House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-11.


Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the reason I called the official opposition the Reform Party is that at the time the Chinese boat people landed on the shores of British Columbia and at the time all those press conferences were held calling for these people to be sent back where they came from without even a basic hearing, the CA was in fact called the Reform Party. I know the name of the party. I have the name clear in my mind but I am not sure the member does.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to participate in this afternoon's debate.

I, like the critic for the NDP, have just taken on the responsibilities for our party for cartage of the immigration file. I must say that there is indeed a large learning curve which I have been rather proactive at trying to acquire over the last little while.

Before I begin my remarks I want to compliment the minister on the tenor of the approach she has taken so far with respect to this particular debate in seeking input and listening to the different perspectives from all members of the House.

The Conservative Party and the government will concur in a vast majority of the bill, but it is also our job in opposition to point out where the bill goes in the wrong direction, where it needs improvement and, in some cases, where sections of the bill may not be as warranted as they could be.

The tenor of the minister has been quite co-operative but I wish to send a signal that my colleague from the NDP touched on as well. I caution the minister and people within her department not to get drawn in or eclipsed by the debate surrounding immigration.

I was quite concerned when I read the very first press release out on the bill. It states that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration tabled the immigration and refugee protection act in the House of Commons today reaffirming her commitment to be tough on criminals first, while strengthening efforts to attract skilled immigrants.

I do not believe that to be the tenor of the minister on this particular issue but immigration in this country is a Canadian necessity. It is something to which we should extend our hands in welcome. We need to have more confidence in and respect for human diversity so that we do not get sucked into the debate of always having to add the word criminal in a paragraph related to immigration. I would like to flag that particular aspect.

The object of the bill is to provide an efficient framework for immigration while at the same time ensuring that Canada, being the society that we are, remains a safe haven for refugees who are escaping persecution for a myriad of reasons. That is our job, our human responsibility, as a responsible society.

Today I am going to talk about areas in which the bill progressively steps ahead with measures that are great additions to the country's immigration and refugee protection policy. I would also like to discuss some problems that are not part of the bill which should be included. They are problems of status quo which the bill does not necessarily resolve.

I would like to touch on the refugee issue. I refer to the Singh decision of 1985. We as a society established for the first time that we needed to have immigration and refugee board so individuals could make oral presentations that could have an effect on their lives. It was a step in the right direction. Before that decision, I am sad to say that we made those determinations based quite often on files and paper. At the end of the day when it comes to refugees, we are actually dealing with people. That is what this particular aspect is about.

We know that immigration is a demographic necessity for Canada. We must continue to improve the framework which administers this very important aspect of our society. The importance of Bill C-11 has exponentially increased due to such things as the fact that as Canadians we are human resource hungry.

Baby boomers are very well aware of the fact that not too long from now that they will begin to retire en masse. We are going to need to attract many individuals in order to address that demographic shift in our economy so that our society and our country can continue to grow in a manner that is necessary.

The key foundation of Canada's program is that it is colour blind. We have access points across the world to enable immigration and refugee protection. That is the noble goal of this egalitarian policy but the administrative reality is quite different.

I would like to point this fact out to the minister. Of all the offices that Canada has abroad, there are very few in regions where we take in most of our immigrants and refugees. They are in countries such as Africa, India, the Philippines, China and even Hong Kong. There are offices in big cities like Manila, Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai and New Delhi. There are offices in African cities like Nairobi or Pretoria, despite the fact that there are over 30 countries in Africa.

How can we expect thousands of people to make their way across borders to a few places where Canada actually has an office? We cannot simply state that we have a colour blind system, if we do not make access to the system much more universal. Canada needs more offices and access points for immigrants, now. The minister needs those resources in order to do just that.

Not only do we have few offices in areas swamped with immigrants and refugees but those that do exist are swamped. The auditor general in his April 2000 report said:

We found that immigration offices abroad are overtasked. They have much difficulty in coping with the volumes of work and responsibilities assigned to them. Immigration levels set by the government not met and applicants are waiting longer and longer for the applications to be finalized.

I can point out another red book promise. The other day we voted down a red book promise but I will try to keep this on the straight and narrow for this particular debate. This red book promise states:

A new Liberal government will move Canada's immigration levels closer to 1% of the population each year and ensure that sufficient resources are available to help families settle properly in Canada.

I hope the minister appreciates the favour I am doing for her in this speech. The political heat that she is taking at this moment is clearly an indication that the minister does not have the financial resources abroad or domestically in order for her to carry out her mandate, as required and as outlined by the Liberal Party of Canada. The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is always very willing to help the Liberal Party and show it the way as we did with free trade and other initiatives in that regard.

Latest figures show that around 225,000 immigrants or refugees landed in the year 2000, with expectations of a slight increase for the upcoming year.

The auditor general also pointed out one deficiency which should be highlighted. The audit revealed:

—significant weaknesses in the management of medical assessments or prospective immigrants. Since our last audit in 1990, the Department of Health Canada have been unable to take a position on whether changes to standards for medical examinations are required to determine if an applicant poses a danger to public health and safety, or could place excessive demand on health care systems.

During the context of debate, we are going to have to address this particular issue in terms of what tests, what diseases and what maladies should or should not be tested for. It is imperative that we bring this forth and look at this in the context of the year 2001. The fact is we are really using a framework that is essentially a quarter of a century old.

I raise this particular issue because I know the government is going to be somewhat uncomfortable with the fact. The Progressive Conservative Party and a number of opposition parties find it very draconian that the government still has its $975 entrance feel. I hate the term, but like it or not, this is still a head tax on new Canadians. If this $975 were an administrative fee, it would be in a stand alone account. It would be utilized as a servicing account to provide for language training and other things which new Canadians need assistance with. If money goes into general revenues and is not set aside, by definition it is a head tax.

Another aspect which I would like to speak about is the issue of credentials. However, to be honest I believe this is outside the purview of Bill C-11. I applaud the government in its approach to this. It has gone away from an occupation based criteria in attracting economic immigrants to a skill based scenario. Skills need to be transferable in the context of a modern economy. That is a step in the right direction.

