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House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizens.

Topics

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

November 7th, 2002 / 3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to take part in the debate on Bill C-18, which deals with Canadian citizenship.

The Bloc Quebecois has always been in favour of a new citizenship act, since the current one dates back to 1977. Twice, the current government attempted to amend this act, first in 1998 with Bill C-63. A year later, in 1999, we had Bill C-16, aimed at modernizing the Citizenship of Canada Act.

The bill before us today, Bill C-18, contains 12 elements that I would like to list by reading the summary. It says, and I quote:

(a) the continued acquisition of citizenship at birth for most persons born in Canada.

The word most means that it will not be the case for everybody.

(b) residence requirements--

I will only make a few comments as I only have 10 minutes, but we agree with this. In the past, the definition was inadequate. We will certainly debate this in committee, but in our view, it is still inadequate although greatly improved.

(c) a new judicial process to revoke the citizenship of a person--

This is a new process. It is a judicial process. It says further:

(d) new authority for the Minister and the Solicitor General of Canada to sign a certificate that commences the proceedings--in which security information may be used--

This is a sure sign we are in the post-September 11 2001 era. The whole aspect of security is being beefed up. On the face of it, we cannot oppose that, but we must be careful, as is the case with other statutes, when trying to deal with people who might be a threat to Canadian security, not to infringe on the rights of other people who have nothing to do with the security of Canada.

Further on it says:

(e) new authority for the Minister to annul the citizenship--

Indeed, in some cases, when we realize that people are a danger for Canadian and Quebec society, we agree. But again, we must be careful. Sometimes, when trying to do something good, we do something bad, no matter how careful we are.

It also stipulates:

(f) new authority for the Governor in Council to refuse to grant citizenship where a person has demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society;—

We do not have a problem with that, except that the new authority is granted to the governor in council, meaning the cabinet. It might be an issue of concern to those who promote human rights. We will see how it goes when the bill is scrutinized, but some issues need to be raised.

The summary continues:

(g) new prohibitions and offences with more severe punishment in order to maintain the enactment's integrity;

Nobody can argue with that. It continues:

(h) restricting the transmission of citizenship to persons born abroad of Canadian parents to the first and second generations, with an automatic loss of citizenship at the age of 28 years to those in the second generation who have not resided in Canada;—

Of course, that seems reasonable. Why grant citizenship to someone who has not resided long enough in Canada? There may be a discretionary aspect to this process that needs to be addressed, though. It continues:

(i) lessening the distinctions made between adopted children and children born abroad of Canadian parents for the purpose of the acquisition of citizenship;

There are two categories of children: those who are born abroad and those who are adopted abroad. This is something we may want to discuss, but to which we are not strenuously opposed.

It also says:

(k) a new office of “Citizenship Commissioner”, to replace the former “citizenship judge”, with new functions related to conducting citizenship ceremonies, promoting citizenship and advising the Minister;—

We saw earlier that the government wants to take out some elements of the citizenship examination to bring it to an administrative level. Citizenship judges will now be called citizenship commissioners. There is a purpose for promoting people who used to be called judges to the position of commissioner. The government is thus freeing them from certain duties and is creating another type of duti<y to make it clear to immigrants who become new citizens what they have to do to become good Canadian citizens.

We, in the Bloc Quebecois, as Quebeckers, are saying, “We accept this, but here is a word of caution”. However, we noted that some improvements have been made, based on our past demands. Concerning immigrants who become Canadian citizens, in Quebec at least, there are now some documents coming from Quebec, particularly a letter from the premier. It must be pointed out that a portion of immigrants is chosen by the Quebec government, pursuant to an agreement between the Quebec government and the federal government. The portion chosen by Quebec includes so-called regular immigrants. The other portion, which is chosen by the federal government, includes mostly refugees.

Now, there is a twelfth element I would like to elaborate on. Since two colleagues from the Bloc have talked about this previously, I do not want to repeat what they said. This has to do with modernizing the oath of citizenship. Clause 34 refers us to the schedule. As a matter of fact, this is the only element in the schedule, and I will quote it:

From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, I promise to respect our country's rights and freedoms, to uphold our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.

We should compare this with what was said in the past:

I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Obviously, nobody can be against the observance of the laws and the fulfillment of the duties of the ordinary citizen. What is new here is the word Canada, which has been added. Up to now, the oath used to mention only the Queen. But some Canadian citizens have been wondering about that. Even the Minister of Finance has asked if we should put that back in, but we can see the word successors has been left out. Maybe the finance minister will heave a sigh of relief.

The word I am concerned with right now is Canada. Why? I wonder why the word “Canada” is being used. Ever since the 1995 referendum, the government has had a policy of putting the word Canada everywhere it can. The names of a number of departments have been changed. For example, we now have the Canada Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec. The word Canada has been inserted. We also have VIA Rail Canada and Canada Post.

Many names have been changed in the same way. The Canadian government has advertised about health for example, using the word Canada systematically.

This is all fine and good, but there is a renewed emphasis by the constant repetition of that word. It should also be pointed out that a newcomer who wants to become a Canadian citizen is not treated the same way as other Canadians. People who were born in Canada, in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada, do not have to take the oath of allegiance to Canada.

Time flies, and I hope I get the opportunity to answer questions so I can complete my remarks.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Laval West Québec

Liberal

Raymonde Folco LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite never ceases to amaze me. At one point, I even wondered if we were talking about immigration and citizenship or rather the political dimension of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada.

