Mr. Speaker, we have before us deceptive, damaging and dangerous changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act sneaked through the budget implementation bill by the Conservative government and supported by their new friends, the Liberal Party of Canada. The bill is a direct attack on immigrant communities and a real threat to the future of Canada.
The NDP is very proud to stand up in partnership with immigrant communities across Canada. We will not roll over. We will not run away from voting. We will not run away from standing up for the immigrant communities. We will not be kept silent and we will speak out against the bill.
There were hearings through the immigration and citizenship committee and the finance committee. We have noticed that there was a resounding no to the Conservative immigration changes, and they were from the Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Arab Federation, Chinese Canadian National Council, Canadian Ethnocultural Council, Portuguese communities, Asian communities, Hispanic and many other communities. They were all saying no to the Conservative immigration changes.
In a country like ours, where all citizens, except first nations communities, are immigrants, we should be celebrating and embracing our diversity rather than curtailing it.
The infrastructure that created Canada was built by immigrants. The railroad that connected our vast landscape, bringing the east and west coasts together, was constructed, one spike at a time, by immigrants. The bridges, tunnels, roads, schools and buildings that make up our cityscapes, our landscapes, were built by the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants who came here for a better future.
One would imagine that today, in 2008, Canada would be moving toward a more inclusive and open immigration policy that welcomes the skills, innovation and contributions of immigrants rather than a policy that reeks up the dark days of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Continuous Passage Act, which were designed to keep out immigrant groups.
Canada has made many mistakes in the past, oftentimes because of discriminatory policies based on race, religion or nationality.
In 1939 we refused to allow the ocean liner S.S. St. Louis to dock on our shore, forcing 900 Jewish refugees to return to Germany, and many of the passengers did not survive. During World War II, Canada only accepted 5,000 Jewish refugees, one of the worst records among all refugee-receiving countries.
Let us also not forget that from 1941 to 1945 Canada interned, displaced, dispossessed, and detained 23,000 Japanese Canadians, over half of which were Canadian born. Has the Conservative government not learned anything from the mistakes of our past?
The bill before us is deceptive. Why? It has nothing to do with the tremendous backlog of 925,000 people that are on the wait list. The bill will come into effect after the backlog, and would not have any impact on shortening the wait list for these applicants. That is why it is deceptive, given the minister keeps talking about the backlog.
Mr. Hassan Yussuff, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, stated:
We think embedding the reform in the budget bill is wrong. There has been a failure to conduct meaningful and inclusive consultations prior to the development of the initiative. Arbitrary powers granted to the minister fail the transparency and accountability test this government has promised.
If we allow these sweeping changes to go through, we will be drawing an irreversible line in the sand. From the moment these dangerous amendments are passed, our immigration system will be radically altered and it will be irreversible. Do not let any other party say that perhaps afterward it can be fixed. By that time, it will be too late.
Why is this change damaging? The Conservative vision of Canada is about treating immigrants as economic units, as foreign workers. There will be winners and losers. The losers will be the family members who are trying to reunite with their loved ones in Canada. Instead, the workers are the ones who will have priority.
Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, states that the government is heading in the wrong direction by expanding the temporary foreign workers program at the expense of nation building and citizenship. She said:
Immigration should not be just about bringing people to work in Canada. You cannot just treat immigrants as an economic unit and not care about developing citizenship, a sense of commitment, belonging and ownership among the people we bring into this country.
With the Conservative government at the helm, democracy, transparency and accountability in our immigration policy will be replaced by arbitrary discriminatory policies and power grabbing. We must not forget that these immigration changes are being pushed through as part of the budget implementation act, all the more to prove that immigrants are seen as commodities, to be imported as cheap and exploitable economic units. That is not the way we should be treating immigrants.
These amendments are not in the best interests of our country. They are shortsighted and are intended to benefit the needs of big businesses at the expense of ordinary Canadians.
I also said it is dangerous. Why? Because these sweeping changes give incredible power to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
Mr. Stephen Green, treasurer of the Canadian Bar Association, states that these changes will affect our family, economic, temporary and humanitarian classes of immigrants. The Canadian Bar Association, which was not consulted in the process of drafting these amendments, stated in its submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration:
Quite candidly, we have instructions being issued with no oversight.
Mr. Green added:
It is our submission that if this legislation passes it will result in Canada's going back to the dark ages of immigration selection and processing. It would allow the minister to operate in an unfettered manner, opening the back door to many interest groups.
It's a danger because the minister would be allowed to close the door any time he or she chooses. Any government could do that when they come in. There's no predictability. There's no rule of law. Families applying to come could be told they are not allowed, that they're not the flavour of the time.
Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, warned that intentions are not law. She urges us as parliamentarians to ask ourselves how the law might be used in the future, not just how the current government proposes to use the new powers. She said that expressions of current intentions are no protection against future uses of the powers in very different ways.
Speaking about family reunification on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Ms. Dench added that the government has suggested it would continue to examine all family related humanitarian and compassionate applications. She said that this is only an expression of intention, and if the bill is passed in its present form, a future government could issue instructions leading to family related applications not being examined.
Finally, the Canadian Arab Federation asked why no one had bothered to consult with immigrant groups. The federation is extremely worried that the minister might decide that Canada does not want Arabs and Muslims in this country. He asked who would prevent her if she gave herself this ultimate power.
I urge my fellow members of Parliament across party lines to take a principled stand and to stand with the members of the New Democrats against the Conservatives' damaging, deceptive and dangerous immigration amendments. Together we can stop the Conservative government from turning back our immigration policy and repeating mistakes of the past.