I would ask the minister to work in collaboration with the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Human Resources Development and the provinces to ensure that the credit agents, whether they be from engineering, or medical or other professional designations, have some way of being integrated into our Canadian economy. That way immigrants will have a larger capacity to make more of an impact right from the start. They will be able to contribute to the growth of this great nation.

I would like to raise a concern that the Progressive Conservative Party has with respect to division 4, clause 36(3)(b) of the bill which states “inadmissibility cannot be based on a conviction in respect of which a pardon has been granted”. How can we judge if it is a valid pardon. What about violent crimes? What about situations where an individual has been pardoned within some form of regime for consistent and habitual spousal abuse or something of that kind?

Clearly, the minister would have the flexibility and the purview to block that particular issue because she could conceive that the individual could be of a violent nature and a harm to Canadian society.

I would like to see during the course of committee an amendment or something with respect to the pardon. If an individual has been pardoned for a serious or violent crime, he or she should go through a higher degree of scrutiny than is outlined in the bill. This is something the minister should consider as we debate this.

Another clause I am concerned with, although I think the government is in the right direction in its approach, is a when foreign national, other than a permanent resident, is inadmissible on grounds that another family member is inadmissible. I am talking about a situation where an individual has lied or misrepresented the facts in some shape or form and that individual was deemed to be inadmissible and sent back to his or her country of origin.

Let us envision this situation. As it is in the bill right now, family members, whether they be a child or a spouse, would be deemed inadmissible as well. Also, there might be a situation where a 20 year old has in Canada for quite some time. However, after a long time we find out that one of his or her parents should not have been granted admissibility into Canada. That 20 year old could be sent back to the country of origin. That child could have lived here all his or her life. We are concerned about that possible connector. We think that would be wrong.

I give credit to the minister and her department in that there is less room in this bill for regulations compared to the previous attempt in Bill C-31. There is a fair amount of legislative license afforded to the minister. We would like to be able to find out a little more about the regulatory regime before we have a blind faith in the bill. The minister has been quite genuine in that she would share that regulatory regime with us. We will clearly take her at her word. We will work in conjunction with the regulations and the bill. It is a step in the right direction.

We applaud the government's initiatives with respect to stopping multiple claims, where foreign nationals, other than the permanent residents, must answer truthfully all questions put to them and produce all documentation that the officer reasonably requires. This particular initiative is something that deserves some accolades as well.

Another house cleaning item in the bill, which the Progressive Conservative Party firmly supports, is the government would update the statute for same sex partners. That is a step in the right direction and is in the context of the modern, open and tolerant society.

Bill C-11 goes on to conclude that people would be inadmissible if they lie or omit information, or if they commit an act referred to in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, or if they are convicted of a crime or an offence outside of Canada which would be punishable by more than 10 years of imprisonment in Canada. Some individuals who may actually consider that particular approach to be draconian. At the end of the day, if a person has been sentenced to a crime of that nature, it is clearly in the purview of the Canadian government to take appropriate steps and deport that individual immediately.

Government Business No. 2Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wish to give notice that with respect to the consideration of the motion under government orders, Government Business No. 2, at the next sitting I shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that the debate be not further adjourned.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying with respect to those very rare exceptions, the situations that do not happen every day, contrary to what our colleague in the Alliance has stated in his speech, it is clearly in the purview of the Government of Canada to make initiatives when required.

There are some safeguards in the bill as well. The case was mentioned of Nelson Mandela. Clearly the Government of Canada would address trumped up political charges of that nature. There is enough ministerial licence to be able to address such concerns.

I compliment the government with respect to its approach toward human trafficking and toward the people who profit from such initiatives. I think the government has stepped in the right direction in terms of addressing such completely unacceptable actions.

In conclusion, the Progressive Conservative Party will be supporting the bill at second reading and reserving our judgment on support at report stage and at third reading, subject to our capacity to augment the bill and ensure we have the best piece of legislation for Canadians.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the member for Fundy—Royal on his call for the elimination of the head tax. Members of the Canadian Alliance take the same position.

Hopefully the country will learn the lesson going back 100 years, that a head tax is exactly that. As the member for Fundy—Royal indicated in his speech, the money is thrown into general coffers. The last thing new Canadians need is another tax they cannot pay, even though under the current circumstances the government will lend them money to pay the head tax. It makes no sense.

It is estimated that there are 150 million migrants on the move around the world. There is no doubt that Canada is a major destination. What position does the member's party take in terms of the immigration numbers we should accept into the country?

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, immigration into the country is an economic necessity. With respect to the numbers we have right now, an academic study shows the numbers of immigrants we are currently taking in are drastically too low.

The Liberal Party of Canada set the minimum number at 1% of the Canadian population. It needs to be more aggressive in hitting that target. Sometimes, however, the target number can be somewhat negative. There is an exponential amount of room to increase the numbers we have now, and we must recognize the economic necessity of immigration.

To be square with the hon. member from the Alliance, I do not have a specific number. Something in excess of the government's number of 1% of the population would be comfortable for us.

I think the hon. member would agree that we need more co-operation with the provinces to ensure we get a fair share of new Canadians in all regions of the country and not just in the urban centres.

I would say to the member from the Alliance that we are doing the minister a direct favour by attacking the head tax. If it is not a head tax then the moneys should be allocated directly within the purview of her department. If it is an administrative surcharge in some form it would rest with her department.

That would not satisfy the Progressive Conservative Party or, I believe, the Canadian Alliance. We would rather do away with the $975 charge altogether. Until it is in a stand alone account in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, it is a head tax.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

The purpose of the bill is to replace the Immigration Act of 1976. The current bill takes into account various facets of the standing legislation and attempts to make the legislation much stronger. While the legislation may be well intended, our analysis shows that the outcome will not serve its stated purpose. That was very eloquently mentioned by our chief immigration critic in his speech a while ago.

Before I analyze the speech in depth, I would like to tell the House and Canadians who are watching that I am a new immigrant to Canada.

The Canadian Alliance and I respect the multicultural diversity of our country. I and my party also respect the contribution made by immigrants to our great country. Canada is a country of immigrants.

Contrary to remarks made earlier by some members in the House during debate, our policies are pro-immigration. I would remind the House that approximately two to three years ago I moved a motion at the immigration committee that the discriminatory head tax should be removed. Government members in committee opposed the motion. The government has taken away the head tax on refugees. The discriminatory head tax still continues for immigrants. That shows that I and my party supported the right measures whenever we needed to.