As far as we are concerned, we have before the House a bill dealing with citizenship I hope to have the opportunity to speak to it very soon, but first I want to go over some of the mistakes the member made, and one in particular that is noteworthy.

First, pursuant to the agreement between Quebec and the Government of Canada, the federal government has jurisdiction not only over refugees, as the member just pointed out, but also over all immigration matters, except for independent immigration. That includes family reunification and not only refugees.

Second, every immigrant has the right to apply for Canadian citizenship, whether he or she lives in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. That is a good thing. It shows that we do not have two classes of citizenship in Canada, just one, and so much the better.

Why use the word “Canada”? Because the last time I checked, we were still just one country; coast to coast to coast, we are one country and proud of it. That is the reason why we want this bill to talk about Canadian citizenship and nothing else.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I admit I have trouble finding any question in the parliamentary secretary's words. I heard several comments instead.

She has made a distinction I accept in connection with independent immigration, but there is still an emphasis being given. That must not be the only thing in the bill. What I was stressing is continuity.

As for the other aspects, she has said I was restricting myself to political aspects. She did not listen to the beginning of my speech when I read the summary of the bill before us and focused on certain words. She has probably not had the opportunity to read the bill, which is not my problem, but I would invite her to read the summary.

As for the rest, it is a matter of how you look at it. She says “Yes, we will treat Quebeckers the same as other Canadians”, but that is precisely one of the problems we face as Quebeckers. We want to be a distinct society. If in fact there were elements of a distinct society and if that concept really meant something, then perhaps many Quebeckers would say OK, but that is not the problem.

Instead of being an annoyance, this has strengthened my conviction that this bill is not very respectful of Quebec society.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the questions and comments period on this bill to point something out to my colleague.

Even if this bill should in principle be endorsed by everyone in this House, it does have some anomalies. We realize however that some ministers--

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Mr. Speaker, could you call to order the member for Portneuf who keeps interrupting me merely to mouth platitudes?

There are anomalies and let me point out just one of them. It has to do with the whole of issue of children adopted abroad. As we know, pursuant to the civil code, Quebec has jurisdiction over the whole adoption finalization process. In Quebec, our civil code provides that adoptions must be finalized by a Quebec court.

However, under the bill, children adopted abroad by a Canadian citizen will now be able to obtain their citizenship on request, thus bypassing the immigration process.

Does our hon. colleague not agree that the provisions concerning international adoptions run counter to what has been done in Quebec? What is even worse, they violate something very fundamental in Quebec, our civil code.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. It shows that he is quite familiar with the issue. In fact, he was the Bloc critic on this issue for several years.

He referred to a very specific feature of Quebec. We have our own civil code. It is unfortunate that the hon. member for Laval West, who sits on the other side of the House, will not recognize this. She talks about Canada being one country, coast to coast. She does not recognize Quebec's uniqueness, something the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie does quite well.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Laval West Québec

Liberal

Raymonde Folco LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship.

As everyone knows, a bill similar to Bill C-18 was originally introduced in the previous Parliament. Because Parliament prorogued, we had to reintroduce this legislation, which is now Bill C-18. It is very similar to the former bill on citizenship, except for a few improvements.

Allow me to provide an example with the purpose of the legislation. This purpose was not mentioned in the former bill. It is in response to the comments made by members of the other place, who asked us to clarify the intention of the legislator and the values attached to citizenship, that we clarified the new Bill C-18. These clarifications will be the topic of my presentation today.

The first and most important purpose of the bill is to define who is a Canadian citizen and how citizenship may be acquired. This speaks directly to the fundamental purpose of the legislation, which is to set out: the requirements to obtain citizenship and when they can be applied with wise compassion; how people are citizens, either through birth in Canada or to a Canadian parent; how they can become citizens through adoption by a Canadian; and how citizenship may be lost, including under certain circumstances involving fraud or false representation.

The bill sets out revocation in which citizenship is lost because of fraud, annulment, second generation birth abroad and renunciation.

I will have the opportunity to talk about these issues in a few minutes. The second purpose of the bill is to encourage the acquisition of citizenship by all who qualify. In my own riding of Laval West, there is a large number of former immigrants who are now Canadians. There are also a few people who have never considered applying for Canadian citizenship, who did not think of the benefits, and the responsibilities, that go along with it.

The new Bill C-18 includes provisions that would streamline and simplify the naturalization process. We know that some immigrants are afraid to apply for citizenship and do not know how to go about it. In this bill, we set out clear and objective requirements that are easier to understand and, more importantly, easier to apply, while also taking less time.

The result that we hope to achieve is to ensure that, as regards permanent residents in Canada, no one gets special treatment and all are equal before the law, including when they apply for naturalization as Canadian citizens. In other words, we want to ensure that all applications are treated consistently and fairly.

In fact, these provisions speak to the fundamental Canadian values of openness, openness to people from elsewhere, to languages and cultures from elsewhere, and acceptance—I am not saying tolerance, but acceptance—of diversity, however it may present itself in Canada.

We want to encourage persons, regardless of their race, ethnic background, religion or country of origin—that is the great Canadian tradition we want to uphold with this bill—to become Canadian citizens, full and active members of Canadian society, which, as I said earlier, entails responsibilities of course, but also has its advantages. It is a matter therefore of making the process as accessible and straightforward as possible to allow people to have access to citizenship as easily and quickly as possible when they want to apply.

