My colleague is absolutely right. Yes, they are experts. They could become immigration consultants and do a better job.
I am not putting down all immigration lawyers. There is definitely a need for consultation, but the government has made a habit of listening to these people and then trying to draft legislation which is weak and leaves many loopholes. Who takes advantage of those loopholes? We all know that. All we have to do is look at the stories in the newspapers.
Chinese boatloads came here because of a loophole in the system created by the government. Everywhere around the world it is becoming quite clear that the loopholes existing in Canada are numerous, which has created human smuggling that plays with people's lives.
The minister of immigration has said that she would be very tough on human smugglers. The bottom line is that a market was created for human smugglers because of our lax law. Our lax law has given them a market of which they are taking advantage and playing with people's lives.
If we had a tighter or a speedier law, or if we had a procedure with which we could address these things very quickly and rapidly, would the human smugglers have a market? No, they would not. We would do people a favour if we had a clear-cut, concise and fast processing system. We would do a favour for people who cross the oceans and threaten their own lives so that human smugglers and drug abusers can take advantage of them.
Let me talk about what is wrong with the current immigration system. The auditor general said it was mismanaged and backlogged. We do not keep track of what is going on, and that is absolutely true. From the experience in my office I can say that is absolutely true.
Let us talk about spousal applications. The minister says that it takes six months for a spousal application. I am saying that it does not take six months. It takes over a year and a half before Canadians who marry outside Canada can bring their spouses into this country. Yet the government talks about a system which it says is fair and will take only six months.
People have left this country, lost their status, and want to come back with a returning resident permit. Everything takes time, time, time. From the time I was elected in 1997 until now all I have seen is a longer process, and this is for legitimate immigrants to Canada. When we talk to immigration officers and our counsellors overseas only one point comes up, that they do not have the resources.
The minister of immigration says she will bring in 300,000 people. She says that is our new target. We are only at 178,000 because there are no resources. Because there are no resources immigration officers cannot do their jobs. Haphazard decisions are made. People fall through the cracks. People take advantage of that and walk into the country.
Any immigration officer will tell us that. I have visited New Delhi. I have visited Sydney. I have talked to immigration officers in Africa, and the simple point is a lack of resources. Some say that they want more, but as my colleague said the current system should be fixed first before anything else is done.
Let me give another example. The immigration department may allow people with professional degrees into this country but they cannot get jobs. There is an inconsistency. What is the point of getting professionals to come to the country if they cannot work? They cannot work here because we have professional associations that do not allow them to work.
We should tell them that we need immigration and that we need professional people. We should ask them how many they can accommodate. Then we should go ahead and do it. They should make arbitrary decisions because they are playing with people's lives.
Let us talk about visitor visas. I have to use the minister of immigration's offices to get visitor visas approved. Canada has a huge population from every corner of the world. Naturally they have families. Naturally they have ties outside the country. It is a common sense situation. They would like their family members to come. There is nothing wrong with that. A Canadian can go to India with no problem, but the poor guy who wants to bring someone from India here is denied entry into Canada. He is denied entry into Canada because the government says we cannot trust him to go back. We cannot trust him to go back. We do not know whether he will go back based on our past experience.
Where did the problem originate? The problem originates here. We allow them to stay here. We allow them to come to this country and make a claim and they can stay here for two and a half years. It takes two and a half years to process a refugee claim. Within two and a half years people can stay in this country and not go back. Where did the problem originate? The problem originates here.
It is a very small number. It is not a high number but others pay the price for it. Genuine visitors who want to come here pay the price for it. Over three-quarters of my files are people who want to come here on visitor visas to attend marriages and funerals. Why can we not look at the facts for those who come over here and want to make an application, even if it is a refugee claim. If there was a faster system, all these problems would not be there.
While I am talking of refugees, let us talk about our refugee determination system. Despite the fact that we have an appeal process and an IRB that is supposedly an independent one, the whole refugee determination system is bogged down. It takes two and a half to three years before a refugee's claim is heard, genuine or non-genuine. He has all that time to do whatever he wants to do. The so-called Honduras drug dealers in Vancouver sell drugs. Why is there not a faster process?
Nobody denies that a refugee has the right to flee persecution and come to our country. We are proud of that tradition. There is nothing wrong with that tradition. That is not the problem. The problem is it takes two and a half to three years to process a claim.
There is an individual in my riding who has been here for the last three and a half years as a refugee. The man was actually crying in my office and asking me to please tell him what it takes, why was he in limbo, why was he in no man's land. His wife and child are overseas. His wife suffered a heart attack. He cannot go back home because he fears being persecuted there. He cannot go back home but his wife has had a heart attack. His claim cannot be processed so he cannot bring his wife here. Why are we allowing all this human tragedy to be caught up in the bureaucratic mess we have created?
Why can we not have a faster process? If we are going to have an immigration and refugee policy, then let us implement it the way it is supposed to be implemented, not mismanage it.
Let us talk about some of our immigration officers. It is amazing. I actually tell people that their visas to Canada will be approved depending on which side of the bed the immigration officer got up. If he is in a good mood, they are in; if he is in a bad mood, they are out. There is no consistency. I have seen similar cases where one said yes and one said no. Then what happens? It is okay for the immigration officer overseas to say no but it throws the Canadian party into an appeal process.
The appeal process is expensive in hiring an immigration lawyer and going before the IRB. And we do not know when the IRB will hold its hearings. It could take six or eight months. It could take a year and a half for an immigration officer to make a decision. The poor guy has to wait for two years and then the immigration officer after assessing it says “Sorry, you do not follow this in my view”. I repeat that it is in his view. I agree he should have some view, but there has to be more consistency.
We have started to hire local officers. Local officers do interviews up front to allow people to come here as visitors or as immigrants. That is because the government cut the funding. They are local personnel.
What is Canada's desire? What do Canadians feel about how our system is run? I have encountered local immigration officers. We write to them and they ignore the missives of members of parliament. I had to write back saying that it is a democracy in this country. The people of Canada speak through their elected officials; they do not speak through their bureaucrats. These people do not understand. They do not know what is Canada's desire and who wants to come here. But these people are making decisions and throwing people into an appeal process which costs them pain and money.
More and more people are coming to my office saying to abandon the claim, that they are sick and tired of the whole process. This did not happen before, but it is becoming more and more common. The delays are becoming more and more common. But there is no problem for the guys who want to abuse our system. They do it and they do it fast. They are in the country. This creates tension because Canadians hate to see their laws being abused. They hate it.
I had call after call after call when the boat people came here. Every member of parliament did. What was the reason behind those calls? That our laws were being abused. It bothered Canadians that our laws were being abused. It bothered people who had applied for family members to come here or people in general who wanted to come to Canada. It bothered everybody, prospective immigrants, recently arrived immigrants, Canadians who have been here for generations. The bottom line was that the laws were being abused.
Have we tightened up the law? Have we even improved it? The bill begs the question, have we improved anything? I do not think so. I do not think anything has been improved. We are back to the same old system. I will be back out there listening to the cries of Canadians.
Canadians are travellers. They find new partners around the world. There needs to be sincerity. Immigration officers need to understand that Canadians travel. Sometimes Canadians find spouses overseas.
In summary, I go back to the main point that bothers our party, the official opposition. Has the bill cleaned up anything? Has it done anything to fix the old system? I say to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, please fix the old system.
The official opposition will keep a strong watch on this. My colleague the immigration critic will be bringing a lot of amendments to the committee when we study this bill which will give us more opportunity to discuss this important issue.