I continue reading the new oath of citizenship:
I promise to respect our country's rights and freedoms, to uphold our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.
We admit that there must be an oath of allegiance. However, in our opinion, and the amendments by my colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve to Bill C-63 in connection with this oath of allegiance, to the Queen of course, but also to Canada, provide that a certain number of documents clearly setting out the democratic values of Quebec ought to be provided. These documents were adopted, often unanimously, by the Quebec National Assembly.
What my colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve proposed was the following: Would it be possible, at the time of the oath of allegiance, to provide people with the Quebec elections act, in order to provide Canadian citizens who are members of Quebec's political community with the most accurate information possible concerning the democratic reality of Quebec, so that they may exercise their democratic duty in as transparent a manner as possible.
We also wanted new citizens to be presented at the time of their swearing in with the Government of Quebec's declaration on interethnic and inter-racial relations.
This is a document that was adopted by the National Assembly on December 10, 1986. I would remind hon. members that this was not a declaration presented by a sovereignist Parti Quebecois government. No. It was a legitimately elected Government of Quebec, a Liberal government no less. It was passed by the National Assembly. We believe all new Canadian citizens should be made aware of this declaration, which is based on a statement adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations in November 1983.
The third element we would like to see communicated to new Canadian citizens when they take the citizenship oath contained in Bill C-16 is the charter of the French language, passed in 1977. This charter states that French is the language of common use and the working language in Quebec.
Of course, through the years this charter has been slashed by judgments of the supreme court, but we still see it as the fundamental expression of the political community of Quebec and a clear demonstration that business, work and teaching are done in French in Quebec.
We believe that in Quebec and in particular in Montreal, where I live, there is linguistic duality, but that Montreal is and hopefully will remain a French language city in America. It is our belief that the charter of the French language, if it were given to new citizens when they take the oath of allegiance contained in Bill C-16, could send a clear message to those new Canadian citizens.
Another document we believe should be given to new Canadian citizens is the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms.
Communication of these documents is not only the Bloc Quebecois' idea. This idea did not come out of the blue. It also had the support of numerous organisations in Quebec and among them, of course, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. I see the hon. member for Bourassa smiling and saying to himself “Indeed, the sovereignist family sticks together more then ever.”
However, contrary to what the hon. member may believe, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste was not the only supporter of the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. Mr. Dorsaint, of the Office of the Haitian Christian Community of Montreal also gave his support to the amendment. The member for Bourassa, who was smiling at what I said a moment ago, probably knows Mr. Dorsaint pretty well because he goes visits his riding on a regular basis and knows that there is an sizeable Haitian community in his riding. The president of the Haitian Christian Community supported the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois. So did Mr. Corbo, chancellor of the Université du Québec, and many others.
We believe these requests are certainly legitimate and would help improve this bill.
This morning, I asked that there be at least one day of public hearings on Bill C-16. I did it because we basically think, and I personally think, that even though it is, for all intents and purposes, a carbon copy of Bill C-63, the committee must study this bill. We cannot consider a bill in committee and report it without giving people a chance to be heard. That would be a serious breach of democracy that penalizes a certain number of groups that want to improve this bill.
I am pleased that the committee finally yielded to my arguments. I see my colleague from the Conservative Party, who did not quite agree with what I was saying in committee this morning, as well as the member from the NDP. However, the committee finally yielded to my arguments. Why? Because the committee is the place where we can do an in depth study of the bills before us, and we must study this bill.
However, we must not take too long to study this bill. Why? Now I am the one who is yielding to the arguments presented by my colleagues this morning, because we are still waiting for the complete reform of the Citizenship Act that the government has been promising us for a long time.
Yesterday, the committee chair officially tabled the report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on the refugee status determination system. I think that this rather eloquent report, the majority of whose recommendations the Bloc Quebecois supports, shows that there was a problem with the legislation, that it needed to be improved, that there was an important problem in terms of resources. Although the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the bulk of the recommendations, I would remind members that, if they take the trouble to read the standing committee's report, they will see that it includes an opinion that is described as “dissenting” but that could more properly be called “complementary”.