The third purpose of the bill is to protect the integrity of Canadian citizenship. Such protections reflect the conviction that citizenship matters. Citizenship is a qualified right. Acquiring Canadian citizenship cannot and should not be taken lightly. As someone who has gone through the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, this citizenship is very important to me. That is why I wanted to rise today to speak on Canadian citizenship.

Some people, those across the way in particular, seem to think that the provisions of Canadian citizenship are relatively simple. They are not. Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducts security checks with CSIS and criminal checks with the RCMP. Every person who applies for citizenship is fully investigated.

Those who take the oath during the citizenship ceremony must also sign a form. I did so myself. I also had hundreds of new citizens do the same. New citizens sign a form stating specifically that they have not engaged in any criminal activities since the time they applied for citizenship. This, combined with the RCMP and CSIS investigations, ensures that, at the time they are granted citizenship, these persons are truly free of crime.

To become citizens, applicants must also demonstrate a commitment to Canadian values. Like any people, any nation, we have values that we hold dear. This makes perfect sense. We ask that people who come here with the intention of becoming Canadians show us that these values are dear to them as well.

For example, under the proposed bill, a person could not be granted citizenship for three years after being convicted of an indictable offence outside Canada, or an offence committed in another country that would be indictable under Canadian law.

This is an example which shows very clearly that there are rules that must be followed and that all those outside Canada who wish to become part of our society must accept those rules as we accept them as citizens.

The fourth objective of the bill is to reaffirm that all citizens have the same status. This should be a fundamental right of all Canadians. Whether they were born in Canada or became Canadians through a naturalization process, all citizens should have the same rights and privileges before the law.

As everyone knows, I was not born in Canada. I came to Canada from another country and became a Canadian citizen. I am very proud to say that I am standing in the House today and participating in the debate because I was elected by some of the people in my riding of Laval West. I am extremely proud of this. This is not possible in a lot of countries.

The only people who can run for office in some countries are those who were born in that country and whose parents are citizens. That was not the case for me, and I am certainly not the only example of this. There are many other examples of people here in the House who were not born here and were not citizens, not only members of Parliament but also ministers. We are very proud of the fact that all citizens are equal whether they are citizens born or citizens made. This is a tradition that we have in Canada and Bill C-18 builds on that tradition.

The fifth purpose of the act is to require a strong attachment to Canada to acquire citizenship.

We know of cases where people have used Canadian citizenship for their own purposes when they did not really want to live in Canada or did not really adhere to Canadian values. This is something that we cannot accept. In fact people must live here for a certain amount of time, show that this is the country of their choice and that this is where they want to live for quite some time.

Residence is defined as a physical presence in Canada. It does not mean that people cannot travel for business reasons or travel for pleasure. They can do all this but they must show that they intend to reside in Canada before they can become citizens. Under the bill, claimants would need to know that they have to live in Canada for at least three of the six years prior to their application; this means an accumulation of three years within a total of six.

The sixth element of this bill is increasing awareness of the significance of Canada citizenship. I myself have seen just how emotional new citizens are about becoming Canadians. The ceremony is an important event. I would like to relate a personal experience.

On July 1 last year, on Canada Day, we organized a major event in the riding of Laval West. We invited recent and not so recent citizens. The ceremony was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. but most of the people who would be taking the oath that day were already there at 8 a.m., so anxious were they to be sworn in as new citizens.

They took pride in becoming new citizens. It was touching for all of us there, not just myself, but the long-established citizens, Quebeckers and Canadians, who were there with me. They told me “We see how happy these people are to become citizens and be able to live in this country”.

The bill also attempts to touch on this element. In the new oath, new citizens must clearly express their loyalty to Canada. We must not forget that Canada is our country. It is a country, again, that accepted me, and that has accepted thousands and millions of people, and we owe it our loyalty.

This bill contains a new mandate for those who used to be called citizenship judges, who will now be known as citizenship commissioners. These commissioners will continue to preside over citizenship ceremonies, but they will also champion and promote the active participation of citizens in their communities, as well as advise the minister on citizenship matters.

One role of the commissioners, and a fine one it is, will be to underline that all citizens should demonstrate mutual respect and understanding so that each citizen can contribute to the best of their ability to Canadian society.

The final purpose of the act is to promote respect for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society. This too, is supported by the new wording of the oath, which explicitly requires citizens to respect our rights and freedoms and uphold our democratic values.

In addition, another measure would allow citizenship to be refused when an applicant has demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free a democratic society.

Canadians have worked hard to build a democratic society where the rights of women and children are respected. And we ask that those who want to live here and become citizens recognize that women have full rights in our society, and that children also have equal rights.

It is relatively easy to take for granted something so many of us acquire simply by being born here. But as anyone who has chosen to become Canadian will tell us, there is nothing more fundamental that ties us to each other and to Canada.

Our citizenship is about a lot more than just the right to hold a Canadian passport. Whether we realize it or not, it is fundamental to our sense of belonging and to our sense of purpose—to living up to our responsibilities to respect the laws and traditions that allow us to live and work alongside one another peacefully, in a climate of mutual respect and trust.

Diversity and mutual responsibility are hallmarks of what it means to be Canadian. Our citizenship, the way in which it is acquired and the circumstances under which it can be lost, must reinforce these core values.

This bill both respects and revitalizes the covenant that binds us to each other and to our country, regardless of whether we chose to become Canadian or were born to it.

