Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join the debate on Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are much needed measures. Bill C-57 addresses an important gap that currently exists in Canada's immigration law. In fact, Christine MacMillan, territorial commander for the Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda has this to say about Bill C-57:
This announcement is an excellent advancement towards the protection of women from sexual exploitation....It is another positive step in the fight against human trafficking, and we are encouraged by the leadership shown by the Federal Government.
With respect to current provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the existing legislation provides the government with the authority to allow an individual to enter Canada even if they do not meet all of the requirements and are inadmissible. Unfortunately, the act does not provide a similar authority to deny a temporary work permit to an applicant who meets entry requirements, but whose presence in Canada may put them in harm's way.
The proposed Bill C-57 will give the minister the authority to instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to individuals who might face humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. Without this authority, immigration officers cannot deny a work permit to someone who meets all the requirements to enter Canada, even if they believe there is a strong possibility of exploitation or abuse.
The proposed Bill C-57 will help us to prevent individuals from entering into situations where they may be abused or exploited, or where in fact they could become victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, it will help ensure our immigration system is not used by criminals to victimize people.
The Government of Canada should have the authority to institute measures to deny permits if there is evidence that individuals, including exotic dancers or anybody else, would be subject to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.
It is time for us to step up and be accountable. This legislation is all about that. Some may ask the question, why should we be concerned? Why do we need this legislation? The answer can be found in one word: accountability.
As elected representatives of an open and democratic institution, we must demonstrate our collective and unified resolve to ensure as much as possible the safety of anyone entering our country. We must be vigilant in protecting vulnerable individuals against potential exploitation, even though these individuals may not be Canadian citizens, but are considering temporary employment in Canada. We must take every measure possible to ensure that unsuspecting foreign workers are not subject to abuse or exploitation. The Government of Canada cannot be complicit in this kind of activity.
I find it most unfortunate that the Liberal immigration critic, the member for Mississauga—Erindale, criticized Bill C-57 by saying that he thought that we already had enough protection for vulnerable foreign workers who could be subject to sexual exploitation. To quote the Liberal immigration critic, he said, “I think we have the safeguards in place. It is a cheap attempt to change the channel and pretend to do something while they are really doing nothing”.
Before rushing to judgment, I wonder if the Liberal immigration critic bothered consulting with key stakeholders who welcomed our government's initiatives, stakeholders such as Sabrina Sullivan of The Future Group, who said:
[The] Immigration Minister...has taken an important step to protect women from sexual exploitation and end a program that made Canada complicit in human trafficking...It is clear that...[this] government is serious about combating human trafficking.
For those members of the opposition who think Bill C-57 is not needed, I urge them to consult stakeholders such as The Future Group, Stop the Trafficking Coalition and the Salvation Army. Perhaps then they will realize how important the legislation is and how critical it is for them to support it.
Let us be mindful of what we are debating today. We are in part debating the granting of a discretionary authority to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to deny the application of a foreign national for a temporary work permit in Canada. Like any authority granted or legislated to a minister, such a proposed or new authority must be reviewed, debated and enacted in the most open and accountable manner. That is what this government is committed to doing.
In fact, to demonstrate our openness to accountability on this matter, Richard Kurland, as I talked about before, an experienced and well-known immigration lawyer said, and I want to quote this again because this is very important:
What is [absolutely] striking about the new government's approach, unlike the former government, the new government is going through the front door. I have never seen this in 15 years of immigration policy...Normally, in years past, it was done behind the bureaucratic doors or through a [fait accompli] regulation with no debate. That's what remarkable today [for immigration policy].
That is quite a statement.
We are committed to not only an open debate, but also a full explanation of the reasons for the proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Allow me to review the government's commitment to accountability on this matter. First, I will reiterate and support the minister's assurance that a high level of accountability is attached to any exercise of authority proposed in the legislation. As the parliamentary secretary stated earlier, any ministerial instruction would be based on public policy objectives and evidence that clearly outlined an identified risk of abuse or exploitation.
Any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a work permit in Canada would require the concurrence of a second officer. Ministerial instructions to deny any such permit would be published in the Canada Gazette and would be reported in the annual report to Parliament on immigration.
I ask all hon. members to understand the basic principles behind the legislation. These principles are openness and accountability. I further ask this essential question of all members. Would any member support or approve the granting of a work permit to a foreign national knowing that he or she might become vulnerable to any form of exploitation or degradation? The answer, of course, is no.
As previously said, the authority would help target the networks that would profit from human trafficking. It would also stop the flow of individuals who were their prey and ultimate victims.
I submit, as a responsible government, that we should be able to say no to those applying for temporary employment who may not realize that they are being duped and misled. I believe it is only right that we should be able to prevent a human being from entering into a situation that would result in harm.
It is the Canadian way to warn an individual that he or she is about to make a mistake, which could have irreversible negative effects on their future. Above all, it is a Canadian tradition to stand up and be accountable among our friends and help them in a fight against exploitation.
Hon. colleagues will agree that making Canada a safer place for everyone is our objective. The instructions have the flexibility to allow for future unanticipated situations. Human trafficking is but one example of the kind of abuse and exploitation we are all trying to prevent.
Canada does not want to remain a destination country for human traffickers. Ministerial instructions issued under this new authority would give us one more tool to help stop trafficking at our borders and prevent foreign nationals from becoming victims. They build on Canada's existing efforts to protect victims of trafficking by giving them access to a temporary resident permit, health care benefits and trauma counselling.
Canada's immigration legislation includes stiff penalties of up to life imprisonment and fines of up to $1 million for traffickers.
In conclusion, I would like to cite John Muise, Director of Public Safety for the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, who said that Bill C-57 “is part of the response that needs to occur in terms of protecting women and children in this country”.
I urge all members to put aside their partisan views and do the right thing and support this very important Bill C-57.