Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-31 to amend the Immigration Act.
That bill was long overdue to say the least. Members will remember that the Bloc requested a reform of the Immigration Act several times in the House. If my information is correct, the Immigration Act has been amended about 20 times in the past. I think it was high time we had an overall view of immigration, and I congratulate the minister on her initiative.
Of course, the bill is far from perfect and I know that we can count on the courage and determination of the young member for Rosemont to work toward that aim in committee. We will even be able to count on the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois, to make the bill as perfect as can be.
Immigration is not an insignificant factor in the life of countries like Canada or Quebec. Let us just think that Canada and Quebec have always been extremely open to immigration. My colleague will understand if I say that Quebec has all it needs to be a country, but I realize that, for the time being, very large parts of the immigration policy, and especially its administrative aspects, are under federal jurisdiction.
From the post-war years up until now, Canada has accepted an average of 150,000 to 250,000 immigrants. There are four major countries across the world that are what we would called countries of immigration. I am talking of course about Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
When we look at the effort these countries have put into their immigration policy and we compare it with what Quebec is doing in that area, we see that Quebec is comparing well with the United States on a per capita basis.
Minister Boisclair, now the Minister of Social Solidarity, was the Minister of Relations with the Citizens and Immigration three years ago, when he issued a policy statement on immigration that revealed that we accept roughly the equivalent of 0.8% of our population.
This is a considerable effort. Quebec accepts between 50,000 and 65,000 immigrants every year. This raises questions about integration policies, because it is important to have a generous immigration policy, especially since Quebec and Canada, like many countries on this side of the hemisphere, are societies that do not carry the seeds of their natural renewal.
For nearly 15 years, if not 20 years, the natural growth of our population has not been enough to ensure us of the new generations. It would take a fertility rate of 2.2% instead of the current 1.8%.
I invite all my colleagues—I will try to do my share directly or indirectly—to reflect on the importance for a society to reproduce itself.
It is an important issue that was hotly debated in the past and which is far from resolved. Some believe we need tax incentives. Others say we need not only tax incentives, but also a real family policy.
Having children is something that one plans for in one's life. Take for example our colleague from Longueuil, whose son is now 20 months old. She planned to have a child. It may not change the world, but it definitely structures your life. I do not want to linger over biographical details, which could lead us to release information which is protected, so to speak. I am talking about the information, not the partner of our colleague from Longueuil.
Historically, like other societies, Quebec has been quite open and generous when it comes to immigration policies. It is a basic component of our society. However, our fellow citizens must realize that, unfortunately, because of its current constitutional status, Quebec does not have control over all the levers that would allow it to have a real immigration policy of its own.
We know how immigration works. Under the act, every year in the month of October, and I understand this requirement will not be modified, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration releases a public report on the number of immigrants the country will be receiving. Their number is between 200,000 and 250,000. These newcomers, who will ultimately become Canadian citizens, are divided into three main categories.
There are, of course, those who immigrate for humanitarian considerations. These people are persecuted in their own country. There is reason to fear for their bodily security. Either because of their religious or political beliefs or because of their economic distress, they have to leave their country and claim asylum. I will come back to this category.
There are those who come to Canada and Quebec to join their family. These cases are in the category of sponsoring. Their brothers or sisters, their mother or father, their sons or daughters who came here before them as to sponsor a member of their family. This is the family reunification category.
There is also a more economic type of immigration. Governments in Canada, Quebec, Germany, France and other countries have been seduced by economic immigration in recent years. They have tried to establish a link between the employability profile of people choosing a country of adoption and the resulting immigration.
This economic immigration category can include independent workers and investors. Some people come to Canada or to Quebec because they want to invest money, to set up businesses and to create jobs.
There again, members know about the handicap created by Quebec's constitutional status. I will digress for a moment to recall with pleasure that, during the 14th convention of the Parti Quebecois held last weekend in Montreal, the Premier of Quebec pointed out that Quebec sovereignty, which should mobilize all Quebecers in the months to come, will be on the constitutional and political agenda.
The reason we want to become a country must be reflected in the current debate because, again, Quebec does not have full control over its immigration policy. In saying that, I say that Quebec has nothing to say as to how many new immigrants will come to its territory and what the entry procedures will be, but in the end, Quebec has a complete and clear responsibility as to their integration. Members will understand the gap between the objectives that Quebec wants to pursue and the means at its disposal.
One of the reasons we want to achieve sovereignty is of course because we want control over immigration, like France, Germany, United States, Japan and all the great powers of the world. Speaking of great powers, I cannot avoid mentioning that a sovereign Quebec would be the fifteen economic power on this planet. If we look at the countries that have the means to become sovereign, Quebecers can be fully confident in their destiny and in their capacity to control their future.