In the past I spoke to Bill C-31 a few times, probably at all readings. In my first speech three years ago I used the analogy that we should open the front doors to immigrants but diligently monitor them. I also mentioned that we should close the back doors, including the windows and ventilators.

Today in the House the minister used my analogy. She said that she intends to open the front doors and close the back doors. However, I believe that by messing with the act she has lost the opportunity to fix it again. She has not opened the front doors, nor has she been able to close the back doors.

I will justify what I am saying. The minister has installed a third door in the House, a revolving door. The people who enter through the back door are stuck in a revolving door in Canada. People trying to immigrate to Canada through the front door are also stuck in the revolving door, as are their sponsors. There are unnecessary delays. People are harassment on medical grounds. Those people suffer various kinds of harassment.

The minister has not been able to open the front door or close the back door, but has instead installed a revolving door in the bill which will cause further problems.

I will talk about the kind of approach we should take to the immigration legislation. We need an immigration system that is faster, but we also need fairness in processing. We need a system that shows openness to newcomers but also addresses abuse of the system. We need a system that demonstrates clearly our social and humanitarian values but gives due consideration to Canada's economic interests. Therefore we need a balanced immigration and refugee legislation to meet our immigration needs.

On the weekend, at the consultations in Ottawa for the World Conference Against Racism, the statement by the immigration and refugee caucus expressed huge dissatisfaction with Bill C-11. According to the statement, of which I have a copy, the criticisms are due to issues ranging from negative language and stereotypes to discrimination against certain groups. They also mentioned the lack of protection for stateless persons and the detention and imprisonment of children.

The statement also highlighted that Bill C-11 falls short of Canada's international commitments to human rights. I was surprised when I saw that even at the World Conference Against Racism the legislation was not appreciated. It received criticism from all over, including from the auditor general.

The bill has little transparency. So many things in it are not clear. The lack of real enforcement behind the legislation will ultimately cause more trouble than the legislation it purports to replace, simply due to a lack of clarity in the bill and its reliance on a myriad of regulations.

The bill has not addressed the discriminatory head tax placed on prospective immigrants. It also has not addressed the recognition of foreign academic credentials by the immigration department, by other departments and by industry.

The recent supreme court ruling also has serious implications on any power the minister of immigration had in the past to deport people. Therefore the efficiency, effectiveness and toughness of the bill is nullified.

The bill allows extended absence from Canada. It will limit the number of humanitarian and compassionate applications to one per year. As well, the sponsorship period for new prospective immigrants has been reduced from 10 years to 3 years.

Some things in the bill are reasonably good but let us see how we can make the existing system work. The way the Liberals run our immigration system is like a clogged plumbing system in a house. It needs to be cleaned up and made workable. Improvements, additions and elimination of overlap need to take place.

Staff at immigration postings is in short supply, inadequately trained and overworked in coping with the demands. That creates unacceptable delays and mess ups.

An important aspect of the bill is security. Staff problems also create security risks, as we have seen with Mr. Lai Changxing, the accused kingpin smuggler. He landed in Canada through queue jumping and was not detected by the visa officer. There is also the example of a fellow who came to Canada with an active case of tuberculosis and exposed some 1,500 people to the deadly bacteria.

Having enough well trained staff to enforce the legislation is a must in order to effectively do the job. Visa officers, our frontline defence team, need to be properly trained to identify undesirables from immigrating to Canada. They should have clarity of law and a clearer criterion for processing immigration cases. In her speech the minister mentioned front end screening. This security clearance check only applies to refugees and not to immigrant applicants. This is what we heard when department officials gave us a briefing.

There is no indication in Bill C-11 as to whether or not staff will get the proper training to enforce this security clearance check. The bill contains no deterrent from repetitious fraudulent applications that cause endless paperwork for our visa officers.

There have been numerous incidents of fraud by the staff, particularly locally hired staff, in our foreign missions abroad. In certain instances they can make more money than their whole year's salary by defrauding a single immigration case. There is no punishment in the bill for the applicants or the staff committing fraud.

The bill promises to deliver better enforcement of security measures for both refugees and immigrant applicants, but there is no plan of action set out in the bill to explain how it will work.

There should be mandatory communications among the RCMP, CSIS and other international criminal investigation units. I do not see anything mentioned in the legislation about that. That is very important, particularly in the light of the question during question period about someone who came to Canada without being detected at the entry port.

The auditor general is critical in his report that this type of communication is imperative. Mr. Lai Changxing may never have got into the country if there was communication with Interpol because he was one of the most wanted persons on the Interpol list.

No one should be allowed into Canada without proper checks concerning the possible risk they may pose to our country. That is a legitimate request that we have for the minister.

Immigration into Canada should be simple: either they meet the criteria or they do not. It is one of the two. There is nothing in between. Either they meet the criteria or they do not meet the criteria.

Immigration is an important aspect. We have to look into the bill very seriously. If we do not meet the immigration targets or quotas promised by the Liberals in any given year it is not a crisis. Quality must not be compromised or sacrificed for quantity. We have to be careful who are coming to Canada. Of course we welcome genuine refugees with open arms. We welcome immigrants with open arms, but it is the bad apples we are talking about that should not be entitled to come to Canada and put our citizenry at risk.

The government should be encouraging open and accountable discussion that needs to take place between CIC, Health Canada, HRDC, DFAIT, as well as the provinces and non-government immigration organizations, the NGOs. It is missing that opportunity with its proposed changes to the bill.

The criminal code would include human trafficking and smuggling as federal offences for a change. Conviction of this offence would be life imprisonment or a fine up to $1 million. Repeated offences of these crimes, such as possessing fraudulent passports, visas or any other travel documents, would also receive monetary fines and jail time. That is a good thing in the bill.

The bill proposes a very stiff penalty for human traffickers.

Individuals convicted of political crimes or other serious crimes can now be considered for risk of removal assessment. This may turn Canada into a haven for those criminals.

In regard to refugee processing, one of the key changes proposed in this bill includes referring refugees to the immigration refugee board within three working days. However, the processing time of the claim will remain the same, at 90 days or more. Our experience has shown that the UN convention relating to the status of refugees is simply too vague. The refugee definition needs to be clear.