I urge the members of the House to keep these intentions in mind as they review the contents of this proposed legislation, particularly in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the questions and comments period following the speech made by the hon. member for Laval West, who sits on the other side of the House.

I agree with her when she says that this bill reflects Canadian values. I am willing to acknowledge that. The problem is that it does not take into account the unique nature and distinct character of Quebec. I have used the example of children adopted abroad before, and will do so again.

Under this bill, children adopted abroad by Canadian citizens will now be able to get their citizenship on request and therefore bypass the immigration process. There is a problem with this since, pursuant to Quebec's civil code which is recognized in Canada, adoptions must be finalized by a Quebec court.

So, in Canada, children adopted abroad who settle in Quebec might have to meet different eligibility criteria than if they settled elsewhere in Canada.

Therefore, my question is the following: would it not be wiser to agree to what various Quebec ministers have been asking for since 1998, which is to set up some kind of tripartite partnership? We could work together to speed up the process, to consider how we can ensure that children adopted abroad who want to settle in Quebec will not be penalized and, lastly, to ensure that the federal government will take into account the unique nature of Quebec, including one of its very distinct characteristics, its own civil code?

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find the logic of the member across the way somewhat twisted, if I may say so, since it happens that I was chair of the Conseil des communautés culturelles et de l'immigration of the Quebec government at the time when the issue of foreign adoption was a hot topic.

At that time, the Quebec government intended to--I do not want to elaborate too much on this, but it answers the question put by the member across the way--streamline the adoption process to allow children to be reunited with their adoptive parents in the fastest and simplest manner possible.

What I see here is that through Bill C-18, this is exactly what the Government of Canada wants to do, namely to meet this need for children who are adopted abroad by Canadian parents. It is quite reasonable to think that a child's parents want the child to become a Canadian as quickly as possible, fit into the social fabric, go to school and feel equal to other children at school.

I found the word used by the member across the way passing strange when he mentioned that such children would “avoid” the immigration process. Nobody wants to avoid anything. The purpose of this bill is to streamline the process so that it meets the needs of families, especially those families in a difficult situation, and to ensure that the situation is sorted out as fast and as simply as possible.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this very instructive debate today.

The parliamentary secretary forgot to refer to November 6, 1998. At the time, ministers Rochon and Boisclair sent a letter to the then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, in which they mentioned the problems generated at the time by Bill C-63 on the reform of the Citizenship Act.

The Quebec ministers stated that this bill raised various problems in Quebec, particularly with respect to the connection with and the specifics of our civil code, to the health care issue and to the additional costs that might be incurred as a result. The ministers referred, among other things, to the issue of adoption.

As for us, we are not at all opposed to the adoption process. We are simply saying that there is a problem with our civil code regarding immigration and international adoption of children. This is what we are saying to the parliamentary secretary. We want this bill to take this specificity into consideration.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the member opposite referred to the letter, I found it interesting that she told us about the health care issue. However, she finished her speech before quoting the Quebec minister on the issue of international adoption. I wonder why she did not quote the minister on this issue.

I know there were talks between the federal immigration minister and the Quebec minister responsible for immigration. There is an agreement between the Quebec government and the Canadian government. I would simply suggest this--I am not a minister, I do not know what the two ministers agreed on—, if indeed there is a problem—and I am not saying there is one. If there is a problem with reconciling the legislation and the civil code, I cannot see why the Quebec minister does not send a letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to try to see how to reconcile these two documents.

We have had this kind of problem many times. Each time the federal government wants to come forward to help Canadian families, whether on international adoption or parental leave, and it tries to provide greater benefits to Canadians, some members opposite say, “This does not help the spirit of separation”. Perhaps not, but it certainly helps Canadians.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, of all the vexing problems that we as members of Parliament have to deal with in our ridings, one of the toughest is our ability to advocate for our constituents in terms of immigration issues.

I have a couple of questions for the hon. member. First, why is there no hotline for members of Parliament that would enable us to work with the department to solve some of the immigration problems we have?

At the end of June of this year the department changed the rules without informing anybody, especially the people applying for landed immigrant status. Applications that were received a couple of days after the end of June changeover were immediately returned without including the money. It was completely unfair that people were asked to endure and to go through the same process again.

Is the member willing to put in a window of opportunity, like a grandfather clause, so that those people who applied before the end of June of this year would have their applications dealt with as per the rules and regulations that existed in the first half of this year?

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that the member is as involved with immigration as I am but he is addressing the wrong person. I am Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development, not Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

On the question of hotlines for MPs, a few of us have a lot of people in our constituency who ask for our advice or help with immigration problems, whether it is with regard to visas or whatever. I have a full time person in my constituency office who does nothing but immigration cases. I know other MPs have this arrangement as well. All I can say to the member is that I will make that suggestion to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and we will see what happens.

With regard to his second question, I would remind the member that there is a government website that contains a lot of information to which most Canadians can have access if they have a computer, which a lot of them do today.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue on the line of questions that I asked the hon. parliamentary secretary.

It is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship. I will deal with some specific problems the immigration department has been facing and which it has not been dealing with for a long time; issues of fundamental rights and wrongs and issues of fundamental fairness.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Langley--Abbotsford.

The first problem has to do with the admission of qualified professionals into Canada. As members know, I am a physician. However getting medical professionals into Canada, whether they are physicians in particular or other medical professionals, has been exceedingly difficult even though their qualifications meet the needs of our country.

