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House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-16.

Topics

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

March 23rd, 2000 / 3 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Today in question period, after two questions, one by the member for Wanuskewin and the other one from the member for Athabasca, you ruled that the questions were out of order and moved on to other orders of the day.

However, I refer you to a decision made by James Jerome. I have his book. He made a decision on February 20, 1975, when a member of parliament felt that a law had been broken and tried to raise it as a question of privilege.

At that time the Speaker made this ruling:

Since there is a clear line of administerial responsibility, grievances of this type are not points of privileges but should be brought before the House and laid before the minister for the minister to answer because this was in the best public interest and both members of parliament and the public had the right to be informed of them.

It seems to me that there is a clear line of ministerial responsibility when we feel that a law has been broken or compromised that we bring it forward in a question before the minister and have the minister answer that question in the House.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I agree that you should be able to bring forth whatever issues you want. All colleagues will know that many times in question period it is not only the words but it is the tone of the voice, the reaction and the accusation. That is what I have to base my decision on in the heat of battle. Therefore, today I made this decision that stands for today. Mr. Jerome made another decision in his time.

I have said many times in that there are no words which of themselves are unparliamentary. I told you we can use the word liar, for example, if you say “I was called a liar”. But there is no need to explain it. I have to have a little room in order to keep the question period so that we can hear the questions and the answers and so that the question period moves along. Did I make mistakes? Yes, like anyone else. Was I too quick? Perhaps, but it is the decision I have made and I stay with it, with respect.

Business Of The HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, could the government House leader tell us what is on the agenda for the remainder of this week and for next week?

Business Of The HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his excellent question. I might add that it is the best one I have heard today.

I would like to inform the House that, this afternoon, we hope to complete second reading of Bill C-16, the Canadian citizenship bill. We do not intend to proceed with Bill C-19 this afternoon. When we are done with Bill C-16, we will not call the next bill listed on the projected order of business. We will not deal with Bill C-19 this afternoon.

Tomorrow, we will consider Bill C-10, the municipal grants bill, at third reading, as well as Bill C-12, the labour bill. Regarding the latter, there have been discussions among the parties earlier.

Next Monday will be the third day of the budget debate.

Tuesday, we will proceed with third reading of Bill C-13, the institutes of health research bill, and second reading of Bill C-22, the money laundering bill.

Wednesday will be the last day of the budget debate.

Next Thursday, we will consider the Senate amendments to Bill C-6, the electronic commerce bill.

After negotiations among the parties, we may decide to switch the order between Wednesday and Thursday. We may therefore be dealing with Bill C-6 on Wednesday and completing the budget debate on Thursday.

That is the agenda for next week.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian Citizenship, be now read a second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by summarizing somewhat.

I did start my remarks with a statement that in my belief there is no higher honour one can have than that of being a citizen in a democracy. I mean that quite sincerely. I believe that all Canadians value that in their lives as indicated by the fact that we had an overwhelming outpouring of representations by Canadians to the citizenship committee on this bill. Thirty-seven presenters brought forward their points of view and many of those points made it into the actual bill and now form what we know as Bill C-16.

I did make the connection between the concept of citizenship and the building of community. There are really three things: the idea that a citizen is part of something larger, the sense of community, and how we in the New Democratic Party view that sense as being at risk somewhat in a day that champions the individual, it seems, more than the collective. Operating as a collective is much more a Canadian point of view. Canadians make that connection and value citizenship.

The bill that we are looking at today started life as Bill C-63. Most of Bill C-63 is still contained in Bill C-16. We brought recommendations forward at the various stages of Bill C-63 hoping to improve the bill because many of the groups that came to see us on Bill C-63 were not entirely enamoured with the bill as it stood. They had serious reservations about aspects of the bill and as is proper, they brought those concerns to the committee. We listened carefully. We tried to make meaningful amendments to try to satisfy some of their concerns. As it stands, we believe that Bill C-16 is an improved version of Bill C-63.

The real point that has been made today by other speakers as well is that we would like to get on with this bill. We would like to finish with debate on the bill and get it back to committee. We would get through the final stages and put it to bed because most Canadians are quite anxious to address other immigration and refugee matters, issues other than Bill C-16.

Citizenship as such deals with people who have already landed in the country, who have already made it to our shores and have settled in for a number of years and are now at that final stage of becoming a new Canadian and going through the act of getting their citizenship papers.

The real concern that most Canadians are bringing to my attention as the critic for the NDP is the much broader issue of immigration to Canada. How do we attract the right new Canadians to this country to help us grow the economy and help the country grow? How do we seek out and find these people? How do we convince them that Canada is the country they should come to? There is growing competition around the world for the skilled workers of the world and certainly we need to do more outreach than we have done in the past in terms of reaching out to people and offering what we have to offer in a very public way. We have to advertise and promote ourselves if we are to attract more people to these shores.

I made the point earlier that we in the New Democratic Party believe that immigration is an engine of economic growth. We would like to see more immigration to this country and we are very critical of those in the country and some in the House of Commons who would argue that we should close the doors now on immigration. This is an attitude that has been largely driven by fear or ignorance, I would say, and fear generated by some of the recent events of this summer which saw migrant boat people drifting up on our shore on the west coast.

If I could take one moment just to talk about that one subject. It has been a source of great frustration to me as this whole issue got blown so badly out of proportion. There were 500 or 600 desperate Chinese migrants who landed on our shores looking for safe refuge, looking for sanctuary, looking for a better life. The reaction of certain Canadians was “Oh my goodness, our borders are a sieve, it is a threat to national security in some way, we have to slam the door shut and lock these people up and send them back”. In fact, the Reform Party had a public press conference when the first boat landed and said that we should send them back without even a hearing, that we should just simply put them on another boat and send them back where they came from without any knowledge of what their circumstances were or if there could have been legitimate refugee claims.

Thankfully, this country has better policies than that and our policy is that everyone deserves the right to a full hearing, the right to counsel and the right to have their case heard. Some will be eligible and some will not.

We in the New Democratic Party went a bit further. We wanted to understand a little bit more about this idea of the migration of people throughout the world. It is getting to be very common for people to seek better economic situations and to move around the globe. We did a bit of research on the Fujian province, from where these people originated. We learned that the Fujian province is one of the first places in China that had what we call free economic trade zones.

I spoke earlier in my speech about the globalization of capital threatening the concepts of citizenship, the nation-state and democracy. Here is a graphic illustration in these free economic trade zones.

The ILO did some research to say that one should be making about 85 cents an hour in these trade zones to have a standard of living comparable to a working class Chinese person in that area. These trade zones, where all kinds of western goods, such as clothing and toys, are manufactured, pay on the average 18 cents an hour. Here are these people making western products for you and I and our children to enjoy who are making one-fifth of what it takes to have the standard of living of a Chinese peasant in a fenced compound in China and having some knowledge of the western world, that there is a better world out there.

Their motivation, I suppose, was to elevate their standard of wages and working conditions by getting out of there, but there was no legitimate way to get to some place like Canada, to get to the west. There is only one place to go to get papers to apply for a Canadian visa or a permit to come to Canada and that is in Beijing. It is a heck of a long way from the Fujian province. They cannot get here from there. There is no legitimate way for them to apply to come to Canada and, under the current rules, they probably would not qualify anyway.

When we know a little bit more about the people who wound up on the shores of B.C., we are a little less threatened by them. The fear and the ignorance will hopefully dissipate as the story really gets out on who these people are and how we should really be dealing with them. I wanted to speak to that a little bit as we do get calls. Even as recently as today, we got faxes from Canadians who are not as open-minded about this issue. I hope the truth is finally getting out.

We have been dealing with the estimates, the spending of the government and various aspects of government. I would hope that as we get through the estimates regarding the immigration department that more money is put toward the promotion of immigration than it is toward the enforcement of immigration rules, which are really designed to keep people out.

It has always been of great frustration to our caucus that much of the energies and resources of the immigration officials and bureaucracy are dedicated to keeping people out of the country and not to welcoming them in. It sends absolutely the wrong message. The more barriers, obstacles and roadblocks we put in the way of people who are coming or who seek to make Canada their home, the more the message spreads out around the world that it is a difficult place to come to, that they will be frustrated and that it will not be easy. They will then go someplace else.

If we are serious about building this country, we had better change that perception. That means some resources will need to be spent in specifically targeted parts of the world where we know workers with the skills we need reside. We can invite and attract them and promote this country so that they choose to come here and make Canada their home.

With regard to the citizenship bill, in the last minute or two that I have I will deal with some of the specifics and some of the reservations we have about Bill C-16. We are eager to see it go back to the committee so that we can deal with it in further depth and we can hear a few more groups make representation to us to see what they think about its current form as opposed to its format under the former Bill C-63.

One of the things raised at length by the member of the Bloc Quebecois was that there was some objection to having the Queen referenced in the citizenship oath. Frankly, I think that is a matter so minor and insignificant that it does not even warrant comment in the House of Commons. Surely we have better things to dwell on than an issue such as that, but we did hear quite a bit of debate on that subject from other speakers.

There was some really serious concern that the abolition of the citizenship judges would be a step backward if they were replaced with citizenship commissioners in terms of getting a fair adjudication. This work would now be done by bureaucrats who may not have the same abilities to weigh the variables in a complicated citizenship case.

We also believe that the citizenship tests should be available in either official language and, if translation is needed, it should be available. I believe that has been addressed and we are happy to see it.

