House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-31.


Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry. I knew I was stretching it asking the hon. member for Lakeland to come up with a short question because we did not have much time.

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4:05 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be glad to answer the question just asked. First of all, with all due respect, I must tell my colleague that I think he answered the question himself.

The problem with illegal refugees is that they are not real refugees but people who are being used by international criminal groups. This is just like the problem with drugs, for example. Therefore, we have to be able to track down criminals who have very extensive networks and who do not reside in Canada. This is the case for refugees as well as drugs and several other things.

We need agreements with the countries where those criminals live and we are just beginning to do that. Furthermore, we need co-operation with organizations like Interpol and I know that the minister is working on that. The problem of illegal refugees, and I insist on the word illegal, is not a refugee problem, but a problem of international criminal activity.

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4:05 p.m.


Jerry Pickard Liberal Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue the debate on the second reading of Bill C-31, the immigration and refugee protection act.

In a world too often torn apart by ethnic, racial and religious strife, Canada is one of the model countries of the world. It certainly is a privilege and an honour that Canada shares with some other nations.

One reason for this tolerance and compassion in Canada is that we are a country of immigrants. Consider today that 46 members of the House were born outside Canada. Our governor general, Adrienne Clarkson, came to Canada as a refugee during the second world war. In the nation's capital many Canadians have participated in high tech companies. Many of the companies were started by immigrants.

Immigrants enrich the everyday lives of Canadians as doctors, nurses, people in our health care system, teachers and university professors. Immigrants who write books, make films and entertain have put Canada's cultural industry on the world stage often winning international awards in the process.

My riding of Chatham—Kent Essex is rich in ethnic diversity. Many of my constituents are refugees who have overcome great economic hardships to build successful new lives for themselves in Canada. Today they contribute to Canadian society as workers in our economy, as volunteers in our communities and as nation builders of Canada for tomorrow.

Indeed with the exception of our aboriginal people, we are all immigrants or refugees or descendants of immigrants and refugees. That is why this debate is so important today. Just as Canada was built by immigrants and refugees, what the country, our children and grandchildren will receive from us will be one built by the systems that we alter and change today.

Honourable members of the House know that countries with the most open minds to immigration throughout history have prospered and flourished. That is why our government has a long term goal of annual immigration levels of 1% of our population. This government knows that healthy immigration levels are the fuel for a dynamic and growing economy. With our declining birth rate and aging population, a strong immigration program is an investment in our future.

As we welcome new arrivals to our shores, Canada continues to benefit from savings, earnings and investment that result and which in turn lead to increased demand for our goods and services. In today's emerging global markets, Canada's multilinguistic and multi-ethnic workers provide us with a great opportunity to be competitive throughout the world.

If immigration has been a vital part of our economic success, our refugee system has earned us a reputation as humanitarian leaders throughout the world. Canadians are proud of our tradition of providing a safe haven for those in genuine need of protection. Time and time again Canadians have opened their hearts and their homes to those fleeing war, persecution and horrendous violations of human rights. In the 1990s many of my constituents joined Canadians across Canada in opening their hearts, often by making financial and other donations to the Kosovars.

The immigration and refugee system has indeed served Canada well. However, the international and domestic environments the systems work in have changed. Therefore, changes are required in our Immigration Act.

Human smuggling has become a major underground industry as some people try to circumvent immigration rules that are provided to protect all. The United Nations estimates that international trafficking operations smuggle over four million people a year across national borders and that smuggling is a $10 billion industry.

Civil war, racial tensions and religious persecution in other parts of the world put innocent people's lives at risk. Requests from refugees seeking safe haven in Canada have increased by almost fiftyfold in the last 20 years, from 500 refugee claims in the 1970s to 24,000 claims in the last few years.

The Canadian economy requires skilled workers and entrepreneurs who can contribute to Canada's economic growth. The draft legislation before us which addresses these and other issues is the result of more than four years of work. The process included nationwide extensive consultations with provincial governments, business groups, the Canadian Bar Association, refugee organizations and individual Canadians.

As has been so aptly put by my hon. colleagues during this debate, Bill C-31 has a dual purpose. The legislation will close the back door for those who would abuse the system. For example, by providing severe penalties and fines of up to $1 million and life imprisonment for people who are smuggling or caught trafficking in humans.

Closing the back door will allow us to open the front door even wider both to genuine refugees and the immigrants Canada will need for a growing, prosperous future. Yes, it is tough on criminal abuse of immigration and refugee protection systems but not on the overwhelming majority of immigrants and refugees who have built this country and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

The comprehensive package before us strengthens the program's integrity and reduces cost without diminishing fairness or legal safeguards that Canadians have built into the system over many years. It also follows through on Canada's throne speech commitment to strengthen measures directed at preventing admittance as well as removal of criminals, terrorists, human rights abusers and human traffickers. These reforms strike a balance between enforcement measures to address the abuse and our need for opening the system. New measures will also help Canada attract immigrants who can contribute to the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.

Hon. members are very familiar with the backlogs in Canada's immigration and refugee determination systems. We, as members of Parliament, are often asked by permanent residents, families who wish to sponsor potential immigrants and refugee organizations, to help with the long delays. I hope Bill C-31 will quickly be passed into law so that we will be able to inform people in our ridings who ask for our help that concrete measures have been taken to improve our immigration and refugee systems.

Let me enumerate some of the important measures the government has already implemented or will be able to put into place when Bill C-31 is passed.

Client service is being improved through the introduction of global case management systems. This will result in faster processing times. New funds have been designated to clear up backlogs. The management of the inventory of applications for permanent residence and immigration visas abroad is being improved. These measures will mean immigration systems will serve Canadians, permanent residents and potential immigrants faster and more effectively.

The proposed in Canada landing class in the draft legislation for temporary workers, foreign students and sponsored family members of permanent residents would make it easier for these people to remain in Canada. By facilitating the entry of temporary workers through a more service oriented approach, the government will assist employers to meet their immediate needs for skilled workers faster.

There are many measures to keep the refugee system fair but make it faster. These include required eligibility decisions to be made within 72 hours; consolidation of protection decisions of immigration and refugee boards; and the increased use of single member panels supported by paper appeal on merit. All of this will allow genuine refugees to be processed faster so that their lives are not put in limbo while they wait for decisions crucial to their future.

Canadians have made it clear to their elected representatives that they want a system based on respect, both for laws and for the tradition of welcoming newcomers. This bill strikes the balance that Canadians want. I am confident my constituents, both Canadians and those who are new immigrants and refugees, will support the goals of this legislation. I request everyone in the House to give it support.

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4:15 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find it very interesting that everything the member mentioned, except one item, has to do with the administration of the act, something that is not included in any way in this legislation. There is no attempt to deal with the administration of the act.

The one thing he did mention, which is included in the act, is the one-member panel. He pointed out that this would speed up the process. That would be true if we did not have additional appeals inside the IRB. Those additional appeals will be used by most people who apply and may require more than one panel member. Since all the other appeals are still available, we will probably see a further slowing down of the system. If it is combined with other things in the act, the system certainly will slow down.

Why did the member focus on administrative changes, which are not included in the act in any way, as being a solution to the problem? He has hit on a key point. The act by itself, even if it were a good act, which I do not believe it is, would not solve the problem. The administration is the problem. The auditor general pointed that out in spades two weeks ago. How does the member think the new act will solve the problem if administration is not improved? The administration is separate from the act.

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4:20 p.m.


Jerry Pickard Liberal Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear, when we look at our Immigration Act and the changes that have been brought about today and will be continuing forever, that we have to ensure that our system does move refugees through as easily and quickly as possible.

There is absolutely no question that it is in part a legislative process that has to be sponsored and supported very strongly by the administration.

It is absolute nonsense for the critic, my hon. colleague across the way, to suggest that a one-member board will slow the system down. When we stop to think about the processes in place with the boards that have been there, it is much easier and certainly a heck of a lot more efficient if there is a person to listen to the tremendous number of appeals going on to make sure they are carried out in a much quicker way. We put extra dollars into the system in order to make sure that those appeals can be heard and dealt with in a lot quicker way. Yes, there may be some that do go to an extra level of questioning and that is only fair. It is only fair that we allow a broader appeal if we do not answer all the questions in the first opportunity.

From the appeals I have seen from constituents in my riding, I would suggest that they are very carefully put together. They are put together in a way that one person listening to them can certainly make judgments as to where and how the effects of the appeals are carried on.

It is not a matter of having poor administration. It is a matter that we are getting more and more immigrants applying to Canada and we have to alter the system to a degree to make certain that we give fair and open hearings to everyone who requires it.