I will give some examples. A highly competent female physician, who was trained in the U.K., has been working in northern British Columbia for more than a year. She would like to move to another part of British Columbia but all kinds of obstacles have been put in place so she cannot do that. Her husband, a highly qualified paramedic in the U.K., cannot work in Canada. As a result, both of them are leaving to go back to England. We are losing two highly qualified medical personnel who want to work in an underserviced area in Canada but cannot because the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has created all kinds of roadblocks for them.

A second example is that of a South African physician who worked in Saskatchewan for five years, and who paid taxes in British Columbia for five years. He applied for landed immigrant status. His application has gone back and forth. The department asked for more money and it said that small questions, which were irrelevant to his application, were not answered to its satisfaction. For example, the department wanted to know what he was doing between the ages of 14 and 21, and what his employment record was in his early 20s. Few people in their 40s or early 50s would know that.

Those are the obstacles that are being put in place for highly trained professionals. It is miraculous that the individual is still working as a physician in an underserviced area of northern British Columbia because he certainly has options in other areas.

A third example is that of a highly trained specialist who was trained in the United States and who wants to work in northern British Columbia. He would be the only person practising his trade in an area that deals with individuals suffering the ravages of diabetes. All kinds of obstacles have been put in front of this highly qualified individual who wants to immigrate to Canada and work in our country, even though he is licensed and trained to practise in the United States.

What kind of immigration department would put blockades in front of highly trained people who have skills that Canadians desperately need in the medical field and, I believe, in other fields? The department has to deal with this problem and it has to deal with it fairly and rapidly for the sake of everyone.

In the case of the South African physician, even though he has been paying taxes for five years, his children cannot work here. Why can his children, who are in high school and would like to work, not work in Canada even though their father has been paying taxes?

We have umpteen cases of individuals applying for landed immigrant status who simply cannot work in Canada for lengthy periods of time while their application process is taking place.

Work is an important element for people who wnat to integrate and contribute to Canadian society but the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has such ossified rules that it does not allow people to do that in our country.

What the department does allow are individuals who have been convicted of indictable offences to stay in Canada. I am shocked at the number of people who have been charged and convicted of indictable and non-indictable offences and who have been allowed to stay in Canada even though they have proven not once but a number of times to be a danger to Canadian society.

The argument put forth by the department was that we cannot deport these people because they are refugees. Obviously we have sympathy for people who are applying for refugee status, but I have no sympathy for somebody who applies for refugee status in Canada and yet breaks the laws of this country in a manner that is severe. To commit an indictable offence means to commit a very serious offence, and some of them are violent offences. These violent offenders are allowed to stay in our country. Furthermore, they are allowed to receive medical care and are covered by our medical system, while those individuals who emigrate to Canada and are working here cannot get medical coverage for their children. I do not think that is fair.

I have a couple of specific cases from my riding.

One is the case of Dhamret Inderjit Kaur. She is a young woman, married to a Canadian, who has applied and reapplied for landed immigrant status. Every time we write a letter to the department asking where her application is, the processing time has been 10 to 12 months. In the meantime, there have been a number of deaths in her family in her country of origin. She would like to go back. Her husband is here in Canada, yet the department does not allow her to go back for bereavement cases, saying that she can go if she wants to but she might not be able to get back into the country.

What kind of person, knowing that she may not be allowed back into Canada, would leave her husband in Canada to go back to see family when there has been a death in the family? It is a Catch-22 for these people and I think it is fundamentally unfair given the circumstances they find themselves in. First, she is dealing with a death in her family in her country of origin. Second, she may not be able to see her husband again because she is allowed out of the country but not allowed back in.

There is also the case of Marcus Murphy. He applied for landed immigrant status in February. We sent a request on November 1 asking about this man's landed immigrant status and asking that he be allowed to work because of extreme financial hardship. The response? It will take another 10 to 12 months to process his application. That is not right.

There is the case of Edward Mukahanana. He applied on January 31. He is a qualified graduate in financial administration. There was no word on his application. We wrote to the minister on November 4 but got no answer. He cannot work. His wife is supporting him. They are in financial hardship. Why does it take from January 31 to November 4 to not even receive an answer on the status of this gentleman's application? He is not allowed to work and therefore cannot contribute to his family and our country.

Last, there is the case of Mariyka Ferrier. She applied on July 3. On August 14 her application was returned because one answer to a question was missing. What was that question? She had failed to explain what she had been doing between the ages of 14 and 21. How is that relevant to an application for this individual? The application was resubmitted on August 27. A new process was started October 1. She is a graduate linguist and cannot work or get medical benefits. We wrote to the minister on October 29 and so far there has been no answer.

This speaks to the frustrations of all members of Parliament with respect to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. We all want to do our job. In fact, it would help the ministry if it enabled us to do our job by having a hot line we could call so that we could get answers rapidly for our constituents and deal with their immigration problems.

Second, it would also help to allow people and their children to work while they are waiting for landed immigrant status to be determined. It is good for them and it is good for Canada. They would be contributing to our country not only in terms of manpower but also in terms of taxes. Their contributions to our country would enable them to integrate and engage in our multicultural society, of which we are very proud.

In closing, I will say with respect to Bill C-18 that there are some good things and some bad things about it. What is good is that the revocation of citizenship is long overdue and this does get it into the hands of the Federal Court. I compliment the hon. member from the government who gave up his position as parliamentary secretary to make a stand on the issue. He is a courageous person who did the right thing for the right reasons and that should be known.