Most Canadians know what a true refugee is and we support doing our part to help those who are truly in need. Keeping them clogged in the system is not helping them, especially when they are found not to be genuine refugees and are deported. Their lives are ruined after so many months or even years.

I know this from practical experience in my own constituency. I have been dealing with about 45 refugee cases where those refugees are in the revolving door I mentioned; they have been in the revolving door for seven, eight, nine or ten years. In the meantime, they cannot unite with their families, they cannot work properly and they cannot have peace of mind. They are in the revolving door. They do not see the world the way the rest of us do.

The bill also gives refugees as well as refugee applicants full charter protection, so if someone is either denied access to Canada or is refused refugee status for any reason, he or she is entitled to a full set of appeals. It is like the layers of an onion; he or she can keep peeling one layer after the other. It also means he or she is given full rights as a citizen of Canada. No other country in the world does that, not a single country in the world.

The bill of course provides an elimination of appeal for those who are serious criminals, for people who present security risks, are members of criminal organizations or war criminals, and for both fraudulent and seriously criminal applicants.

Health testing is another important ingredient for prospective immigrants when they come to Canada. There is no provision in this legislation to update the standard tests performed on all immigrant applicants, nor is there anything in the bill to increase the number of department physicians, either here in Canada or abroad in our missions. There are currently 22 department physicians, 11 here and 11 abroad. These physicians are responsible for the paperwork at the completion of the health testing. They are also responsible for contracting out to local physicians who do the actual testing.

These standard tests I am speaking of are up to 40 years old. We know how the world has changed in 40 years and how technology has evolved, particularly in the medical field, in the last 40 years. Often, local doctors abroad are not aware of the criteria that need to be met for admittance into Canada.

Foreign local doctors also need to be periodically audited to ensure that no form of malfeasance is occurring. There have been many complaints in my constituency office about the ethics of the testing physicians abroad, from bribery to all kinds of malpractice.

Currently Canada will accept applicants who do not pose a danger to the Canadian public or place a strain on the Canadian health system. A list of what conditions and ailments we will and will not accept is needed and it is not in the bill.

There is nothing to streamline medical testing for families. I have seen a number of cases in my constituency office where medical testing of all family members was not co-ordinated. They tested one member of the family, waited for three or four months and then started processing. By that time, the medical testing has expired. Then they went on to the other members. They keep on juggling the medical tests, sometimes for four years. I have one applicant in my constituency office whose family has been medically tested three times. They passed every time. Each time they had to go for medical tests it cost them money, real money in their country's local currency. It not only puts unnecessary financial strain on prospective immigrants but also causes long delays.

As I am running out of time, Mr. Speaker, let me sum up.

Under discretionary powers in the bill, the dual intent of the applicant is now recognized. That means someone can be a visitor to Canada and an immigrant to Canada at the same time. I believe this will put a strain on the visitor visa. The visitor visa, which is never addressed in any of the legislation, will have serious problems.

Without a more open system and a far more communicative department, the bill will not achieve its intended goal.

There are no set standards for operation of any of our overseas offices.

The health standards, as I mentioned, have not been updated.

In the end, I would like to say that the Canadian Alliance would increase the number of staff, as I mentioned earlier.

Bill C-11 promises to modernize the selection system, but unless the amendments are accepted we will be unable to support the bill.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech our colleague made. Of course he has a lot of first-hand experience with immigration issues, and I would like him to just expand on the last part of his speech. He seemed to run out of time, and I think he still had some really important things to say. I wonder whether he has any further comments to make before he gives his notes away.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much. I think I need unanimous consent to go on for another 10 minutes, but I will try to finish in the little time I have.

I want to mention the accountability part, which is another very important aspect of the bill. Positions on the Immigration and Refugee Board along with all positions within the Department of Immigration, such as citizenship judges, department physicians and visa officers, need to be publicly advertised before people are hired. It should not be up to the minister to appoint someone to these important positions, because the criteria lack accountability, clarity and efficiency for the system.

Another thing I want to mention is that the minister in her speech this afternoon mentioned regulations. There are 89 pages of regulations attached to the bill. When we have a bill in the House with not much solid content, where only the intent is there but there is no solid plan of action, we have to govern ourselves, or the legislation has to be effective through the back door, which I call regulations. That is never effective.

I have been co-chair of the House and Senate Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. There are over 900 regulations in the pipeline. Hon. members will be surprised to learn that many of them have been in the pipeline for the last 25 years. They have also not been tackled.

Governance by regulation is not the right way to do it. All those regulations should be brought back to the House in their respective bills so that we can debate them in the House. We cannot debate the regulations. None of the members in the House will ever get the opportunity to see those regulations and debate them.

Another important aspect is about a court decision. The Canadian Alliance supports deporting undesirable individuals without question or delay in the cases of criminal activity or non-compliance with the Immigration Act. Bill C-11 purports to do the same. However, the minister, who had little power to do so before, is now completely stripped of her right to deport those who have either broken the law or have come to Canada to escape the law. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of the Minister of Justice v Burns and Rafay, which came down on February 15, 2001, applies to those individuals who face a threat to their person if deported from Canada. I believe this ruling will limit the minister's authority to deport any undesirable element from Canadian society.

I could make more points, but I will leave some time for members to ask questions.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario


Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important that all members and people who are watching the debate realize how important it is for the bill to go to committee so that the public can have its say.

Bill C-31, its predecessor, had extensive debate in the House. I know many questions were raised in the House which do not accurately reflect what is in the bill. Some are changes that have been made to the bill, and I know that the public will want to have its say. Those who are experts in immigration will want to have a chance to come to committee and to be heard.

However, there is one point that I wanted to make. Canada is a world leader in our ability to remove those who do not have the right to stay in Canada. We believe as a matter of policy and principle that we can live up to our human rights obligations, that we can abide by the rule of law in Canada and still deport those who do not belong in Canada. Those two principles, rule of law and human rights, go hand in hand. They are Canadian values and we believe that the bill would enshrine those principles.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I can boast here a bit. I have extensive experience dealing with immigrants. My constituency of Surrey Central is the largest constituency in Canada in terms of population since the constituencies are divided based on registered citizens who can vote, the electors. It has a high population of immigrants.