Attacking the administration really does not do anything. What we need to do is look carefully at the suggested changes, at the recommendations that are coming forward, and realize that they will expedite cases in a much better way.

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4:20 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

Before I go further, I want to extend my appreciation to the hon. member for Lakeland, the immigration critic for the Canadian Alliance, for his thoughtful presentation in the debate earlier today.

My office received numerous calls during the Easter break. I am sure that other members also received many telephone calls concerning this bill.

I was on a radio talk show on the weekend discussing this bill. The public is confused and fed up with the misinformation the feds have fed us. There has been weak Liberal government propaganda about changes to Bill C-31. They have given selective information to the media. They have told us that this new act will do certain things for new immigrants. They said that it will give people an opportunity to sponsor any person or any relative. This is one among many other misgivings they have given. I had to defend the whole procedure by saying that this was not yet an act but only second reading of the bill. I had to explain the whole process of how a bill becomes law before people could digest this.

In one of the phone calls I received, someone told me they were going to arrange a marriage in the family but that they were going to hold off with the plans because the new law will probably help them to sponsor a relative to Canada. People are making decisions based on government propaganda.

Before federal elections the Liberals have a habit of throwing sugar-coated pills to garner political support from immigrants. In their first red book, the propaganda was that they would increase the immigration quota, so the immigrant communities that thought the idea was good voted for them. Once the Liberals were in power a smaller number of immigrants were allowed to come to Canada.

Similarly, concerning the opening of the consulate office in Chandigarh, in Punjab, India, statements and pictures appeared in the newspaper saying that a consulate office was being opened in Chandigarh. Most of the people from India who are in Canada are from the Punjab and they were demanding a full consulate office in Chandigarh.

The Liberals took pictures and made statements before the 1997 federal election and even before the 1993 election and all those promises were not kept, particularly by the fisheries minister. He is on record as having said that he helped the Liberal government open the consulate office in Chandigarh. However, it is only a liaison office. It does not give application forms for visitor visas. Even if a marriage certificate is missing in a file they do not accept that. The Liberals are in the habit of this kind of propaganda.

Because the election is around the corner the Liberals have started singing the same song. They forget that they can fool people only once.

The purpose of Bill C-31 is to repeal and replace the current Immigration Act of 1976. It attempts to address the growing problem of people smuggling and human trafficking, Canada's refugee determination system and the definition of who can become a refugee in Canada with increased focus on protection. It also attempts to address the creation of an in-Canada landing class of immigrants, expanded criteria for family class immigration and increased controls on sponsorship. This bill will not accomplish its objectives. Rather, it will likely significantly slow down the entire immigration system.

The government has failed to even make the changes based on simple common sense. It will never be effective unless the Liberal government, that lacks vision, makes improvements in the management of the system: better training, tighter auditing and meaningful enforcement.

Let me highlight some ineffective salient features of the bill. Paragraph 3(3)(d) of the bill provides protection consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to all those in the world who would seek admission to Canada. That means anyone who is denied access to Canada has the full right to appeal the decision, the same old onion effect will continue, the layers will keep on peeling and it will never end.

The legislation provides very little protection to Canada's borders, as this clause ties the hands of the immigration officials who may become increasingly reluctant to refuse entry and it will significantly add to a litigious immigration system.

No other country in the world gives the rights of its citizens to foreign nationals. While we should welcome genuine immigrants to Canada, the department must be able to retain certain controls of the system rather than handing over the controls to lawyers.

This bill, rather than tightening, broadly expands the definition of refugee well beyond the UN definition of a conventional refugee and in contrast to the direction taken by most other western nations. This will continue to make Canada's refugee determination system the easiest target in the world for abuse and it will encourage human traffickers and smugglers. This will almost guarantee that anyone arriving on our doorstep with a good story provided by the smugglers will be accepted as a refugee.

Canada currently accepts over 50% of the people applying for refugee status, in contrast with the U.S. which accepts less than 20% of the people applying for refugee status. The United Kingdom accepts less than 30% and New Zealand accepts less than 15%. The problem is not to accept refugees; the problem is that the criteria should be such that genuine refugees are given the protection, not bogus refugees.

While we should welcome genuine refugees to Canada, the department must provide immediate protection to those refugees and reunite their families as soon as possible, rather than keeping them in the current clogged pipes of the system for years and years.

I have firsthand experience in my constituency of Surrey Central dealing with at least 40 refugee cases which were accepted five or ten years ago but for which there has not been issued a landed document. Therefore, the families could not be reunited. The people involved cannot work properly.

I remember in one case the refugee was accepted, his fingerprints were taken and he was accepted as a refugee. However, the weak system failed to give him the landed certificate. In the meantime, he was working under a work permit, making a little money, and he wanted to buy a taxi. He could not buy that taxi. He could not go into business because he did not have the landed document. That is the kind of clogging in the pipeline which inhibits the economic contribution of these people who become immigrants in Canada. This is unacceptable. We must not let it deteriorate further.

The bill provides for higher maximum penalties for human trafficking and people smuggling. That looks good on the surface. When the minister introduced the bill she delivered a message from the government, but the message is on a different track, and what this legislation would offer is on a different track, and both tracks are going in different directions.

Similarly, it looks like tough talk, but whether it will be practical, whether it will be implemented, that is the point. The stiffest penalties would only apply to those in charge of people drafting operations, and they operate primarily outside the country and remain absolutely untouchable.

The middle level organizers in Canada are protected by organized crime rings and are rarely caught and seldom convicted.

The current maximum penalties have never actually been applied to anyone convicted of people smuggling. In fact, as of 1999 the highest penalty ever handed out was 10 months in jail and a $3,000 fine. That is a mockery of the justice system. It is a mockery of law and order.

Recently the minister went on a junket to the Fujian province of China with a view to stopping human smuggling. It is laughable. There are 150 countries from which thousands and thousands of people want to come to Canada. They would use any kind of means, legal or illegal. They do not care. Will the minister be going to all of those countries to stop those people? She failed to tighten our legislation here in this country. I thought it was the responsibility of the foreign minister to use diplomacy and be effective, not the responsibility of the immigration minister.

She failed earlier to send a strong message to smugglers around the world by sending the illegal migrants back. That was her job to do. She did not do her job, but she wanted to do the foreign minister's job.

She has failed to put teeth in the new bill. Perhaps she would prefer to go on an around the world trip and compete with the foreign minister for air miles.

The bill also proposes that there be security checks for refugee claimants prior to these cases being referred to the IRB. Is it not shocking that this weak government admits now that this has not been done in the past? Why not? Why were security checks not done before the cases were given to the IRB?

Without more emphasis on enforcement it will be very difficult to do proper security checks on 60% of the refugee claimants in Canada, according to the Auditor General of Canada. They come to Canada without identification. When they board the plane they have some sort of identification documents, but when they get off the plane they do not have any documents. According to the auditor general, 60% arrive without documents. How can security checks be done?

The new bill would allow foreign nationals to apply for permanent residency status using the independent immigration side of the act; that is, applying from within Canada. This makes sense in certain cases, such as a highly skilled foreign worker, or a student perhaps who has completed a post-secondary course that is in demand in Canada. However, past experience has proven that this cannot be maintained as a broad-based application and would allow thousands of people without status to stay, further clogging the system.

Another thing the minister mentioned this morning was that, as usual, this bill will rely heavily on regulations for its interpretation. The legislation is small, but there is a truckload of regulations to follow. The legislation is like a blank cheque signed by the ineffective minister. Without backroom management, administration, enforcement and training, the attempts to speed up family reunification for both independent immigrants and genuine refugees will be irrelevant.

I am the co-chair of the Standing Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations and I can testify that regulations, enormous in number, come through the back door; whereas in the House, when we debate, all the emphasis is placed on the legislation.

It would be correct to say that 80% of the whole effectiveness of the law is through the back door, through the regulations, and that probably 20% of the 300 members spend their time and energy getting excited about that in the House.

We need a better system to scrutinize the regulations so they will be effective and keep the intent of the legislation which was originally passed in the House.

What is the position of the Canadian Alliance? We see Canada as a land built by immigrants. We will continue to welcome new immigrants. I myself am an immigrant, and I did not come to Canada a long time ago.

We would support sponsorship for immediate family members. Our immigration policy would take into account Canada's economic needs. We would introduce greater fairness and security to the system, including enforcement of sponsorship obligations. We would welcome genuine refugees to this country with open, warm arms. We would work co-operatively with the provinces on the settlement of immigrants. We would protect the integrity of the valuable contribution made to the fabric of Canada by millions of law-abiding immigrants. We would not allow their good reputation to be jeopardized by those who engage in criminal activity, and would speedily deport such individuals once their sentence was served.

