Mr. Speaker, I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Thursday, March 13, 2008, be concurred in.
It is my honour to ask the House to support the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. A motion was presented on Thursday, March 13, that the report be concurred in. I will read the motion that is in front of the House right now. It states:
The Committee recommends that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.
Members can imagine that when people get married, they would want their wives or their husbands to stay in Canada and be able to live together, to start a family, and to be able to enjoy their time together. The immediate time right after the marriage is the time when people are on their honeymoon and they really want to spend time together.
There is an immigration policy that very few Canadians actually know about. Probably very few members of Parliament know about it as well. It says that if one meets someone here in Canada and that person happens not to be a Canadian, the person might have been visiting in Canada or maybe a student, and one gets married to that person, under the present rules right now some of these spouses would be deported from Canada. Of course, one wants these people to stay in Canada. Then the sponsorship application must begin all over again overseas. In the meantime, these couples are separated for over a year.
I will give an example. On Valentine's Day of this year I highlighted the case in my riding of Mr. and Mrs. Chen. Mr. Chen has been in Canada for many years. He has a very successful business worth about $13 million and it is his family's sole source of financial support. A few years ago he was working with one of his co-worker's and fell in love. This young lady is a Canadian, they are both in their thirties, and a perfectly matched couple. She decided to sponsor Mr. Chen in Canada.
After waiting for six or seven months, the application to sponsor him and allow him to stay in Canada is still proceeding. In the meantime, Mr. Chen has been asked to be deported. This is very strange. Through his lawyer, he said that his wife was dependant on him financially and emotionally, and would be greatly harmed by his removal. Mrs. Chen had an 11 year old stepson and the stepson has adopted this wonderful father. They are very close. They have been living together for two or three years. Yet, this man faces deportation. A few days before Valentine's Day the police came to his house and he was about to be arrested and deported.
There was another situation of Brigitta Sallay. She had been in Canada for seven years. She married Arpad Vadasz or they lived in common law. They have an eight month old child. In April of this year, while her husband was sponsoring her application to stay in Canada, she was deported. She was arrested on April 9 and then a few days later on April 12 she was deported along with her eight month old child to Hungary.
That is completely bizarre because the mom of this baby has a common law husband who lives in Canada and the removal officer forgot to tell their 10-year-old daughter who is also in Canada. The 10-year-old daughter was in school at the time her mom was deported and did not even know about it, so the father ended up having to pick her up from school. As a result, they are now waiting for the mom to come back to Canada.
We can see that married couples are being cruelly separated due to a heartless immigration policy. I hear many heartbreaking stories of couples living in Canada who are about to be separated even while their spousal sponsorship applications are in progress. I asked the immigration committee to pass this very important motion because immigrants deserve fairness. By enacting very small changes, we can make a big impact on many families. The system does not have to be this complicated.
For over a decade, minister after minister talked about supporting families and yet they failed to support loving couples. It is absurd and cruel to separate families, and cause untold emotional and financial hardship just because of a failure of a political will or because Parliament has not been paying attention.
I say that it is time for fairness for immigrant families. It is time to stop the deportation of spouses who have an outstanding application for sponsorship by their Canadian partners.
One of the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is “to see that families are reunited in Canada”, but we are failing far too many families who are separated while living together here in Canada.
Some members may remember that in the House of Commons in 2005 there was a controversy involving the former minister of immigration. She was accused of giving a ministerial permit to allow a woman to stay in Canada while her partner was sponsoring her. This woman happened to be a former stripper and that became a big controversy. It became known as “strippergate”, or something of that nature, and her husband was sponsoring her at that time. Had the policy been changed, she probably would not have had to go to a minister or a member of Parliament. Her husband would have been able to sponsor her within Canada without any trouble.
So, in 2005, a new Liberal minister of immigration at that time made a policy change and said that most Canadians could in fact sponsor their husband or wife in Canada and they would not face deportation.
The policy at that time was clear. It said that we should allow Canadians who wanted to sponsor a spouse in Canada to apply in Canada whether or not their spouse was in status. One would think that was simple. That is what the policy said. There was no objection at that time. There was no uproar. People in the communities thought it made sense to allow these couples to stay together in Canada while their sponsorship applications were processed.
But what happened? What happened was that the department, and allow me to read this:
In 2005, a new public policy (the “spousal policy”) was adopted under the humanitarian and compassionate grounds provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to extend the benefit of the SCPC class to spouses and common-law partners who are in Canada without status, subject to some exceptions discussed below.
So, the intention was to allow all inland applicants to apply in Canada for their spouses. Instead of doing it in a very clean, straightforward way, the former Liberal government did not really pay enough attention to it. It changed the policy a bit, but it really did not complete its job. It did not finish the job. It did not get the job done.
