Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in the debate on Bill C-18. First, I want to make some general comments and then I want to refer to a couple of specific examples in the riding of Palliser that could have a general application to a number of other members of Parliament from across the country.
There are several predominant concerns evident in the bill. It is an effective response to the issue of war criminals and perpetrators of human rights abuses who seek shelter behind Canadian citizenship. It is important to close loopholes and to close the doors to organized criminal activity. We must meet the level of security expectations in the post-September 11 atmosphere. Our caucus does not challenge these objectives.
We intend to ensure however that others are not unfairly denied citizenship for lack of due process or inadvertent error. We intend to ensure that there is one Canadian citizen with one set of rights and that Canadian citizenship is encouraged for all in an equal way.
As with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, there is much government talk of openness and welcoming, but we see here a bill that creates some barriers to the realizations of those worthy goals.
Overall Bill C-18 is similar to its predecessor, Bill C-63. There have been some improvements made in response to previous criticisms but there are also areas of concern that remain unaltered. Contrary to the spirit of clause 12, and we heard this in the House today during question period on the equality of rights and responsibilities of all citizens, there remains the inequitable treatment of citizens born here and those who have acquired citizenship at a later date. In addition to the language requirement and tests which are not applied to born citizens, the bill would permit the revocation of citizenship within five years but only for naturalized citizens.
The residency requirement may still be considered too stringent by some.
The language requirement and not being able to use an interpreter remains a proposal. Knowledge of one official language may indeed be a worthy objective in the settlement and integration of citizens, however in practice it may present a barrier to some otherwise qualified applicants. Those would include: older family members, homeworkers and refugees who may have been traumatized in a previous country.
Canadian citizenship is the highest right that we, as a democratic nation, can confer upon those living within our borders. These rights and responsibilities define the egalitarian and democratic values that we hold. No one has legal or political rights extending beyond citizenship. A citizen's right to vote and run for political office are our basic and fundamental democratic rights. The rules for defining citizenship run right to the heart of who we collectively are as a nation.
Canada's multicultural citizenship, our multicultural heritage, is unique and has become a defining characteristic of our nation in the eyes of the world. Certainly in my lifetime, the evolution of Canadian citizenship truly reflects our evolution as a society from our ethnocentric past to our multicultural present and future.
Since its passage the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become instrumental in enforcing citizenship rights. We must ensure that this standard is rigorously applied, especially to something as fundamental as the citizenship act.
The wake of September 11 has presented the most significant challenge in recent years to our rights and freedoms as citizens. There are those who, in reaction to the horror, would severely restrict the rights and freedoms that this terror aims to destroy. We must carefully guard the balance between security and freedom in this defining legislation.
We believe it is unacceptable for some Canadian citizens to be singled out for discriminatory treatment. The rise in the occurrence of racially or religiously motivated hate crimes is profoundly disturbing.
We have raised in this caucus, for example, the recent case of Maher Arar, a 32-year-old Canadian citizen arrested during a stopover at New York's Kennedy airport in late September. He was travelling to Montreal from Tunisia. He was promptly deported by American authorities to Syria. That brought home just how fragile our citizenship rights have become in this electrically charged era that we are in.
Similarly, we have the well-known author, Rohinton Mistry, who was born in India. He has cancelled a speaking tour in the Untied States because he fears continuing harassment by U.S. airport security authorities. We find that regrettable and unacceptable.
Canada continues to rely on immigration. We have completed a parliamentary discussion and debate to finalize the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The government's stated objective is to increase Canada's openness to immigrants. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, earlier this year, reported and studied on that. Everybody on both sides of the House acknowledged that the future of Canada's prosperity depended on our success in attracting immigrants.
I want to speak about a couple of specific instances that have occurred in recent months in the community of Regina. By way of introduction the community offices that I have in both Moose Jaw and Regina probably have more immigration cases than any other category of cases that come before the capable staff who work in those offices. I am sure that is not a unique situation and that other members of Parliament would find that they have a similar intensity on this issue of immigration and trying to get people here on visitors' visas and the like.
The two specific cases that I want to indicate to the House are quite different, but both are troubling.
One involves a gentleman named Charlie Smoke, who is a native North American. He says that he was born in Ontario but does not have a social insurance number. He currently resides in Regina. He was working a few years ago at an inner city school, the Kitchener school. However the only way that he could be employed and on the workforce was to have a social insurance number, so he used his wife's number to qualify for work at the school.
He had never denied that he used his wife's social insurance number. He did not use it for fraudulent purposes or anything else. That was the only way that he could work in a school that had a high proportion of aboriginal students, and he was doing good work at that school.
