moved that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to open the debate today on Bill C-14.
As members may know, this bill was introduced in the House on May 15. The timing was no accident. The United Nations designated May 15 as International Families Day. This is a day to reflect on the importance of families to societies around the world. This year's theme was about changing families and it has given us an opportunity to see how we can support their changing needs.
This bill give us the perfect opportunity to show our support for Canadian families who wish to adopt children born abroad.
Let me tell the House about one of those children. A baby girl was abandoned in a public place in China where she would likely be found. She was only a few months old. An orphanage took her in and gave her a date of birth and a name. She was lucky.
A Canadian woman heard of the little girl and began the adoption process. She went to China and returned with a skinny and frightened little girl who, for the third time in 15 months, had been given to someone she did not know.
After waiting for two years for amendments to the Citizenship Act the Canadian mother arranged for her adopted daughter's case to be channelled through the usual immigration process and she received Canadian citizenship in about one year.
Today, she is a very happy girl living in Scarborough.
However, if this little girl had received citizenship at the time of her adoption, there would have been one less obstacle to be overcome and her adoptive parents would have been saved much time, effort and frustration.
The government has an agenda that is focused on outcomes. We want to see laws that improve the lives of Canadians, its citizens and immigrants. With respect to the immigration part of my portfolio, we have already taken action in a number of ways.
I recently announced that international students in our universities and colleges will be allowed to compete for off campus jobs on a level playing field with their Canadian peers. About 100,000 students across Canada stand to benefit by this opportunity to develop skills, language and experience.
The government is committed to improving the social and economic outcomes that recognize the importance of better supporting immigrants so that they can succeed socially and economically. That is why we are providing two years of additional settlement funding, a total of $307 million in new funding.
To help victims of human trafficking, we moved quickly to implement new measures such as temporary resident permits to help victims come forward and report the crime and begin their recovery.
We are operating according to the plan we introduced.
That plan includes addressing three citizenship and immigration matters, three issues impeding a fairer and more sensible immigration program that works for Canada.
The first was to reduce the right of permanent residence fee by half. That was done in the May 2 budget.
The second was to take steps to establish a Canadian agency for the recognition of foreign credentials. With $18 million provided for in the budget, we can begin to make headway after years of false starts. I fully support my colleague on this project, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, who will continue to consult with the provinces and territories regarding this agency. We will await her advice and proceed accordingly.
The third of course was to support Canadian parents who adopt foreign-born children, and here is the legislation. The legislation springs from a Conservative Party of Canada policy position that was adopted in early 2005. The idea won the favour of all parties by the end of that year.
This legislation is a thoughtful and balanced response to issues raised about our current law. It is also an expression of Conservative and Canadian values. We have also heard from important stakeholders such as the Adoption Council of Canada. They are behind the bill. So are the many other families who have their own stories of frustration and delays. I can recall countless stories where people were concerned about the time and effort required to get Canadian citizenship for their adopted foreign-born children. Their input and concerns are reflected in the continuing work that goes into the regulations that will complete this legislation.
Families and representatives of families have all been calling for our government to modify its legislation to support families, to get it done. This legislation does get it done. It gets it done for families and it gets it done for children. We are there to support families. By passing this legislation, members of this House will be doing not only what is right, they will be increasing fairness in Canadian citizenship legislation.
The issues dealt with in this legislation have been noted for some time. They were examined by standing committees during previous sessions of Parliament. This bill benefits from what was put before those committees. The discussions leading up to the present bill have been long and deliberate. They have also been pragmatic and democratic. Individuals who have real life experience with the requirements of current legislation came forward. We sat down with them and listened to their frustrations about the status quo.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River who took a leading role in these discussions. In fact I will say that over the last many years, I do not know of a single parliamentarian who has played more of a leadership role on the issue of adoption than that member. At a time when really no other parliamentarians were coming forward on this issue, the member for Prince George--Peace River, the government whip, was there standing up for families who were struggling with all kinds of adoption issues, including the issue of providing citizenship to foreign-born children. Today we see the fruits of all of his labour up until this point.