As well, we would affirm Canada's humanitarian obligations to welcome genuine refugees. We are proud that our country has provided a safe haven for displaced people from across the world. To ensure fairness and put an end to queue-jumping, we would immediately deport bogus refugees, those who would abuse the system and other illegal entrants. We would severely penalize those who organize abuses of our system. We would ensure that refugee status was arbitrated expeditiously, consistently and professionally. We would end the abuse of refugee claims as a fast track to gaining the benefits of landed immigrant status.

The system should work for the legitimate, genuine people who want to come to Canada, not for those who are criminals or who would enter through the back door and abuse the system.

Our refugee system is such that it does not work for the genuine refugee. Imagine those pictures we watch on TV about the UN camps for refugees; those genuine refugees who are displaced and suffering. However, if they cannot come into the system, the system is not working for them.

I want to dedicate some of my time to express what my constituents in Surrey Central are saying to me. Surrey is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, one of Canada's more racially diverse and multicultural metropolitan centres. We are proud of that.

I hear complaints about Canada's flawed and broken immigration system. I heard complaints that people were taking bribes in our embassies abroad. When I brought this matter to the attention of the minister, the RCMP were expeditiously dispatched to investigate the matter and people were punished. The point is, why is the system not detecting the problem and working for the genuine people?

Another problem is with the backlog of cases in Canada. I hear from my constituents frequently that there is a funeral, a birthday or a party and people want to come to visit their family members, but they are not able to get a visitor visa. Some people even gave personal guarantees or were willing to post a bond, but the system did not work for them. If no visitors can apply within Canada, how would those people get visitor visas to come to Canada? The knot is tightening on visitor applicants, which will make the system unfair. There is no right of appeal for a visitor visa.

Members of parliament are caught in between. They can neither help their constituents nor do anything else about the problem.

I wanted to talk about the head tax and non-governmental agencies, but time will not allow that. The system should be effective and working for genuine immigrants. The government has failed to deliver what Canadians want with this new act.

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4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Mississauga South, Immigration; the hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Immigration; the hon. member for Davenport, Foreign Affairs.

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4:45 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention of my colleague. He comes from the riding of Surrey Central which has an extremely large population of new immigrants.

A couple of studies done by two individuals have been released through the media over the last couple of days which tell a rather grim story. The first study was done by Jeffrey Reitz, a professor of sociology, who questioned whether we were getting the economic impact we should expect and the economic impact that we used to get from new immigrants. That would lead me to argue that the current system is not working well.

According to this rather comprehensive study done by Professor Reitz, in 1981 new immigrants were getting paid about 80% of what Canadian born workers were getting. By 1996 that dropped to 60% of what Canadian born workers were receiving. It is extremely disturbing when new immigrants, five years in the country, are getting paid only 60% of what people born in the country are getting. It shows there is a need for some improvement in the immigration system. Would the hon. member comment on that?

A second study done by Jack Jedwab also indicated that new immigrants were not getting the foothold they used to get. Would the member comment on these studies and the information revealed in them?

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4:45 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, all of us have heard about discrimination in the wages and the earning power of immigrants, but there is misinformation in the public at the same time. If we go back in the history of Canada, everyone would agree that Canada is a country of immigrants. They worked hard. They were the architects of the county. They built the Canada of today that we are proud of.

I will blame the government to some extent. For the last 132 years only two parties have been governing the country, the Liberals and the Tories. In a way they are to be blamed. Let me give an example.

In my view there is institutionalized discrimination by the Liberals against economically poor countries. Let me talk about the immigration fee which we call a head tax. The head tax of $1,500 per person is a small amount in economically developed countries. People in other parts of the world are living on a couple of dollars a day, or even less in some economically backward countries. These people will never get a chance to come to Canada because $1,500 to them is a huge amount. This is institutionalized discrimination by the government.

We should hire people based on merit. We should not hyphenate people or go into ethnicity and other lines which divide us. I believe the lines which define us are probably the lines which confine us. All people should be treated based on their ability, their merit, their qualifications and their experience, rather than on ethnicity or the country they came from. Those things should not be a subject of the 21st century.

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4:50 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was fascinated by the hon. member's response to that question. I congratulate the minister on her willingness to listen to the committee, her willingness to listen to other Canadians, and having absorbed that material reflecting on it and producing the bill. It is nice to work with a minister who listens. I appreciate as well her work with the committee and her respect for the committee. Over the course of my few comments I will reflect on and refer to the number of recommendations she has picked up. Before I go much further, I want to indicate that I will be splitting my time.

I just returned from leading a multiparty delegation to Taiwan. It was a fascinating trip. Taiwan processes about 1,200 visas a day. It is the busiest visa office we have in the world. The Taiwanese have a saying about Canada, that Canadians live quietly in paradise. That is very interesting.

I would suggest that the way the Taiwanese see us is in large measure the way many other people in the world see us. It is therefore of no great surprise that many people in the world try to get to our borders and will sacrifice anything they have in order to get here. They will almost and literally sell their souls to the devil in order to be able to come to Canada.

We should all have these problems. Other nations should have these problems. The Prime Minister is fond of saying that when he goes abroad and returns here he realizes that his problems in governing this nation are frequently of less serious magnitude than the problems of many other leaders.

It is reasonable to say that most countries would like to have the same problems we have. People are literally dying to get to this country and we therefore have a surfeit of human capital. Nevertheless, we are inundated by those who wish to come here. We literally have 39 million border crossings on an annual basis; in other words, the population plus 10 million people. We issue something in the order of three million visas on an annual basis.

In order to be able to control our borders and have some semblance of an immigration policy we have to devote enormous resources to it. Frankly we do not always do it as well as we might, but the minister has in some large measure responded to those issues.

Some criticisms of our immigration policy are legitimate. One of them is that people come here and claim to be refugees. That will get them into the system. Then they go through the refugee system and if they are turned down they appeal that. If they fail at the appeal they go back to claiming a risk review. Then they go to risk review and if they fail at that they can appeal. If they fail at that they come back to humanitarian compassion. If they go to humanitarian compassion and lose on that, they go to some form of appeal. If they do not like that they get a removal order. They appeal the removal order and after that they go to deportation. If they do not like that they disappear.

It is a system which is rife with abuse and something that the minister has addressed. One thing she did, which was a recommendation of the committee, was to try and consolidate the process. She decided to consolidate the refugee determination process, the risk review process and the humanitarian compassion process so that they would all be done at one time.

The minister has moved to end this interminable game of snakes and ladders. This is a game with people's lives. Frankly it is a game that challenges the tolerance of Canadians to be fair and responsible to those who are in need of protection in our country.

Currently the assessment of grounds for protection is handled in several stages. One is at the IRB and the other is at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. The new system will consolidate these grounds into one assessment during a single hearing process at the IRB. Essentially the working thesis of the bill is that the facts are the same. Whether the facts are for refugee determination, risk review or humanitarian and compassionate grounds, they are all the same facts. Therefore it is only appropriate that all the same facts be dealt with at the same time such that individuals who may or may not qualify for refugee determination may well qualify for risk review.

The grounds for assessment of risk are the Geneva convention on refugees, the convention on risk of torture and risk to life and/or cruel and unusual punishment. These grounds are not new. They are merely brought together so that there are no longer a multiplicity of steps but one.

The second aspect of the consolidation of the review process will be the shrinking of two member panels to one. Currently two member panels hear refugee cases at the IRB. In the majority of cases the decisions are unanimous. The process will be made more efficient by the use of single member panels.

At the committee we heard some testimony on the part of those concerned about refugees that in fact this may create its own difficulties. The minister has responded by delegating a specialized panel within IRB to do a paper review of the process so that after determination under refugee criteria, determination under risk review and determination under humanitarian and compassionate grounds there will not be slip-ups and injustices. There will be a paper review by the IRB on an internal panel composed of experienced members.

The minister, by delegated authority to her officials, may intervene at the IRB hearings more frequently to present security information or other data pertinent to the case. We are hoping that the minister becomes much more active in this process.

I quote the minister on her process because the bill she is coming forward with is on something that Canadians have made clear. Canadians have made it clear that they want a system based on respect for our law. They do not want to continually read Toronto Sun headlines about the latest this or that which abused the process. We still want to maintain an openness to newcomers and this is why the bill tries to be faster and fairer in all our decision making.

The committee listened to hours of testimony. I thought it would be instructive if I referred back to the committee's report which was tabled last month. Looking at recommendations 9 through 23, I note that the minister has picked up on all those recommendations.