I went through Bill C-11 very thoroughly. I also attended the minister's briefing. The briefing was very good. I appreciate that. The minister mentioned that the bill is going to committee. We appreciate the opportunity to come forward with amendments, but I hope the minister will listen to those amendments.

Last time when we were debating the same bill in its previous form, Bill C-31, we did not have opportunity for the minister to listen to us properly and accept our amendments. Our chief critic for immigration came forward with very good amendments but they were not accepted. That is why we are in this mess and dealing with it again.

Also the minister mentioned that Canada is a leader in removing the people who do not belong in Canada. That is not true. According to the auditor general we have 15,000 people still in Canada but whose whereabouts are not known. Could the minister track those people? No, she has been unable to track those people. They do not belong in Canada but they have been consumed in the system. They are hiding but they are there somewhere and we cannot remove them.

According to the auditor general's report, 60% of visitors who come to Canada to apply for refugee status come without documents. When they board the plane they have documents because the airlines will not allow them to board without them, but when they land in Canada 60% of them land without documents. What has the minister done about it? Nothing. The auditor general's reports for the last 10 years have been critical one after the other, but the minister has chosen not to take any strong action.

During this debate we are hearing some good intentions, but we appeal to the minister to come with a proper action plan. Let her address the real hot buttons in the bill so we can make the system more efficient, effective, absolutely accountable and clear.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-11 dealing basically with immigration and refugee protection. I am rather familiar with this bill, on which my colleague very eloquently expressed her point of view just a few minutes ago. This bill is quite similar to former Bill C-31.

I want to address a number of issues during my speech, including the population movements which occurred in the 20th century and which were important often for economic reasons, but also for political reasons.

I also want to talk about the detention of children. During consideration of Bill C-31, I was among those who thought it was crucial to address this particular issue for all kinds of reasons, for instance, because Canada has signed the international convention on the rights of the child. In my mind, it was important to uphold the rights of the child, but also the international conventions signed by Canada.

I think the whole issue regarding the detention of children should be clarified in Bill C-11, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and not in future regulations, as the government intends to do.

I would also like to touch on another issue, namely the administrative slowness of the Immigration and Refugee Board. This is a reality we have to deal with in urban ridings. It is part of our life. People come to see us in our constituency offices because they are facing unacceptably long delays, which, we have to admit, causes terrible human tragedies.

Families are often the main victims of this administrative slowness in the application review process by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

I will also say a few words about illegal immigrants. When the government introduced Bill C-31, it was more or less responding to an alleged new reality that was emerging mostly in western Canada, where more and more illegal immigrants were coming to our country, particularly from Asia.

Members must realize that this phenomenon, which is indeed new, is marginal. It is not true that the majority of those who want to come here, either as permanent residents or as refugees, do it by illegal means. Yes, this phenomenon exists, but it is marginal. Unfortunately, the government is trying to use legislative amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to respond to a new current in western Canada even though it is in fact a minor problem.

Another aspect of the question are the costs entailed by the slowness of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada process. I will come back shortly to a number of figures that are specific to the Montreal offices in terms of claimant waiting time and the number of claimants waiting.

Inevitably, this time frame and the slow administrative pace result in significant administrative costs to the provinces and the Government of Quebec for which the federal government should assume responsibility at some point, insofar as the law does not speed up the process and satisfactorily address the claims currently before the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The last part of my speech concerns the objectives Canada is setting for itself in terms of immigration, the number of new immigrants.

We know that the government has just reached, for the first time in many years, its immigration objectives for Canada.

Quebec too has its objectives, it must be pointed out, which go far beyond the thirty thousand or so immigrants it would like to take in. Often, the slow pace of the process blocks claims currently being made abroad.

I am thinking, among others, of immigration and the embassy in Paris, where Quebec would like to attract francophone immigrants. Unfortunately, Quebec cannot achieve its objectives because of the substantial amount of time involved in the administrative process.

I come back to what I was saying before. The first point concerns the matter of population movement. The movement of people in search of a land of refuge has been a striking phenomenon of the 20th century, which, far from improving, has increased in recent years, through an increase in situations of organized violence, of violations of human rights, of wars and of conflicts on the international scene.

In 1996 the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there were 26 million refugees in the world and 30 million displaced persons. Because western countries will take them in only in very small numbers, the great majority of refugees head for the poorest nations, those close to their own.

Nevertheless the governments of these nations are beginning to feel that the demand exceeds what they can offer. Many have adopted very restrictive deterrence measures which have shifted the demand to other countries.

Today Canada is one of the rare western countries to which those in danger may still try to apply for asylum under the Geneva convention.

The Geneva convention confirms the right of an individual to request asylum in a third country, but does not oblige the country to which application has been made to grant the request, in accordance with the rights and privileges of nations, whence the common notion that asylum is not a right but a privilege.

However, the welcome reserved for those seeking asylum is becoming increasingly limited, as can be seen from policies and procedures with respect to entry, application for refugee status and permanent residence, and from the policies regarding the support programs and services for which they are eligible.

The 1980s saw an increase in the number of people requesting asylum in Canada. The average since 1989 has jumped from 25,000 to 30,000 a year, one third of whom have settled in Quebec.

While they only represent a small proportion of the world total, these people in distress, who are largely from southern countries and therefore more visible than those who came in previous decades, because of their unfamiliar cultural and linguistic profiles, did disturb government authorities and the public in general.

That is when we politicians, the media and the public, in Quebec and throughout Canada, began using expressions such as phony refugees, abusers of the system and cheaters. Ten years later, these expressions are now commonly used but are not enough to move public opinion. This is why the government must now also protect the public against terrorists and criminals.

This is one of the new arguments used by Canada to justify the implementation of increasingly harsher policies against people seeking refuge here. The major argument used remains the economic weight of these asylum seekers.

While recognized throughout the world for its humanitarian traditions, Canada quickly developed, in the eighties, a tendency to restrict its open door policy for these people.

Today those who apply for refugee status from abroad or in Canada must overcome numerous obstacles before being allowed to settle here. The federal government has put in place measures to intercept, in transit areas abroad such as airports, people who have fled their country without first obtaining the documents required by Canada.

