Madam Speaker, I appreciate the earlier presentations of the speaker opposite. He made a very impassioned and well articulated commentary on the flaws in the bill. Even as well as he did that, he could have gone further when we reflect on the impact that the bill could have if it were used inappropriately by the bureaucracy and those in positions of power.
The legislation, Bill C-16, will repeal and replace the current Citizenship Act passed in 1977. The legislation makes several changes to the current act with the intention of providing more clearly defined guidelines, supposedly updating sections, replacing current procedures with new administrative structures and increasing the minister's power to deny citizenship. I think that is the crux of what was spoken to in the previous speech.
Bill C-16 is touted as being “the first major reform with respect to citizenship in more than 20 years—an attempt to modernize the act in order that it might better reflect the true value of Canadian citizenship”.
However, while some parts are more clearly defined than in the previous act, Bill C-16 does not constitute a major modern reform as they say it does. Critical areas have been neglected while others have been altered in a negative way.
The minister received the recommendations of the government-dominated Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in 1994. The government has taken over five years to prepare this legislation which still, as we just heard from the previous speaker, does not address the committee's key recommendations. The government took five years to put it in and it still ignored the committee's recommendations. Tragic.
There are a number of interesting provisions in Bill C-16. The first provision I want to spend some time on is in clause 8 which has to do with adoption outside Canada.
Bill C-16 will reduce the distinction between a foreign child adopted by a Canadian citizen and a child born in Canada. Currently a foreign child adopted by a Canadian citizen must first be admitted to Canada as a permanent resident before citizenship can be granted. The new legislation will make it easier for adoptive parents to gain Canadian citizenship for the child if adoption occurs outside Canada. This provision is of particular interest to me as I recently had a private member's bill of my own drawn for debate. It also has to do with adoption, both domestic and international.
My Bill C-289 proposes to extend a tax deduction of up to $7,000 for the expenses relating to the adoption of a child. Adoption is a gentle option that is under-appreciated and under-utilized in this country. Couples who adopt from other countries face extremely high out-of-pocket expenses. My bill would go a long way in helping couples who want to offer a loving home to children in need of parents. I look forward to obtaining the support of all members of the House for this legislative initiative. I believe we should encourage couples who wish to adopt. In fact, in Canada many people are on waiting lists to adopt. They go through considerable expense in order to adopt and care for a child in need but we offer them no assistance. They do it all on their own. When we consider the incredible social contribution these couples are prepared to make, we should recognize it and make easier not harder.
The next provision in Bill C-16 I want to spend some time discussing is clause 43. Clause 43 is, I suggest, the most disrespectful to this parliament and to Canadians. It would essentially give the minister the power to define what a family is in whatever manner the minister happens think on any particular day. Under this clause, Bill C-16 grants the minister power without any oversight or any guidelines. It basically grants the minister the power to decide who may make an application under this act on behalf of a minor. It is solely up to the minister as to who may to make application for a minor.
Second, the bill allows the minister to define what constitutes a relationship of parent and child for the purposes of determining entitlement to citizenship under any provision of this act. That is directly from the act.
Why in the world should the minister now be meddling in what constitutes a relationship of a parent and child? Are we to believe that parliament cannot or should not spell this out for clarity, consistency or just plain common sense?
Perhaps, rather than having parliament define what should be obvious what a parent and child relationship is in legislation, the minister feels she knows better and should unilaterally decide whether people are father, mother, son or daughter. It does not make sense. It is the duty of the government to draft legislation that is clear. It is the duty of parliament to ensure that legislation is well structured and will stand the test of time so that it can serve as a clear guide to those tasked with implementing what is passed by this Chamber.
The government is insulting this place by putting forward such muddled legislation which, by definition, will not be consistently applied. One day she decides this is familial and the next day something else. There is no guideline. It is totally left to the discretion of bureaucrats in the minister's office. This is unacceptable. These provisions in the bill need to be revoked.