The committee recommended that the refugee division sit on one member panels with the option of sitting as three member panels to hear test cases or cases that pose particular difficulties. The committee recommended that there be an internal appeal structure for rejected refugee claimants, and she has picked up on that. It recommended that all the risk related decisions concerning an individual be consolidated in the refugee division, and she has picked up on that.

The committee recommended that the refugee division strive to increase the percentage of claims handled through the expedited process. She has picked up on that. It further recommended that the current restrictions on the participation of the minister's representative at the refugee hearing be eliminated and the government be more active than it has been in the past in choosing in which cases to intervene. Again she has picked up on that.

Therefore I again acknowledge the courage on the part of the minister to do these sorts of things and to take this very activist role in reflecting what the committee actually hears.

The other area the minister has beefed up is that of admissibility. In other words, before the individual comes to the country and is at the airport is a more useful time in which to clear up areas of admissibility. The adjudicator will now examine admissibility and will exclude those convicted of serious criminal offences, that is, violations of human rights, organizers of criminal activity, and security risks. Instead of going to the IRB if the decision is negative, it will now go to the federal court. In other words, it is the elimination of another stage of the snakes and ladders process.

My final point is that the minister is also getting serious about residency. Instead of simply having a casual definition of residency, we will require actual physical residence in the country for two out of five years.

This bill deserves the support of all members. This has been a long process. The minister has engaged widely in hearing from a variety of members, the committee and Canadians. I hope members will see that in her bill and will give it much support. The minister has listened to the committee and has put forward a bill which reflects much of what we heard.

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5 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech made by my colleague, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

As he well knows, the bill before the House today makes many changes to the Immigration Act, which dates back to 1976. It was changed rather considerably.

This bill makes changes in a number of areas. There is, among others, the issue of immigration agents, who will have more powers. We can even say that, to a certain extent, they will have a discretionary power. There is also the issue of detention.

The auditor general's report is very eloquent on this matter. Is it normal that immigration agents not have the training required to make a number of decisions, and yet make decisions on the detention of certain people? That is my first question.

Another issue concerns the detention of children. As my colleague knows very well, this is one of the issues I raised when the bill was presented. There is nothing in the bill that provides a special treatment to refugee status claimants under 18 years of age.

Is it appropriate that this bill does not make a distinction between minors seeking refugee status and all refugee claimants, since Canada signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child? As I mentioned in my speech, Canada is a party to three international conventions: the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees. Does my hon. colleague think it is appropriate to grant no special status to minors?

There is also the issue of the Canada-Quebec agreement. Canada and Quebec concluded an agreement on everything that has to do with the selection of independent immigrants. We, on this side of the House, would have wished to see Quebec's jurisdiction in this area not only recognized in that Canada-Quebec agreement, but also clearly mentioned in this bill. Nothing in this bill grants such recognition, and this concerns us.

Those are the three questions I have for the hon. member and I would like him to answer them.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for good questions as opposed to other kinds questions sometimes.

With respect to the admissibility issue, we heard a great deal of testimony on that point, on admissibility at the airport and should the discretion be in the hands of the officer. Our view is there should be more discretion in the hands of the officer. It should simply not be a rubber stamp process and then go from there.

I like what the minister has done at the point of entry. She has said there is more discretion on the part of the officer. There is still an appeal to the federal court if those decisions are not acceptable to the individual and then it goes from there.

That has cut out one point in the snakes and ladders process. Before people went to the officer, and if they did not like that decision they went to the IRB and if they did not like that decision they went to an appeal. Consolidation of the process is a good idea.

As to the second question with respect to children, the member raises a valid point. The interesting aspect of children is of course that it is a bit of a family package. The issue would be if the adult applicants did not meet admissibility criteria but the children in all other respects were acceptable. The consolidation of the process in the board itself, that is, risk review, refugee determination and humanitarian and compassionate grounds will actually make it more acceptable for children where their parents or whoever is their guardian is somewhat less than acceptable as far as a refugee is concerned.

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5:05 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


Reg Alcock LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue. This file has been active in my office since the day I was elected, as I imagine it has been in many members' offices.

I would like to start by thanking the former minister of immigration and the current minister of immigration, the more than 50 people who sit on a committee I created in my riding to look at these issues because of their importance to people, and the staff of the department of immigration who work around the world helping us reach out, sort out, facilitate and help the people who do wish to come here.

This is not an easy business. It is a tough one for us to understand. When I first was elected almost immediately people were coming to my door raising questions about immigration problems they were having with the department and problems they were having getting people over here. I remember a couple of cases in particular.

One man immigrated here when he was a student. He graduated here, was landed and became a Canadian citizen. He went through medicine and is now a family doctor practising in Winnipeg. He has been practising as a physician for almost 20 years. He married and had a child. He wanted his mother to come and share his joy and excitement at having a new member of the family.

His mother lives in Ethiopia in what we in Canada would consider to be relatively primitive conditions. She was immediately denied. When he came into my office I could not believe it. I guess I was young enough to be somewhat naive about what goes on, but I thought this was silly. As a new parent myself I know the desire to have one's extended family share in the joy that one feels. I immediately wrote a letter, as we all do, and received a letter back telling me to mind my own business, which rather surprised me coming from a public servant.

To make a long story short, after some period of time I went back to him and asked him to tell me what was going on with his mom. His mother did not want to emigrate. She did not want to come here to live. She was very happy. She had her friends and was very happy where she lived but he wanted her to come and spend a few months here to let her meet one of her grandchildren.

I finally went to the minister's office to get a ministerial permit. His mom came over and spent the summer here a year ago and went back. It was a normal everyday occurrence in families. This year he wanted to bring over his mother-in-law. We had to go through the same tortuous process.

For years I have been talking with the ministers. Whenever I travel abroad I make a point of going to see the immigration staff in the department's offices. I have been to the very high pressure office in New Delhi, India and China and Hong Kong.

I keep asking why these normal things, the type of thing we would think we would enjoy as a right of citizenship, cannot just happen. I have a list of files and I suspect other members do as well.

The brother of an eminent microbiologist at the University of Manitoba had retired from his job and wanted to come over for a visit, again for a summer. It was denied. I happen to represent the University of Manitoba. The sister of another scientist at the University of Manitoba is travelling in the U.S. and Europe and wanted to stop off in Canada. It was denied. It goes on and on. Why? Why can Canadian citizens not enjoy this living quietly in paradise, as my colleague mentioned. It is not an easy issue.

I had heard all sorts of horror stories about the New Delhi office. Having been a public servant I understand there are always two sides to any story. I made a point of stopping in there and spending time with them to ask them these questions.

I have been universally impressed with the quality of the staff who work abroad, the time, energy, attention, care and thought they give to the services they provide. The problem is analogous to any problem of scarcity.

Canada is a paradise and there are millions if not billions of people who would like to get here. There is enormous pressure. When there is enormous pressure it is a recipe for exactly what we see. It is a recipe for abusing people and for exploiting people in the way we have seen with the snake heads. It is a recipe for all sorts of corruption.

What we have to do is take the profit out of it. We have to make it a system that people understand demands, deserves and receives respect so that we can take the pressure off the front door. How do we do it? Unfortunately, in a lot of social control exercises there are no easy or clean answers.

What impresses me about how the former minister and now the current minister have approached this task is that they have taken it very personally. They have worked on it very hard.

I mentioned a committee. A fellow named Sharad Chandra and another named Ken Zaifman chair a working group we have in my riding. My colleague for Winnipeg North—St. Paul has a very large population of new immigrants in his community. We all work together. We first went through the initial offerings. The initial concepts were put forward. The minister came and met with them. We went through it clause by clause. People literally put hundreds and hundreds of hours into thinking through and grappling with the solutions being offered.

We met with staff from the department. I raised it with staff overseas. When the minister changed, the new minister immediately went into the same thing. The current minister stood in front of an open meeting in my riding and we went through each one of the very contentious issues with the people who are directly affected.

What we have here is an act that I believe is balanced but heavy. It has a stick in it. It has a stick that says we have to respect the law. It allows us to deal quickly and efficiently when the law is broken. It allows justice to be done, but it does it in the Canadian context. It does it in a way that preserves the rights of people.

I believe that at the end of the day no piece of legislation will solve all the problems. No piece of legislation will answer all the concerns that are raised, but I think this piece of legislation is an important step forward to allowing Canadian citizens from countries where there is a very high demand to enjoy their citizenship in the same way that I can.

It is interesting that my friends in the first nations communities do not particularly like this, but we are all immigrants in this country. We have collectively built a very powerful, a very prosperous and a very wonderful nation. We want to share it. We want people to come here, because each new group that comes in adds to the quality of the fabric of this country.