I have one remaining point that I need to comment on. We believe that the rules regarding the actual physical presence of a person in this country are too stringent. Under the current rules, one has to be physically present for three of the last six years before citizenship papers are granted. We believe that places an undue burden on those who may have interests outside the country and who may often need to travel outside the country to take care of their business interests elsewhere. We would like to see that addressed at the committee stage and we will soon have an opportunity to do so.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-16, the citizenship act, and my comments will be multifaceted.

I will speak first on some of my experiences in Africa a couple of weeks ago, then address the timing of the bill and then highlight a few of the many issues that the department has ignored for far too long. I will also, of course, speak to the bill itself.

Before I proceed on those topics, I want to affirm that my party is a proponent of immigration and citizenship. We support individuals receiving citizenship and enjoying the many privileges of being Canadian. We have always valued and cherished the contributions that newcomers make to our society.

Four hundred years ago Europeans joined aboriginals already living here to begin building this country we call Canada today. Since that time, persons from every corner of the globe have moved to Canada and have enriched our society with their knowledge, talents and culture.

We do believe in balancing the welcoming of refugees and immigrants with ensuring a fair system. Related to that, I wish to provide some clarifications.

Aboriginals aside, we were all immigrants or refugees. All refugees are immigrants but not all immigrants are refugees. This is not clearing things up very well is it? I will try to clarify it a bit more.

The legal definition of refugee in Canada follows the convention refugee of the United Nations, which states:

“Convention refugee” means any person who

(a) by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,

An immigrant is legally defined as a person who seeks landing. In other words, an immigrant is someone who leaves his or her country with the intention of living in Canada.

Now that I have furnished the House with these definitions, I wish to provide some context for the definitions.

As I said, I was recently on a trip to Africa and I had a chance to sit in on some interviews with potential Canadian citizens. I will talk about one in particular, which was a rather heart-rending story. It involves a young lady, around 18 years old, who came from Sudan. She lived in a city where her father was killed by rebels when she was 11 years old. She lived with her mother and two brothers. The city was being bombed. Rebels were on the outside. This family was told they had to leave the city. In leaving the city, she was separated from her mother and brothers and has never seen them since. She was able to find someone at a church who put her up for a while and then found her a foster home in Nairobi. At that home she was sexually abused. She finally got away from that and laid claim for refugee status at the United Nations. That was how she came to the Canadian immigration office to make application as a refugee.

When she came into the office her dossier said that she spoke English. However, in questioning her, we had a hard time getting her to say anything. It was basically yeses and noes. At that point, the immigration officer asked her to write down something. She took a piece of paper and a pencil and easily wrote a beautiful, one paragraph account. After that, the immigration officer asked her to do a couple of math questions and she had no problem at all. Then she started to open up a little bit and we found that she did speak English very well. She spoke, read and wrote English.

We then found out that she had only about five years of schooling; about two and a half years in primary school and about the same in secondary school. During that time her mother tongue was Arabic. She spoke, wrote and read Arabic. We know she spoke, wrote and read English. She also spoke two other languages fluently, with only five years of education. As members can see, this person, with the few opportunities she has had in life, was able to develop. This is the type of person would would probably be an excellent Canadian citizen.

While I was in Nairobi, I had the chance to visit the orientation training school for the refugees who were coming to Canada. I have to say that I was a little nervous with these people because I felt most of them knew more about Canada than I did. Refugees from that area who are trying to come Canada usually spend from two to three months getting a little training about what Canada is all about and what they can expect when they get here. I have to say that from what I saw they were doing an excellent job.

I also had a chance to sit in on an immigrant interview. This was a young man and his wife learning a lesson about how difficult it was to come to Canada as an immigrant. We do have some major problems in that system.

This young gentleman was an aeronautics engineer with five years of university but his profession was not recognized in Canada, even though we have a need for aeronautics engineers in Canada and our point system indicates they would get preference. In order for this young gentleman to get in he was applying as an aircraft mechanic. With our point system, there is not a large need for aircraft mechanics and, unfortunately, this gentleman will be refused. It is too bad because this is a young family with good possibilities.

Our point system needs to be updated. We do not move fast enough as the changes come about in the workforce to do what is needed in Canada.

On a final point about the trip, I want to recognize that the high commissioners and immigration staff face many mental and physical challenges in foreign lands. They do the very best they can in the conditions they work in. For that I applaud them.

I now wish to turn to the timing of this bill. The bill is important but at this point in our history there are far more serious problems to deal with in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

Last summer 599 illegal immigrants arrived on the west coast by boat. Six hundred arrivals at once places an enormous strain on Canadian taxpayers who must support these migrants, provide legal aid, shelter and health care. Such an arrival also infuriates those who have tried to enter Canada the conventional way, such as those I have just described. They encounter far too many delays in the immigration process.

Just last month the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia called on the federal government to reduce the backlogs in immigration inventories. Refugees and immigrants alike need to wait unnecessarily long for their claims to be processed, while it is the provinces which must pay for social assistance, legal aid, health care and housing.

The minister's response to this common front was that Ontario should reduce its taxes. Reducing taxes will not ease the strains of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

During the month of January a container ship with stowaways arrived in British Columbia. Almost every week in January illegal immigrants were found somewhere in the province of Ontario.

Another point I would like to speak to is our foreign students and the missed opportunities because of the stringent rules on those students. We look for students. We bring in roughly 30,000 a year to attend our different universities. These students pay double the tuition that our students pay. They learn the language when they are here, if they do not know it before they arrive. They are immersed in our culture. Most of them stay four years, some five, and then they are allowed to work in the country for one year. They then have to leave if they want to apply to get back into the country. We do not actively go after them, and that is unfortunate, because the Americans go after them and the Australians go after them. We end up losing these people. Indirectly, we have a chance for a brain gain, but we are suffering again from brain drain.

This winter has seen heartsick worry in cancer wards in Ontario. The province has been suffering from a shortage of radiation therapists. The provincial government has been recruiting foreign therapists, but this initiative has become snagged in immigration red tape. The processing times for these therapists takes far too long. Waiting times for cancer patients are dangerous. Delays allow this fatal illness to spread to other parts of the body. These are just a few of the issues which CIC has had before it over the last eight months.

Similarly, there are a few issues which CIC has ineffectively dealt with. As a matter of fact, last year the minister and the Prime Minister said that the winter months would discourage migration from overseas countries. Of course, that was absurd and cowardly, and it meant to defend the integrity of our Canadian society.

Canadians, the provinces and this party want attention focused on the serious issues. We are speaking of our borders, entities which we have the responsibility, indeed the right, to defend. We are a sovereign nation and we should be able to decide who is admitted to Canada and how they are admitted.

A new citizenship bill would not solve our border problems, would not speed up our processing time for radiation therapists and could not provide us with a new way of dealing fairly with non-status migrants arriving on our shores. A new citizenship act would not provide additional resources for customs agents who are required to safeguard our borders.

In my own riding I have seven border crossings. It is a problem we deal with every day. We do not have enough immigration officials. We understand that the first line at our borders is our customs officers. Our customs officers are not equipped, quite frankly. They have just been given a certain amount of power. They have been given the right of arrest, but they have no arms and no special training. They are taking some test cases, but I think our criminals will quite easily find which border crossings are covered and which are not, and we know what will happen.

At this point the minister has advanced no solutions and, most important, she has not tabled the new immigration bill to begin the process of dealing with these problems and concerns. I understand, due to departmental leaks, that a new bill is on its way. I just do not understand why it is taking so long.

The former minister was all set to forge ahead with a new act last year, but a cabinet shuffle seemed to postpone the legislation, and I cannot grasp why. I know it would take some time to study the bill, but in 1998-99 citizenship and immigration launched reviews and consultations costing $1.76 million. These studies have been done. Why have we not seen the results? Why has it taken the department so long to release this new bill?

I am disappointed that it has taken so much money and time for a new piece of immigration legislation, but I will not press this point further. There are parts of Bill C-16 which I wish to address.

Bill C-16 demands that permanent residents spend three years out of six in Canada. That is 1095 days. It assures that permanent residents need to display and prove their legitimacy in becoming Canadians, but how would this be enforced with any authority? How would permanent residents prove with any credibility that they have spent the required time in the country? How could Canadians be sure that this clause of Bill C-16 was respected? Exit controls do not exist in Canada for non-residents. However, we do not know when non-residents are in our country.

A pilot project was launched in southern Ontario this winter, whereby all refugee claimants were given identification cards. The whole issue of these identification cards has been shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Why did the minister not discuss this with parliament? Perhaps it would be a good idea to use these cards as exit controls for refugee claimants. Neither the standing committee nor the House had any input in the present usage of cards or any potential usage such as exit controls.

We praise the move that would make it easier for children adopted from other countries to become citizens. At present they must go through the immigration process and require permanent residency. First and foremost, this modification would hopefully have the effect of helping children abroad who are living in poverty or unacceptable conditions. It would also hopefully free up resources at CIC. Our only concern in this regard is that adequate health checks would be completed on new arrivals.

I do not understand why it has taken the government so long to allow these provisions for children abroad. The PC Party has been demanding these changes to overseas adoption for a long time. The minister should have acted much sooner.

The next topic I wish to cover in relation to Bill C-16 is its coming into force. The bill would apply to every man, woman and child in the queue for the citizenship ceremony. Bill C-16 is not retroactive, with only one exception, for cases sent to the citizenship judge. For the most part, when it comes into effect all applicants will fall under the new law. Why is this? What kind of overlap and additional paperwork would this cause? Would the minister please explain the thinking behind this part of the bill?

On a final point related to the Citizenship Act, I wish to comment on the appointment process of proposed citizenship commissioners who will replace citizenship judges. These citizenship commissioners will be appointed by orders in council. We wish to see this method of appointment changed to guarantee that confident, experienced individuals are chosen for the position of commissioner.