I would not want to digress too much from the subject at hand. We support the principle of the bill. We acknowledge that the Immigration Act and the Citizenship Act were in need of a comprehensive reform.
My colleagues from Louis-Hébert, Longueuil and Drummond—this makes me the only man in this House to be surrounded with women—will recall that I was the immigration critic for about two years. I have pleasant memories of those days. Back then, we did not have a plethora of issues, but everything will not be settled by this bill. It was a nice experience meeting people who had chosen Quebec as their home. I also had the opportunity to witness the difficulties they were experiencing with a piece of legislation that was badly outdated in many ways.
We endorse the bill, and I will indicate which points we consider positive. The first one is obviously the consolidation in a single structure of the refugee status determination process and of the adjudication process. This is a positive goal. The government deserves our congratulations for this.
The refugee status determination process was for many years a real nightmare for successive governments, as much under Prime Minister Mulroney—whose party is now represented by just a few members in the House, but who knows what the future may have in store—as under the current Prime Minister. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is the most important administrative tribunal in Canada.
It may easily take an average of two years or two and a half years between the moment when a refugee sets foot in Canada and meets a Canadian official, and when a decision on his refugee status is made. Members will understand that all of this is not negligible as far as the costs to society are concerned.
I want to digress to say that 90% of all claims for asylum claims and political refugee status concern three major Canadian cities, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Slowly, a kind of pocket is beginning to emerge in Winnipeg, but the three big immigration centres are, of course, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
However, the inefficiency of the operating procedures of the Immigration and the Refugee Board of Canada costs the Quebec treasury on average between $70 million and $90 million. So, it is important to have an act that we will allow processing of these files as diligently as possible. We—myself in particular—also welcome the inclusion in the bill of the recognition of same sex partners.
Hon. members will recall that, at the time of the introduction of Bill C-23 we considered recently—and allow me again to thank all my hon. colleagues who supported this bill willingly and enthusiastically—we were told “We cannot recognize same sex partners in this omnibus bill because, in the area of immigration, they cannot be recognized in the same way that they are in the Income Tax Act or the Criminal Code”.
As we can all see, a new person has taken over the chair. In spite of all the appearances of continuity, each of these persons has his or her own style.
I myself had concluded that it was not desirable, in the bill under consideration, to recognise same sex partners. Why? The question is worth asking and I am convinced that my colleagues are itching to ask. Well, here I go. Why was it not desirable, immigration wise, to recognise same sex partners? The answer is that, two people cannot establish that they are living in a same sex relationship in the same way, in Canada and abroad.
When we talk about recognizing same sex partners, a certain number of factors are involved: cohabitation, recognition as a couple and mutual support. Obviously, if one's partner lives in Cuba and one is living in Montreal, the cohabitation criteria does not apply. Recognition as a couple begins to be a bit remote and mutual support is of course a little more of a monthly thing instead than a daily thing. Therefore, we needed evidence that was different from what we usually get. These are the positive aspects of the bill. However, I repeat, the bill is far from complete. It can be greatly improved.
The third positive aspect worth mentioning is the series of very tough measures concerning people trafficking and smugglers who bring into Canada people who do not deserve the status they claim.
The former Minister of Immigration and member for Westmount—Ville-Marie said on numerous occasions in the past that one of things that characterizes the 21st century is the trafficking in human beings. There is not just a trade in goods and in capital. There is an illegal trade in people, an underworld black market. This forces us to be extremely vigilant and severe toward those who are involved in trading human beings.
I therefore wish to focus attention on the clause of this bill that will provide very heavy punishment for those involved in this trade. The bill puts all the odds on the side of the law for dismantling these trafficking networks.
So much for the positive aspects of the bill. There are some a bit less positive, which is why the Bloc Quebecois will be bringing in some amendments, via the charming and dynamic member for Rosemont.
I personally worked on this issue when I was immigration critic. Obviously, there is the whole issue of the 8, 9 and 10 year-olds being brought into Canada by the traffickers. They are detained far too long in prison. This approach is contrary to the international conventions of which Canada itself is a signatory. I will come back to this point at a later time.
Since I have only one minute left, I will now conclude, although I have the impression that I have barely touched on everything I wanted to say. The question of detaining young people is a problem for us. The lack of explicit reference in the bill to Canada's international obligations—and by this I am of course thinking of the conventions on refugees, on torture and on the rights of the child—is also problematical to us.
I also wish to state that we have a problem with the added powers assigned to immigration officers and the potential discretionary nature of some of the decisions to be reached.
I trust the government will be open to the amendments by the Bloc Quebecois. We will be bringing our customary serious approach to the work in committee.