moved that Bill C-436, 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 very pleased to rise today in the House to speak to my bill, Bill C-436. In actual fact, we had an hour of debate on the bill before the House was prorogued, but under the changes that have taken place we are now going back to the first hour. I am pleased to have this opportunity to have another debate and to hear from other members about the bill.
Since we debated it the last time in that first hour of debate, I did want to let members know that I have had various meetings across the country in various communities. There has been tremendous support for this bill. We have received petitions, postcards and feedback from organizations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and other places that I visited. There has been tremendous support for the idea that is contained in the bill.
Just to briefly recap, this is a very straightforward proposal. It is a proposal that builds on a policy that already exists within our immigration system, and that is to support the reunification of families.
Under this bill, a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident would be provided with a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative who would not otherwise be qualified or considered as a member of the family class as it exists now. What this bill would do is strengthen and assist family reunification in Canada.
We believe that the current family class sponsorship rules are very restrictive. In fact, in a question and answer paper that I sent around to members of the House, we laid out who it is that can be sponsored now under the existing rules, but there are many relatives that cannot be sponsored. Therefore, the purpose of the bill is to simply allow a permanent resident or a citizen to select a family member who does not qualify under the rules. A person could apply for it and bring a family member to Canada.
I do want to deal with some of the questions that arose during that earlier hour of debate. I think that while there was general support for the principle of what was contained here, there were questions such as, for example, would this not create a huge backlog within the immigration system? I would reply to that by saying that I think all of us know--and certainly members who have participated in the citizenship and immigration committee are very aware of the fact--that there are huge problems with the current immigration system. In fact, there are backlogs that exist now. The citizenship committee has, on a number of occasions and in a report just a few months ago, called for additional resources to be provided to deal with this chronic backlog.
This is a much larger issue around needing adequate resources within this department. I have said many times in the House and in committee that I always feel that the lack of resources in this department is one way that the government actually, through the back door, finds a way to not meet its own commitment of saying that the level of immigration would be about 1% of the Canadian population each year. That policy is on the books, but the way the government gets around it is by actually ensuring that this backlog exists.
My point in debating and seeking support for this bill is that hard-working families should not bear the blame of the problems that are plaguing the citizenship and immigration department. We need to fix those problems. We need to provide adequate resources to that department. For example, one thing we could do is make sure the money that is created through the landing fee is actually going back into the supports and services in that department.
So the criticism was made that we would be adding to the backlog. I understand that point, but I think we need to address that as an overall issue. In fact, bringing this bill to committee I think would allow us to open up the debate and to look at the issue of resources that are within the department.
Second, there were some questions about how many people we are talking about. If this bill were approved, what potentially would we be talking about in terms of people coming to Canada? That is something I cannot answer categorically, of course, because if this bill were approved it would allow a potential for permanent residents and citizens to sponsor someone.
However, I will say this. In 1993, the number of people sponsored under the family class provision was 110,000. Today, though, the projection for the arrival of family members is much lower. It is now at around 60,000. I think members can see that there has been a shift in the program and that the family class program has actually decreased over a number of years.
I feel that Bill C-436 would allow a bit more flexibility. It is not about a major overhaul of the system, which I could argue on other occasions desperately needs to be done. This is actually a very modest proposal that would simply provide more openness and flexibility under the family class rules.
I would also like to point out that the idea of doing this did not come from me, although when I heard about it I thought it was a great idea. It actually came from a former minister of immigration. When she was in Vancouver, this idea was put out to the community. It was not just floated; it was a fairly concrete idea that was suggested by the minister at the time. Of course it received tremendous support immediately, both within the local media and within the community. Within a very short period of time, a large number of petitions went around the community supporting the idea of a once in a lifetime bill.
Subsequent to that, the minister moved on and the idea was dropped. I thought it was a fabulous idea and asked myself why we should waste this kind of good, creative approach that would provide a modest change to the system. I picked up the idea as a private member's bill. I wanted to make that point because the bill actually originated from the government side.