When I talk to people who are in the most vulnerable group of newly arrived immigrants, they do not want the abuses any more than we do. Binding this process a little tighter and providing some discretion to the staff in the field in whom I have great confidence is a positive step forward. Properly implemented and properly supported, I think it will assist.

Canadians citizens should not have to come to me to get redress. It is nice that we can provide it, but the system should simply allow people to interact within their families the way all of us would like to do.

I am a supporter of the work that has gone on here. I am a supporter of the particular piece of legislation, and I hope the House will deal with it expeditiously.

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5:15 p.m.


Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I too rise on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois at the request of my colleague, the member for Rosemont, our immigration critic. I am pleased to present the views of our party on Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

As a professor of international law, I am especially pleased to deal with this legislation since, when I had the privilege of teaching public international law at the Université de Montréal, on numerous occasions I had the pleasure of talking about the 1976 Immigration Act, to see it evolve, to see the many amendments made to it and the many regulations aimed at gradually implementing the act and its provisions.

I understand that with Bill C-31 the government intends to overhaul the provisions regarding the issues of immigration, asylum and protection of refugees in Canada.

After reading the bill and the presentation made by the minister on April 6, the Bloc Quebecois, and on this I share the views of my party and its critic, is of the opinion that the government is taking a hard line, no doubt to appeal to a certain electorate, probably the right wing electorate the Liberal Party wants to win over from the Canadian Alliance.

In this respect, this bill seems to reinforce prejudice against refugees and immigrants.

This is legislation that tends to take a hard line toward immigrants and refugees. Choosing the hard line toward immigrants and refugees can exacerbate division, xenophobic or racist feelings within a society that claims to be welcoming. We see sometimes that it is less welcoming when immigrants come in large numbers into this country or when people from various countries claim refugee status.

Our party has pointed out several times over the last years that the Canadian refugee status determination system should have two essential features. It should be diligent and fair toward the bona fide asylum seeker in accordance with the rights recognized by the international conventions Canada is party to. It should also be dissuasive toward people clogging the system with unfounded claims, people who are, for example, economic refugees and people who do not meet the refugee criteria as set out by the 1951 Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its additional 1967 protocol.

The slowness in the processing of claims is also something that deserves to be corrected because it has led, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, to unacceptable human tragedies. It has put people and families in very difficult situations as evidenced by the number of immigrants or refugee claimants who sought refuge in churches and in other places where these people who were requesting, and rightly so, that they be granted refugee status knew they would be protected.

Talking about the administrative process that is too slow, for example, just for the Montreal office of the Immigration and Refugee Board, the average processing time is ten months. At the end of December 1999, just a few months ago, over 7,000 refugee claimants were awaiting a hearing, that is one third of all cases in Canada. We know that Quebec is very generous to refugees. It is now and must stay that way should it become a country one day, as members of my party wish it would. It will have to continue to open its doors to refugees.

We, in the Bloc Quebecois, also believe that the new immigration bill does not reflect explicitly enough the scope of Quebec's powers in the area of immigration. As we know, this is a shared jurisdiction under the Constitution Act, 1867, which allows provinces to have jurisdiction over certain areas if so agreed by both the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada.

According to the Quebec Minister of Relations with the Citizens and Immigration, Mr. Robert Perreault:

The law must include firm commitments on this. Provisions need to be added to the present bill, particularly in order to ensure that Quebec's powers are respected relating to the selection of temporary workers and the continuation of a distinct program for investor-class immigrants.

The bill, which I have had the opportunity to read carefully, does not include such guarantees, such assurances. Moreover, all provisions relating to ensuring that Quebec assumes jurisdiction over immigration, particularly immigrant selection, is contained in an administrative arrangement, the McDougall-Gagnon-Tremblay agreement, the latest in a series between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.

The arrangement is still precarious because the agreement involved has never been enshrined in the Constitution, despite attempts to do so, particularly the failed attempts at Charlottetown.

It would have been, and still is, desirable for there to be recognition, as a certain resolution of this House of Commons suggests, that the distinct society which Quebec is or would be would deserve to have a very concrete mention in a federal immigration statute, in which the particular and distinct status of Quebec would be recognized, as far as immigration issues and the selection of immigrants and temporary workers are concerned, or the responsibilities Quebec wishes to assume as far as asylum is concerned.

Apart from the issue of Quebec's powers, it must be noted that the bill proposes changes to claims to refugee status, but nowhere does the government agree to pay for the administration of the system.

Actually, if the federal government believes in the effectiveness of the provisions contained in the bill, it should be ready to assume the costs and to do so until the people involved have been recognized as convention refugees, obtained permanent residence or left the territory.

In this connection it should be noted that last February Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia joined forces to condemn the federal government's management of the asylum seekers or of their movements. These provinces were asking that significant corrective action be taken and that the federal government, as solely responsible for this whole refugee status determination process, assume all the costs related to the services provided to those people, whether for income security, legal aid or education.

In fact, I think that members should be reminded that in Quebec, and the situation is probably the same in some other provinces, proportionally, it costs more that $80 million a year to take care of those awaiting a ruling from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois is also concerned with the fact that many rules provided for in this bill, or rules that will apply to immigration and refugee protection, will be established through regulations, through subordinate legislation. Such rules are not, at least at the moment, included in Bill C-31.

This means that the government is basically excluding these rules from the scrutiny of the House and that parliamentary review of these important rules will be very limited. This also opens the door to many changes, at the whim of the government, or because of public pressure or discontent with a court decision.

Like other parties, the Bloc Quebecois also deplores the fact that the government would not take politics out of the appointment process of people who will be selected or will continue to sit on the Immigration and Refugee Board. This critique is shared not only by opposition parties, but also by the civil society, which considers that it is inappropriate for the government to have sole control over the appointment and selection of people who will be called to make major decisions on immigration and refugee status determination.

As my contribution to this debate I would like, on behalf of my party, to point out some difficulties raised by the government's desire to put into effect through this bill international obligations arising from treaties Canada is party to, obligations the bill is intended to fulfil, as clause 3(2)( b ) of the bill provides.

I would add that this bill is no doubt intended to get a jump in a way on implementing the provisions of a draft treaty currently under negotiation, that is the draft protocol against the smuggling of migrants currently being negotiated by an ad hoc committee on the drafting of a convention against international organized crime, which accordingly is intended to set rules on the smuggling of migrants by land, air and sea and which is a protocol supplementing the United Nations convention against international and transnational organized crime.

In a recent study, lawyer Philippe Tremblay, who thoroughly examined the relationship between the revised draft and Bill C-31, intimates that Bill C-31 is a precipitous incorporation of evolving international law.

I cannot help but point out that, while this parliament considers this bill, it has not had the opportunity, in truth, either through this House or in committee, to examine the negotiations underway being reported to the members of this House, Canada's position in this matter and the progress of discussions on this draft protocol.

This leads me to say that parliaments, and in particular the House of Commons, must be party to the drafting of treaties before they are asked to pass legislation to implement these treaties, since, if they are not involved in the process of implementing treaties through legislation, they end up having to subscribe to the rules as negotiated and signed, without having the right to vet the standards in the conventions, which a country such as Canada in this case would have approved for its signature.

This is all the more important since, when it comes to conventions that have already been signed and ratified, a parliament that was not able to take part in the discussions on these treaties and that did not approve these treaties before they were ratified is not really in a position to understand and to adequately participate in their implementation.

Is this not the case here, since Bill C-31 explicitly seeks to implement two treaties, namely the Refugee Convention and its optional protocol, and the Convention Against Torture, two conventions that have already been signed and ratified by Canada without a true parliamentary debate on them, while a third convention which is not mentioned in the bill, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should also have a real and significant impact on the legislation before us?

As regards these three conventions, which I will discuss one by one, it seems to us, in the Bloc Quebecois, that there are major flaws which could still be corrected to ensure that Bill C-31 adequately fulfils Canada's international obligations in this regard.

Let me begin with the Refugee Convention and its optional protocol. Explicit reference is made to that convention in clause 2.(1), where that convention is defined and described. That was also the case in the 1976 act, which preceded this legislation. The bill's schedule also refers to certain provisions of the Refugee Convention.

However, when we examine the bill, when we read it carefully, we realize that it probably goes against the spirit, if not the letter of the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol.

For example, when we look at the provisions on inadmissibility, when we read together clauses 29, 30 and 33 of the bill, when we look at the provisions that allow increased use of the power to detain refugee claimants—I am referring in particular to clause 50 of the bill—and when we see that this bill restricts access to the refugee determination process, we cannot help but think that it does not respect the spirit of the Refugee Convention, a convention which seeks to make it easier for bona fide refugees to have access to the territory of a state and which seeks to protect these refugees.

