House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was going.


Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from the NDP for introducing this bill. It is very important, as she so ably pointed out, that we re-examine from time to time how effective and how friendly our immigration system is to the people who are dependent on it.

The member, like the Conservative Party, believes very strongly in immigration and supports immigration. The Conservative Party wants immigration to continue to be a building block of our country, both economically and in human resources terms.

The bill before us would allow each citizen or permanent resident in Canada to sponsor an individual who is a relation one time during their life. I applaud the member's generosity of spirit that motivates her to put this forward. As she says, and as my colleague from the government just pointed out, this is an idea which has been debated and brought forward before. It is always good to debate; it is always good to have new ideas put forward.

The member who moved the bill has told us that it is a straightforward bill to facilitate the reunification of families. I know from personal experience that it can be a real burning desire for families to be together.

When my parents came to Canada I was just a year old and all the family that I have followed me because I am the oldest. My mom had 13 brothers and sisters in the country from where she emigrated and she missed them very much. I know that in many instances she wished they would be closer so that they could visit and have the kind of family closeness that most families enjoy. However, my parents made the choice to move quite far away from their respective families and we did not get to see my aunts, uncles and cousins very often and still do not, but that was a choice they made. In my opinion it was a very good choice for me because I love Canada and I love being a Canadian. Although I enjoy visiting my relatives from time to time, my heart and my home are here.

The point is, how far does Canada want to go and how far does Canada need to go? What would be in the best interests of Canada as far as opening the door for people who have made the choice to come to Canada to bring in other family members who are not immediate family members, who are not spouses, or about to be spouses, dependent children, or parents or grandparents? That really is the issue before us.

I listened very closely to my colleague. I know she has given these concerns a great deal of anxious thought, but I would suggest that there are a lot of practical questions and issues that would make a thoughtful person very reluctant to move precipitously in the direction the member is talking about.

Canada is a country built on immigration. We are proud of that. We want that to continue. We want to continue to build our country by bringing in the most skilled, the most dedicated, the most able people in the world to help us build what we believe is the best country in the world. Because we are a country built by immigration, most of us have family members, aunts, uncles, cousins to whatever degree, in other countries of the world. I would venture to say there would be many millions of Canadians who are citizens or permanent residents who have family members in other countries.

If each and every permanent resident and citizen were able to sponsor a new individual, the question is, how would we manage this? There would be millions of people qualified to take advantage of this new level of generosity in immigration. This is not a small number.

I know that my colleague knows this because she has been on the immigration committee, and been a very fine and active member. I see a problem with millions of people who would now be qualified to make an application.

I do not see it as straightforward. I see it as an enormous difficulty simply because there are so many people right now in the queue who are having the most appalling time having their applications processed.

The member knows, and we all know, that many people seeking to bring in spouses, seeking to bring in children from different places in the world are facing backlogs of disruptive proportions.

I have a case in my riding at the moment where a family from Kosovo has been seeking to be reunited for 10 years. A husband and wife and their five kids have been separated because of the terrible situation in Kosovo. The children have had only fleeting visits with the father. They are not able to get the family reunited and it has taken an emotional toll on the parents.

More than that, the terrible result of children being raised without a dad is a burden on a mother who came from a desperate situation to a situation where she is without the resources and support of a family. This family is seeking to be reunited. There is a backlog and steps have to be taken. The appeals are consuming a great amount of time.

I am pointing out that there are cases where we have an immediate family which needs to be together and the system is not able to facilitate that as it is. If we add to that several million more applications, I just cannot see this being practical. With all the good heart and will in the world, we must be fair to people. We must be fair and not tell them to come, that we want them, that they are welcome and we are opening the door even further. It is a false invitation because the resources are not there to accommodate these people who are in the lineup. To make a longer lineup will simply hurt everybody.

The second problem that concerns me, and I have mentioned this before, is the resources available for the settlement of newcomers to Canada. The member will know this because we travelled across the country around this time last year. We heard over and over, from settlement service providers, how the lack of funds and how the restriction in what service providers are able to do has created hardship for many newcomers. There is a lack of programs such as English as a second language. There is a lack of networking to get jobs. There is a lack of resources to help the communities integrate, welcome and bring together newcomers and people who are established in the community.

I know the member argues that the sponsor would support these individuals. However, the member knows and we know, although I do not know how to fix it necessarily, that the sponsorship provisions do not work. They are not enforced much of the time.

I had in my office, just a little while ago, a man who had brought his mother over from their country of origin saying he could not support her and that she had to go on welfare. I asked him if he considered this when he agreed to sponsor her and did he not have an obligation to support her? He said that he just could not. Sometimes those sponsorship obligations do not provide the safety net for newcomers that they ought to and this is a tremendous problem.

