Mr. Speaker, it may be surprising for a finance critic to take an interest in this kind of issue. My interest is very personal, and I have real-life experience. It is not at all because Elizabeth Thompson published a list this morning in the Toronto Sun of the 20 parliamentarians who spoke the most since the first session and to my great astonishment I am on the list. It is in fact because this reform calls for careful thought. We can talk about details, procedures, very technical bills, tax policy, taxes, and so on, but we can also discuss this kind of issue, which has an impact on people’s lives and on how a nation and a people are built.
When someone leaves their country to seek refugee protection in another country, it is because things have been bad for several years or it is difficult for them to leave their country. Leaving your country of birth, your neighbours, your friends and your family and going out by the back door is obviously enormously stressful. You do not bring three steamer trunks with you, with all your documents. Some people make it out with just their skin, and barely that.
So you arrive in a new country where you again experience stress. You are facing two fairly bizarre situations. Waiting for papers takes a lot of time, and so does the decision-making process of the Canadian authorities. The bureaucratic process is too slow and too complex. I could tell you how I experienced it personally.
Refugees are in a state of shock when they arrive in Canada. They have no papers and they do not know the person they are dealing with. And we should not take advantage of this situation. We tell them they have to find a lawyer for their appearance, which will take place in eight days. And to them, eight days is like tomorrow morning.
The bill contains a kind of contradiction. On the one hand, we can see some openness in it. Let us tell the minister, since he is doing us the honour of being with us. That is very brave of him. As a parliamentarian, I think it is quite remarkable for the minister responsible to be present when a bill is being debated in the morning.
So I was saying that this bill expresses the intention of going faster and finally bringing the Refugee Appeal Division on line. But on the other hand, we seem to be rushing things.
I have had the opportunity to work in policy, both as a public servant and in the private sector. You say that, from now on, it will happen in eight days. As my colleague was saying, the preliminary inquiry, if we can call it that, will last four hours. Then, 60 days later, there will be another appearance. That puts enormous pressure on the public service, and that is unfortunate. I have been a minister elsewhere, and I can say that we dream of a public service that follows us. But the minister knows very well that a department’s most temporary employee is its minister. Sometimes, the public service will wait for someone else to take the minister’s place and will hope they will be less demanding when it comes to deadlines.
That will happen to my colleague one day, I am sure of it. Sometimes, you leave one department and go to another according to the wishes of the Prime Minister.
We need to pay attention to this dichotomy: yes, we want to speed things up, but it has to be done right. Sometimes refugees wait too long in a receiving country for their status to be determined. It can take two, three or even more years before they are told by public servants that, upon review of their cases, it has been decided they do not qualify as refugees. These people would rather have known much earlier because they have established friendships and relations in their new country. They may have jobs, possibly short-term ones. In any case, these waiting periods are very long.
As I said, the principle behind this is good. That is why we would have liked to amend the bill in committee between first and second readings. That was refused, but we will do it after second reading. To this extent, the government has the Bloc’s support.
In regard to the delays, I would like to share an experience of my own. Nearly 30 years ago, I had to go to South America—it was not at all to a refugee-producing country, the system was entirely different then—to pick up a child who was six months old at the time. I went simply to get my son and take him out of the country.
I have no idea how this country would be classified on the current minister’s list. In the early 1980s, Peru had just emerged from a very tough military regime and was in a democratic period. Things have changed a little since those days. There was a threat called the Shining Path. How would this country have been classified on the minister’s list? Sometimes things change.
At the time, I was not interested in all that. I was interested in adopting a child. I arrived with the child at the airport in Toronto. We were in a time of peace and the international adoption had been duly authorized by the authorities in Quebec and Peru. I had the documents. My son had his Peruvian passport because he was, and still is, a Peruvian national, but his visa was winding its way between Ottawa and Santiago in Chile, which was the transportation hub for South America. When I left the airport in Lima to return to Canada, I did so illegally. We had been waiting for six weeks and had finally been told we could leave. I had my passport, and when I arrived at the airport in Toronto, the customs officer said I could enter but my son could not because I did not have his visa, which was on another plane that arrived in Toronto two days later. I took the baby, laid him on the officer’s table, and said he could take care of the baby and should be sure to remember to change his diaper. I obviously got the child in the end, but it took three years. Three years of procedures were needed for a Canadian to arrange with his government to normalize his own son’s status.
This goes to show how sluggish the administration of these things can be. Yes, the bill is supposed to grease the wheels of the public service. Yes, it improves the way things are done, especially appeals. But six days, eight days or 60 days are all the same if documents are lacking. In my case, I had all the documents needed, in Spanish, French and English.
In conclusion, I would like to ask the government to reconsider this bill and take advantage of our open-mindedness in order to improve it.