The tighter provisions, which are very restrictive, much more so than those agreed to in the earlier legislation, in the view of the Bloc Quebecois, probably undermine certain guarantees of the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its protocol.

Having examined the Convention Against Torture, we feel that it has not been fully and appropriately incorporated. This convention includes an absolute ban on the removal of persons likely to be tortured in the country to which they might be removed. The reference to the Convention on Torture in clause 90(2)( a ), is a useful one and is lauded in certain quarters. But clause 91 tends to limit the protection of persons likely to be tortured and does not seem to correspond appropriately to the exceptions in paragraphs (e) and (f) of the Convention on Refugees.

The principle of non-removal, which is incorporated into clause 108 of this bill and which is also intended to confirm acceptance of the principle of non-removal in article 33 of the Convention on Refugees, which deals with torture—and this is something positive—is not reassuring in this regard because a total ban on the removal of persons likely to be tortured is not guaranteed.

Finally, I wish to point out that, in the opinion of our party, the best interest of the child, as protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is certainly not the primary consideration in this bill, since it provides that a minor child could be held and that this could be limited only by regulation.

Our party therefore feels that the government should give very serious thought to better implementing its international obligations and making the necessary improvements to Bill C-31.

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5:40 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry gave us an idea of the importance of the Canada-Quebec accord on immigration.

Among other things, he mentioned that, according to that agreement, Quebec is responsible for the selection of independent immigrants.

Why should we take that agreement further? Why are we insisting on the need to recognize Quebec's jurisdiction in the bill before us?

Members probably know that my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry is a distinguished constitutional expert. I would therefore like him to explain clearly the difference between recognition of jurisdictions in an agreement between governments and recognition of jurisdictions in legislation like Bill C-31.

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5:40 p.m.


Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I want to take this opportunity to say that all the members of the Bloc Quebecois are very proud of all the work he does as our party's immigration critic.

Canada had its share of constitutional debates. Some people seem tired of it. They are so tired of those debates that they do not dare confront those who still think that the Constitution of Canada should be amended. At this very moment, the Prime Minister is inaugurating an exhibition on Canada's constitution. When looking at the different exhibits and stands, we realize to what extent the Constitution of Canada has been imposed upon Quebec, be it the constitution of 1840, or Union Act, or the Constitution Act, 1982, which was patriated without Quebec's consent.

One area where there was a breakthrough is immigration. An administrative arrangement was made, not thanks to the generosity of the Canadian government, but because such an administrative agreement is possible under the current constitution, since powers regarding immigration are concurrent. The federal and provincial governments and legislatures can exercise these powers concurrently if the federal government and parliament so desire. It is provided that in this regard the federal government has precedence.

Whether or not there is an agreement with the provinces, especially Quebec, and whether or not the provinces exercise certain powers in the area of immigration depends on the good will of the federal government.

The first agreements reached on this issue—the Andras-Bienvenue agreement, if I recall, followed by the Cullen-Couture agreement, and now the McDougall-Gagnon-Tremblay agreement—were the result of negotiations.

To answer my colleague's question, the status of such agreements is always precarious. If a government no longer wanted the provinces to exercise powers in the area of immigration, it could prevent them from doing so.

This is why immigration agreements were to be enshrined in the constitution under the Charlottetown accord, so they would no longer be precarious, but protected through a constitutional amendment process preventing the government from unilaterally modifying them. This is always a worry for us as the federal government, at least the Liberal government, has often acted unilaterally with regard to the constitution.

If these agreements were protected by a federal statute, the current agreements would be less precarious, even if this protection were incomplete, since the government would always be in a position to amend or repeal the supplementary protection referring to the intergovernmental agreements and working agreements between the federal and the Quebec governments.

This is why our party, which wants to defend the interests of Quebec right now, before the Quebec people democratically chooses sovereignty, believes that it would be timely to grant some protection, which will never be sufficient, since the only useful solution would be to enshrine it in the constitution.

As things now stand, it is hard to believe that we would want to enshrine in the constitution something that would be in the best interests of Quebec and all Quebecers, since it is believed that the Quebec people have enough protection as it is.

Our party does not believe this to be the case. This is why, even if we act in a constructive way in our analysis of Bill C-31, we strongly believe that if Quebec is to prosper in the international community, it has to gain control over the immigration process to guarantee that it will in the future develop into a French speaking country that will still be generous without adopting the bad habits of a government which, pretending to be very generous to refugees, is once again trying to be very hard and to crack down on refugee status claimants. This is a tendency that a sovereign Quebec will not want to adopt once the Quebec people decides that it should achieve sovereignty.

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5:45 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, listening to last part of the remarks of my distinguished colleague for Beauharnois—Salaberry, a question came to my mind. I would like him to develop his point of view more at length.

As a sovereignist who has reached a certain age, it seems to me that there are positives reasons for Quebec to become sovereign, but there are also negative ones that should spur our reflection, as a people.

The fact that Quebecers do not control their immigration is one of the main elements we need to take into consideration, when we think about holding another referendum on the future of Quebecers.

I would like my colleague to explain even more fully the price that has to be paid by a nation such as ours, a tiny French speaking community in a whole English speaking continent, when it cannot control the selection of newcomers. There is no place here for racism or xenophobia, but we have to manage the situation properly, when the very future of this unique nation in North America is at stake.

I would like to hear my distinguished colleague on this.

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5:45 p.m.


Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, this question gives me the opportunity to remind this House that, despite the latest administrative arrangement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec relating to immigration and the selection of foreign nationals and of refugees, Quebec controls only 40% of its immigration and of the refugees admitted.

Despite the implication that Quebec is totally autonomous in this area, it has a real impact on only 40% of persons coming from abroad to live within its territory.

This means that the independence the present constitution is prepared to give to Quebec is certainly insufficient, and unsatisfactory, for a state such as Quebec, which has such a great need of powers relating to immigration if it is to maintain its present demographic balance.

A little over 80% of the population is French speaking Quebecers, with English speaking Quebecers and those of other origins, combined with the aboriginal nations, making up approximately 18%. This is, overall, a totally acceptable proportion and one which makes possible a rich, diversified and pluralistic society, one with self-respect and with the right to choose French as its common language.

This is why immigration is so important to Quebec. Enhanced powers relating to immigration are so important to Quebec in order to ensure that, when immigrants, even refugees, arrive in Quebec, when they choose Quebec as their new country or their place of refuge, it is made clear to them that they will have to adopt French as their language of work.

This way of looking at things is very difficult in a country with two official languages, one trying to convince people that immigrants may choose either of the two without distinction. That is one of the reasons why it is a known fact, in my opinion, that Quebecers are going to choose sovereignty one day, because they will be convinced that control over all aspects of immigration is a key to the survival, the maintenance and the development of the French language in Quebec.

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5:50 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill. For the three years of my incarnation or reincarnation as a member of parliament in this place I have had the privilege of serving on the citizenship and immigration committee. This past year I was elected as vice-chair of the committee.

As a member of parliament from Mississauga, my riding, as members will appreciate, is a hotbed of new immigrants, refugees and problems dealing with citizenship and immigration. Indeed, I have a full time staff person, Terry Kirsch, who virtually does nothing but deal with citizenship and immigration issues. In our community, which is a very diverse community, this topic is near and dear to our hearts and is extremely important to my constituents and to constituents right across the region of Peel.

One of the things we have learned in our time in federal office is that the citizenship and immigration system appears to have bogged down in a tremendous amount of bureaucracy and red tape. The minister has recognized that exact problem and has brought in changes that will improve the system. She is really known as the just do it minister, the let us fix the problem minister and the let us find out where the problems lie minister.

It was interesting to hear some of my colleagues speak, notably the critic for the official opposition who spoke for about 40 minutes. In the first 15 or 20 minutes of his speech he talked in terms of all the positive things he saw. I was getting a little nervous. I thought he was about to come out in full support of the bill and that we might have to go back to the drafting table. However, that of course did not happen. As is usually the case, while he and other members opposite were able to find some good things in the bill, they tended to focus on the negative. That can be no more clearly demonstrated than when we deal with the very sensitive issue of refugees.

As everyone knows, this country became a signator to the Geneva convention in 1949 wherein we agreed to take our share of refugees, of people in trouble because of conflicts in their country. The issue then is how to define our share. In reality it has defined itself in terms of the numbers. Where we may see 200,000 plus or minus new immigrants come to this country, we will see approximately 20,000 declaring refugee status.