However, on the issue of adoption in the bill, why the government would allow people to adopt adults we can only surmise, but we are fundamentally opposed to that. Rather than allowing people to adopt adults, we should allow them to adopt children instead.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-18 today. Based on personal experience, I have a lot of things to say about citizenship and immigration but I want to talk about two specific things today.

I want to talk about one particular aspect of the bill. The reasons why citizenship applications could be refused are in the bill, but the fact that citizenship applications would not be terminated if a person broke the law before the conditions were fulfilled really would be a mistake for this country. I want to talk about two cases I am working on right now. Since I have been a member of Parliament, I have been an intervener in something like seven or eight criminal cases and at the Immigration and Refugee Board. Those people have been deported.

I am currently working on two situations. Both of these situations involve individuals staying in Canada and eventually getting citizenship. The first case is that of an American wanted in the United States on drug charges. He has come to Canada and has applied for refugee status, which is unheard of in this country. The refugee board is giving him a hearing. I applied to become an intervener in this case in order to fight it. I had the most difficult time trying to get into this hearing, because I am Canadian, for one thing, and also because the individual said he did not want me at this application hearing. The decision was up to him, not me, which is incredible to say the least.

The individual is claiming that he has been persecuted in the United States because of its drug laws, so he is claiming refugee status in Canada. In his mind, it is not prosecution but persecution. Hon. members can imagine the outcome of this application if he wins it. Basically everybody in the United States who is wanted on drug charges could apply to Canada for refugee status, have a hearing and get it.

The consequences of this are very severe indeed. I cannot understand the government on the other side actually acquiescing to some form of protest from an individual from another country, in particular the United States, because he does not happen to like the laws. If this individual wins, not only do we have somebody here who is running from the United States because he does not like the drug laws, but he will in fact become a citizen of Canada. The hearing will take place, so that part of it is a done deal. Let us hope this is not a done deal behind closed doors, because if it is we will have one heck of a lot of Americans applying to come into this country.

As it happens, I found out just recently that this same individual, a non-citizen in our country, applied for a certificate for medical use of marijuana. There are all kinds of people in this country looking for certificates for medical marijuana. What happened? Because of the ingenuity of the other side, he got the certificate. Not only did he get a certificate to carry, grow and smoke marijuana, and as an American citizen no less, he is permitted to grow 59 plants and store up to 2.6 kilos, enough to keep 20 people going for a month.

I do not understand the government. I do not understand the logic. I do not understand the stupidity across the way. I do not understand why we cannot intervene in cases like this. I do not understand why Americans get to claim refugee status in this country. Americans do not understand why Americans can claim refugee status in this country.

But we are not going to get an answer here and we are not going to get an answer under Bill C-18. Basically it states that if one applies for citizenship one will get it, with the exception that once in a while an application may be refused. The bottom line on all of this activity is that nobody quite understands what the heck is going on in this place, much less in the citizenship hearings, the immigration hearings and the refugee board hearings.

I know I am talking to myself here, because no one over there is listening--

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4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

I'm listening.

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

That member is listening, is he?

Now let me talk about a fellow by the name of Phrasanonh. He did 14 months in the prisons in my riding for deliberately running down some young people with a car. One of these people eventually lost his life. Phrasanonh, after a long fight, was ordered deported. Not only was he ordered deported, he was ordered deported promptly. I asked the government to me know when he was to be deported, knowing full well that the chances of that were a joke. The government said it could not let me know when it was to deport him because that is privacy. We are not supposed to know that. That is a secret. I waited and I waited and, sure enough, he showed up again. He was never deported. Even though he was ordered deported, he was never deported. Where does he show up? In Abbotsford, in my community, once again on assault charges.

So what have we achieved with Mr. Phrasanonh? He does a little time, he is ordered deported and I am not allowed to know if he is deported. I have to stumble over it. I have to find out by accident that not only was he not deported, he is up for assault. So I guess he is going to stay because the government has no intestinal fortitude to do anything other than that, and he will get his citizenship eventually. Congratulations, I say, we really need him in our crowd.

There is something terribly wrong here, but I have been talking about this for 10 years. It has been 10 years and the government is listening as much today as it always did. The Liberals over there have a closed mind about the problems in our country. They are passing citizenship bills but they are not looking after the basics of our country. There are people here who should not be here. They should be moved out. They should not get citizenship. But the other side just does not give a damn. No matter how much we talk about it, it goes in one ear and out the other.

I have about one minute left to say what I think about those fellows over there.

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4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

There's not enough time.

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

There is not enough time, because I have case after case after case of individuals who are criminals, serious offenders, and who are still in this country after being ordered deported. They are still wreaking havoc on our society. They will eventually become citizens and then can wreak more havoc on our society.

This stuff here today is not worth the paper it is printed on unless the government starts to make some productive changes in our society in terms of kicking out people who do not deserve to be here. I feel a little better after saying that, but not much better about the government doing squat about it.

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will let my colleague from the Canadian Alliance pursue his rhetoric. According to his reasoning, what do we do? Do we let them in? What solution does he see to all these problems?

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4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is amazing that he says it is rhetoric. I have been involved in every one of these hearings I talked about. I am involved on a daily basis. It is anything but rhetoric; it is reality.

