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.