It is not generosity to open the door to people to come into a situation where they are going to face dislocation and hardship in a magnitude they did not expect, where backlogs grow, where support systems flounder, where their foreign credentials cannot be recognized and they are forced into lines of work that they never contemplated.

There are a number of problems with our system that must be addressed before we throw other people at the mercy of a system that is already failing many of the individuals who are already in the lineup to come to Canada.

I know that the member is sincerely and generously inclined to Canada's goodwill toward people coming here, but I think in fairness to them and in fairness to those who are already in the lineup, this is not the way that we should proceed. I would counsel against moving ahead with this bill at this time.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in this debate on behalf of my colleague, the hon. member for Laval Centre, who could not be in the House today and asked me to speak for her. Here, then, is the message she would have wanted to present to the House at this time.

There are certain debates in this House that require making decisions in the light of a particular context and realities that cannot be ignored.

Today, I have the opportunity to speak to such an issue, one which calls on our judgment and demands thorough reflection, in order to determine our position.

The purpose of the bill put forward by the hon. member for Vancouver East, Bill C-436, is to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment says, and I quote:

Subject to the regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may, once in their lifetime, sponsor one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.

We are well acquainted with the hon. member for Vancouver East. This proposal reflects her humanitarianism and her great generosity. We commend her on the spirit behind this bill.

Unfortunately, we cannot support her bill as it is currently formulated. Three major reasons underlie our position: the lack of clarity of the bill; immigration priorities, particularly Canada's role in refugee protection; and finally, budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.

However, the Bloc is prepared to discuss this further before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The reason the Bloc is expressing its reticence about this bill is its lack of clarity. When we say that the proposal by the hon. member for Vancouver East lacks clarity, I wonder, for example, what she means by:

—one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.

What are the acceptable limits of the definition of “a relative”? For example, is a third cousin counted as a relative? Is there a requirement that they share a genetic ancestor and, if so, in what percentage? What is the dividing line between an acceptable relative and one who is not, if the list of admissible persons has not been defined?

We easily see that there is a great deal of room for arbitrary decisions. If the hon. member for Vancouver East wishes to broaden the family class to include other specific family members, she should state that in her bill, because without that, it is too vague and does not make it possible to determine which cases are admissible and which are not.

For example, we know that certain cultures consider family much more broadly than blood relations. For some people, a very close friend or neighbour is like a brother or at least like a member of the family.

The current list of persons admissible in the family class is already well defined. How could we justify an amendment this far-reaching without including some limits?

The hon. member should be able to show how many people would be affected by this new measure. Has she any credible and relevant studies on this? For now, we can only presume that this kind of proposal would have allowed 229,091 additional sponsorship applications in 2002.

With respect to the priority given to asylum seekers, Canada's immigration plan is split 60-40. In other words, immigrants are selected as follows: 60% are economic immigrants, meaning businesspeople, and self-employed and skilled workers; the remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.

Of this 40%, more or less 30% are family class immigrants, 9% are refugees and 1% others.

Clearly, it is the asylum seekers who will pay for the new measures to increase the number of people who qualify for family class. Anyone tempted to decrease the 60% should consider the fact that before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought here, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada first, as part of the 60% in the economic class. So, this proposal, which would reduce that percentage, does little to improve the situation.

With respect to the 40%, the headlines show deportation cases for asylum seekers being dismissed almost every week. Clearly, the numerous conflicts and civil wars in a growing number of countries—Colombia, Algeria, Palestine-Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan—should make democratic countries listen more carefully to people seeking refugee status. Because of inadequate budgets, Canada turns away thousands of asylum seekers every year whose lives are in danger in their homelands. With larger budgets, Canada could better meet its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention with respect to protecting refugees.

By allowing more immigrants to sponsor “distant” relatives, we are using resources that could save lives by accepting more asylum seekers. Politics and public administration are no exception; as with daily life we have to make responsible choices while taking various constraints into account.

Would it be better to bring a cousin to Canada or offer asylum to a Colombian family whose members might be tortured or killed if they were returned to Colombia?

Now, to touch on the budget limitations. Last of all, although the humanitarian intent of the member for Vancouver East is praiseworthy, her bill does not take into consideration the realities of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's budget.

Canada's immigration objective is to admit the equivalent of 1% of the Canadian population, or 310,000 immigrants annually. There are two key reasons for this: compensating for the drop in population and filling the need for skilled workers, particularly with economic class immigrants.

In 2002, Canada admitted 229,091 immigrants, compared to the 2001 figure of 250,484. The drop was in part a result of the department's inability to process any more because of budget restraints and the costs related to settlement and integration. It is not enough just to admit people into the country; it is also important to ensure that they receive proper services for a smooth integration into the host society.