The way to resolve this, if the government wants to build legislation on a citizenship program and wants to allow individuals to be citizens under new rules, is to make darn sure that those who should not be citizens do not remain in our country. That is the whole point.

Individuals who are not worthy of being Canadian citizens are actually becoming Canadian citizens and nothing is being done about it. If the hon. member calls that rhetoric, then he is just as bad as the guys across the way.

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4:10 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, could the member elaborate to the House about the specific situation?

In my experience there always seems to be confusion between immigrant applicants and refugees. In the matter of someone who is in Canada who has sought a refugee claim, the member will acknowledge that there is a criminal records check. I am not sure what he was referring to that somehow they subsequently found out. Either there was a criminal records check or there was not.

If the member is talking about immigrant applications, the vast majority of these are made offshore. People do not arrive here until after all those checks are done.

In terms of the overall scheme could the member help the House understand the magnitude of this? Or is this an isolated case where there was an error made, either in another country in confirming the background checks? Or is he suggesting there is evidence, and maybe he could advise us if there is, of the magnitude of that problem?

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4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I can only speak for my area and if my area is any indication the magnitude is rather severe.

I get these cases all the time. I cannot work with all of them. The ones I work with are not necessarily individuals who have been pre-screened and have no record. They commit crimes when they come to Canada. That is the difficulty we are having here.

If they have an application for citizenship and commit crimes during the process, then the application should be gone during the process. Otherwise, individuals are coming into the country, they are committing crimes, and they are allowed to stay.

We go through a large number of deportation hearings. They are essentially a waste of time. Essentially, in all the cases I have gone through, which are numerous, hundreds of thousands dollars are spent on these cases, but yet nothing happens at the end of the day. These people end up staying in Canada and they end up citizens. That is wrong.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this important discussion on Bill C-18. When we talk about citizenship, it is one of those inherent rights that is a privilege as well as an important process of involving oneself in society. People receive the opportunity to vote and receive a status that was granted to other people who have been here for many years, decades as well as generations. Citizenship is an inherent process that has to be taken seriously.

This bill is another attempt to improve the process and there are actually some improvements in the bill that the government should be commended for. I have some reservations with some other points and I want to discuss them now because this will be an important debate as we move along during this process.

The hon. member before me had mentioned some specific negative cases that are serious with regard to citizenship and immigration. However to give a balance in terms of what else is out there, we have recently seen many immigrants become citizens and contribute quite profoundly to the formation of this country not only in the past but even currently.

We can look at authors such as Rohinton Mistry, who is a nominee for the Giller prize. During his book tour he was recently harassed at the American border because of his ethnicity, despite the fact that he is a Canadian citizen. He is contributing quite profoundly to the arts, culture and economy of Canada and is a good example of bringing people forward who can contribute. Our own Governor General, for example, is someone who has become a Canadian citizen and is contributing quite well to the Canadian public discourse and service.

Those people cannot be forgotten. That whole process must be scrutinized very significantly. We are talking about a process where by we are building a country because our current birth rate is deficient in renewing itself in a healthy manner to sustain ourselves in terms of our quality of life, our economy, and the way that we can function in the world.

Canada's population has now reached 30 million people. Census data shows us that the main source of Canada's population growth between 1996 and 2001 was immigration. It is something that I have concerns about in terms of a nation. We must have a healthy policy to bring in new citizens and have the resources available because I believe other government policies are affecting our birth rate and ability to sustain ourselves.

A good example is the debate that recently took place with regard to student and youth issues in our country, They are having to go to school much longer in life. They are offset with significant financial burdens that have been profound and have developed at rates much higher than the rate of inflation and the cost of living. They have had to delay their marriages, families and other opportunities and that has contributed to some of the problems we have.

Youth these days often work two or three jobs to be able to sustain family development. That has had a result with regard to our population growth. Nevertheless, that is what makes Bill C-18 so important in terms of getting it right and renewing our numbers in this country.

One of the things that is important to recognize in Bill C-18 and has not been talked about very much in the discussions I have heard but raises some concern with me are the fees that are increasing. Working formerly at the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County I have had the opportunity to work with refugees, landed immigrants, as well as new citizens. There is an increasing financial burden on those people coming into our country. It is taking a toll on their ability to live with dignity and, more importantly, to get on their feet, qualify for certain educational or training programs and get into the economy in a full capacity that is going to lead to their contribution to our country in a meaningful manner.

The fees for actual citizenship would be increasing. It would be $200 for an adult and $100 for children. There is no distinction. For example, a family consisting of two parents and two children would now pay $600 more. This is similar to some of the fees of the past, namely the head tax on landed immigrants. It is something that has been substantially added to the process where people must pay thereby creating another financial burden. It is like, “Welcome to Canada, you are now in debt”. That is a big problem because we must provide the opportunity for people to contribute back into society quickly and readily. Having a debt load will not encourage people to pursue the educational aspects necessary to be productive and invest in other options such as training or the things they need to be successful in our country.

Another issue that gives me some concern is the changing role of the commissioners. The decision making process is being taken from them. I would rather see that as opposed to a potential patronage appointment. Perhaps local communities could get involved in terms of selecting a commissioner who would be someone who is responsive to their community and has been involved there for many years. Some of the commissioners who are doing that now are actually from those backgrounds. I would like to see the ownership happen from the bottom up in terms of the community having access to the commissioner and being able to participate in that process.