Various witnesses appearing before the standing committee expressed concern about partisan appointments at CIC. Professor François Crépeau and France Houle proposed four recommendations for ensuring competent individuals to fill jobs at CIC. It is worth my time to highlight some of these recommendations.

The first recommendation was that candidates should be hired for eight years with a one year probation period. Candidates must not be renewable and candidates must be staggered. This would ensure constant new blood in a stressful field.

The second recommendation was that candidates must have a knowledge of refugee law, a knowledge of the politics of the country of origin and psychological capabilities to deal with refugees and their situations.

The third recommendation was that a selection committee should be put in place to ensure that competent employees would be hired to the IRB. This committee would be composed of individuals from the immigration, refugee and law fields.

The fourth recommendation was that candidatures must be open to all and must be made public. The selection committee would have to follow strict guidelines, such as being familiar with the candidates' portfolios and a majority must agree on a candidate.

Our party has been calling for a more transparent hiring process for a long time. One needs only to glance at our platform from the 1997 election to see that. Today, as I have in the House before, I call on the minister to take the high road and ensure that competent and not necessarily partisan individuals are appointed to positions within CIC.

Professor Crépeau happens to be a professor in Montreal. The government should look to the province of Quebec more often for its immigration policies. I am speaking in particular about the Quebec investor program. Quebec is the only province in Canada to run its own program. The federal government administers provisions for business immigrants for the rest of the country.

The federal program has failed miserably. Why does the minister not look at Quebec's quasi-guarantees and financing options for business immigrants? Quebec also has the lowest corporate taxes in North America. Is it any wonder that the province's plan has worked so well?

Citizenship is of prime importance. It identifies us as belonging to a certain group of individuals, to a society, to a country. Citizenship is perennial in providing a sense of community. This is not a novel concept. Citizenship was a prized entity among ancient Greeks and Romans. I do not often agree with the minister, but she is correct in asserting that citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be Canadian. Our party only hopes that she protects the integrity and worth of our citizenship.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to be in the House today to listen to my critic, the member for Compton—Stanstead, as well as the member for Winnipeg Centre.

While I would say that I do not agree with everything they had to say, and I know they are not surprised to hear that, I wanted to take a moment to thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for acknowledging the hard work of the high commission and immigration officers.

I would also acknowledge the fact that I too had a chance to sit in on interviews in our posts abroad and I know the dedication of the staff. I think it was very important for that to be acknowledged in the House.

The hon. member made one point that I would like to comment on, and that is the fact that he has been waiting for a new immigration and refugee protection bill. He said that the Citizenship Act was not as important as the other and wondered why he had not yet seen an immigration bill.

I point out to him that the government has said that a new immigration act is a priority. A white paper was issued in January 1999. More than that, as a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, he would know that the committee tabled its report yesterday. I want to point out to him that I have been anxiously awaiting that report, because the committee's work in this area has been extremely important in helping to define the policy.

I understand that the member opposite made important and valuable contributions during the work of the committee on that report, and I want to assure him and all members of the House that I will be taking into consideration the recommendations of the committee in the development of a new bill, which I hope to see tabled in the House as soon as possible.

I agree that citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Canadian, and Bill C-16 is a very important bill to Canadians and to future Canadians.

I am pleased to comment on the members' speeches and to acknowledge the expertise and interest which they have had in this very important issue concerning citizenship and immigration and refugee policy.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, the member for Compton—Stanstead, the member for Rosemont and even my critic from the Reform Party play a very important role on the committee, as does my parliamentary secretary and the other members. I appreciate their advice and I look forward to being at committee to defend Bill C-16 in the very near future, as soon as the House sees fit to send it to committee.

I have been listening very carefully to the debate. We will take into consideration the representations made by all of those who have taken the opportunity to speak to the bill and we will look very carefully at the representations of others when we are at committee. I expect the committee will hear witnesses.

It has been a long road for Bill C-16 and its predecessor Bill C-63. It is very important that this bill proceed. I am pleased to stand in my place today to acknowledge the important work that has been done on this bill. I hope to see it become a reality soon.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her comments. I guess I would have to say, though, that last October the former minister promised us that a bill would be on the table. Had the bill come forward at that time naturally it would have gone into committee. Then we would have been able to work on it and get some of the amendments in that we wanted.

As we have heard recently, the critic from the Reform Party had a press conference and released a supposed draft bill. We have seen what was in that bill, so it will be easy to compare now to ensure the work we have done in committee gets into it.

I had a couple of interesting amendments which I was able to get in, such as asking for photos and prints on first contact, for which a lot of our witnesses had asked. Something that will come back to the House is the fact that we have had in the immigration law for quite a while now what we call a safe third country. Not very much has been done in the negotiations with other countries in this regard.

The amendment I put in asked that this be reported back to the House on a yearly basis so we could see if there were advancement in the file. To that point a lot of people did not even realize it was in the law and not much was being done about it.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to encourage the government to adopt amendments to Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian citizenship. The legislation proposes to make several changes to the current act, with the intention of providing more clearly defined guidelines, upgrading sections and replacing current procedures with a new administrative structure.

There are some more clearly defined parts in the bill. I like to give credit where credit is due, even if it is a little. The bill reached report stage and third reading before the end of the first session but it has yet to be passed. There are only four changes to the bill, despite committee hearings and a debate in the House.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration mentioned in her speech on February 3 that during public consultations on legislative review the main focus of the people with whom she met was immigration. Why has the minister chosen to do nothing on the present inefficient immigration legislation? Instead she has chosen to fiddle with the citizenship act, which reminds us of the typical Liberal way of doing things, merely tinkering with the law.

She also mentioned in her speech on Bill C-63, the act respecting Canadian citizenship, that the primary mission in her department was to contribute to building a stronger Canada. I am wondering if by bungling a billion dollars in HRDC the government makes Canada stronger or weaker.

The arrogant Liberal government uses departments for slush funds to give away grants and contributions like CIDA, CIDA Inc., western economic diversification, ACOA, Indian and northern affairs, heritage and many others. I will not go into that but I wanted to make the point. With its political interference, poor accountability and mismanagement, this weak Liberal government is weakening Canada and certainly not making it stronger.

By increasing taxes to death, does the government make or break families? By being given broad based tax relief families can be strengthened. Strong families make strong communities and strong communities make a strong nation. Having said that, I would like to go into the nitty-gritty of the bill.

The four changes made in this legislation by the Liberals between the first and second sessions of this parliament are as follows. The first is physical presence. According to clause 6, the time requirement for physical presence in Canada as pertaining to applications for citizenship has been changed from three years out of five to three years out of six. This is a positive change. It will allow people who travel on business a greater opportunity and incentive to make Canada their home, and we appreciate that.

The second is presence in terms of spousal considerations in subclause 19(2). This clause has been removed from Bill C-16. It would have allowed spouses of those employed by the federal or provincial governments outside Canada, for example the military, diplomats, et cetera, to collect time toward citizenship. In effect, when posted outside Canada they would be considered to be residing in Canada if living with a spouse while he or she, as the case may be, was working outside our country, maybe for the government in this case.

This is a negative change because the clause presented an equality problem. The spouses of those employed by private businesses were not given the same opportunity. This is valid only for government employees. What about those who are employed by companies that have their head offices in Canada but have to spend time outside the country?

The third is the definition of spouse. The clause allowing the minister to determine the definition of a spouse has been removed from Bill C-16. This is another positive change.

The fourth is a response to the Mennonites in clause 57. In response to lobbying by the Mennonites clause 57 has been added to Bill C-16. This clause will allow three generations of descendants of a Canadian citizen who have never lived in Canada to apply for citizenship for a period of three years from the time the legislation is passed. Is this not amazing? It goes to show that no one is treated equally by the government.

Those four items are the limit of the changes the Liberals have made to the bill. The government is weak. The minister received the recommendations of the government dominated Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in 1994. The government has taken over five years to prepare this legislation which still does not address the committee's key recommendations. The Liberals do not listen to anyone. They do as they please and still there are many problems with the bill. Let me go over some of them.

Citizenship at birth is in subclauses 4(1) to 4(4). Bill C-16 states in effect that all children born in Canada, except of course the children of foreign diplomats, will continue to automatically acquire Canadian citizenship regardless of the immigration or citizenship status in Canada of their parents. This is contrary to what the standing committee heard. This is contrary to what the departmental officials stated and this is contrary to the position of the official opposition and many other Canadians who support it.

The official opposition supports an immigration and citizenship policy that requires children born in Canada to take the citizenship of their parents. Only children born in Canada to landed immigrants would assume Canadian citizenship.

Another problem is the conditions for granting citizenship. First, subclause 6(1)(b) deals with presence in Canada. Bill C-16 defines the term permanent resident more concisely than does the current act. The existing legislation may be loosely interpreted. Some individuals have been found to be residing in Canada because they had a bank account here or they owned property in Canada without having actually resided on Canadian soil.

How could someone be a resident when not residing in Canada? Bill C-16 calls for 1,095 days of physical presence in Canada in the six years preceding application for citizenship. Bill C-16 does not provide any mechanism for determining when applicants arrive in Canada or when they leave. That is the root cause of the problem when we do not know when and how someone left the country or through what channels someone came to Canada.

The next one is penalties for bureaucratic delays in subclause 6(1)(b). The current act allows individuals whose claim for refugee status is approved to count each full day of residency in Canada from the date of application as a half day toward the total needed for their citizenship application requirement. Bill C-16 removes this provision so that applicants will now be penalized for the system's bureaucratic delays even when the delays are no fault of the applicant.

