Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to have this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Canada's immigration and refugee system is an important part of our identity, economy and society. For those people who are applying to enter our country, Canada represents hope, safety and a new start.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has the authority under the act to grant entry to individuals who would otherwise not be permitted to enter Canada. This authority is an important tool, as it ensures that we are able to take into account the unique situation of each applicant. It helps us to remain fair, balanced and humane.
As hon. colleagues know, this authority is designed to be exercised in a transparent and accountable manner and the use of instructions is reported annually to Parliament. However, what the government cannot do under the current legislation is deny a work permit to someone who meets all the entry requirements; that is to say, under the current legislation, we cannot deny a permit even if we are convinced there is a strong possibility that a person may be exploited or abused in Canada.
Under the previous Liberal government, some applicants for work permits found themselves in situations leading to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. As I raised in this House repeatedly during the infamous strippergate scandal of the previous Liberal government, women were degraded by being forced to provide nude photos of themselves. The hypocrisy of the previous Liberal government on this matter was stunning. While the Liberals stood in the House and for years acted out a routine of defending women, they did nothing to help, while some of their staff literally enjoyed the show.
Going back about 13 years, I had the privilege of volunteering at a sexual assault centre for just shy of seven years. Through that opportunity, I learned that one out of three women will be assaulted at some point in her lifetime. I think it is important to point out that now, 13 years later, that statistic has not changed. In fact, there is concern that it has increased and that one out of two will experience this.
At the height of the Liberal strippergate scandal, the price for one applicant was to work as a volunteer on a former Liberal cabinet minister's campaign. At one point the former Liberal minister of immigration said that admitting strippers under the temporary foreign work program was necessary to protect women. Then she flip-flopped and said it was exploiting women.
Essentially, the previous Liberal government gave blanket exemptions to foreign strippers to work in Canada despite warnings that women were vulnerable to being forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitation. It was shameful that the previous government helped facilitate what was in essence human trafficking by permitting foreign strippers into the country regardless of whether they could be potential victims of abuse or exploitation. This was all in spite of warnings that these women were vulnerable to being forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitation.
Of particular concern to me is the fact that the Liberals, despite being booted out of office, still do not seem to get it. The Liberal immigration critic, the member for Mississauga—Erindale, was dismissive of Bill C-57 when on May 17 he said:
I think we have the safeguards in place. This is just an attempt to change the channel to grab some headlines.
He also said:
It's a cheap attempt to change the channel and pretend to do something while they're really doing nothing.
Instead of dismissing Bill C-57 as frivolous, the Liberal immigration critic should have sought the opinions of highly respected organizations, but of course what would the Stop the Trafficking Coalition or the Future Group and/or the Salvation Army know?
What those groups do know is that this legislation is long overdue. All of those organizations have offered their support for this legislation.
I echo the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who expressed her dismay with the Liberal immigration critic who so flippantly dismisses Bill C-57, especially in light of the trouble the Liberals found themselves in during strippergate.
I am surprised that the Liberals would attack legislation that protects vulnerable foreign workers. I suspect the Liberals do not want a new law that protects workers coming to Canada from being exploited or subject to human trafficking, as a means to deflect from their own embarrassment and record of inaction. The Liberal Party, in my opinion, is out of touch.
Our government is very proud of having brought this legislation forward. We are proud of putting forward protections that will help prevent these situations for temporary workers in Canada, including strippers, who may be abused, exploited or possibly become victims of human trafficking.
Fortunately, this government is doing things differently and is getting things done for Canadians. Under our legislation, ministerial instructions would provide the government a mechanism to protect applicants from abuse and exploitation that they might otherwise experience. I should point out that this legislation only creates the legal authority to issue instructions and does not create actual instructions or target specific occupations. Instead, it sets out areas of concern and offers a set of possible risk factors for officers to consider.
The amendments we propose would include strong measures to ensure that the government is accountable and transparent as it uses this new authority. Each time the minister issues instructions under the authority, there will be transparency, as they must be published in the Canada Gazette. Furthermore, they must be published in the department's annual report to Parliament. This will finally cast light on the shadowy approach of the previous Liberal government.
Additionally, any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a permit would require approval by a second and more senior immigration officer. Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to victimize or exploit people. The new authority would also help stop human trafficking by ensuring traffickers cannot exploit the hopes and dreams of those who are seeking a better life in Canada.
This legislation is the latest of our ongoing efforts to strengthen Canada's immigration system. As I have said, this government is committed to transparency by ensuring that any instructions used under this authority are included in the annual report to Parliament. We are committed to ensuring that Canada's immigration and refugee system continues to have a positive impact on our economy and our society. Everyone who enters Canada should have a fair chance to find what they are looking for: hope, safety and a new start.
I think it is important to note what the NDP has said respecting the issue of the previous Liberal government facilitating the sexual exploitation of temporary workers. Here is what the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre had to say about the previous government's record:
The door is still wide open for the type of wholesale exploitation that existed with the eastern European dancers, and, in reality, the minister of immigration is still pimping for the underworld...by providing an endless stream of fodder for the underworld of pornography and prostitution under the guise of legitimate dancing.
Regarding the Liberals' allowance of a visa for exotic dancers, the member for Winnipeg Centre also said:
I condemn the government for allowing this program to exist. I cannot believe how callous and uncaring it must be.
The leader of the NDP, commenting on the so-called exotic dancer program, said:
Now the government might not any longer be pimping for the sex industry and that is a good thing and it never should have been doing that in the first place.
Given the strong statements by the NDP, I would hope that the leader of the NDP and his caucus will vote in favour of Bill C-57. Surely the NDP recognizes that our government is taking necessary action to deal with this issue, which once again is something the previous Liberal government failed to do.
As for the Bloc Québécois, its former status of women critic said:
When a nation...gives out temporary visas for so-called artists who are generally headed for the male entertainment industry, do you think we are opening the door to trafficking?...I feel that this is a sort of somewhat disguised legal trafficking.
Also, the Bloc member for Chambly—Borduas said:
--we are wondering if there could actually be policies unwittingly promoting human trafficking.
--the gist of what the member for Winnipeg Centre said...was that when offshore labour is imported in response to a shortage...like in the case of bars looking for exotic dancers and importing them from Rumania or elsewhere, these individuals often get mixed up with organized crime.
--I am talking about the Canadian government, of course. Is it not contributing to getting individuals, in this case exotic dancers, mixed up with organized crime?
Members of the NDP, the Bloc and the Conservatives all previously raised concerns about the previous Liberal government's lack of action on affording protection to foreign workers subject to abuse and exploitation. I hope their previous comments are followed up with action by voting in favour Bill C-57.
Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to exploit people. They expect the government to take all necessary steps to deal with the problems associated with the exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers and the crime of human trafficking.
Bill C-57 is an important step toward that goal. I urge all members of this place to do the right thing and support this very important legislation.