According to the Library of Parliament, there are people, loving couples, that are now affected by this. It is not a small number. Since I have been talking about this issue, I have received many examples of people being deported. They are not fraudulent applications remember and we are not talking about people who want to cheat the system. We are talking about allowing them to stay in Canada.
The absurd situation is that when Canada deports people back to their country of origin, we spend a lot of money arresting the people. We then have to ensure they depart and may even provide their means of travel, which again is a lot of money. Then the applications that have been processed within Canada and that may have been worked on a lot for over eight months, these applications within Canada have to be scrapped.
If a person is deported to let us say China, the Canadian spouse would have to start a new application all over again to bring that person back into this country. Think of the cost, the duplication, and the administrative nightmare. The application forms have to be re-submitted, this time in Canada and overseas. None of the old applications would be in order. There would have to be a second medical exam and a security clearance.
We have heard from the minister recently that the backlog in overseas offices is at 925,000 and yet in Canada we are adding to that backlog in a completely needless way. We do not need to do it that way and yet we deport people even though they will eventually come back to Canada.
It is almost as if the right hand, which is the Canada immigration centre, is not paying attention to what the left hand, which is the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, is doing. As a result, the Canadian immigration system is processing an application and in the meantime the person is being deported. Then the application stops and it has to start all over again. It is absurd. It is a complete waste of taxpayers' money doing it that way. Not only does it waste taxpayers' money, it takes a huge emotional toll on couples.
Let me describe a few more examples. In Thunder Bay, there is a couple by the name of Marcel and Cindy Stubbe. Cindy, who is 44 years old, is terminally ill with lung cancer, which has spread to her brain, while her 42-year-old husband lives with her and is facing the constant threat of deportation to his native home, Holland. While his wife is a Canadian citizen, Marcel's status is that of a visitor, meaning that he faces deportation.
He thought originally that the government would show some compassion because of his wife's condition. Remember she has lung cancer, which is a terminal illness. The couple lives in a trailer park on a very strict budget and because Marcel is not allowed to work, he and his wife subsist on her $1,061 from the Ontario disability support program. After paying all the bills, they have about $100 left to buy a month's worth of groceries and pet food for their cats. Because of Marcel's visitor status, he and his wife did not qualify as a family of two, which would have meant a larger payment from ODSP.
Marcel and his wife have a very positive outlook on life. They said that some days are good and some days are bad. The Thunder Bay community is showing heart. It is very kind and generous. A group of strangers, neighbours of theirs, came together and raised over $800 so Marcel could pay the fees required to apply for his immigration status. The fees were $550 and the couple was able to use the rest for food.
The good Samaritans included the Victorian Order of Nurses, social workers and local volunteers. The couple said that they believed in miracles, but would it not be wonderful if he did not have to face deportation and that he could live in Canada with his fairly sick wife.
There is another case from Toronto. The couple had two kids together in Canada. One is two years old and the other one is six months old and is still breast-feeding. One child was born in Ontario in 2005 and the other in 2007. The wife is facing deportation right now even though the husband is sponsoring her. The wife has to quit her ultrasound technician job and leave her properties behind. They have to reapply overseas and wait for another year or so. The two kids will either live with the father in Canada or with the mother back home in China.
It is just unbelievable. Why would we ask a family to make the decision of whether the children will stay with the father or the mother? They are not criminals.
We have 22,000 people in the backlog waiting to be deported and some are couples. They have Canadians who are sponsoring them and yet we deport them. We spend $23 million a year deporting people out of Canada and yet yesterday the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development said that Canada needed families, children and workers. He said that because of our declining population and declining birthrate we are in serious need of more workers and young people and yet we are spending all that money to deport people. Half of them have businesses and the other half have very good jobs in Canada. They have kids born in Canada and yet we deport them. It does not make any sense.
We have another situation of a wife and husband who have been married since April 2004 and CBSA is trying to deport the husband. He has no criminal record. He works, pays his taxes and is a good husband and father. The couple bought a house in October 2007 and yet this poor man is being deported while the wife is trying to sponsor him.
These people are writing to the House of Commons through their member of Parliament asking that we please change the rules.
There is another person whose fiancée is in Italy while she lives here. She is a Canadian. They have been together for seven years. The whole situation is quite absurd. Not only is it costly but it increases our backlog and causes untold hardship on families.
I am asking that the House, hopefully unanimously or a good majority, supports the motion so that the matter will not come back here a year from now. I hope the minister will do the right thing and change the rule so that in a few months time or maybe by next Valentines Day we will not see couples being cruelly separated for no reason except some bureaucratic misunderstanding.
I hope all members of Parliament will support this concurrence motion and the immigration committee and allow these couples to stay together in Canada.