Regarding the ability to define a genuine parent-child relationship, the member for Scarborough East, a Liberal on the other side, on May 13, 1999 during a committee meeting, said “It is a bit of an unusual circumstance where a regulation is—allowing a definition of a concept—and, in particular, going over the edge from a regulatory idea to a legislative idea. I think, frankly, it is out of order, that it is in fact not within the purview of a governor in council, or the minister or the minister's officials, to define what constitutes a parent or a child”.
He went on to say:
I think these are, in technical language, ultra vires of a minister, ultra vires certainly of the minister's staff, ultra vires of the governor in council, and clearly show a willingness on the part of the government to defer issues to areas where they should not be deferred.
The Liberal member pointed out a particular flaw in the legislation that I am also concerned about. He said “There are several on the issue who felt that it is the prerogative of parliament to enter into these definitions”. I would agree with him.
He further stated “In my view, the only way in which these things can be acceptable is if they are deleted so that the ministry, the minister and the governor in council are bound by the definitions that currently exist in law and in legislation. There can be no freelancing on the part of the minister or governor in council or staff officials to expand definitions of spouse or parent or child beyond what currently exists in legislation”.
These are wise words. There should be no freelancing but what do we have? We have complete freelancing and deferral to the bureaucracy and the minister's office to determine what is a familial relationship.
We can rightly take issue with delegating such immense powers to the minister alone. We can think of some other issues that have given Canadians a great deal of unrest. The billion dollar boondoggle, for example, in the Human Resource Development Department, has given Canadians ample understanding of why we should not just put total blind faith in any minister.
There we saw a bungling of epidemic proportions. Public money was given out without any application on file and 80% of the files showed no evidence of financial monitoring. Two-thirds of the files did not even have a rationale for recommending the project. Money was spent on things such as fountains in the Prime Minister's riding, and on and on.
After all that broke and after the public outrage at the incompetence of this particular ministry and minister for the way it was handled, the Prime Minister turned a blind eye and that minister is still sitting in cabinet. There has been no change.
In 1991, when the Prime Minister was in opposition, he said “You take the blame when something is wrong and you do not finger anybody else but yourself. That is what a person of dignity does”.
I agree with him, but it has not happened on that particular issue, and I wonder if it will happen on this bill.
In the context of this bill, let me say that Bill C-16 has numerous insupportable elements that we are concerned about. I briefly mentioned that it is far too reliant on regulations which we have not seen. The regulations that will determine how this bill is implemented have been drafted by bureaucrats with little input from the House or the public and they can be changed without consultations. As was so eloquently argued by members on the opposite side of the House, the changes will affect people's lives.
People in my riding have come to me concerned about this bill and how it will drastically affect their personal lives. When their citizenship in a country they hold up as their nation of connection and speaks to who they are is cut out from under them, it is very disconcerting for a number of very legitimate reasons. We have left all that in the hands of regulation drafters with no oversight by the people's representatives in the House of Commons.
As I said, Bill C-16 allows too much discretionary unaccountable power to be left in the hands of government. Even the Liberal parliamentary secretary has spoken out against clauses 16 and 17 which deal with the revocation of citizenship. The legislation as introduced does not provide individuals, who had been granted Canadian citizenship, full access to the legal system if their right to citizenship is challenged. Hon. members should think about that.
All of a sudden our right to citizenship is challenged and we are no longer Canadian citizens. In light of that, we do not have access to full legal redress, an appeal process and the proper due process of law to clarify. Even if there is some mistake, we are cut out from that.
The bill is very disconcerting to many of us in the House. Although departmental officials insisted that this clause was not a serious concern, the issue caused great concern to members of the committee and to the vast majority of witnesses, all ignored.
We in the Canadian Alliance agree that once citizenship is granted it must be assumed to be genuine. The revocation of citizenship is not something to be taken lightly and must be done only under the complete and thorough scrutiny of a fair and legal process.