Another one is redefining the family in clause 43. Bill C-16 grants the minister the power for what constitutes a relationship between parent and child. That is wrong. The next one is the famous one, blatant patronage in clauses 31 and 32. Bill C-16 maintains the tradition of patronage appointments.

The Liberals are famous for patronage appointments. Probably they have broken all records in history. Here again they do that. All citizenship judges will have all their duties taken over by departmental officials except for ceremonial duties. There is room for appointing someone for doing some favour for the Liberal Party, the governing party in this case.

Another one is language requirements to gain citizenship in clause 6. This is a very important one. I have had many calls on this point in my office because my constituency of Surrey Central has more of an immigrant population than any other constituency in Canada. It is the largest constituency in Canada in terms of population.

Bill C-16 states that the applicant must have an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada. No provisions are included on how this is to be judged or by whom it will be judged. Being a good citizen has nothing to do with language skills or how many languages one can speak. Being a citizen means one obeys the laws and makes a positive contribution to society.

How about those who are unfortunate, who are mute, deaf or blind? How will they pass that test? I understand it is important that someone should be able to effectively communicate, but I have seen examples of people in this country who could not speak a word of English or French but are now fluent, excellent in business and have made tremendous contributions to Canadian society and to our communities.

Another one is the citizenship oath in clause 34 of the bill. There was little public input on the content of the new oath in Bill C-16. The minister prepared this oath on her own. She did not consult anyone in Canada on what the wording of the oath should be. She ignored listening to Canadians.

The minister's first legislation should have been aimed at fixing a failed immigration system rather than tinkering with the citizenship act at this time. More than five years after the Liberal controlled and dominated standing committee made its recommendation on citizenship, the minister retabled the legislation. It delivers little of what was recommended by the committee. She chose not to listen to Canadians. She chose to ignore the official opposition and other parties in the House.

With globalization and advancement in technology, transport and telecommunications, in an ideal world the boundaries of countries could disappear for the purpose of mobility of the people. There should be peace, prosperity and harmony but this wonderful dream has not yet been fulfilled. I believe it will be fulfilled sometime down the road.

The biggest curse the world has is our inability to see humanity in all of us. Among us are those who do not respect law and order, those who know only their rights and not their responsibilities. There are criminals and terrorists unfortunately.

We have to take appropriate measures to protect our citizens and secure their safety and future. We have to make Canada a better place. It should not be a sieve where terrorists and criminals pass through and jeopardize the safety and security of our citizens and the future of this great country. Therefore our legislation should be carefully crafted and drafted.

The new changes to the Immigration Act the government will propose have been leaked to the official opposition immigration critic. The Canadian public is already very concerned about how badly the Liberals are going to fail in giving us what we want which is to fix the flawed and broken immigration and refugee system in this case.

I am sure members and all Canadians are concerned about refugees coming here in boats but Ottawa is missing the boat on refugees. The proposed changes to the Immigration Act will not do anything to fix the many faults with Canada's refugee adjudication process. The new rules will erode public support for real refugees. Who will suffer? The genuine refugees.

Changes to the Immigration Act contemplated by the immigration minister will not streamline the refugee adjudication process. They will not do anything to fix that. They will not stop bogus claimants from clogging the system. The pipeline is clogged. Genuine refugees are already suffering. The cost of processing applicants should be reduced but it will go up because more people, bogus refugees, criminals and terrorists are involved. We have to do more work to scrutinize them. They will not discourage human smuggling. Erosion of public support for genuine refugees is the likely outcome of Bill C-16.

The United Nations convention on refugees states that countries should accept those who have “a valid founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”. The Minister of Citizen and Immigration proposes to expand the definition of refugees to include a new category five, “people in need of protection”. This extended definition could lead to more dubious refugee claims.

A 1998 government report called for an end to patronage appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. It urged Ottawa to appoint experienced bureaucrats to adjudicate refugee hearings despite the fact that immigration department officials could do a more effective job than inexperienced political appointees. Again the minister chose to ignore this recommendation.

Another level of appeal has been added that will clog the system even more. According to the act, unsuccessful claimants will not be removed from the country. Also no deterrent is in place for human smugglers. Between 1995 and 1998 only 14 smuggling charges were laid. The maximum fine was $4,000 and no one served a single day in jail. That is surprising.

This legislation is supposed to define the criteria for obtaining the world's most respected citizenship, Canadian citizenship. Our citizenship is the very foundation of the Canadian identity which unites us from coast to coast to coast.

To summarize, let me go over some of the points because they are interesting.

Another level of appeal has been added to the system and it will clog the system. The existing system along with its several rounds of appeal has already created a backlog of 30,000 refugee claimants. Rather than streamline the appeal process, this bill adds another level of appeal. There are already many layers. It is like an onion; we peel off one layer and there is another layer. We have to stop this onion effect. We have to be focused and have a clear-cut judicial process which should be keen on helping genuine refugees and not bogus refugees.

Recently the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Canada's obligation to protect its citizens outweighs its obligation to keep suspected foreign terrorists from torture. Under the new legislation which we are debating, if there is a chance of mismanagement upon their return, unsuccessful refugee claimants will not be sent home. They will not be sent back to countries which are deemed unacceptable by the minister. Migrant smugglers are sure to exploit this loophole. We have to plug the loophole.

Under the current legislation, penalties for smuggling range from $5,000 to $100,000 as well as prison terms from five to ten years. The bill proposes to strengthen the penalty for smuggling 10 or more illegal immigrants to a maximum fine of $1 million or life imprisonment. What about when there are batches of nine illegal immigrants? Then the penalties are different and less.

In spite of protestations to the contrary, by drafting the bill before the all-party committee on illegal immigration has made its recommendations, and by planning to introduce the bill on March 30, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is sending a signal that it is a done deal. That is the Liberal style.

To safeguard genuine refugees and the public interest, the minister should scrap the bill. She should hear what the committee has to say and re-write this legislation.

I mentioned that Canadian citizenship is one of the most respected citizenships in the world. We are proud of this fact. We have to maintain respect for Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship is based on equality. One criteria for Canadian citizenship is understanding the equality of all Canadian citizens, but that is not the case with the government.

For example, I tabled some petitions from concerned Canadians, many of which were signed by my constituents but were also signed by people from all across Canada. I received many petitions on this issue. The petitioners, our respected senior citizens in this case, asked the weak Liberal government to treat all seniors equally in the allocation of old age security benefits.

I can understand that there is a difference between immigrants and citizens. To some extent we can probably understand the extent to which the difference exists. But for senior citizens the allocation of old age security benefits depends on the country of origin.

Once a person is a Canadian citizen what does where the person came from or his or her race and ethnicity matter? Why are citizens treated differently based on their country of origin and placed under arbitrary restrictions? These are the questions the petitioners asked of the government. Why does the government treat some citizens as second class citizens? The government through its programs has designated some citizens as hyphenated Canadians based on their race, ethnicity and country of origin.

We are debating the amendments to the citizenship act and it is not clear whether it is the government's intention to dilute Canadian citizenship or create different tiers of Canadians. A Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen. No Canadian citizen is superior or inferior to another Canadian citizen. This is what equality is all about. All Canadian citizens are Canadian citizens, period.

Should we not integrate new citizens rather than segregate them? The government sponsors the multiculturalism policy, the immigration policy and many other policies. It is bent on segregating Canadians rather than integrating them into Canadian society.

It is appalling that the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism says she is proud to call herself a Trinidad-Canadian. When will a Canadian federal minister be proud to call herself or himself a proud Canadian?

We are all proud of our religion, culture, race, ethnicity and our country of origin. When we have adopted and embraced Canada as our new home, we cannot get mail by writing part of the old address on the envelope. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian period, both in French and English and in any other language in the world. A Canadian is a Canadian.

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4:10 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Surrey Central for his even-handed speech. He mentioned not only those aspects of the bill with which he disagrees but also those parts of the bill which he feels strengthens the legislation.

One of the things I did not hear him mention is a problem that I run into frequently in my duties as a member of parliament. We have the so-called brain drain which has certainly affected our country with large numbers of professionals, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, chemists, having gone to greener pastures, having left the difficulties created by this government and the previous Tory government for them to practise their professions in this country.

I have dealt with a number of instances where doctors have applied to come to Canada at the invitation of certain medical facilities that are having a great deal of difficulty. In my rural constituency, many hospitals and many communities have lost doctors that they simply cannot replace and there are citizens who do not have the medical service that they require.

What is frustrating is that a hospital or a medical clinic may recruit a doctor from South Africa, England, Ireland or wherever, eminently qualified to perform the services that are needed. However, there is no give in Immigration Canada to provide a way for these people to come without going through sometimes years of application, reapplication and the cost involved with that. The consequence is that doctors in my experience have thrown up their hands and said “This application has gone on long enough”.

I want to ask my esteemed colleague if he and the committee have given any thought in this legislation as to how Canada might seek to improve itself by reversing the brain drain by modifying the immigration policies to accommodate this.

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4:15 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the question from my hon. colleague.

I agree with him that our health care system, which I call sickness care system, is in a continuous declining state. There are reasons, and of course the immigration policy could be one of them, but there are other policies of this government as well. The government is responsible for the deteriorating situation of our health care system because it cut $35 billion from the health care system, even though it tried to put some money back.

It is the cause for the deteriorating health care system. I am sure this weak, arrogant Liberal government owes an apology to Canadians. Not only is it the government's moral responsibility to fix it but it owes an apology to Canadians.

When we look at the billion dollar boondoggle in HRDC and then see in the new budget that more money has gone, $1.5 billion, to HRDC rather than to health care, it reminds me that this government is in the habit of not putting the money where its mouth is, but putting the money where its back pocket is.