I do think that Bill C-436 is related to larger issues around citizenship and immigration. Today I was very proud to be joined at a press conference by two of my colleagues, the member for Windsor--St. Clair and the member for Winnipeg Centre, where we spoke about this once in a lifetime bill. Also, today we introduced in the House a bill to ban racial profiling in Canada. We also introduced a new website launched by the NDP called Canadians4Justice.
We have done these three things as major initiatives because we are concerned about what is taking place in our society. There is more targeting of people of visible minorities or of different religious backgrounds. We have seen this particularly in the Canadian Muslim community and the Canadian Arab community. Even here in Ottawa an outrageous incident took place in a restaurant not far away from Parliament Hill where the police in effect raided the restaurant and were quite, I would say, over the top in their actions. They handcuffed all the black people in the restaurant and left the lone Caucasian white person alone. So there is the whole issue around the targeting of minorities, both in terms of individual incidents and also in a more systemic way in terms of how the system is functioning. For example, we are seeing an increase in refugees who are being put into detention. We are also seeing more people being stopped at borders by officials.
We are very concerned about this, so we launched these three proposals today. I think this issue is very much resonating in the broader community, because people are very concerned about the targeting of immigrants and visible minorities. Some are people who have been here for generations but happen to have a different colour of skin. This is something we should be concerned about.
I feel that Bill C-436 is a small step in making our system fairer and more accessible to people. I do feel that sometimes it is not very politically popular to talk about immigration or to be supportive of immigration--sometimes it is and sometimes it is not--but I feel that as members of Parliament we have a responsibility to make sure that the system is working and to point out its shortcomings.
Today this bill is really put forward in that spirit. It is about saying that we can support families in this country. It is about supporting diversity. I had a very tragic case in my own riding of Vancouver East that I think dramatizes what the bill is about. I am sure some people may be aware that a young Filipino boy was murdered by other young people near a park in east Vancouver.
The tragedy of the story is that the mother had come from the Philippines as a live-in caregiver, a domestic worker. She had three sons. She was only able to sponsor two sons because one of them did not qualify under the family class. One of her sons was murdered, the youngest one. There was a huge outpouring in the community about this situation. I attended the funeral. There were probably a thousand people at the funeral as well as all kinds of political representatives. There was just such an outpouring of grief about what had happened to this family.
We actually helped the family get the older brother from the Philippines to Canada on a special ministerial permit so he could attend the funeral and support his mother--this is the oldest son--and his middle brother. He came to Canada on a special ministerial permit which we luckily, with the support of the minister, were able to get in a day.
The irony is that this fellow will now have to go back because he came on a visitor's permit. He will not qualify. I feel that this is a very good example of where a policy such as this one, based on family reunification, would allow this mother to bring her oldest son to come to Canada to help this family make it through, because there he is, thousands of miles away. Because he is over 25, he would not qualify under the family class as it is now.
I know there are many other situations and really heartbreaking stories. I know that members in the earlier debate spoke about some of those stories.
What do we do about it? The system is not working properly. I hope very much that even if there are questions about the bill, members will support the principle here, the principle of family reunification and allowing this little bit of flexibility within the system to say that once in a lifetime a person could sponsor someone who would not otherwise qualify. All the other rules would apply. There are all kinds of screenings that people have to go through and so on. All of those things would apply.
I hope the bill can make it through debate and go to committee where it can have a thorough examination, as we do in committee. We can hear witnesses and all the rest of it. Then a decision will be made.
I seek the support of other members of the House for the bill, in particular members on the government side. I seek their support for the bill to allow it to go to the next step. When it was first debated the government was not that sympathetic to the idea, but I know that we have a new parliamentary secretary, the member for Vancouver Centre, who I know is very familiar with these issues. I know that she is very supportive and understands the importance of family reunification and what it means to people in our community of Vancouver and certainly in communities across the country as well.
I am hopeful. We have a new minister who I understand is very close to the issues and what is happening. Therefore I am being a little optimistic that with a new minister and a new parliamentary secretary we will get a little shot at this. Instead of them closing the door and saying, “It is a private member's bill, shut the door on that one”, I am hoping that we might have a good debate, that the principle of what is being put forward will be supported and that we can seek the support of other parties as well. I look forward to hearing comments and debate from other members of the House.