The Liberal member for Kitchener—Waterloo made his opinion quite clear during the standing committee proceedings, during report stage debate in the House, and most recently in the media. He actually resigned his position as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration because he felt so strongly about his own party's unwillingness to listen to his recommendations. Who is driving the ship over there? Is it the elected minister and MPs, or is it the bureaucracy? The approach to the legislation is telling Canadians who is really driving.
He believes the power to revoke citizenship should not be left in the hands of the governor in council as it stands in the legislation. The Canadian Alliance agrees. We commend the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his stance on the issue. This goes beyond partisanship. This goes to what is right for Canadians.
It is nothing new to see the Liberal cabinet not listening to one of its backbenchers. We have seen that repeatedly. If the Liberal cabinet had been listening to her backbenchers, I wonder if the possession of child pornography, for example, would still be legal in B.C. It has been almost a year and a half since the courts in B.C. struck down the section of the criminal code which prohibited the possession of child pornography.
I remember well that after the initial position, to their credit, 79 Liberal MPs and senators wrote to the Prime Minister urging him “not to wait for the appeal of the B.C. decision to be heard but immediately act in defence of Canada's children and consider the use of the notwithstanding clause to send a clear message that Canada's charter of rights and freedoms will never again be used to defend the sexual abuse of Canada's children”.
A number of members in the Liberal backbench signed that document. We were glad to see it, but what happened? It is something like what we are seeing with Bill C-16. It is being ignored.
We in the official opposition gave the government a chance to act, to protect our most vulnerable with a parliamentary motion last year to do exactly what the 79 Liberals had called upon the Prime Minister to do. We put forward that motion.
The backbenchers unfortunately wilted under the pressure exerted I guess from the Prime Minister's Office to step away from it on the promise that a federal government appeal would solve it within two months and that it would all be put back in place. How long has it been now? A year and a half, and we still have not heard a decision on that issue. Those who possess child pornography in B.C. today will face no penalty. It is impacting on cases across the country.
In closing on that issue, the same Liberal backbenchers voted against our motion that would have enacted exactly what they called for in their letter. Unfortunately they did not follow through on their position.
To get back to the revocation of citizenship issue, the Canadian Alliance critic for citizenship and immigration put forward an amendment that would have changed this clause during committee. We have heard some commentary from members opposite. He put forward an amendment that would have addressed the shortcomings of the revocation of citizenship issue but the Liberals on the committee voted against it. Unfortunately we did not see the changes that many of the witnesses wanted to see and some of the members opposite wanted to see. While elements of the bill have potential and could ultimately be beneficial to Canada, the flaws are so numerous that the Canadian Alliance cannot possibly support the legislation as it stands.
A number of members opposite, if true to their convictions in what they have spoken today, will join with us in voting against the bill. These flaws will undoubtedly cause real problems with the citizenship process in the future.
This party, the party with which I am proud to stand, cannot allow it to pass without opposition. These problems will come. We are hopeful that enough members opposite can personalize from their own lives and experience as Canadians by choice the impact of this legislation. Hopefully they will stand up, if not for their own constituents and people in that situation, for their own situations.
Canadian citizenship is an asset that many people would love to have. I have frequently had the honour of attending citizenship hearings for new citizens in my riding. There is such joy at those ceremonies. People from all over the world are ecstatic. There are smiles from ear to ear on the children, the mothers, the fathers and whole families.
They have come from another nation, another history and another personal set of experiences. They put it all aside to make Canada their home. They go through the instruction and tests. They are prepared to say “I am a Canadian”. When they go through the process in Calgary, at the end we all say in unison “I am a Canadian”. There are grins from ear to ear. It is very meaningful to people.
The strong feelings I have about Canadian citizenship and my love for this country were part of the motivation that caused me to run as a member of parliament. It is a privilege to take part in the debate on this bill in this special place. It is an important topic. I hope we have the collective wisdom to hear what has been said in debate today and to reflect our concerns when the vote on Bill C-16 comes to the floor.