Coming back to immigration, yes, the government can do a lot. The government can bring the respect of Canadian citizenship to its highest level by being fair, by respecting the principles of equality and by respecting the new immigrants, those who come to this country, to help them get into the system, to make them realize that this is their home, this is the future of their children.

The doctors, engineers and professionals are leaving this country because of high taxes, the boondoggles, the misuse of taxpayers' money, the killing of taxpayers through high taxes and the immigration policies which are not fair. All these factors are compounding the situation.

When they are debating about who their leader is or that their leader should go, I think this is not only the time for the Leader of the Liberal Party to go, it is time for the Liberals to go.

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4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the citizenship act, we also talk about immigration, and when we talk about immigration, we talk about racism. I am particularly happy to rise today, because yesterday was Anti-Racism Day.

Bill C-16 contains many provisions which are identical or very similar to the current ones. If I may, I will highlight some nuances and differences.

I will start with a provision in this part of the bill, which is quite interesting. Paragraph 2(2)( c ) states that a person resides in Canada if the person is physically present in Canada and is not subject to a probation order, on parole or in jail.

More specifically on the issue of birth in Canada, the bill would maintain the current rule that children born in Canada are Canadian citizens, as stated in paragraph 4(1)( a ). The only exceptions, as is the case now, concern children of foreign diplomats and their employees. That is paragraph 4(2).

With regard to derivative citizenship, any person born abroad of Canadian parents is automatically a Canadian citizen. This is often referred to as “citizenship by transmission”. Second and subsequent generation children born abroad are also granted citizenship automatically, but they lose on attaining 28 years of age, unless they registered and have either resided in Canada for a period of at least one year immediately before applying for citizenship or established a substantial connection with Canada.

The bill would restrict the automatic transmission of citizenship to second generation children born abroad and toughen the requirements for these second generation citizens who want to retain citizenship after the age of 28.

Clause 14 provides that, to retain citizenship after the age of 28, a person would have to apply to the minister and would have to have resided in Canada for at least 1,095 days during the six years before so applying. As we will see later on, physical presence in Canada would be required during a period of three years. This is the same residency requirement that would have to be met by all permanent residents seeking citizenship.

As for third and subsequent generations, they would not be able to acquire Canadian citizenship unless they meet the usual immigration and citizenship requirements, just like any other individual who chooses Canada as his or her country of adoption.

To avoid the risk of statelessness for third generation children born outside of Canada, clause 11 provides the granting of citizenship, on application, to a person who is less than 28 years of age and who has never acquired, or had the right to acquire, citizenship of any country, but has a birth parent who is a Canadian citizen.

To qualify, this person must have resided in Canada for at least three years during the six previous years, and must not have been convicted of an offence against national security. The nature of the offence is not stipulated, and this specific category of offence is not stipulated in either the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act or the Criminal Code.

Bill C-16 modifies the requirements for acquiring citizenship other than at birth. One of the major changes clarifies the residence requirements. This important change concerns the definition of residence as physical presence in Canada, under subparagraph 2(2)( c ). The proposed objective requirement of residence, specifically to be physically present for three years, or 1,095 days, during the prescribed period, would do away with the huge uncertainties caused by the present legislation.

Even if the current legislation requires three years of residence, the word residence is not defined. Consequently, judicial decisions with radically opposed interpretations have greatly complicated enforcement of the law.

The year following the coming into force, in 1977, of the present legislation, the Federal Court held in a case that physical presence in Canada was not necessary to meet the requirements. The judge found that applicants had to demonstrate that they had established a significant connection with Canada throughout the period, whether or not they had been physically present in Canada.

To demonstrate this connection, one might produce evidence of maintenance of residence, even though this was not absolutely necessary, of accounts in Canadian banks, investments, membership in clubs, provincial driving permits, and so on. In extreme cases, some applicants were granted citizenship even if they had actually been present in Canada only a few months, and even a few days.

However, other federal court judges strongly disagreed with this approach and refused to excuse prolonged absences. So an inconsistent jurisprudence evolved, which made the enforcement of the legislation unforeseeable and uncertain; some say it even compromised the residence requirement and therefore the value of the whole granting of Canadian citizenship process. In its 1994 report, the standing committee recommended that the legal definition of residence call for a substantial period of physical presence.

On the issue of language, Bill C-16 maintains the obligation to show an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages. Unfortunately, French is not the language chosen in most cases. Also, the applicants are still required to demonstrate an adequate knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.

Some new provisions govern the granting of citizenship to children adopted by Canadian citizens abroad. The present legislation states that children adopted abroad must become permanent residents before granting them citizenship can even be considered, and there are loads of consequences to that.

First, children must undergo the same medical examination as any other person who applies for landed resident status or else have obtained a special exemption. Second, this means that children adopted by Canadian parents who live abroad and want to stay abroad cannot become landed residents and consequently Canadian citizens.

The legislation provides that minor children adopted abroad in accordance with the laws of the country of residence of the children or parents may be granted citizenship on application. The adoption must also meet the following criteria: the adoption must be in the best interest of the child; it must have created a genuine relationship of parent and child; and it must not have been intended to circumvent the requirements under any enactment for admission to Canada or citizenship.

Clause 10 of Bill C-16 is a new provision specifically enabling the Minister “for the purposes of this Act”—that is to grant citizenship—to deem a person who has resided in Canada for at least 10 years to be or have become a permanent resident. This clause is for persons who thought they were Canadian citizens while they were not.

As for renunciation and revocation, Bill C-16, as the existing legislation, sets out the circumstances where citizens may renounce their Canadian citizenship. The criteria are very similar.

Under clause 16, the renunciation of citizenship may be revoked, just like the citizenship itself and the restoration of citizenship could be, if the minister is satisfied that there has been false representations, fraud or concealment of material circumstances.

The procedure being used now to challenge the revocation order remains essentially unchanged. It is set out at clause 17. When a person is notified that the minister intends to revoke his or her citizenship, this person can request the minister to refer the matter to the federal court trial division. A new element is that the court will make its determination on a balance of probabilities, under clause 17(1)( b ). This would solve the problem of certain decisions of the trial division as to the criteria that should apply.

To sum up, Bill C-16 would, with a few exceptions, maintain the present provisions on the revocation of citizenship. At present, people who lose their citizenship must first be admitted for permanent residence and may apply for citizenship after having resided in Canada for one year immediately before applying.

The bill requires people in this situation to have resided in Canada for at least 365 days during the two years immediately before applying for citizenship. This is provided under clause 19. Here again, the important change is that the new definition of residence would require actual presence in Canada.

Bill C-16 gives a new power to the Governor in Council, who, on the recommendation of the minister, may deny citizenship if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not in the public interest for a person to become a citizen”. Not only is this power new, it would also constitute a substantive change to the current legislation according to which citizenship is a right and not a privilege, provided that certain objective criteria are met.

While there is no definition of public interest, the new clause would, for example, make it possible not to grant citizenship to a person who distributes hate literature but who otherwise meets the criteria.

Bill C-16 would maintain, with some changes, existing procedures relating to the denial of citizenship for reasons of national security. As it is the case now, the process would begin with a report by the minister to the Security Intelligence Review Committee saying that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person has engaged or will engage in an activity that constitutes a threat to the security of Canada or an activity that is part of a pattern of criminal activity.

The bill states that, within ten days after the report is made, the person who is the subject of a report shall be notified that the report has been made and made aware of possible consequences. The committee would then investigate using the procedure set out in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and, as soon as practicable, send to the person who is the subject of the report a statement summarizing the information available to the review committee.

A new provision would have the review committee consider whether the information may be disclosed without injury to national security or to the safety of persons. That is covered in paragraph 25(3). On completion of its investigation, the review committee would report to the Governor in Council and provide the report's conclusions to the person who is the subject of the report, but not necessarily at the same time.

So, Bill C-16 adds somewhat to the list of things preventing an individual from obtaining Canadian citizenship.

Crimes committed in foreign countries would be taken into account as well as those committed in Canada.

The bill prohibits granting citizenship to any person who is under a removal order or subject to an inquiry under the Immigration Act that may lead to removal from Canada or the loss of permanent resident status.

The bill also brings important changes in the way citizenship applications are processed. Citizenship judges, who are working under the direction of a chief judge, would be replaced and their basic duties fulfilled by officials acting under the delegated authority of the minister. This is under section 44.

Ceremonial duties would be assigned to citizenship commissioners, appointed by the governor in council to serve full-time or part-time, during pleasure, for a term of not more than five years. That is under section 31 of the bill. Each commissioner would receive a remuneration. A chief commissioner could be appointed to supervise and co-ordinate the work of the commissioners.

I would like to focus on the role of the commissioners. According to the bill:

31(6) To be eligible for appointment as, and to serve as, a Citizenship Commissioner, a person must be a citizen, have demonstrated an understanding of the values of good citizenship and be recognized for their valuable civic contribution.

The duties of a citizenship commissioner would be the following: to preside at citizenship ceremonies; to promote active citizenship in the community; to provide, on the minister's request, advise and recommendation about citizenship, the exercise of the minister's discretion, appropriate methods to evaluate citizenship applicants knowledge of Canada, the responsibilities and rights of citizenship and official languages. It is therefore of the utmost importance that commissioners be chosen very carefully.

In conclusion, I would like to speak briefly about the citizenship oath. Personally, and I am not speaking for my party, there is something I do not like in this oath. It is an allegiance oath, and I quote:

—to Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, and to her heirs and successors.

I was raised as a Republican. Not an American style Republican, but an anti-monarchist nonetheless. I do not agree with the fact that Canada, an independent country, still has a foreigner as its head of state. This is why I dislike the oath as it is written.

