years. Why is that not fixed?
Let us look at an example. Let us talk about Leticia Cables, a nanny who was taking sanctuary in a church in Edmonton. She is a Filipino nanny who worked hard and was honest but who is presently being deported by the government. She is being forced out of this country by this government right now.
On the one hand, we have an unquestionably hardworking and honest nanny who made a mistake but who will be given no consideration by this minister to allow her to stay. That is shameful. On the other hand, we have a Honduran who has been arrested 20 times for drug trafficking, as I have heard from the hon. member for North Vancouver, who is in our country illegally. He is allowed to stay and has been set free. Does that make any sense?
Where is the good management of this government? Where is the good judgment of this government? This is the government that will not allow this nanny to stay. She admits that she broke a rule but that she did not know she had done wrong. Why are we not giving her special consideration when 1,300 criminals in 1998 were granted ministerial permits to stay in this country? Of those 1,300 criminals, 350 were violent offenders, murderers and rapists. Those 350 criminals were allowed to stay under ministerial permit, but the minister will not give this nanny a permit to stay in this country. She is chasing her out. For what? The nanny broke a rule. I do not believe she knew she was breaking the rule. She said that she was given the advice by one of her employers who was a lawyer and someone she trusted, yet this minister is chasing her out.
Where are the precedents of the government when it comes to immigration? Why does it not fix that up? It could then fix up the Citizenship Act, because I agree that it needs fixing as well. I cannot go on any longer about the problems with the Immigration Act as we are dealing with the Citizenship Act.