What happens in the case of a refugee? If individuals quietly show up at Pearson airport, come forward without documents, simply claim refugee status and then tell a story of persecution and problems back in their homeland, they go through a process. In years gone by that process has taken several years to play out. However, if they arrive on a rusty boat off the shores of British Columbia or wade ashore in the maritimes, soaking wet, having come out of some kind of a boat, the TV cameras go on and it then becomes big news.

Just to put this in perspective, while we were dealing with approximately 600 migrants coming ashore on the west coast in what has been termed an illegal way, which it clearly was, we deal with close to that number every single month at Pearson International Airport. Do they get the attention? Do they get the media? Do they get the negative comments that we hear from critics of the government who simply want to use this tragedy?

Let me be clear. This is a human tragedy. This is as a result of bondage, of trafficking, of slavery. This is as a result of organized crime. It is easier today to smuggle people than it is to smuggle drugs and, some would say, it is even more profitable and less dangerous.

They get all of the attention when, as a result of the interviews that have been done, they show that the majority of these people are indeed victims. They are victims of an international crime ring, of human traffickers and smugglers who must be sought out, punished and dealt with in the strongest possible terms.

I was proud to see our minister in China last week telling the Chinese government that it must help us put a stop to this, and going to Fujian province and telling the officials there that they must tell their sons and daughters that this is not safe, that paying $40,000 or $50,000 to be put on an obviously unseaworthy, rusty, old tanker of a ship and being sent out to sea for weeks to cross the ocean is just not safe, not sensible and must stop. Our minister told the people in China that they have the key to solving this particular problem.

However, there are people on this side of the ocean who would like to use this for political advantage. I understand the sentiment of, for example, the Chinese community in British Columbia who said “We are upset because we do not want people jumping the queue. We came here through the proper channels, through the right methods and we don't want people coming in the back door”. I understand and sympathize with that.

I say to them and to all Canadians that we must understand who the victims are. The vast majority of these people who are in detention in British Columbia are women and children. They are not the criminals. The criminals are the people who organized this trip from China with promises of better lives and days of wine and roses or whatever. What happens? Why are they in detention now when it is so costly to keep them there? If they are released as refugees, the young girls could wind up in prostitution, in the drug industry or in all kinds of illegal underground activity that is equally unsafe.

This is not an easy problem to resolve. We are dealing with language and cultural barriers. It is extremely difficult to communicate the facts properly and appropriately to the people in China but our minister is trying. In taking that message directly to them and I am hopeful we will see some success. Notwithstanding that issue, the bill brings forward some ideas that members opposite have talked about, some in support and some not in support, that will streamline the process.

It makes no sense whatsoever to put someone into a motel unit in Mississauga or somewhere in this country to live as a family when they have children who should be in school. Why are they here? They are here because if they are legitimate refugees they have a serious problem. As a result, it is up to Canada, as one of the countries involved in the Geneva convention, to find a solution to the problem.

I believe that most Canadians, the vast majority of Canadians, notwithstanding some of the rants that I have heard from members opposite both in this place and in committee, would say that if they are legitimate refugees, if they are in danger of persecution, if they are in danger for their lives, if they are in danger of being thrown into a rat infested prison somewhere, then we should not send them back. We should find a way to make that determination in as timely a fashion as possible so that if they do have children they can get into the education system and have the opportunity to build a new life.

I thought it was interesting this weekend, as we witnessed the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam, that someone talked about the boat people. In fact, John Downing in the Toronto Sun wrote about his experience in helping a number of the boat people settle in the Toronto area when they arrived. They rented a couple of houses. They put those people up first in one house until the health authorities came along and told them they had too many people crammed into the house and Downing and the Sun rented another house to make more room for these people. We all remember them. They were called the boat people.

There was this great paranoia, this fear that they were coming up the credit river in tankers, for goodness sake, and that they would somehow destroy our communities. The misinformation was frightening, but it was fuelled by the negativity that existed in people who opposed Canada accepting its fair share of refugees, and that was the minority in my view.

I thought that Mr. Downing's article was brilliant because it talked about the success of those people today. There was the story of the Vietnamese refugee who showed up here, wound up in Winnipeg and started a small tailor shop. Today, with no education and no financial assistance, he has built a family business. He has kids and a wonderful life in Canada. That is what it is all about. That is what the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act should be about. How do we share the wealth of this country and at the same time solve the problems, whether it was 25 years ago coming out of Saigon or today coming out of the Fujian province of China, wherever it is coming from?

I understand the frustration when people hear that refugees show up at Pearson airport without identification. They must have had it when they got on the plane. Where did it go? We know that it gets flushed down a toilet, it disappears somehow or it is given back to the carrier who sold it to them. We know that there is illegal activity and we must put a stop to that.

The bill will increase the fine to the potential of life imprisonment for trafficking in human beings. In fact, when we spoke at committee I suggested that we need to create a crime against humanity status for trafficking in human beings. It is not referred to as that, but I believe it should be. There could be nothing in this world more hideous than taking money from people through criminal activity and putting them into a situation where they know not what they are getting into. They wind up in this country in detention, in uncomfortable situations, and it is absolutely a crime against humanity.

The minister will close the back door; the back door that is opened and fueled by criminals, whether they are in organized crime or in ad hoc crime, who are using the situation to line their pockets.

The minister says we have to close the back door. Then, very interestingly, she says “so that we can open the front door wider”. It is an interesting idea.

If we were to ask in the good times if we should bring in more immigrants, some Canadians would say yes, some would say no, and some would say that we should ensure we get our employment up. The reality is, what is Canada if it is not a land of immigrants? If it is not a land built by the toil and the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants, then I do not know what this land is.

My father came from Cardiff, Wales to work in the steel mills. I am sure most of us could trace our ancestry, history and family lineage to another part of the world. Some of us are even first generation. That is one of the greatest things about this country. Imagine coming from someplace else in the world, maybe even destitute, and rising to become a member of parliament. It is a job that I happen to think is dignified and worthy of the respect of Canadians, notwithstanding comments made from time to time in the media and by those on the opposition benches. It is all about immigration.

We recently dealt with the citizenship bill. We see the pride that new Canadians feel every time there is a citizenship ceremony and they become new Canadians. It sends shivers up our spines to see how they feel about it. People can be proud anywhere in the world they go to say that they have a Canadian passport.

We say often that Canada has been voted the greatest country in the world in which to live for six years in a row by the United Nations. I always say it is the greatest country in the world in which to live unless people live here, and then they just want to complain about it.

I went on a trip with a colleague from the Conservative Party and the minister. We went through London, England and spent three days meeting with our Department of Citizenship and Immigration staff there, the visa officers, the young men and women who try to process all of the applications for visitor visas, landed immigrant status and refugee status. They try to deal with all of that. In London they are overwhelmed without a doubt because they have the reputation of being the most efficient and the best place to go. People from Nigeria and all over the western world are funnelling into London saying they know they will get their visas quickly and that is why they are there. They line up.

I sat in on some of the interviews. The London experience was very insightful, very interesting and very educational for me. I was astounded at how many we turn down. I thought this was a rubberstamp and they all just came through, one right after the other. Not true. They are turned down if there is even the slightest inkling that they are not telling the truth. They are turned down if there is even the slightest inkling that there might be some security risk or danger to the Canadian public.

I was extremely impressed with the dedication of the people who work for us in London, England, but the experience of a lifetime in my 20 years in elected office was the next leg of the trip. That was to Nairobi, Kenya. It is a city of six million people. It is a city where 500 people a day die in the hospitals from AIDS. It is a city where one dares not go out at night. It is a city where, the minister will remember, people do not even drive with their arm outside the window of the car for fear someone will hack it off to get their watch. It is a city where our employees, about 80 people in total, live in compounds that are surrounded by a wall with electric fences, with 24 hour security guards and with bars on the windows and doors of these beautiful, magnificent homes with yards to die for. People would think they were in Florida or Hollywood.

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6:05 p.m.


Elinor Caplan Liberal Thornhill, ON

Or Mississauga.

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6:05 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Yes, Mississauga, of course, as the minister says.

They live in danger all the time.

I went to the refugee camp and saw 110,000 people with one source of water. Many of them had lived there for 10 years in what can only be described as the most horrific living conditions that I have ever seen and that any Canadian would ever see.

I was hoping I would still have time left to tell the story of the woman from Ethiopia with two children, who saw her husband murdered, her teenage son murdered, her other teenage son kidnapped, whom she has not seen since, who was imprisoned for two months and gang raped every night as they hung her on a chain against the wall. I saw this woman cry tears of joy when she was told by the visa officer that she and the four little kids she had left in her care were going to be approved to come to Canada. I was never so proud to be a Canadian.

I am hopeful that the staff in Nairobi will follow up and inform me of this individual and her children. Her 11 year old daughter said through an interpreter that she wanted to grow up to be an airline pilot. It was amazing.