When I had to take the oath as a member of parliament, I tried to skip certain parts, because I do not believe that we in Canada should swear allegiance to the Queen of England. I would agree if Canada had a leader from this country as its head of state. The governor general could bear the title of president, something with which I would agree more.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Gruending NDP Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-16, the citizenship act. I will be sharing my time with the member for Halifax West.

I am a relatively new member of parliament. I was elected in a byelection last November. I am especially pleased to get up and, for the first time, talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

I have very strong feelings about immigrants and refugees. Like many people in the House, my grandparents were immigrants to this country; on the one side from Germany and on the other from the Ukraine. My family members were farmers and settlers. As I was growing up, we did have a multicultural society for the time, a patchwork quilt in Saskatchewan of a variety of people, mostly from central Europe, in addition to the aboriginal people of course who had lived here for thousands of years.

My wife's family were Mennonite farmers who similarly had a long and interesting history of moving from place to place to place and always making great contributions in whatever place they lived.

One of the strongest experiences I have had with immigrant and refugee people was during the 1973 disaster in Chile when people had to leave their country. Interestingly, many of them at that time were branded as criminals by a regime that was actually criminal. I will have more to say about criminality and immigrants and refugees in a moment. It was clear and remains clear what a great contribution the Chilean community made to Canada. I am very pleased to say, in a personal sense, that some of these Chileans, who I met in the mid-seventies, remain my closest and dearest friends.

In 1979, 1980 and 1981 I worked with the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina. One of the very busy but pleasant jobs that we had was to welcome the Vietnamese boat people who were adrift in the South China Sea and ended up, in some cases, in our country. We co-operated with the immigration department in setting up umbrella agreements so that communities could accept these people.

I also want to mention that perhaps 10 to 15 years after these people came here destitute, and, in some cases, not even the clothes on their backs when they got off the ships, a significant academic study was completed showing that the Vietnamese refugees in Canada had made a very significant economic and social contribution to our country.

Both my wife and I have been involved in refugee work from almost the beginning of our marriage, which goes back many years. We have, in successive times and places, welcomed Central Americans, Iraqis, Iranians, eastern Europeans, Somalis, Eritreans, Bosnians, Africans, particularly from Sudan, and the most recent family we have worked with is an Afghani family who had spent years in refugee camps in Pakistan.

I do believe I have some knowledge on which to speak, although not as much as my wife, but I can tell the House that it is often very worthwhile and interesting to work with people before making pronouncements about what one fears may be their negative contribution to our country. That has been far from our experience.

In a more philosophical vein, I did spend a number of years working for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops who often had things to say about immigration policy and the whole question of immigrants and refugees. I will only mention one point and it is of a theological nature.

I learned, from things that the bishop said about the biblical code of people in countries at the time of Christ and before, how to welcome a stranger. When the stranger came, they opened their tent; they killed the fatted calf; they literally rolled out the carpet. One of the statements the bishops issued while I was working with them on the immigration policy was called “Welcome the Stranger”.

Before I get into more specifics of the bill, I want to mention my political experience, brief as it may be. During the byelection in November 1999, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of immigrant peoples in the riding of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, particularly on the west side of Saskatoon where I was doing my door knocking. When I knocked on the doors of Filipino people, Vietnamese people and people from other countries, I was often welcomed in a way that I was sometimes not at other doors. These people were extremely pleased to be taking some part in the democratic process. I remember various episodes where people told me that it was not only their duty but their pleasure to vote and become involved.

I can remember a Filipino man in particular. When I went to his house in the dark one evening, he invited me in and asked if I was alone. When I said that I was alone, he said “Well, what a wonderful country when you can campaign politically without having to take your bodyguards along with you”. That was the experience that he was bringing to this and that was his view of our country and now his country.

I will summarize by saying that I have great respect, admiration and compassion for immigrant and refugee peoples. This arises out of my family background, my life experiences and my philosophical orientation.

I know that often there is a backlash toward immigrants and refugees. For all the reasons I have mentioned, I certainly do not share that. I try at every opportunity to talk to people about it.

I want to say as well, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre said earlier today, that there is an element of self-interest in our welcoming immigrant and refugee people. He talked about how Canada should think about and decide how many people it wants and what sort of population it wants, and cast its policies in that way. If we look at our past, and he mentioned the time of Sifton when the great west was settled, there was a great openness for people from other countries because we knew that we needed them. I would say that we still need them today and will continue to need them in the future.

If we have any doubt of that, there was an interesting story in the newspaper within the past week about Japan and Korea and how they will have to have fairly massive immigration. Otherwise they will see a loss in population and a shortage of workers, and I would say a shortage of prosperity. That is something which Canada has to look at as well.

This does not mean that it should be completely open ended. We have to have due process. We have to ensure that we do not have queue jumping. We have to do checks to ensure that we are not accepting people with a criminal past into our country.

If I may, I would like to make several specific references to the bill. I have talked about due process. A good number of groups appeared, on a previous incarnation of this bill, to talk about things they thought important, and they made some very good points. I will refer to a few of them.

There is a possibility, the way the legislation is structured, of giving the minister new powers to annul citizenship and broadening measures to revoke it. This means that citizens born outside Canada could lose citizenship, even after many years here, without due process, and in some cases without the right to a hearing.

There are lengthened residency requirements for citizenship. We are concerned about some of these.

There are increased language requirements, imposing more rigorous requirements on applicants for citizenship. This would penalize people who have difficulty learning a new language, and elderly people, often women, survivors of torture.

I could tell the House of the experiences I have had since being elected of immigrants who have come to me who have had great problems one way or another with the language, which creates great problems with the immigration officials.

There will be a certain loss of discretion in citizenship making. Citizenship judges will no longer be the people who make decisions. Frequently it will be civil servants working within specific guidelines. This concerns our caucus as well. We believe that cabinet powers to refuse citizenship are too broad.

We are concerned that business people may find the requirement to live in Canada for three of six years such a difficulty that many may not immigrate to Canada and may take their business elsewhere as a result.

In summary, I and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party feel that it is time this bill be brought to bear and that we have new regulations for immigration, but at the same time we have certain concerns with the bill, some of which I have outlined very briefly and others which my colleague from Winnipeg Centre talked about in more detail earlier today.

We would hope to see in committee some changes which would improve this bill and make it more possible for us, perhaps, to support it.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak, along with my colleagues from Winnipeg Centre and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, to this very important topic of citizenship.

It has been mentioned that citizenship is something which all Canadians hold very dear to their hearts.

A number of problems come through my constituency office around immigration issues and the difficulties people have in coming to Canada. Quite often there are a lot of bureaucratic entanglements before they can get here.

I think of one situation in particular of a young man who had married a young lady from his home of Lebanon. He had been separated from his bride for almost a year and was still encountering difficulties in bringing her to Canada. I was able to get involved in that case and help move it along to the point where she eventually was admitted to Canada.

Shortly after that, he and his wife and their family invited me and my wife to a party they were having to celebrate this occasion. It was a wonderful experience to be in the midst of the party with so many relatives, young children and older people, all having a wonderful time. They were enjoying the hospitality and friendship of each other. My wife and I looked at each other and thought it was a shame that people have to go through such difficulty before they can come together to enjoy each other.

That is why it is important that the whole issue of immigration and citizenship be looked upon very seriously and dealt with in a way that will show respect for our fellow human beings and enable us to enjoy each other's company.

With respect to the bill, some of our concerns have already been mentioned. I want to touch upon a couple of issues concerning citizenship which I think are very important.

Clause 21 of Bill C-16 would introduce a new power to permit the governor in council, upon a report from the minister, to deny a person's citizenship “where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not in the public interest for the person to become a citizen”.

We have some concerns about that. That power would not only be new, it would also represent somewhat of a conceptual change from the present law. Under the present law citizenship is seen pretty much as a right more so than a privilege. It is a right which all people should have, provided that the objective criteria have been fulfilled. The new provision would put the whole question of citizenship into the area of a privilege which would be conferred upon people. The question of the definition of public interest is not really clarified in the legislation. We do not know what is meant by public interest and what will be used to deny citizenship to an individual.

In order to trigger this section of the bill the minister would be required to provide the person concerned with a summary of the contents of the proposed report to the governor in council. The person would then have 30 days in which to respond, in writing, to the minister. If the minister proceeded with the report and the governor in council agreed, the latter would order citizenship to be denied.

The decision of cabinet—and this is the part we want to look at very carefully—would not be subject to appeal or review by any court and would be valid for five years. This order would be conclusive proof of the matters that were stated in the report.

We have a situation where cabinet could decide, for various reasons which are not clearly amplified in the bill, that in the public interest someone is not fit to be granted Canadian citizenship and there would be no appeal. That gives a very big power to refuse citizenship on the basis of a public interest which could be defined in any way, shape or form. We have a lot of concern about that.

We are also concerned about the citizenship commissioners. The new bill would introduce a major change in the way citizenship applications are dealt with. Many citizenship judges are doing an excellent job and I commend them for their dedication to their task.

I have had the opportunity to attend in my riding many of the citizenship courts and to witness firsthand the excellent job which these citizenship judges do in imparting to the new citizens the joy, responsibilities and obligations involved in being a Canadian citizen. I want to commend the many citizenship judges throughout our country for the fine work they do.

Under Bill C-16 we find that these judges would be replaced by citizenship commissioners. Their duties would be full time or part time and they would be appointed by the governor in council during pleasure. Again, the words “during pleasure” cause us a bit of concern. That is something which should be looked at very closely. We really should not make change for the sake of making change if there is no rationale behind changing the citizenship judges and the fine job they do to a new system. I am not sure we would be moving forward in a very positive way.