Through my program I have seen youth come through and find training programs or go back to school. Eventually those with landed immigrant status got their citizenship. One of their proudest moments is to have the opportunity to be able to swear allegiance in the ceremony. To have some specific local connection is very important. Having the bottom up approach for the selection would be much more advantageous.

Another interesting aspect to the bill is the new oath. I will read the new oath for the general public so it understands what new citizens are saying with regard to their commitment to Canada. It states:

From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada. I promise to respect our country’s rights and freedoms, to uphold our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen

Our country must ensure that it is not a rhetorical comment back, something that is not going to be met on the other side without the full support of our community and government. That is something that sadly enough has happened with some qualified people coming to our country who have the credentials that are necessary but are not allowed to practise their skills.

In Windsor we have many people who are physicians or engineers. They have a number of different professional credentials and they cannot practise their educational skills, qualifications and investments that they have made in themselves to be fully productive. When they take that oath the government should be mindful that it needs to provide the appropriate bridging mechanisms so that these people can be successful and also have a country that believes in them as much as they believe in their new country.

There is a new program called clear residency requirements. I have some reservations with regard to that process. There are different individuals and they have to spend three to six years here, but at the same time if they are students, visitors or temporary workers they only get a half day for every day they are in Canada. I have some reservations about that particular aspect of the program.

Students studying full time might become immersed in their studies. They become very involved. They are paying significant tuition. As well as that they are paying an advanced tuition if they are from outside the country. They can fall in love with this country. I know that has happened. One just has to go to the university and one will find people who have come here who truly fall in love with this country. They are dedicated full time students. They are involved and volunteering. Why are they getting a half day? I do not know why that was decided. Why not a quarter? Why not an eighth? Why not a full day? That is important when they are making a significant financial commitment to our country and it should be recognized. It is also a cultural and educational commitment.

I do not understand why half days are imposed on students. It really takes from the momentum of them graduating as, for example, Canadian citizens after spending three or four years getting an undergraduate degree and maybe a graduate degree after that. They would only be enhanced. It also takes away from the business argument. We have seen what is happening at our border right now where even Canadian citizens are being harassed by the United States because of their background and race.

Specific people who are being targeted have come to my office in Windsor. It is not right or fair for them to be targeted, because they are Canadian citizens.

I will use students as an example. They have gone through the programs and have met the education criteria and are ready to contribute. They might have the opportunity to do business elsewhere in terms of living in Windsor and working in Detroit. A lot of that actually develops, which is healthy for the Canadian economy because they are bringing in new wages and taxes, and they are advancing themselves.

Having Canadian citizenship is so important for them to be able to do that. I would like to see that advanced. It could actually help their business and development growth. The recent border problems really illustrate the need to have the foresight to protect people who invest in our country and contribute.

That situation in itself is really interesting. There are doctors, lawyers, and other people who go over just to visit family. They have lived here for 10 and 20 years and they are being fingerprinted and photographed. There are individuals whose family members have been detained for over two hours, and their young children sleep on the floor in the United States office, and they are not able to get back into Canada. They have done this when they wanted to get into the U.S. Then when they want to come back to Canada, they have to go through this process. I do not know how their fingerprints are going to change over a matter of hours. Nonetheless that has been happening.

We should really support those people who get this type of responsibility and make this oath to Canada. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about the residency concerns relates to the fact that we are going to lose opportunities for people because they will still be waiting with an unknown status. It is bad enough that the dual citizenship of Canada is not always respected right now, but it will be even worse for those who actually have a graduate degree, who have been paying taxes in Canada and who have been contributing to this country. They might be made more vulnerable because they happen to be students. I do not think that is right.

With regard to the rest of the bill, it does have some positive elements with regard to the opening up of second generation Canadian families born in other countries. We see a lot of that. Reconnecting the family unit is very positive. It is something in which we need to invest, in terms of making sure there is access for people to bring people forward who are going to contribute. They have the actual wherewithal and more important, they have the support not just within the extended family but also within the business community and this makes our communities strong.

Windsor has 94 different ethnic communities. That makes us the second most diverse area, outside of Toronto. It is a healthy environment with people supporting people. We need to recognize that having the family unit strengthened is a value that we have currently in Canada and it is one we want to extend as we develop the citizenship portfolio for people.

With regard to the actual bill itself, my concerns have been expressed. I look forward to further debate on it before making my personal decision about supporting the bill. There need to be some changes. There need to be some improvements. It is something that at least has been worked on. It has failed in the past but I am hopeful that this time we can work on some of these problems and accomplish some benefits.

We really do not have time to waste in the sense of making sure that our citizenship and immigration is something that thrives. Our other government policies certainly are making it difficult for Canadians to have a strong birth rate that will sustain our economy.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Windsor who certainly has brought his diverse community to our caucus on many occasions. He has taught us a lot about the relationship Windsor has had with the U.S. It is interesting to note that the actions of the U.S. have tarnished that relationship, not just for Windsor but for all Canadians.

I would like him to expand a little on whether or not he ever thought he would experience in his lifetime a McCarthyism type of approach. It is the approach of treating one cultural group inthe way that used to be done years ago when they were all lumped into one category, for example, as all being thieves, criminals or terrorists, in many cases with no justification whatsoever.

I wonder if he ever expected in his lifetime, in this day and age, that we would be living through that once again. In spite of having numerous groups come to us wanting restitution for harms that were done before, and we still are dealing with that, did he ever expect that we once again would be allowing this to take place with one specific group of people within our country?