Yet those who flee their country often do not have access to these documents, either because they would risk their lives if they tried to get them from the authorities that deliver these documents, or because there is no place where they can get these documents given the country's political instability or state of war.

When they finally make it to Canada, the people are faced with a cumbersome and very slow legal process that can have a severe anxiogenic effect on them. First, the refugee status claim process is complicated and also costly since the claimant needs legal counsel to prepare and present his or her claim before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Then, the operations of the board need to be taken into consideration, including the way the hearings are carried out, the attitude of the commissioners and the nature of the arguments presented if a claim is rejected. Also, when a claim is turned down, no appeal on the merits can be made, the claimant can be sent back to his country of origin even if his life is in jeopardy because his country is at war or is guilty of massive violations of human rights.

It is important to note that Canada no longer deports claimants to Burundi as of June 1993 and to Afghanistan and Rwanda as of April 1994. Following many representations by the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Table de concertation des organismes de Montréal, Canada stopped deporting claimants to Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. However, Canada has found a way around its commitment by sending back to the U.S. claimants who have come here through the United States, who have no qualms about deporting them to their countries of origin.

Even when claimants are granted refugee status, after being either selected overseas or recognized by the Immigration and Refugee Board, policies concerning permanent residency applications and family reunification can become a major disincentive to settle in Canada.

In short, precisely when asylum seekers are most in need of services they are not entitled to them. During the crucial period when they begin to adapt to their new environment and build their own perception of this new society, they are denied the right to be supported.

When they are destabilized the most, and when the risk of experiencing mental and physical health problems is the highest, they would be completely shut out, were it not for the human and social conscience of non governmental organizations working for the recognition of their rights. This is another issue I dealt with when Bill C-31 was debated.

I raised another issue in committee, and I remember asking a number of questions to the government, the officials and the minister. It had to do with the detention of minors and children.

Canada has signed the international convention on the rights of the child, which prohibits the detention of children in a number of situations. I asked the government to recognize this protection in a clause of the bill, and not in regulations, like it intended to do. I am forced to recognize that this will not necessarily be done this time around either.

I will point out that this bill, and this is important, must in this respect correspond to a number of articles and not simply lead us back to a number of regulations.

What is basic is to have this bill correspond to the convention, and more specifically to article 37( b ) of the convention on the rights of the child, which provides that States Parties shall ensure that:

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

The other aspect of the convention is article 22, which provides:

States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention—

We want this protection enshrined in the law. Naturally we will have work to do in committee, and I am sure my colleague will see that these guarantees are clearly written into the law so that Canada may be consistent with the convention it signed.

The other aspect is the whole issue of the Immigration and Refugee Board. This bill and the minister's statements clearly show a willingness to improve the claim review process by the board.

We are totally open to this willingness to improve. Looking at the current situation, it is clear that the system is not working. We do not have to watch our words because it is clear. All those of us who have had to deal with refugee claimants in our ridings know that the system is not working.

In the Montreal office of the Immigration and Refugee Board, the average time for processing claims is estimated at ten months. People have to wait an average of ten months to have their claims processed. This means that, while these people wait, terrible human tragedies unfold. The other aspect is the whole issue of claimants. Their number exceeded 7,000 in the Montreal office at the end of 1999.

Overall, we are open to this bill. We hope the willingness shown by the government will lead to positive results in the application of the act. We will certainly work to improve this bill in committee.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Rosemount—Petite-Patrie for his comment that sometimes the numbers do not reflect reality.

He used the example of the boat people on the west coast over the last couple of years. When we look at the real numbers, there were approximately 600 refugees that came via the boat route. When we look at the big picture, we had about 24,000 refugees enter during that same time period. Therefore sometimes the reporting is out of balance. That is the way I would put it.

Another good example occurred during the last federal election. I do not need to tell members that one of our Canadian Alliance candidates by the name of Betty Granger made the statement “Asian invasion” in her comments in Winnipeg. I truly believe that it was taken out of context. I assure the House that comment was pretty common language, going back to the late seventies and early eighties when the economic class of Hong Kong were scrambling to leave that country for fear of the Communist takeover.

In my own family, my older sisters who are about 20 years older than I am did the same. They liquidated all their assets and brought all their money into Canada during that same time period. It made sense and people used the statement “Asian invasion” quite frequently during the late seventies and early eighties.

Unfortunately when it is taken out of context and in light of what happened in the last federal election it can be disastrous as results have shown. Unfortunately, again, a lack of balance in reporting, too focused on one way of looking at two simple words, creates a lot of problems. Worse still, it creates an image that Canada is not a tolerant society. I think that is the sad part about the events that occurred, because in large part we are a tolerant society and we do accept migrants from all over the world.

I wish to ask a question of the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie. He talked about supporting the people that come to this country. I believe that is a shortfall of the government. We need better planning. I looked at the history and I know that in the past we have had both voluntary and government programs that were sometimes piecemeal. What kinds of support programs are in place for integrating new Canadians into the province of Quebec?

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to come back to what my colleague first said. The numbers speak for themselves: 600 people arrived by boat, as he just said, out of 24,000. It is a mere 2 to 3%. It is a minor current. This is in fact the problem. We tend to let a few minor currents like this one influence us to strengthen legislation. This is dangerous.

I still think that the illegal arrival of boats, particularly on the west coast, is a minor current and nothing to worry about. There are of course a number of shortcomings in the system itself, but I think strengthening the legislation and creating a detention process is going too far. I also agree with my colleague when he says that we will also have to strengthen our policies in general to make sure that we can integrate the newcomers in a society that really meets modern needs.

I am thinking in particular of the situation in Quebec. Quebec needs important resources to help the immigrants and the newcomers to Quebec society to integrate into the French community in a sensitive, warm and responsible way. In this respect, federal government resources are essential, particularly for those who are responsible for the integration of the newcomers into Quebec society.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has asked to speak. I must advise her that there are two minutes left before the end of the debate. I ask her to be brief in her remarks and also in her answer.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario


Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the excellent remarks from my colleague, the former critic for immigration. He says the numbers speak for themselves. I think it is important that some statistics be on the record.

For example, the targets that Quebec established for itself for immigration have been met over the last numbers of years. My department has made a concerted effort, and last year we achieved the levels that had been established the year before. We did so with the additional $139 million that was in the budget and because of the tremendous effort to ensure that Canada's targets were met not only for immigration but for government sponsored refugees and privately sponsored refugees.