It is also not clear how the advisory side of the commissioner's mandate would be accomplished under the bill, nor why the commissioners would be particularly well suited to provide such advice. Again, this is something that causes us concern and we feel it should be looked at very closely.

There are a number of things upon which I could elaborate, but I would conclude by emphasizing that from my experience the whole process of a person coming to our country, having the right to citizenship and going through the process which moves them into that status is very, very important.

I have seen many new citizens who exude a sense of pride and a sense of happiness when they are declared Canadian citizens. I have been at the ceremonies where tears fall from the eyes of many of these people as they are welcomed into Canadian society. As we do that, we are certainly saying something about our society, about the openness of our society, about how we feel that people have an obligation to share one with the other and about how we have an obligation to support these people. That is an aspect I would want to emphasize as well.

When we look at citizenship we cannot just dwell on the responsibility of those who are receiving citizenship, we must dwell upon our own responsibility to provide the kind of support mechanisms that are necessary to new Canadians.

When I come to Ottawa and I get in a taxi to drive to the House of Commons, many times I am being chauffeured by someone who is a new Canadian, someone from another country. When they tell me about their background, their experience and their qualifications in their home country, I ask myself why they are driving a taxi. Why are they not working as an engineer, a lawyer or a doctor? We have to look at that aspect of citizenship as well, as to how we treat our new citizens.

The other day I had a young man, who was originally from Africa, talk to me about the difficulty he is having getting a job in Nova Scotia. As we talked it became very clear that this young man had a university degree from one of our own institutions, yet he was having difficulty getting a job.

We have to look at some of the barriers that we place in the way of our new citizens who have obtained the desired status of Canadian citizenship.

We all have an obligation and a responsibility to work on this matter in the best interests of each and every one of the new citizens and to do the best we can to make them truly welcome and truly proud to be Canadian citizens.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, there were a couple of incidents in my riding concerning immigration which the hon. member might wish to comment on.

The first incident happened in the last two weeks. A medical doctor was returning to Canada. He was not yet a citizen. The immigration department, for some reason, was unable to quickly process his entry visa to allow him to continue working. He had been working in Canada for three years. As a result, the town went for over a week without the services of that doctor. It finally took the intervention of outside sources, including MPs like myself, to move it along.

I would like to know if the hon. member has a comment with respect to how the system is working when it comes to work visas.

The second thing is that in our riding we have quite a few dairy farms. It is difficult to find people who will work all day, from 5.30 in the morning, or who will work a broken shift. I know of one big dairy farm which requires labourers. The owner happens to know of people in Switzerland, persons experienced in dairy, who would come to Manitoba to work.

They are having many problems within the immigration department to get him moved along to allow him to immigrate and work. There does not seem to be anybody in our area to fill that particular job. Does the member have any comments with regard to how the immigration system is working?

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have found as well that there have been many bureaucratic problems with respect to assisting people to come to Canada. The example the member spoke of with the doctor is one example. I could cite many others as well. Part of the problem seems to be that we have a bit of a separation between the Canadian authorities and the visa officers in the country of origin. Far too often it is almost like never the two shall meet.

We allow a certain amount of independence to the party in the country of origin to make his or her decision and sometimes the accountability aspect of why the decision is made and how it is made is not always there. It is like “We have no control over that decision, that is made by this person here”. If that person gets up on a bad day and does not like the look of the person who is applying for the visa or whatever, the applicant may never get here. Those are issues that we have to work on.

With respect to getting people here to work in various jobs, as the member mentioned with regard to the farm industry, we have to be mindful of the cultural differences as well because it may be that a person coming from another country needs a cultural adjustment before working in a given type of operation. As I mentioned, quite often people coming from another country will have training for a certain profession and ideally it would be nice if work could be obtained in that profession. Those are areas we have to work on.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Kitchener—Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, let me commend my colleagues from Halifax West and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. They both made very eloquent presentations on the issue of what it means to be a Canadian citizen.

I believe my friend from Halifax West identified a very important point when he talked about people not being recognized for the qualifications they have. In my community, the Waterloo region, we have a doctor shortage, yet we have enough doctors who were foreign trained who are not allowed to practice. One of the problems is that licensing of physicians is a provincial responsibility. As much as we talk about the brain drain in this country, we also very much have what is known as the brain waste in this country. It is very unfortunate. I agree, I have shared many of the same experiences. In Canada we probably have the most highly educated taxi drivers of any place in the world because of the barriers that are put in place for people trying to gain recognition for their training.

I ask the hon. member to maybe further expand on his experience and give us his suggestions for what we must do, recognizing for the most part this is under provincial jurisdiction. I ask the hon. member to try to address this very tragic situation for the people involved.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address that issue because it is a very real issue right across the country.

What we have to do is not what was recommended by a statement read earlier in the House by a member of the official opposition who was decrying affirmative action programs and saying that we ought not to have those kinds of programs. We do need programs that will facilitate people being able to fulfil their potential in a meaningful way and that sometimes means giving people a leg up, removing the barriers and enabling people to move into the system.

As long as we have a preconceived idea that being equal and having equal opportunity means everybody has to be treated the same, then we will never have people fulfilling their potential. The situation is such that people do have to be treated differently because of different backgrounds, different experiences and different situations where they have not had equal opportunity for advancement. We have to change our mindset if we want to see this happen and that comes from within for each individual.

As long as people in positions of power, people in positions of authority do not have that change of mindset then we will never, ever see the kind of thing happen that the member has indicated should happen, and which I would agree should happen, so that we would use the brain power that we have here. Canada is a beautiful country. There are all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of people to fulfil those opportunities.

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5:05 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

I am here to tell the House today that I am a proud Canadian, just like many other members of the House of Commons. I am a proud Canadian because I have had the experience of being able to travel throughout the world as early as when I was 17 years old and joined the Canadian Armed Forces. I was able to travel around the world and the Canadian flag was held with deep respect everywhere I travelled.

Just a few years ago I was fortunate enough to travel on the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war to Holland. That was the most exciting time of my life, seeing the Canadian flags up and down the streets of Holland in commemoration of Canada's liberation of Holland in the second world war. It was very moving. It was an experience that I do not think I will ever forget. As I said, I am a very proud Canadian.

It is important in this debate today to realize that Canada's most valuable asset is not our natural resources or many of the other things people would think. It is actually the people of Canada. It is the people who make this country what it is. It is a democracy and we should be very proud of that fact.

I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak on Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian citizenship. The purpose of Bill C-16 is to repeal and replace the current Citizenship Act which many Canadians know is severely flawed. While this is an important goal, I have two serious reservations with this proposed legislation. First, specific clauses in the bill need to be amended before Bill C-16 will function as intended. Second, the timing of this bill is all wrong. Changes to the Immigration Act need to be dealt with before this bill is passed and no bill dealing with immigration has been tabled in the House.

The Liberal government claims that Bill C-16 is the first major reform with respect to citizenship in 20 years. The intent of this bill is to provide more clearly defined guidelines, replace current procedures with a new administrative structure and increase the minister's power to deny citizenship. Unfortunately what the Liberals intend and what the Liberals actually do are two separate things. Bill C-16 is no exception. While the Liberals claim that Bill C-16 is a major modern reform of the Citizenship Act, those of us who look closely at the bill see a number of areas that have been totally neglected and others that have been actually impacted in a negative manner.

In 1994 the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration made a number of important recommendations with respect to citizenship which the government has totally ignored. Given that the government has had five years to develop this bill, it is inexcusable that it is full of serious omissions.

Like most Canadians, I attach a great deal of importance to my citizenship as a Canadian. Therefore, I would like to focus my comments on the conditions for granting citizenship.

The current legislation governing citizenship is lax in this regard. Currently individuals who are deemed to be permanent residents of Canada have been found to have nothing more than a bank account or property in Canada. It seems as though having a physical presence is not important. Canadians believe it is. Bill C-16 takes a half measure to deal with this issue. It correctly defines a permanent resident as an individual who must have a physical presence here in Canada for at least 1,095 days during a six year period preceding their application for citizenship.

While this makes good sense, Bill C-16 does not provide any mechanism for determining when applicants arrive in Canada or when they leave, nor does the Liberal government intend to develop one. This was a serious concern for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and the committee members recommended that measures be introduced to monitor periods of time permanent residents are out of the country. Without a viable means of determining time spent in Canada, requiring that a permanent resident spend 1,095 days in Canada is as meaningless as a judge sentencing a convicted murderer to life in prison. We all know the time will not be served.

There are a number of other problems with this bill. The bill specifies that an applicant must have an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages in Canada but no specific provisions are made for how this is to be judged or by whom.

Another serious problem is that the number one recommendation of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was that the declaration of Canadian citizenship express the vision Canadians share for their future and the importance they attach to their citizenship. This should have been an opportunity for all Canadians to express what they wanted to see in the Canadian citizenship oath. It would have been a great opportunity for a nation-wide patriotic debate. Instead, the minister hobbled together an oath on her own. We can almost picture the minister huddled together with her staff just before a question period briefing and trying to put together a citizenship oath.

Of course with all things Liberal, there is an issue of patronage. Despite the importance Canadians place on their citizenship the Liberals have maintained the tradition, Mr. Speaker, of patronage appointees. I know the Speaker is shocked by that.

Citizenship judges have been renamed citizenship commissioners in the proposed legislation but most of their duties will be taken over by departmental officials. It is just one more plum post for friends of the Prime Minister.