We do wonderful things in this world through citizenship and immigration. This bill will make it easier for all of our staff to do those things and for Canadians to have confidence in one of the finest systems in the world.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2000 / 6:10 p.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a question about one of the principles of the new immigration bill with respect to incorporating the best interests of the child. I am interested in the idea that this bill will in some way reflect the high value that Canadians place on the well-being of children.

As the mother of a child with a disability, I am very interested and concerned about how this new immigration act will treat people with disabilities.

I often find in my life that government decisions seemingly are not made to reflect the well-being of my child. I find that the educational services are not available for him to have equal access to education.

We have a charter of rights which talks about each Canadian being entitled to equality under the law. The Will to Act Task Force, which was established several years ago, talked about equality of citizenship for persons with disabilities.

Clause 34 talks about how a foreign national or other permanent resident would be inadmissible on health grounds if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services. This is the only clause in the bill which seems to me would in any way relate to a person with a disability making an application to come to Canada.

I would like to know if a family with a child who has a disability such as Down's syndrome or cerebral palsy would be accepted in this country.

The member talked about witnessing the process in London, England. If I lived there with my family, would I be allowed to come to this country with a child with a disability? Would he be welcomed in this country?

I need to know that, and I think a lot of Canadians need to know that.

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6:10 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her very thoughtful question.

The member made two points. The first was the issue of the best interests of the child. This is something we wrestled with at committee, because it can be difficult to define. In whose definition are the interests determined to be the best interests of the child?

I think it is internationally accepted, in the Geneva convention and other statutes, that the best interests of the child can indeed be defined. In the case of a disabled child, I believe that the intent is to prevent abuse. The abuse might be that the only reason for someone wanting to come to Canada would be to seek free health care of some type.

However, in the case of family reunification, if we are talking about bringing a new family to Canada, if a child has a disability, frankly, I am absolutely confident, having met the men and women who work in citizenship and immigration, that we would take all of that into account and we would not allow it to stand in the way.

I have seen situations in my own riding where people were trying to get their elderly parents to come to Canada because they could get better health care. We have to be understanding and fair. We do not want to abuse the system, drive up costs and suddenly become a home to anyone who is sick so they can simply come here and get free health care. It requires compassion. It will be in the delivery. It will be in the way the system is carried out.

The member might be interested to know that I have been actively involved with community living in my own community. I am very much convinced that we have an obligation to reach out to all citizens in the world who are in need of help in coming to Canada. I believe we will do that. I believe the bill sets in place the format that will give our staff the confidence and the ability to approve a person for entry into Canada as the member has described.

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6:15 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I did not plan to speak today but as I listened to speakers extol both the virtues and the concerns of the act I felt it important on behalf of the constituents of Sydney—Victoria that I put forward both the things I think are positive in the act and the things that I have some concerns about.

Our party has spoken to this issue already today. The critic for immigration, the member for Winnipeg Centre, will have a fair amount to say when the bill comes back to the House. I know he accompanied the minister on her most recent trip to China because of the concerns this party has about some of the things that have been happening.

This is a tremendously important issue. It has been said by speaker after speaker in the House that this is a nation of immigrants. I suppose some native people might say we are a nation of colonists, but I think it is fair to say that we are a nation of immigrants.

Everyone in the House has spoken about their own heritage. Members of the House represent immigrants from all parts of the world. My own heritage is Italian and Scottish. My grandfather on my father's side came here when he was 15. I look at my own son at 13 and wonder about my grandfather at 15 coming on a boat from Italy, not speaking the language, alone, and with 25 cents in his pocket. He chose this country to build a life. As I look around the House, I think that is the story for most of us.

Immigration is tremendously important because it defines not only who we let into the nation but how we will let the nation grow. It sets out the kind of vision we have for Canada in the future. It also defines whom we will not let in. That is as important a part of this debate as whom we let in. It is a reflection of our international obligations.

I commend the minister for reviewing the act and bringing forward new legislation almost 25 years after the last act was passed in the House in 1976. Because immigration is an important topic, I congratulate and commend her for bringing forward new legislation and opening the issue of immigration. It is an issue that has polarized Canadians in the last two or three years.

The act has been amended numerous times. While it has been talked about, it has only been since 1997 when we began to see the boatloads of Chinese immigrants coming to British Columbia that Canadians were galvanized and polarized by the issue of immigration. That polarization is on both sides.

There are those who are adamant that we should not let anybody else into the country. There are some groups in the country who believe that if we should let anyone in they should for the most part be of European ancestry. I know who those groups are because when I was critical of them I received some of their interesting mail. I know they put me on their website and did some very interesting imaging things, so I guess they are creative in a certain sense.

We have those groups on one side. On the other side we have some, critics might call, bleeding hearts who say we should open the doors to everyone. Naturally the balance is somewhere in between. That balance is something that is not easily achieved but again as the minister has opened the door I think it is something we have to talk about.

I do not think that we can talk about immigration without setting it against a backdrop of international and global issues because we are living in a global society. We are contributors to both the good and the bad parts of the global community. It should come as no surprise to us, with our vast amount of land and with our vast wealth, that thousands and thousands of people around the world want to come to Canada because of the inequities of the global world.

Let us not forget that we live in the northern hemisphere. We are the consumers of the vast majority of the world's energy. We contribute the vast majority of waste and pollution to the world's atmosphere. On the other side of the hemisphere are millions and millions of people living in abject poverty. Yet in the global world and in the information age these millions of people know the life that we live.

I had an interesting conversation on the plane going home last week with a friend of mine originally from Cape Breton who has lived for the last almost 30 years in a remote village in the Himalayas of India. He told me now it was not uncommon to see satellite dishes on some of the little homes in that part of India. Those people are watching for the most part American presentation of life in the western world. We should not be surprised, set against the backdrop of increasing poverty in the third world and increasing wealth in the northern hemisphere, that millions of people want to come to this country.

I heard the member for Mississauga talk about Canada taking its fair share. I think we have to talk about our fair share and our obligations. If we are consuming so much of the world's energy and if we are contributing so much to increased poverty in the world, surely we have an obligation. It is against that backdrop and the backdrop of the tremendous increase in world population that we have to look at our immigration policy.

Again let us be clear. It took the human race thousands, thousands and thousands of years to reach a million people worldwide. In the last 20 years the population has increased fourfold or fivefold to the point where we now have six or seven billion people. It is against that backdrop we have to look at the good things the bill has to offer and some of the things that may cause us some concern.

Of the good things, I look at what the bill talks about. It creates severe penalties for those smuggling people into Canada with fines up to $1 million and life in prison. I support that. I think trade in human beings is the most despicable kind of crime imaginable. To take those who are most needy and helpless, to demand that those people pay a price to come to this country and to traffic in human beings as if they were silk scarves, is tragic. It is wise for us to be harsh on those who smuggle people into this country.

I also think it is wise and again I commend the government for talking about increasing the number of immigration control officers abroad. The minister has said all along that what she intends to do is open the front door wider and close the back door. Part of the problem we have had is that we have not had enough immigration officers.

People talked about the Chinese immigrants coming from Fujian province and how they should probably go to the immigration office and do it the right way. In reality, if we think about where Fujian province is in China, where the immigration office is and the fact that we had perhaps one or two refugee officers in that province, it would have been impossible for those people to go through the appropriate channels if they are refugees to seek admission to this country.

I am glad to hear there will be an increase in immigration officers. I think the department needs them and it is fair for public servants who had a huge workload in the last few years. It is also wise to look at security checks for those who are serious criminals. However, as has been mentioned by the NDP member for Winnipeg—Transcona, what constitutes a crime in some countries may be questionable as to whether or not it would constitute a crime in this country. There are those people who are imprisoned that fought for human rights in their countries and may have criminal records. It would be my hope that the definition of crime would exclude those individuals.

We commend the government for some of the points in the bill. There are others that we will take under advisement and look at very carefully, for example what constitutes a crime. Nelson Mandela was a criminal in South Africa because he fought against apartheid.

I had the fortune to meet with the vice-president elect of Taiwan who spent five years in prison for challenging marshal law in that country and today emerges as the vice-president. Her sentence was commuted from 12 years to 5 years because she had an illness. Would that person, because she carried a criminal record, be denied entrance to Canada?

I also have some other concerns. I know we will have an opportunity to examine them. I read the minister's press release which talked about expanding policies to attract the world's best and brightest to Canada. I do not know if under that criteria my grandfather would have been able to come to this country. He did not have a degree in computer science. He did not come with a lot of money. He did not have financial backing.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Elinor Caplan Liberal Thornhill, ON

He was the best.