This is the major problem with the whole immigration issue. The virtual absence in the recent throne speech of any reference to insufficient resources for immigration is the reason we support this bill in order to have the opportunity to discuss it in committee. In fact, if it is passed on second reading, there will have to be a debate in committee and we then be in a position to prove that the Department of CItizenship and Immigration is incapable of meeting its responsibilities because of insufficient funds. What it more, an analysis in committee would enable us to propose some essential points to be incorporated into the bill of the member for Vancouver East.

By recognizing the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-436, and by accepting its referral to a committee, the Bloc Quebecois would help prove that common sense and responsibility dictate that we ask for sufficient funding to provide proper settlement services for those who are admitted, while not ignoring our humanitarian duty to asylum seekers. They must be given priority access to resources.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2004 / 6:10 p.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to speak about the commitment of our government to strengthen families and about the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on family reunification.

Families are both an anchor and a source of strength to newcomers. They represent the strongest possible foundation and roots for the health and prosperity of communities and of Canada as a whole. It is important to ensure that new families are vibrant and have the tools and resources needed to integrate, participate and feel a sense of belonging to Canada.

Over the past two years the government has achieved this objective through prudent management of the immigration program and a commitment to expanding and integrating the family class. From 1998 to 2001 the family class in Canada moved from 50,882 to 66,713. That represents an increase of almost 16,000 immigrants only in the family class in just four years.

However we felt this was not enough so the government introduced new regulations in 2002 to allow even more individuals to sponsor family members and to speed up the processing of family class applications.

We have expanded the family class to include common-law and conjugal partners of the opposite and same sex, and have increased the dependent age to 22. As well, we have reduced the age at which Canadian citizens are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years and the period of sponsorship undertakings has been reduced in most cases from 10 to 3 years.

These are significant changes and they are designed to facilitate family reunification.

New application rules will assist in the faster processing of applications on behalf of spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children.

In making these changes, we took into account the need to increase people's ability to sponsor family members, while ensuring that the immigration program is managed in a balanced and efficient fashion. This approach clearly serves the best interests of everyone: Canadians, newcomers and our communities.

Currently the government is expanding the consultation process to ensure municipal leaders and other community stakeholders have a say in immigration matters. The overwhelming majority of newcomers to Canada settle in cities placing enormous demands on their resources, so their input is vital.

Earlier this week the minister met with municipal leaders in Ontario and over the coming months she will meet with other municipal leaders across the country. This dialogue will allow us to increase immigration levels in a way that benefits both the communities and the newcomers themselves.

Provincial stakeholders must be consulted before any changes are made that could radically change the balance between family class and economic immigrants since they could face insurmountable demands on health, educational and social services.

While government has met or exceeded annual immigration targets in the last three years, these targets are developed in close co-operation with stakeholders. We are determined to continue this trend of increasing family class over time but we must do so in a fair, balanced, sustainable and consultative way.

The changes proposed by the hon. member for Vancouver East in Bill C-436 runs counter to this process and to the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

Besides, Canadians or permanent residents who wish to sponsor someone not in the family class can already do so provided they have no family members living in Canada or abroad whom they could sponsor in the family class.

Bill C-436 would expand this concept to grant all citizens in Canada or permanent residents a once in a lifetime sponsorship opportunity, regardless of their circumstances, with little consideration given to their familiarity or relationship with a sponsored individual.

Under Bill C-436, anyone could sponsor nearly anyone else as a member of the undefined relative class without any thought to fiscal support or employability. The new person could then repeat the exercise, as could their sponsored applicant, and so on, creating a multiplier effect. The result would be an almost limitless chain of family class immigration based simply on loose associations.

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

Moreover, this could result in new frauds and it could undermine the integrity of the economic class immigration, since a significant number of economic class immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could sponsor them.

We on this side of the House are committed to the principle of uniting families. I know the hon. member for Vancouver East's heart is in the right place but past experiences show that this should be done with appropriate intake controls in place to prevent abuse and to make sure that changes do not overwhelm the integration and immigration program.

We need to consult with local stakeholders to ensure increases in family class levels are achieved in a way that benefits everyone, and the minister plans to do that.

By following all of these processes, all Canadians can then be sure of a fair, efficient and equitable immigration program for many years to come.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I anticipated this opportunity because of the response that I, like a number of other members of my caucus, have received as we have taken these proposals to our constituents and the citizens of Canada more generally.

It was interesting that as we all came back we were comparing our experiences, having reached out to the community in this fashion, of the very similar responses that we got. I have to say that it was one of those occasions when as members of Parliament we were deeply touched by the sensitive nature and expressions that we got from family members.