However, on June 19, 2001, Mr. Smoke was visited by Citizenship and Immigration. His troubles began then and have continued ever since. Mr. Smoke asserts that the Canadian government's harassment is a continuation of colonial practices that have robbed indigenous peoples of their self-determination by usurping their land thus destroying their livelihoods and denying their self-identity.
The Canadian immigration department alleges that Mr. Smoke was actually born and raised in South Dakota and has come to Canada since then. The department tried to deport him last year but the Americans would not accept him when he was taken to the border crossing, so he was brought back. He was out on bail, which was posted for him last year.
He recently had his social insurance case dismissed. However he continues to struggle against the harassment by Human Resources Development Canada and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration officials in Regina. One wonders where this will end for Mr. Smoke. He is out on a speaking tour these days. There is a growing awareness of the issue of an aboriginal person who insists that the borders between Canada and the United States should not impact upon this individual or upon aboriginal peoples who were here long before those frontier lines were drawn. That is, in essence, the case of Charlie Smoke.
The other case involves a person of Algerian descent. His first name is Ahmed. He came to Canada in 1995 and sought refugee status from Algeria. He was in Toronto for a couple of years. He moved to Calgary where he married a Canadian woman and subsequently moved to the city of Regina where he continued to work for four years. He worked in a couple of upscale Regina restaurants as a cook and, like Mr. Smoke, never ran afoul of any of Canada's laws. His application for landed immigrant status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected.
In recent months he was brought in to see immigration officials to have his case reviewed. Immigration officials visited him at his home and insisted that his marriage was not bona fide, but a marriage of convenience.
I became involved in this case and spoke directly with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I was told by the minister that the department would be looking at Ahmed's case specifically. What I did not know was that on the very day the minister told me that when he was in Regina, Ahmed was brought in to the Canada immigration office in Regina. He was fingerprinted and cautioned, and told that the next time he would be picked up and probably detained while awaiting an extradition order.
He was so traumatized by this that Ahmed subsequently left the city of Regina. He continues to live in Canada. His place of residence now is the city of Montreal, although I do not know that for sure. He has committed no crime. His crime was that he wanted to apply for Canadian citizenship and to continue to reside and work in the city of Regina.
There continues to be harassment toward both Ahmed and Mr. Smoke with regard to citizenship. It raises the matter that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has correctly identified, that we have many people in this country who choose to come to Canada, who were not born in Canada, but choose to settle in the major cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. There are many Reginas and Moose Jaws across the country, places that need and would love to have increased population.
Here are people, Mr. Smoke and Ahmed, who have made contributions to their communities, have never had difficulty with the law except as it pertains to their citizenship rights, but certainly have never run afoul of the law in terms of any charges being laid. Yet they are being pushed away and rejected.
I agree with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that we need to find some way to bring people like these to less populated communities.
Saskatchewan has a population of just under one million citizens. It was just about that in the 1930s. The population of Saskatchewan has been steady for 70 or 80 years now around that basis. I think everyone in the province would like to see Saskatchewan grow and not remain stagnant. However it will grow only with an older white population. It will grow only with the assistance of a different outlook on immigration and by trying to direct some traffic to less populated communities. That is what we have been trying to seek in these cases.
It is terrific that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration convened a meeting last month involving his counterparts in the provinces and territories. It is absolutely astounding, practically incomprehensible that it was the first such meeting in 107 years. It speaks to the need for the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments to work together on this and see if we cannot develop some ways that people can be designated to come to other locations than our major Canadian cities. That is the concern we have.
To go back to the case of Ahmed, I am pleased that the minister is looking at the situation of a similar Algerian family that sought refuge in a church in Montreal. He says that he will deal with that. The indications are that the government is in the process of dealing with that. I am taking him at his word that whatever applies in the province of Quebec will also apply in the other provinces and territories and in the case of the Ahmed, who approached our office, that he will feel sufficiently protected to return to Regina and have his case heard there. Obviously he is at large in the province of Quebec and presumably would be unable to work there given the decision he made to leave Regina because of the threat of imprisonment and deportation to Algeria.
I think the government has badly misread the Algerian situation. It has argued that it is safe for people from Algeria to be returned to that country. Obviously the Algerians who are in Canada do not agree with the assessment. That is why they are seeking refuge in churches and leaving the Reginas to go to larger centres to disappear while this is being sorted out.
I encourage the government to look at this, deal with it and deal with it in a fair way that allows people like Ahmed, who has made a contribution in the City of Regina and wishes to continue to make a contribution in our community and our province, to have the right to do so.