Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger. In addressing the bill it is pertinent that we be aware of the immigration status of all of us.
Let us remember that the vast majority of all our families came from somewhere else, be it recently or many generations ago. Whether through persecution in a foreign country, economic deprivation, the fleeing of a wartorn nation or the search for a better life, most if not all families represented here can point to a time when they were not Canadian.
My Canadian Alliance colleagues and I agree that immigrants arriving in Canada today have come for the same reasons that our ancestors did in the past. They aspire to a better life for their families and for themselves. They seek a peaceful way of life that will allow them to practise their faith without the fear of persecution. They do not want their children to grow up with the firsthand knowledge of war or, worse, the loss of a child due to war.
I can find no fault in any of those reasons to come to Canada, but unfortunately there are those who want to take advantage of our way of life. There are those who would pay no regard to the laws of Canada. These are people like the Snake Heads who have no regard for human life and only see the opportunity to make illegal profit through the smuggling of human cargo. What a sad commentary on the state of mankind that is.
The issues surrounding immigration and refugees have been around for a long time. Because of their heritage most Canadians want to welcome new immigrants to Canada. However they also want to be sure that those who apply for immigration status meet the minimum criteria and that those who do not meet those set criteria are not entitled to the same rights as Canadian citizens.
I believe I can unequivocally state that we would all welcome immigrants and genuine refugees to our country. I believe I can further state that we all believe there should be a set of rules for everyone to follow when implementing and regulating immigration and refugee policy.
The biggest concern I have is that all the legislation in the world will not resolve the problems we see in the present legislation or the proposed law before us. Legislation without the ability to enforce the regulations means virtually nothing. We can write, debate and proclaim endless laws on countless pieces of paper, but without the legal enforcement, without the ability to ensure that the laws are upheld, the laws are not worth the piece of paper they are written on.
Unfortunately that is what I see with most of this new legislation. We are not even able to enforce our current immigration laws. How on earth will we be able to enforce new ones without adding the necessary strength, power and ability to these newly proposed laws? Unfortunately I do not see new enforcement guidelines written into the new legislation.
Let us be realistic for a moment. Higher maximum penalties for human trafficking will have no effect on the flow of illegal immigrants to Canada. The real organizers, the real kingpins behind the smuggling of humans, have no regard for the laws of Canada. They operate outside Canada and have no plans to attend court dates in Canada. The ones who are in Canada attempt to live and operate outside the laws by which we abide. They are seldom caught and rarely convicted for their crimes.
High fines may seem like a deterrent, but the maximum fines under the old immigration act have never been applied. Therefore, why should anyone here believe that the new fines would be any more of a deterrent? It simply will not happen.
About one year ago Canadians witnessed boatloads of Chinese migrants entering Canada illegally. They made a horrendous journey under appalling conditions. The conditions under which some of them lived would not meet the same humanitarian and social structures we enjoy in Canada. Some died and others suffered serious illnesses while en route.
It is my understanding that most of those who made it to Canada are still in detention awaiting their hearings. It has been seven to ten months since some of these people arrived on our shores.
The future does not look any brighter. Reality says that it may be as much as another two years before the process is complete. When I look to the new legislation before us, a reasonable expectation would be that this length of time would be significantly reduced. Unfortunately all I can see is more disappointing news.
The new legislation appears to do nothing to mitigate this lengthy waiting time. This was one of the most obvious problems in the old legislation, and it has not been resolved in the new proposed law.
There is no doubt that Canada needs to strengthen its immigration laws to seriously address this type of crisis. This is necessary not only for our own protection but also to deter those who stand to gain monetarily from the business of smuggling people.
We simply must take a firm stand and send a message to the world that Canada is not a haven for illegal immigrants and not an easy target for people smugglers. Those who promote such activities should be subject to severe penalties without exception. The penalties must be severe enough to thwart the usury and extortion currently being forced by the people smugglers. Our laws should reflect compassion for true refugees, but they should also encompass legislation to expedite the process of deporting illegal immigrants and penalize the people smugglers.
During the boat crisis last summer I received a number of calls from Canadians in my riding who were outraged with the federal government's inaction on the question of illegal immigration. This inaction drew the ire of all Canadians right across Canada. Constituents have told me that they believe the federal government is failing them and their families by putting these illegal migrants ahead of the needs of ordinary Canadians.
One of the most interesting things I found was that the ones who voiced their opinions most strongly were in fact recent immigrants themselves. To them the situation was very clear. They had applied and waited their turn to come to Canada. In many cases they wanted to sponsor family members to join them in Canada. Their anger was that while they were attempting to abide by the law, others were abusing the law in being able to stay.
By not addressing this issue, legal immigrants are forced to the back of the immigration process. What they really want to do is be reunited with family members. Are we not then creating a double standard?
During the crisis last summer the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Vancouver Island told me that their Vancouver Island forces were drastically reduced as members had been called upon to guard the most recent illegal migrants at the Esquimalt naval base. This calls into question the level of efficiency for both law enforcement and case development that the RCMP is able to provide for the residents of Vancouver Island. This is just one problem which highlights how unprepared we are for this ever increasing wave of humanity that will come to our shores either legally or illegally.
This issue has been ongoing for far too long. These are the issues which I believe need to be fully addressed under this legislation. First, full charter rights should not be available to individuals until the immigration board has accepted them.