Two categories stand out in my mind. One was the number of parents, and I have to say mothers in particular, who talked about the need that they had to reunify their families. It often was a situation where the family had come but one of the children, being an adult child, could not be sponsored under the definition in the act. Therefore they would bring two or three of their children but one had to be left behind with other family members in the country of origin. It was telling, the number of times parents broke down in tears when they told of having to make that decision, but for the good of the whole family they came.

The other category where we heard these expressions of sorrow in many cases were the siblings of those children who had been left behind. This situation that I am talking about is not an isolated case. This has occurred numerous times with families who are here, who are citizens and good, solid members of our communities. It was just very emotional.

I have to say that when I hear some of what I will call the nitpicky rationalizations that we are hearing from the government and from some of the speakers in the opposition, I wish they would go out and listen to some of those stories. They may then set aside some of these almost technical arguments that they are producing and say that we have a major problem with the reunification of families in this country.

To suggest that the existing provision in the act says that if they do not have any family here, they can bring somebody, does not answer the issue at all and, in fact, does not address the issue of reunification whatsoever in those situations that I have described.

The other indication, which we have heard both from the official opposition and the government, is that this just is not workable. The reality is that this was looked at very extensively by the immigration committee back in 2002.

In the spring of 2002, albeit it was a definition of extended families that was smaller than what we produced and proposed, we were proposing in an amendment before the committee, as we were moving to amend the bill, that grandparents and brothers and sisters would be defined as family members and could be sponsored. That vote, after a great deal of discussion and analysis by the committee, failed by only one vote. It was moved by the NDP and it got the support of six of the members. Seven voted against it, and, of course, at that time all those members were government members.

I believe the proposal we are making addresses some other issues that badly need to be addressed, such as the backlog, which has been mentioned by a number of the other speakers. We are well aware of it. However what is being ignored in the debate, particularly from the government's side, is that a good number of the people who are in that backlog now are family members as we would define them, that is, they are brothers and sisters and children of people who are already citizens and residents of Canada.

If in fact we move them into the sponsorship category, that is, they could be sponsored once in a lifetime by a family member, we actually would reduce that backlog. We also would reduce the amount of work that would be needed, because the sponsorship process is a faster one. It requires less work on the part of our civil service to process the application. I can give an estimate that somewhere between 25% and 50% less time is spent on the sponsorship program than is spent on the regular applicant.

So there would be a substantial reduction in the backlog and there would be a substantial reduction in the amount of time that our civil service would have to work on these applications. That would go some distance to then reduce the amount of the backlog for the rest of the people who have been waiting for their applications to be processed, as we have heard, for as long as five years, oftentimes successfully at the end of that period of time.

There is another point I would like to make this evening. It is something that I do not think we had anticipated, but it came out regularly at the sessions that we held across the country when we were speaking to family members who would be interested in taking advantage of this sponsorship program. That was the number of times that family members stood up and said that there is also a dollar issue here, not just the humanitarian issue of reunifying siblings or parents and children. There is also a financial issue, because the reality is that in many cases the family members who are here are sending money back to that country of origin. In a great many cases, the family members who are left behind in that other country are in very poor financial shape and need the assistance that flows from the family members who are here.

We know about this. It came up recently at one of the G-7 meetings. We know about the amount of money that is sent out of the country for family members.

I can recall one man at the session we had in my city of Windsor. He was the first one to mention this. He indicated that he was sending back in excess of $5,000 a year. As he said that, it was interesting to see the number of other hands that went up for people wanting to say the same thing. This was not a large crowd. We had about 100 people at that meeting. There were at least 10 families in that room who were sending back in excess of $5,000 a year. There were several who were sending back in excess of $10,000 a year.

That is money that is flowing out of Canada. We can multiply that by the tens of thousands because of the responsibility that the family members who are here feel for those family members who are back in the country of origin. That is a substantial drain of cash out of this country, which would not be occurring if Parliament took advantage of the proposal that we are making to reunify those families to bring them here.

Another point has been missed by the government. We are finding that the number of people who have been coming here in the last decade shows a significant difference in regard to the two patterns we can look at. If we look at the new immigrants or newcomers who came here between 1981 and 1991, they were hired into employment situations that were in keeping with their experiences and their academic backgrounds at a much higher rate than those who came between 1991 and 2001. The reports on this are out there. It is a well established fact now.

This is one of the reasons I would suggest that we could move to deal with that problem. If we did reunify families, if we did allow them to sponsor, that rate of people not being able to find appropriate employment would drop dramatically because the family would be here in the country to back them up and to provide them with assistance.

There are numerous reasons why the bill should be accepted at second reading and passed on to committee so that further investigation can be made and we can move dramatically in a direction that will reunify families in this country.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 6:27 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow, pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:27 p.m.)