Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-436.
The bill seeks to amend Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by granting every citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor, once in the sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class.
The concept of once in a lifetime sponsorship is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed whether such a provision would be workable for several years.
All of us believe in the principle of expanding the family class and making it easier for people to sponsor their loved ones abroad. However, the one time sponsorship option such as that proposed in Bill C-436 is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.
Past experience indicates that even with more resources, the increase in the backlogs and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants that could be generated by such an open ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the whole immigration program.
Bill C-436 will have the effect of adding a new class to the immigration program and introducing new opportunities for fraud. Since relationships outside the nuclear family are often not well documented and usually are very difficult to verify, the government would need to significantly increase resources to investigate and confirm each claim for sponsorship made under this new section.
In 1988 family intake nearly doubled over two years, thanks to a similar arrangement to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. The escalated number of backlogs arising out of this program, despite its termination in 1993, affected the Department of Citizenship and Immigration for many years.
Even putting aside the potential for huge backlogs, Bill C-436 would undoubtedly undermine our efforts to prevent marriages or common law relationships of convenience and adoptions of convenience since these persons could be sponsored without regard to the merits of their relationship with the sponsor.
It could also undermine the economic component of the immigration program, as many failed economic immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could easily sponsor them.
We have already made provision for sponsoring individuals outside the family class under certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.
Canadians and permanent residents today can sponsor a foreign national who is not a member of the family class, provided that they have no family residing in Canada or abroad. Section 117(1)(h) of the new immigration refugee protection regulations defines a foreign national as a member of the family class with respect to a sponsor regardless of age if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common law partner, conjugal partner or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad. Individuals can also apply to sponsor a non-family class relative under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act itself which allows a minister to grant a foreign national permanent residence status or an exemption from any applicable criteria of the act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
As well, the government passed a series of new regulations just last year to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and significantly expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way. These changes provide for equal treatment under the law for common law couples of the opposite and the same sex by expanding the family class to include the terms “common law partners” and “conjugal partners”.
They also expand the definition of “dependant child” to better reflect the longer child dependencies in certain instances. They also reduce the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 years to 18 years old.
These enhancements to the family class reflect the government's policy intention of easing family reunification while ensuring that the immigration program itself maintains an appropriate balance between the intake of refugees as well as economic and family class immigrants.
We have expanded the family class in a well planned and responsible way. The government has made provision for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.
I therefore find it difficult to support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will not vote in favour of the fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-436.