moved that Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to my private member's bill, Bill C-272, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I would like to acknowledge the help and support of my colleague from Vancouver East and pay tribute to her hard work, especially on immigration issues. She and her staff have worked tirelessly for family reunification and her bills from previous parliaments have paved the way for this bill.
As well, the commitments in the bill are a key component of the NDP platform from the recent federal election. This has been a long-standing commitment of the New Democratic Party and I know it was important to our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, as well as to my colleague from Winnipeg North and my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh in the recent campaign, something that people in their ridings were particularly interested in and found particularly important.
Family reunification is a key objective of our current immigration law, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, sometimes called IRPA. Section 3 of the act says that one of IRPA's goals is “to see families are reunited in Canada”. With regard to the refugee program, section 4 of IRPA says that an objective should be “to support the self-sufficiency and the social and economic well-being of refugees by facilitating reunification with their family members in Canada”.
Family reunification is particularly important to refugees given the experience of dislocation that their families have experienced when they became a refugee. This bill and the whole discussion of family reunification is of particular importance to refugees in Canada.
Family reunification is a cornerstone of immigration policy in Canada because it recognizes that families are key to building this nation. That is the way immigration has always functioned in Canada. Families bring the important multicultural values. The family is the focus for multiculturalism that is now so important to our national understanding of who we are as Canadians.
Bill C-272 is very important, not only for people in my riding, but for people across Canada. It would allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative who does not fit into the current definition of the family class under IRPA to come to Canada.
IRPA currently defines the following as a family member: a spouse, a common-law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years old; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student and is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled, a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under 18 and is not a spouse or a common-law partner; and one relative of any age if there are no family members who fall into the above categories.
My bill would expand the definitions in the family class and allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident once in their lifetime to sponsor a son or a daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependant, who is independent in other words, an aunt or an uncle, a brother or a sister, a niece or nephew and a first cousin.
The bill is similar to one debated in the last Parliament which was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver East. However there has been a crucial improvement. We listened to the concerns expressed by the members in the debate then and have made changes.
The old bill did not define “relatives” but left it completely open so that any relative might be sponsored. At the time, while there was significant interest from other members in the ideas contained in the bill, members were concerned that this definition was far too broad. That is why we have been much more explicit in delineating just which relatives are eligible for this once in a lifetime sponsorship. We have acted on the concerns that members expressed in the debate and hope that this makes the bill something that they can accept and support fully.
I would like to talk a little about why this bill is so vital. It is because the bill has one main aim and that is simply to reunite families: families who have spent years apart, families who never had the chance to be together, who never had the chance to live and settle near each other, and families for whom separation is a daily reality. We would like to ease some of that heartache and stress.
In my riding, there are families who have not seen a loved one for years and who have no hope of being united. This is both unfair and unacceptable. As I have pointed out, a stated goal at the heart of Canada's immigration policy is the desire to reunite families, but despite this goal, immigration legislation has created a narrow definition of family. The family class must be expanded because it is simply too restrictive.
Family structures are complicated and varied. Many people in my riding can attest that a brother can be as close to a person as a grandfather and an aunt can mean as much to someone as a parent. The current family class does not respect how our families work today. It does not recognize family histories, cultural differences or changing times. The current family class definition excludes family members who surely we would all consider close.
Let us take, for instance, the requirement that a child must be under 22 years of age to be sponsored. This line of 22 years of age seems entirely arbitrary. For parents, their sons or daughters never stop being their children, and for children, no matter what age they are and no matter how financially independent they may be, separation from their parents can be difficult. A parent never stops caring for a child, no matter how old the child is. Being a parent is a lifelong commitment. It does not stop simply because a child moves out, gets married, has his or her own child, gets a job or moves to another country.
I know many members will recognize this as I say it. At no matter what stage they are in their lives, whether they are buying a house, having a child, going through a difficult patch, getting a job or losing a job, our children always need our support, and in later years we hope children will be there to support their parents. That is how our society functions. Expanding the definition of family to allow parents to sponsor their adult children to immigrate to Canada can be of great benefit to families and to our society.
I hear stories from my constituents which I am sure are familiar to most MPs. People tell me that they have completed their families, their children have moved out and their partners have perhaps passed on, and they would like to be reunited with a brother or sister who might be in another country and in the same situation they are. This bill would allow them that opportunity, the opportunity for companionship, friendship and mutual support. Above all, it would allow them the opportunity to be with their loved ones.
On a more practical note, another of the positive aspects of the bill is that it would help Canada reach its yearly immigration target. The government acknowledges that the target for immigration to Canada should be 1% of our population per year. That would put it at somewhere around 325,000 if we use the current population statistics, and yet we never reach that goal. In 2003 approximately 221,000 new immigrants were welcomed into Canada. That is only 66% of the target number, which means we are not doing very well. We have not ever really managed to reach that target of 1% of the population.
The government also acknowledges that by the year 2011 immigration will be the only source of growth for Canada's labour force. By 2026 to 2030, the government also notes, any population growth in Canada will come solely from immigration. These are significant changes in our employment and population base. We need to make sure we have the base to work from to ensure that jobs are filled in Canada and there is the population base to support our important programs and our way of life in Canada.
We need to encourage immigration to Canada. We need to be looking forward to those important markers that are not too far off in the distant future. We need to build the foundations for those changes now. What better foundation can there be than family reunification?
I know we will hear from some members that the bill would only increase the backlog of immigration applications. I do not want to do anything that would further delay applications which in many cases already take far too long to process. This backlog has haunted us for years, but it exists only because the government refuses to put the necessary resources into the department. Rather than government addressing the needs of Canadian families and Canadian society, there have been cutbacks and shortfalls and wait times are often therefore unacceptable, but this can be addressed should the government choose to or should it have the political will to make those changes.
The existence of this backlog should in no way be used to squelch the legitimate hopes of families for reunification or the important needs of Canadian society. I think it is interesting to hear the government refer to this backlog as the inventory of applications. The inventory could certainly be reduced and it is probable that we are carrying far too high an immigration inventory given the hopes and needs of Canadian society and Canadian families.
Family sponsorship comes with a promise. Under this program, sponsors promise to support family members who come to Canada, for three to ten years depending on their relationship. This means that families bear a huge part of the cost of reunification themselves.
I do recognize that there are settlement costs and language training costs, but the fact remains that there can be no better group to ensure the effective integration of new immigrants into Canadian society than their already established Canadian families. This is a win-win-win situation: for families, for Canadian society and for new immigrants.
Nothing can be better than to be welcomed at the airport or at a port of entry by family members, who then take home these new immigrants and help establish them in Canadian society. They can help them with living arrangements, job requirements and the cultural differences that they will no doubt face as they integrate into Canadian society. This is the best way to ensure that people integrate into our society and take their full place as participating members of society.
Canadian families want to be reunited with their family members. All too often they experience the definition of family in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as arbitrary and exclusive. They do not see it as appropriately reflecting the complex relationships that comprise their own families.
The bill seeks to recognize those realities and expand the possibilities for family reunification under IRPA. This would have obvious benefits for families but it would have benefits for Canadian society too. Canada needs immigration. It will need an even larger number of immigrants in the coming decades. We must ensure our ability to welcome the best immigrants possible. We must ensure that we maintain our place in the worldwide competition for immigrants, the competition that we have with Australia and with the United States. To do that, we must ensure that our immigration legislation recognizes the hopes and realities of families.
I think this bill would be an important contribution to Canada's immigration law. It would be an important expansion of the understanding of what family means in our immigration act. I hope hon. members will support the bill.