This legislation also discriminates against refugees. Current refugees get to count each full day of residency in Canada from the date of application as a half day toward the total needed for their citizenship application, but Bill C-16 removes this provision, penalizing applicants for all the bureaucratic delays that are already in the system. This is blatantly unfair for true refugees.

The real problem with Bill C-16 though is that the Liberals have their priorities all wrong. Last year the people of British Columbia watched as boatload after boatload of illegal immigrants entered this country with no action from the government at all. Our immigration system is in a desperate situation, pandering to people traffickers and others who abuse our immigration system and our compassion.

Canadians want to know why the Liberals have made citizenship a priority when the immigration system is in such dire straits. It is like putting new windows on a house when the roof is collapsing. It appears as though the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has no intention of fixing the multitude of problems facing Canada's immigration system.

In an advanced copy of her new immigration and refugee protection act, not yet tabled in the House, it is apparent that the Liberals will not close the door to bogus asylum seekers and people traffickers. Instead the Liberals are throwing the door wide open.

The definition of refugee is slated to be expanded and entrenched in the law with an entirely new category called “people in need of protection”. This definition goes well beyond that required by the United Nations' definition. The new immigration and refugee protection act does outline increased fines and penalties for the crime of people smuggling but these mean nothing without credible sentencing. Sentencing in Canada is anything but credible.

Recent statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics indicate that between 1995 and 1998 only 14 charges have ever been made under section 94.1 of the Immigration Act. Section 94.1 states:

—every person who knowingly organizes, includes, aids or abets...the coming into Canada of a person without valid documents required by the law is guilty of an offence and liable:

on conviction to a fine not over $100,000 or to imprisonment for not more than five years, or both

and

on summary conviction, to a fine not over $10,000 or to imprisonment of not more than one year.

During the last five years nobody charged under section 94.1 of the Immigration Act for people smuggling has served one day in jail. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the toughest penalty handed down for an individual convicted was a $4,000 fine and one year probation. No wonder our immigration system is the laughing stock of the world.

Canada needs to be recruiting the world's best and brightest while allowing legitimate refugees to enter Canada and acquire citizenship in a timely and fair manner. While the citizenship act is in need of review, our immigration system is in dire straits and needs immediate attention. The government must focus its attention on priority areas like immigration. Let us get our immigration system up and running effectively. Then we can deal with citizenship.

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5:15 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague and friend on his speech. I agree entirely that Canada should be seeking the best and the brightest and opening its doors to those refugees genuinely in need.

On that particular point I found this debate and some of the questions coming out of it rather frustrating and disappointing. We talked about the needs of Canadians. Canadian communities, such as many of those in my own constituency, have a need for doctors to replace those who have left because of the disastrous effects of the government's intervention in the medicare system. Replacing them with doctors who are qualified and willing to come is difficult because of the bureaucratic logjam in Immigration Canada and its unwillingness to do anything to move the process along at anything more than the slowest speed possible.

I have also listened to people talk about justifying the admission of illegal refugees on the basis that Canada does not have enough offices to process them overseas. I find that ridiculous. Legislation should once in a while be geared to the needs of Canadians.

Does my colleague have any comments on how this legislation might focus on the economic and social needs of Canadians and not simply pander to the needs, legitimate and otherwise, of those who are not Canadians and who only wish that they were?

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadians in general as I said earlier, do believe that Canada's most valuable asset is its people. It is a legitimate requirement that Canada in its desire to grow and become the most competitive nation in the world seek out the brightest and best qualified people to come to Canada.

Having said that, there is a legitimate need to recognize that some people do come to Canada as legitimate refugees. The UN has a declaration on refugee status and it is very explicit. This bill has gone one step further in stating that Canada would also take in people who, I guess by some declaration, say that they are people in need.

As I have been able to travel around the world, there are many people in other countries who would love to live in Canada and have the opportunities that we have here. The fact is that those people are citizens of other countries and they cannot simply come to Canada just to improve their own economic status. There is a responsibility that goes along with being a Canadian citizen and Canadians understand that. The legislation should focus on dealing with the responsibility of being a Canadian, what it means and include in it the aspirations that people want to have down the road.

The first thing that should be done is we should deal with the immigration system itself. We should address the problems that we saw last year in British Columbia. We should deal with the boatloads of people who are not legitimate refugees. They just said, “Canada sounds like a nice place to go to, let us go to Canada”. They paid an exorbitant amount of money to come here. It was through illegal means that they arrived in Canada. Those people are still being held up by the process that this country has developed.

We have to deal with that. We have to deal with people smuggling. We have to deal with the real problems that Canadians are concerned about. We have to improve the immigration system.

Every single member in the House, no matter what political viewpoint, are all proud Canadians. We have a responsibility to the people of Canada to deal with the problems facing Canadians. Immigration is a disaster and everyone in the House knows it. That is what we should be focusing on.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, yes, the long suffering Immigration Act and Citizenship Act. Even though Bill C-16 is designated as the Citizenship Act and amendments to it, it reflects quite frequently on the Immigration Act itself. If we are intending on fixing the Citizenship Act, the matter that precedes it is the Immigration Act and all of its faults.

When Reform first came to the House in 1994, immigration was on the plate. It was an issue that was debated at length by the Reform Party. We dared to bring up this topic. We dared to introduce some different ideas in spite of all the criticism that was hurled our way. Much of that criticism was an attempt not only by the government side but by special interests in the community that had a direct ear to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at that time and still do—

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Immigration lawyers and consultants.

Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Yes, the lawyers and consultants had a vested interest in keeping the situation the way it was. It was a moneymaker for so many. Unfortunately things have not improved all that much. The consultants still exist and are making piles of money from it. The lawyers are still making piles of money from it. For what and to whose advantage? Is it for the advantage of the Canadian people? No, it has never been to their advantage.

The people in this country have never had input into any discussion on the Immigration Act. They have never had any input into any provision or amendment. Why? Because there has been a vested interest on the part of the Liberal government since 1993, the time that we have been in the House, to lean toward those who have that very special consideration: the consultants, the lawyers and anyone else who is part of that industry.

Things have not changed. The amendments in Bill C-16 do not deal with that problem. The changes that are coming up in the new Immigration Act do not deal with the problem of interference.

When I took office as a member of parliament in 1993 I was somewhat shocked to find that 70% to 80% of my work related to immigration matters. Immigration has become a political football. If we oppose it, we are criticized severely and called every name in the book. If we say there is something wrong with the act, our opponents say we are criticizing immigrants or that we are being discriminatory. That is the accusation made. Unfortunately that is a smokescreen. It is an abuse of a position to hurl those kinds of insults at someone who is just trying to straighten out a problem that most people in the country know exists but are not quite sure how it all comes together.

When dealing with issues on immigration, the quickest way to come up with an act that is suitable for people is to include them. New immigrants, those who have been here for 20 years and those who were born here should be included. The government would be very surprised in what it found out.

One of the biggest complaints about the Immigration Act, even relating to the Citizenship Act and certainly dealing with the refugee system, is that many immigrants who do come here would like to bring their relatives over to visit from time to time. That is a fair request. They would like to bring their relatives over but time and time again they have been denied that privilege.

Why would they be denied bringing their relatives to visit them here in Canada? It is because of an interpretation in one court case by a supreme court justice which has never been challenged. If a person comes here and claims refugee status, no one can send him back. That is a fact. No one can send him back. Even though he may have come on a visitors visa and decided to stay, he cannot be turned back or refused if he says, “I am a refugee”.

Unfortunately that very specific court ruling has never been challenged. It is high time that it was because the immigrants in my riding, and I have many, would like their friends and relatives to visit them even if it is in the case of sickness. But because of that very foolish interpretation many of them are denied that very special privilege.

When talking about a family, that is a provision that could change to allow a stronger family and certainly a much better position on strengthening the family.

What else is wrong which this act does not address? We could cross-reference this act to the Immigration Act because they go hand in glove.

It is high time that we changed the visitors visas and introduced a system where cash bonds could be placed. Anyone who refused to return would have to forfeit the bond. It would pay for any court case that came along. This would address a major concern in my riding at least and would make a lot of people much more comfortable.

I am going to go back to the refugee system. I think it is the most flawed area in immigration. There are so many queue jumpers who use the refugee system to enter this country. The issue is not being addressed in a very effective way.

This was a battle in 1993, in 1994, and in fact it has even existed much longer than that. It was one that we took up when we came into office in 1994. We fought diligently to have some reasonable changes made to the Immigration Act to deal with the refugee determination system.

Lo and behold very little has changed. Bill C-16 talks about patronage appointments through the citizenship process. That permeates the whole immigration system. Not only does it deal with the citizenship process, the judges and those doing the evaluations, but it also deals with the Immigration and Refugee Board. Nothing has changed. I believe it has even gotten worse and and has been pushed down out of sight because no one wants to talk about it much any more. Needless to say, when we do not talk about it on this side, the government refuses to clean up any of the problems that exist.

Let us look at the immigration and refugee act. If that hole is plugged, I believe that a lot of immigrants who are in the process of trying to immigrate to this country through the normal legal channels will feel a lot better about the process. They look at others who have jumped the queue, who have come in through the back door via the refugee system. They become very irritated and as a result they too begin to look for other ways of entering the country.

I will now talk about the issue of sovereignty. We on the west coast of this country have experienced boatloads of people arriving on our shores. These people are not refugees but illegals who have come in through this whole process of smuggling people, which has severely tarnished the immigration process in Canada.

People smugglers have not been dealt with in a severe manner in any way, shape or form. They should be taught that this is not acceptable. Unfortunately, the government of the day refuses to tighten up the laws in this area. Enforcement and court action are the keys to this problem. I can only call on the government to examine those processes before it deals in any substantive way with the citizenship issue.