I hope all of my critics would take a moment to thank the officials who work so hard around the world to help us achieve those goals which are in Canada's interests.

Immigration ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, we too hope that it will continue. We hope the federal government will recognize the distinct character of Quebec programs as far as supervision is concerned.

That is a repeat request from the Quebec government, through its minister. He is asking for greater control over the selection of temporary workers.

Yes, we must go farther in the area of resources, recognize the distinct character of Quebec programs, and ensure also that Quebec have a responsibility in selecting temporary workers.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I asked a question of the Minister of Health sometime earlier in the session with respect to the Virginia Fontaine clinic in Manitoba receiving a $37 million grant through the government. The clinic itself is owned by an individual by the name of Perry Fontaine.

Evidence of highly questionable funding and spending practices accompanied the exorbitant amount of money that was approved by Paul Cochrane, assistant deputy minister of health at the time. Mr. Cochrane later resigned in January. It came to light that his wife had in fact purchased condos at Mont Tremblant on behalf of the same Mr. Fontaine who received the government grant.

On February 6 when I asked the Minister of Health about this situation and if he could explain how his former assistant deputy minister could authorize such an enormous amount of cash with little or no departmental scrutiny, the minister's response was that the transactions were the subject of an inquiry by the police, auditors, or both, and that the matter was before the courts in Manitoba. This would ensure that the department would get access to all documents and would understand exactly how the public funds were spent.

He assured the House that the department would do everything possible to trace every one of those public dollars, if any was misspent, and to recover them on behalf of the public. We would like to know whether the minister was aware of this at an earlier time and what he did. Why was there a delay with respect to this important question? We have seen over the last seven years massive funding cuts to health care, while at the same time there is increasing evidence of irresponsible spending on the part of the government.

With the HRDC scandal we found that being close to the Prime Minister in the Liberal government is often of great benefit and a great privilege to those who are in receipt of this kind of money. Whether it is extravagant cruises, water fountains in the Prime Minister's riding, canoe museums, monkey pavilions or a hotel, all these things raise great doubts and great concerns on the part of Canadians when it comes to the spending of taxpayer money.

I asked the minister at the time whether a forensic audit would inquire into why department officials delayed so long before acting on this matter. There was no response forthcoming. The minister simply gave a non-answer, stating that the department had suspended further payments to the centre until all questions were answered. There are still a number of questions outstanding.

The Virginia Fontaine clinic simply provides another example of highly questionable spending practices on the part of the Liberal government, which also leads to a question of ethics, which again brings back questions on the HRDC scandal, the case of Pierre Corbeil who was criminally convicted in his fundraising activities, and the Prime Minister's bank loan controversy concerning the auberge. All of these raise questions of ethics and raise questions of government priorities and how it is spending taxpayer money.

Nothing is wrong with the traditional job fund that is out there, but it is the way in which the follow up is done or not done. It raises alarm bells when it comes to the amounts of money that hard working taxpayers are paying to the government only to see these programs go awry and the money being spent in a highly questionable fashion.

I appreciate the indulgence of the Chair and the opportunity to make these points on a question that I raised in the Chamber.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies Québec


Yvon Charbonneau LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Health indicated, this issue was dealt with in a very transparent manner.

Indeed, as soon as the minister was told about allegations of improper use of funds, he immediately took three measures.

First, he directed the forensic audit to take place. Second, he told lawyers for the government to go to court and ensure that we had every document needed to trace the funds. Third, he directed that no further funds be paid to the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation until all outstanding questions were answered.

The government believes strongly that all public money be accounted for carefully and the department assures the House that it will do whatever is required to trace public spending by this organization.

Health Canada firmly believes that the best health programs are the ones provided by those who are most closely involved. This transfer is often made through contribution and transfer agreements, including the agreement signed with that foundation.

Transfers are a relatively new initiative that has experienced some growing pains. With the support of first nation and Inuit leaders, Health Canada has striven to strengthen accountability provisions in the transfer agreements.

In the fall of 2000, Health Canada began developing an internal management control framework to improve the management of negotiations and the enforcement of agreements.

Moreover, all new agreements over $100,000 will now be scrutinized by a review committee and, as of April 1 of this year, all new agreements will comply with the new Treasury Board policy protecting the interests of the state.

The allegations concerning the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation are disturbing. Let me assure the House that Health Canada has taken these allegations seriously and has acted quickly to ensure that all information is gathered so that any misspent public moneys can be recovered.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

February 26th, 2001 / 6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, some time ago I asked a question of the Minister of Natural Resources concerning the construction of a transmission line between Labrador and the province of Newfoundland. I was basically asking about the proposed development of the lower Churchill.

The minister talked around the answer, mainly because at the time he could not remember the exact status in relation to the specific question which was more or less on a study undertaken by his department into the feasibility of the construction of such a line.

In March 1998 the then premier of Newfoundland, who is now a minister of everything in the House and the then premier of Quebec, met in Labrador for what turned out to be a photo op to talk about the development of the lower Churchill. Their plans were disrupted by the native people who were extremely upset, and rightly so, because they had not been brought in on the discussions.

As part of all this a commitment was made by the Prime Minister and the then premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to conduct a feasibility study into the construction of a transmission line from the lower Churchill development to the island of Newfoundland.

Many people fail to realize that Newfoundland does not have a lot of clean power left. Nor does perhaps the rest of the country. The lower Churchill is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, supplier of clean power that is left in Canada.

A transmission line to the province would provide the island of Newfoundland and the Labrador section with a tremendous amount of cheap, regular, clean power which is in such demand. Just recently we heard concerns expressed by the United States, specifically in California, when it had a number of power shortages.

Many of the major IT companies made it quite clear that they could not continue to operate in an environment where there was a shortage of power because of the dependency on their industry. They were to look at setting up backup support in areas that could provide cheap, clean, regular power. A place such as Newfoundland could do that.

The Government of Canada has to understand that different regions, whether it be in the west or in the Atlantic provinces, have a tremendous amount to offer when it comes to natural resources but they need help in developing them. The minister, in his response to me, and I thank him for following up on my letter, talks about a deal between Quebec and Newfoundland. There are many other partners besides Quebec to help develop our resources. The study that was requested is extremely important in setting the groundwork for this work.