Second, we should set new stringent penalties for those who deal in the smuggling of humans. This is a serious crime and needs to be dealt with in the most serious manner possible. International agreements should be used to pursue and convict Snake Heads and others like them.
Third, we should ensure that full security and health checks are completed on each person wishing to enter Canada. Canada's citizens demand to be safe from undue risks.
Fourth, perhaps the most important issue is that of enforcement. We cannot expect our laws to be upheld if we do not have sufficient personnel and real regulations in effect to support them. Words alone will not stop Snake Heads from dealing in human cargo.
In my riding office immigration is one of the top two issues with which my staff deals. The other issue is taxation and the manner in which Revenue Canada, now called the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, deals with people. It is interesting that in both these matters a lack of humanitarian treatment appears to be the common factor.
I should like to take a few moments to describe several immigration cases with which I have been dealing over the past several months. My colleague from Lakeland stated that he was certain that all members of the House had encountered the inadequacies of the current immigration legislation, and he is absolutely correct.
Just listen to some of the events that have taken place of which I have become aware as a member of parliament. In one case a lady in my riding invited a friend from China to visit her in 1996. Today that friend has still not been able to visit Canada.
In the meantime the Chinese applicant has been turned down for seemingly irrelevant reasons. The Canadian letter writer has chronic lymphatic leukemia and was given the possibility of living for five years. Her five years are up now. Her health has been relatively good, but we all know that there are no guarantees in this life. Offers of bonds have been made and rejected. The Chinese applicant is not looking for a job and she is not looking to immigrate to Canada. She simply has a Canadian friend who would like to be able to share a Canadian experience with her.
Letters to the minister of immigration have not resulted in any further positive results. From what I have been able to determine in this case, individual bureaucrats have thwarted the plight of one potential visitor from China to this great land of ours.
In another situation I have worked with an individual who has been waiting for over four years to receive landed status in Canada. He is currently living here and would like to upgrade his skills. However he is not able to do this until he receives his landed status.
We all expect a reasonable length of time to process applications, but four years seems to be an abnormally long period of time. In the meantime no full answers are forthcoming from either the minister of immigration or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. We ask the question why.
In another case a Canadian citizens married a Filipino. Through inquiry after inquiry no full answers were received. When visas were promised, applications were received. When time lines were committed to, they were broken in short order. After a series of pages of requests, letters and faxes I am pleased to report that this couple will finally be together. It is unthinkable that they were forced to endure this process and to live apart for many years.
Perhaps the most heart wrenching and immediate saga is in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. Mrs. Jaswant Sekhon had six children. Mrs. Sekhon was plagued by ill health, was on dialysis and was not expected to live for much longer. Her last child, a son, Santokh Sekhon, was still living in Punjab, India. The two of them had not seen each other in nine years. For a year he applied to visit his mother for a one week period. Yet Immigration Canada would not allow the married father of two to visit Canada initially on the grounds that he would not leave.
Last fall Mrs. Sekhon became too ill to travel. Unfortunately the mother and son were never able to see each other again. Mrs. Sekhon died of a heart attack on March 12 and her wish to see her son in life was never fulfilled due to Immigration Canada's denial.
In dying, Mrs. Sekhon wanted her son to reunite with the family, be able to grieve and say goodbye to her in her death. I contacted Immigration Canada asking for them to review this file to no avail. The reason given to Mrs. Sekhon was that the official was not satisfied he could support himself while in Canada. Mr. Sekhon only asked to be in Canada for one week. Does this sound like an unreasonable request? It certainly does not to me. Yet the answer was certainly unreasonable.
Let us remember that all the family members except for one are Canadian citizens. They have lived as productive participants in Canada for 10 years. No family should have to endure the agony that this family has gone through because of our immigration system. Yet this is not the only family to endure this type of hardship.
Thankfully there is a somewhat happier ending to this story. Nine days after his mother passed away, Mr. Sekhon received his visa authorization to attend his mother's funeral. Imagine what those nine days must have been like. What a horrifying thought, what a tragic thing.
These are real people who have been enduring real hardship imposed upon them by a government ministry, an immigration bureaucracy that appears to be uncaring and unable to resolve problems.
This government is responsible for creating, causing and maintaining the shortcomings that are now before us in immigration.
I believe that every member of the House, even government members, would echo similar kinds of cases.
This department needlessly and negatively impacts countless lives and families. We only need to read in the papers of concern and allegations of corruption at various levels. This concerns not just illegal migrants, but also visa and counsellor services abroad.
I must raise the question of regulations again. From what I have seen in the proposed legislation, the situations that I have brought before the House would not be resolved. I believe that Canadians should receive more than this when members of parliament debate legislation. Unfortunately, they have come to expect even less with empty words and broken promises. We have seen the lack of true public consultation and true problem solving in many prior bills, and this bill is no exception.
This is not new. The 1990 auditor general's report identified serious problems within the immigration department. Here we are, 10 years later, and they have still not been addressed. Overseas offices are grossly overtasked, resulting in waiting times of up to three years for approval.
Immigration plays an important role for Canada today, but under the present legislation and the present government what we see is really a department in chaos. The proposed legislation will not resolve the big issues before us. Bill C-31 requires a serious overhaul and the regulations must been seen in full in order to address the real immigration issues before us.
In light of these outstanding issues and others that other of my hon. colleagues in the House have mentioned, I am not able to support this bill unless it is extensively amended.