We also consulted widely on what could and should be done. The result is in this bill. It is a sensible and coherent response to issues raised around Canadian citizenship for foreign-born children and young people adopted by Canadians. It delivers a major priority of our election platform: a fair and sensible citizenship and immigration system that works for Canada.
Currently, Canadian citizens residing in Canada who wish to adopt a foreign-born child abroad must first sponsor the child as a permanent resident. Only after that step has been taken can an application be made for citizenship. With this bill we are making it easier for Canadian parents to obtain Canadian citizenship for their foreign-born adopted children, whether the parents reside in Canada or abroad.
Today's bill is good news.
Bill C-14 gives children adopted overseas access to citizenship without having first to apply for permanent residence. It reduces delays in getting citizenship for children who are becoming part of Canadian families. It is an expression of our desire as Canadians to see new families constituted as supportively and as quickly as possible.
This bill will mean more fairness.
At present there is a difference in the way we treat children adopted overseas by Canadians and those who are born overseas to Canadians. A child born to Canadians overseas receives Canadian citizenship by birth. An adopted child must first get permanent residence before citizenship. The families who have opened their hearts to these children certainly do not make that distinction and neither do we.
This legislation streamlines the process for families. It augments the fairness of our system as a whole. It has the support of Canadians across the country. That is because we listened carefully to any concerns raised in our consultations, concerns for example about the possibility of individuals adopting children merely to help them acquire citizenship, adoptions of convenience as they are known. We crafted the bill to deal specifically and coherently with these concerns.
Among other safeguards, Bill C-14 ensures that the existence of a genuine parent-child relationship is demonstrated, that the best interests of the child are being met, that a proper home assessment has been made, that the birth parents have given their consent to the adoption, and that no person will achieve unwarranted gain as a result of the adoption.
I would like to clarify that this bill applies to adoptions that took place after the Citizenship Act came into effect on February 15, 1977.
There is an additional matter I would draw to the attention of the House. This is the case of adoptive parents living in Canada. The province or territory where the parent resides will be an integral part of the adoption process. That is because adoption falls within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Bill C-14 does nothing to alter this. The government does not wish to impinge in any way upon the prerogatives of the provinces and territories.
I began my remarks by talking about a little girl. Let me close with the story of two parents and their experience. They will soon join 10 other Canadian families to fly to China to bring their newly adopted children back to Canada. Can anyone imagine their flight home. It is their opinion that the current citizenship process “is a difficult and lengthy process, so this”--Bill C-14--“is a big help....This is one less obstacle”. When embarking on the journey of adopting their children, these parents were surprised to discover that citizenship rules are different for babies adopted abroad as compared to babies born to Canadians abroad. Babies are people just starting out with a clean slate.
I conclude by returning to the theme of this year's International Day of Families. It is pertinent to this legislation. It is “Changing Families: Challenges and Opportunities”. With this bill we are doing our part to support families and adopted young people in a time of rapid change globally. Indeed we are supporting families and their newest members, their adopted children, children we want to see protected, children we want to welcome, children who we want to feel at home here in Canada.
Bill C-14 contributes to one of this government's priorities: a fair and sensible immigration program that works for Canada. For these reasons, I look forward to the debate ahead of us. A prominent immigration lawyer has commented on the bill by saying, “This is a win-win situation. No one will object to this piece of legislation. It will pass, I hope, the House very quickly. It will go through committee stages and it will receive royal assent, I hope, very quickly. It is long overdue”.
Indeed, the member for Trinity—Spadina has commented on this. I would think that she concurs with the proposed changes. She is a highly regarded member of the House, but there is a reason for all members to be as proud of this legislation as I am. I look forward to both sides of the House supporting the passage of the provisions of this bill as quickly as possible.