Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-50, the Budget Implementation Act, 2008, but specifically on the amendment proposed by my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, which picks in particular our concern in this corner of the House for provisions that are included in the budget implementation act regarding changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Specifically, the motion that we are debating at this point in the debate reads as follows:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, since the principles of the Bill relating to immigration fail to recognize that all immigration applicants should be treated fairly and transparently, and also fail to recognize that family reunification builds economically vibrant, inclusive and healthy communities and therefore should be an essential priority in all immigration matters.
I think that spells out very clearly what our concerns are with this provision regarding immigration in the budget implementation act.
We are concerned because a measure that changes our immigration law so significantly, we believe, should not be buried in a large budget implementation bill. We believe that this change to the immigration law is so profound and so important that it should be debated on its own merits in a separate debate.
It should have separate committee consideration as well and that it should be considered by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, not the finance committee which does not have the expertise that the citizenship and immigration committee does in relation to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and immigration concerns from coast to coast to coast in Canada.
We believe that this piece of Bill C-50 is improperly placed and really should be debated on its own with particular reference to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
What does this proposal from the government actually do? We see that it gives major new powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to control the types of applications the minister accepts, to impose quotas, to dispose of current immigration applications, and to facilitate queue jumping.
We would say that it puts certain limits on the humanitarian and compassionate category which currently is the only channel for many who encounter challenges in the process of pursuing family reunification.
We believe that it gives the minister new powers to deny visas to those who meet all immigration criteria. We also believe that it further supports the current policy shift whereby immigrants are increasingly being understood and treated as economic units to be brought here through temporary visa arrangements, instead of the permanent residency program.
Those are all very significant concerns with this provision that is buried in the budget implementation act. That is why we believe that it should have a very thorough debate. All of these questions that we raise, we believe, should have a fulsome debate here in the House and in committee. By having it as part of a budget implementation bill and sending it to the finance committee will not allow for that.
It is not only New Democrats who are concerned about these provisions that would change the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that are found in the budget implementation bill. Richard Kurland, who is one of the most prominent immigration experts in Canada and editor-in-chief of Lexbase, which is one of the key sources of information about immigration policy and procedure in Canada, has been very critical of this proposal from the government that is included in this legislation.
He notes that it took a long time and it was a long fight to establish clear criteria for the processing of immigration applications to establish the principle that anyone who applied should have their application considered, that anyone who met the criteria of the immigration program should have a chance at success of their application.
He has some specific criticisms of what this legislation would do. He notes that in the existing IRPA, section 11.(1) states:
A foreign national must, before entering Canada, apply to an officer for a visa or for any other document required by the regulations. The visa or document shall be issued if, following an examination, the officer is satisfied that the foreign national is not inadmissible and meets the requirements of this Act.
The important word there is that the visa “shall” be issued. Mr. Kurland notes that in the proposed legislation this same section 11.(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is amended to say:
A foreign national must, before entering Canada, apply to an officer for a visa or for any other document required by the regulations. The visa or document may be issued if, following an examination, the officer is satisfied that the foreign national is not inadmissible and meets the requirements of this Act.
There is a significant difference between the words “shall” and “may”. It opens up a huge opportunity for discretion and the operation of the minister's own biases. It is a real attack on the kinds of transparency and guarantees that exist in the current legislation, guarantees for the appropriate processing of applications that were fought for long and hard over many years.
Mr. Kurland further points out that the use of the word “shall” in IRPA's section 11.(1) gave all visitors, foreign students, foreign workers and applicants for permanent residence the right to a visa when they met the preconditions for visa issuance.
He notes that the use of the word “may” in the government's proposed change to IRPA's section 11.(1) takes away those rights. All visitors, students and foreign workers and applicants for permanent residence no longer will have the right to a visa, even when they qualify for the visa by meeting the required preconditions for visa issuance or renewal of their status.
Mr. Kurland additionally points out that under this proposal, applications for visas do not have to be accepted, applications for visas that are accepted do not have to be processed, applications for visas that are processed do not have to be given visas even when the person meets all the requisite conditions to the visa issuance, and applications for visas with the supporting materials and documents may be disposed of at any time.
Surely, those are all important compromises to the kinds of transparency and guarantees that have existed recently and that were fought so long and hard for in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and the addition of that kind of discretion to the minister or the department is a huge step backward in ensuring the appropriate processing of immigration applications.
The whole question of what this does to family reunification is a key one in all of this. It is something that we need to highlight when we are looking at the effects of current Conservative government policy when it comes to citizenship and immigration.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to resuming my speech.