I hope the minister has dug into this a little bit more and can shed a little more light on the status of the study that was commissioned by the Government of Canada and the government of Newfoundland.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Timiskaming—Cochrane Ontario


Ben Serré LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the minister, it is my pleasure to reply to the hon. member for St. John's West, who raises some legitimate questions.

The potential of the lower Churchill River as a source of electricity supply to the North American market is well known. It is a renewable cost-competitive source with low or zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government of Canada recognizes that the development of hydro electricity can be an important option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

The federal government is determined to fulfil its stewardship role to ensure that the Labrador projects are carried out with full respect for the environment. The government has made considerable progress in the development of a standard environmental assessment process in co-operation with the governments of Quebec and Newfoundland.

The government also stressed the importance of direct participation by aboriginals who have an interest in the project and whose land claims are currently under review.

Turning to the issue of the transmission line from Labrador to the island of Newfoundland, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada agreed that federal and provincial officials would work together to carry out economic and financial feasibility studies of electricity supply options.

Joint Canada-Newfoundland studies were undertaken to determine the best option for meeting Newfoundland's future electricity demands. Two options were examined: one, building a transmission line, infeed, from the proposed new Labrador hydro electric project; or two, expanding on-island capacity and selling all the Labrador power to other markets.

This work proceeded until May 2000 when the governments of Quebec and Newfoundland issued a joint statement announcing the scaling back on negotiations and work on the Labrador power in light of uncertainties over electricity pricing in the deregulated U.S. markets.

With the decision by the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec to scale back negotiations on the Labrador power project, work on the joint feasibility studies on electricity supply options was suspended until the scope and the structure of the hydro development project are finalized. Since the size, ownership and financing of the project remain fluid, the transmission line study cannot be completed at this time.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise in response to comments made in question period by the Minister of National Defence on February 21.

I believe that his response failed to encompass the full scope of the situation of Canada's military preparedness and readiness. The comments I made were based on the fact that since the Liberal government took over in 1993, the Aurora and Arcturus patrol aircraft patrol time has been cut from 19,200 hours to just 11,500 hours, and the minister wishes to cut that further, to an unacceptable 8,000 hours a year. This is in spite of a written recommendation by the chief of the air force who states emphatically that less than 11,500 hours would result in an “unacceptable impact”.

I believe that the response did not encompass the real problem and one of the main purposes for the patrols, arctic sovereignty. I believe that with the Northwest Passage being used more and more and polar overflights increasing in number on a day to day basis, one might argue for more patrolling hours, not less, in order to assert our presence and our sovereignty in the far north. We must remember the Manhattan and how it challenged our Arctic presence not too many years ago.

However, the Liberal cuts have also decimated our military readiness in many other areas. Our trucks cannot tow the howitzers or cannon because they do not have serviceable wheels. We cannot always have the local motor league towing company that we have available in Ottawa. What do we do overseas in Bosnia? Does the Canadian Automobile Association maybe have a European chapter?

That is one additional problem. As well, our CF-18s have been shown to have moisture problems. They have water embedded in the honeycombing in the wings, so there is a definite problem with the wing flaps. They are without real spare parts, so they are scavenging other units for the spare parts that they do need.

There is also the report of the Leopard tanks whose hulls have worn so thin on the bottom that they can put screwdrivers through them. They have overplated and welded up that condition, but that too is a 1970s vehicle with some serious concerns.

It was recently reported that barracks in Alberta were being abandoned after only four years because of hundreds of dangerous cracks appearing in the foundations. PMQs in Edmonton are in need of major repairs.

Then there is the government's less than stellar treatment of our soldiers, who are told that their illnesses are their own fault, apparently because they are stressed with worrying about their illnesses.

For these and other reasons, the minister must respond to these concerns, the concerns of northern sovereignty patrols being cut, army truck wheels, moisture in our CF-18 wings, wear on Leopard tanks, new barracks crumbling, PMQs in need of repair, soldiers' health concerns, lack of heavy lift capability and, of course, our ongoing helicopter issue.

The public needs answers to these questions about our military readiness and our Canadian armed forces.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I was going to be very generous with you, as I was with my colleague, but you chose not to continue.

Immigration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Haliburton—Victoria—Brock Ontario


John O'Reilly LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I know you will give me the same time tonight that you give all parliamentary secretaries so that I can go through all of this.

The hon. member raises concerns and questions about the operational readiness of the Canadian forces. The government is committed to ensuring that the Canadian forces has the people, equipment and training it needs.

In fact, we have undertaken a new far-reaching program aimed at preparing the Canadian forces for the 21st century, including an investment of $2.5 billion in new funding in the last two budgets. To this end, a number of initiatives are underway to ensure that the CF can fulfil its mandate into the future.

To continue our investment in people, equipment and training, we must identify the essential capabilities needed to perform the CF's core tasks and missions, and this is what we are doing.

I believe all Canadians should take great pride in the work performed by the men and women of the air force at home and abroad. Every day Canadian forces aircraft operate throughout the country and around the world, performing various and demanding missions.

One of their most important roles is performed here at home, patrolling the world's longest coastline, maritime approaches and territory, a tall order that requires an aircraft with a tremendous endurance. This task is fulfilled by the CP-140 Aurora, a long-range patrol aircraft able to fly over 9,000 kilometres without refuelling.

The CF-140 fleet procured in 1980 is based in 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia and 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia. In classic mythology Aurora was the goddess of the dawn, the goddess of light. From surface to subsurface surveillance, the Aurora plays a dynamic role for the Canadian forces.

Designed originally for anti-aircraft warfare, the Aurora is also capable of assisting in a wide variety of government tasks, including: surveillance of Canada's airspace, territory and maritime approaches; search and rescue; disaster relief; and assisting other government departments in areas such as fisheries protection, environmental surveillance and drug interdiction.

An excellent example of the capabilities of our Auroras and their crews with respect to this latter role was witnessed just this past Wednesday, when an Aurora from 19 Wing Comox played an integral role in assisting with the U.S. coast guard arrest of a suspected drug smuggling vessel on the west coast.