What I took out of this—I am the new citizenship and immigration critic—is that there was an important problem in the study of the process for determining refugee status. This also pointed up the fact that a new act was required as soon as possible.
In Quebec, for example, over 160,000 asylum seekers have been taken in since the mid-80s. This is quite a number. These are people who, for political reasons, feel that they have a right, under the United Nations Refugee Convention—which was adopted in 1951—to apply as political refugees.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada's lax approach to processing claims is cause for grave concern. When it can take more than a year for the commission to rule on the refugee status of an individual, we can imagine the human tragedy these people have to go through. We can imagine the tragedy their families have to go through? Why does this happen? Because our system is vague, weak and inadequate.
I think that we have to be very careful because Bill C-16 on citizenship and immigration has to be amended. We believe it does. However, we also believe that we have to pay particular attention to the refugee status determination process. Bill C-16 is an important bill. I have already said that the government can count on our support on the principle of the bill. However, we strongly wish for the support of the government regarding the commitments and the amendments that will be put forward by the Bloc Quebecois.
The Bloc Quebecois raised another point on the refugee status determination process in its minority report.
There is a whole section on detention in the committee report. Surprisingly enough, it is considered in that section that up to now, the federal government was justified in detaining a certain number of individuals who had illegally crossed our borders in boats or even in containers, as odd as that may seem.
I remind members of the immigration department's guidelines. We can detain a person who does not have proper identification or a person who represents a threat to the public security. I totally agree with that.
However, we were hoping the committee report would deal with a new reality, the illegal immigration of minors. Over the last few months, particularly in the Port of Vancouver, we have seen a number of individuals coming through our borders by boat, by air and sometimes by container. We have seen children arriving by boat, particularly young Chinese under 18.
We have seen Romanian children arriving by container in the Port of Montreal. The federal government ordered that these minors be incarcerated in Immigration Canada detention centres. That is unacceptable. I think these minors, these children, should be granted special status.
In my dissenting report, I based my argument on UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I quote article 37 of thet convention, which states:
No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
I believe all the laws dealing with immigration in Canada should exempt minors from detention. I think, for example, of the many young Chinese who came into Canada, illegally perhaps, but who were incarcerated in the Immigration Canada detention centre in Laval. I think we have a basic human rights problem here.
Canada must act and change its laws in accordance with UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am sure that the hon. member for Bourassa is in total agreement on such a legislative change, and I would like the minister to take it under advisement.
Another major element is the position developed in the last months, even in the last weeks, by three governments. The Quebec government, of course, including those Quebecers I represent in this House, but the governments of Ontario and British Columbia also pointed out the laxapproach of the Immigration and Refugee Board to processing claims. There is a 12 to 13 month waiting period before refugee status is granted, while the target should be six months.
Would it not be possible that the costs for services provided to those people waiting for a federal decision be paid for by the federal government instead of provincial governments? In some respects, because of the federal government laxapproach, the processing time of claims is unacceptable, which results in increased service costs.
I remind the hon. members that this represents $80 million each year for Quebec. I think the federal government should accept the view of the provinces.
Another major element is the issue of the board, but with regard to Bill C-16, the issue is the oath commissioners.
I have some concerns about the definition of the responsibilities and mandate given to these oath commissioners, who will have increasingly a rather special role to play. When I read the bill, I have a number of reserves and concerns about the impartiality of these commissioners, who should play their role as fairly as possible.
Probably because it is not specified in the bill, we fear that the commissioners might play the role of propagandists. We believe the wording of the bill might result in the commissioners playing a very dangerous role and, to a certain extent, a political role.
We might have the opportunity to come back to this later, but I ask the government to take into consideration these concerns the opposition parties have. We fear the commissioners might have to promote the values that symbolize Canadian citizenship. We agree with the values of civicism, respect for the law and understanding among individuals. However, we fear that with the measures being promoted by the Canada Information Office and the Council for Canadian Unity, the government might try to use the commissioners for political purposes. This is a concern.
The concept of citizenship has a meaning for us, and in keeping with our plan to become sovereign, we are working on developing a Quebec citizenship. Over the last few months, the Bloc Quebecois has launched several projects.