Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to allow for the once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative.
As all members have heard, the bill before the House is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed for several years whether such a provision would be workable.
All of us believe in the principle of reuniting families. That is not an issue. The list of those who can be sponsored from abroad is already quite extensive, contrary to the assertion made previously by the member for Parkdale—High Park. This is a point I will return to later.
Currently, those who can be sponsored include: spouses; common-law and conjugal partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, including those who are adopted; as well as orphaned brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces or grandchildren who are under the age of 18.
The one time sponsorship option, such as that proposed in Bill C-394, is fundamentally flawed because it is an expansion of the family class which would be unsustainable and unmanageable.
Bill C-394 would define an eligible relative to include a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, and so on.
Past experience has shown that even with more resources such an open-ended system would generate an increase in the backlog and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants, and would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the entire immigration program.
Responsible members will also recognize that such an expansion of the family class would create additional problems for our immigration program. As it is, our officers are already pouring significant time and effort into the family relation verification process.
Understandably, we must ensure that family members and relatives are who they say they are. Expanding the family class in the way this bill proposes would make the family relation verification process extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Provisions already exist to process applications from relatives who are not immediate family members in certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.
If Canadians and permanent residents have no close family members in Canada, and none abroad whom they can sponsor, they can sponsor a more distant relative, regardless of their age or relationship.
Paragraph 117(1)(h) of the immigration and refugee protection regulations defines foreign nationals as members of the family class with respect to a sponsor if they are a relative of the sponsor, regardless of their age and if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.
In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist.
Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and who have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.
As well, regulations already exist to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way.
Our system for sponsoring family members is one of the most flexible in the world. Canada allows citizens, as well as permanent residents, equal opportunity to sponsor members of their family. This is different from countries such as the United States, which restricts some sponsorship privileges only to citizens.
Canada is also different from some other countries in that we do not apply economic selection criteria to family class members. Far from being too restrictive, Canada's family class program is expansive in a balanced and well managed way.
Today we include spouses, common-law and conjugal partners, dependent children, as well as orphaned siblings, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.
Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor their parents and grandparents. If a citizen or permanent resident has none of these close relatives, that person may sponsor any other relative who would not otherwise be eligible for sponsorship from abroad.
In exceptional cases certain requirements of the family class program can be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds to allow individuals to sponsor their loved ones who otherwise would not qualify.
Countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom include different and various combinations of individuals in their respective definitions of family class members, but none of those four follow the wide open example of the private member's bill before us today. This could greatly increase the potential for fraud and abuse, in addition to having an incalculable impact on the backlog and processing times, all imposed controls on intake through either their selection criteria or more restrictive definitions of who may be considered a family member. The model Canada has chosen, therefore, compares favourably on the world stage.
The family class has already been expanded in a well planned and responsible way. Provisions already exist for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.
Once again, I must repeat that such a potentially wide open approach would have a huge impact on our processing capacity and would significantly increase the already large backlog our government inherited from the previous government.
That said, I would note that the previous Liberal government expressed clear opposition to this legislation when it came up for debate in previous versions of the bill. Our colleagues in the Liberal Party have also expressed misgivings about this bill more recently, during the first hour of debate. The former Liberal parliamentary secretary, the current member for Vancouver Centre, said on February 12, 2004:
If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.
She went on to say:
The changes proposed...runs counter to...the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.
More recently, in the first hour of debate on this bill, the Liberal immigration critic and member for Vaughan said:
The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children.
These are the words of the opposition in this legislature and are not our own but are worth repeating. They are positions that have been expressed by the Liberal Party, both when it was in government and in opposition, and they are positions that it still holds. I hope the Liberal Party will do the responsible thing and oppose this legislation as it did a short time ago when it was in government.
Before I close, I must say that I find the NDP position on the immigration backlog issue astounding. As the NDP has already indicated, it will be voting against our measures in budget 2008 that will help reduce the immigration backlog. Not only is it going to vote against measures to reduce the backlog but through Bill C-394 it is actively working to exponentially increase that backlog. That is what this bill does.
I cannot stand for that and I encourage my colleagues in the House not to stand for it, either. I cannot support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will vote against this fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-394. I hope that all hon. members will join me by not voting for this bill.