Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote to send Bill C-35 to committee for further study. Our party has decided to give the bill a chance, to see if we can improve it in committee. Those watching us at home are trying to understand how the House of Commons and its committees work. We now have the opportunity to explain that the bills introduced here can always be improved in committee. After we hear from witnesses and examine the evidence they have given, we can propose amendments to the bill, which are voted on by the committee members and then reported back to the House of Commons.
We have noted that too many immigration consultants have been acting fraudulently and getting away with it. After all these years, the federal government still has not managed to effectively regulate this area. The failure of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is irrefutable proof of that.
We believe that the committee should examine the issue to determine whether a new regulatory body is needed, one that is better monitored and can crack down harder on corrupt consultants who provide services related to federal immigration programs.
Since the regulating of professions falls under Quebec and provincial jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois is worried that a federal act to create and establish an organization to regulate immigration consultants will interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. This is important. Every day, Bloc Québécois members, who have been elected by the people of Quebec, proudly stand up in this House to defend the interests and values of Quebeckers. An example of those values is respect for our jurisdictions. How professions are regulated is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois will make sure that the government understands this in committee.
The Quebec government demonstrated its jurisdictional authority by passing a regulation concerning immigration consultants. This regulation will come into effect on November 4, 2010. Quebec is often at the forefront of numerous initiatives that are then borrowed by other Canadian provinces. We have always said that when Quebec is its own country—and we hope that will happen sooner rather than later—it will have good neighbours and good relationships with those neighbours. It will continue to create exemplary legislation, as it is doing now, that can be emulated by Canada.
We hope that the Government of Canada will learn from the Government of Quebec. To do this, the federal government must recognize Quebec's jurisdiction as well as that of the provinces so that it is clear that crooked immigration consultants will be replaced by a professional body. This body will then be regulated by Quebec since this falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
On June 9, 2008, the Bloc Québécois convinced the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to pass a recommendation that Quebec immigration consultants be officially recognized under Quebec laws instead of being forced to join the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
The Bloc Québécois is always true to itself. Our excellent critic, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, did a wonderful job making the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration understand that it is important that the Canadian government officially recognize Quebec's immigration consultants, who will be governed by a regulation as of November 4, 2010.
Even though Bill C-35 would better regulate consultants who deal with immigration matters that come under federal jurisdiction, the Bloc Québécois has serious concerns about the power the minister is giving himself to be able to designate a regulatory body in federal legislation. Overlapping jurisdictions never works well, needless to say.
This was particularly evident in recent months, even for over a year. The federal government decided to interfere in the securities market by establishing a national securities commission. And yet Quebec has its own securities commission as do the other provinces. The Canadian system was recognized for having weathered the recent economic crisis—a financial crisis that hit stock exchanges around the world— better than others.
Naturally, it is still rather difficult to understand that, once again, the federal government wants to replace something that works with a centralized, national body even though the effectiveness of the Canadian system has been acknowledged internationally. The passport system allowed every province, Quebec as well as the other provinces, to have their own securities commissions. This provided security during the stock exchange crisis.
Even though the Minister of Finance is practically hoarse from ranting that it is a voluntary system, he knows very well that corporations will be encouraged directly to join the Canada-wide system.
The federal government is always trying to chip away at the powers of Quebec and the provinces. That is fine if it does not bother the provinces; however, we notice that Alberta also has a great deal of difficulty with this. It seems to want to stand its ground, which seldom happens. It usually bows down to the federal government. However, in this case, Alberta seems to want to oppose the national securities commission.
Once again the Bloc Québécois will be vigilant. Above all it does not want Bill C-35, the so-called Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, to infringe on provincial jurisdictions. In fact, as I was saying earlier, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is a dismal failure. Clearly, Quebec and the provinces should be allowed to provide good, effective oversight of immigration consultants.
What is more, our party is of the opinion that there should be closer consideration of the committee aspect. Our concern is that Bill C-35 would require information to be communicated between members of the Barreau du Québec or the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the federal government. We have to take a closer look at this aspect of the bill in order to ensure that it does not conflict with Quebec's laws and to maintain the integrity of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
As a notary by training, I can provide a little lesson in law. As hon. members know, in Quebec notaries are jurists who specialize in the contractual aspect of business and individual relationships. That is the objective. The Civil Code of Quebec is based on the Napoleonic code. That is a particularity of Quebec. I am always surprised to see colleagues who are notaries with a federalist bent, when the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the notary profession are a true reflection of this diversity, this difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. We are the only province to have a chamber of notaries and notarial training. This training is obviously French-based. Notaries are highly respected professionals in France. Again, because the Civil Code of Quebec stems from the Napoleonic code, the notary profession is a direct link to these ancestral laws that Quebec held onto, which is not what happened in the rest of Canada. The rest of Canada has the common law, while Quebec has the civil code.
If it is decided that the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec are to report to the federal government, we must ensure that Quebec's rights and jurisdictions are respected. That is the objective. As for the Chambre des notaires du Québec, we all agree that the federal government has no knowledge of or jurisdiction in the matter.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the federal government encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction in any way. It will ensure that Bill C-35 does not give the minister any power he is not entitled to.
We are talking about immigration consultants. One interesting way of reducing the number of crooked consultants would be to transfer part of these powers to Quebec lawyers or notaries or to lawyers in the rest of Canada who are regulated by professional codes.
If we consider what is happening the field of law, there are a few lawyers and notaries who have been caught. However, since there is a process to follow and an established structure, they were disbarred and can no longer practice. That is not the case with the federal structure, which is why the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which was somewhat regulated, was a failure. It was not a recognized profession.
There needs to be a new way of training consultants. They should report to the Chambre des notaires du Québec, the Barreau du Québec or other provincial bars. It would be an interesting path to take.
These professions are governed by Quebec's professional code. Members of the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the Barreau du Québec are governed by Quebec's professional code. We have to make sure that any new power granted to a professional association respects Quebec's jurisdiction and that of the provinces.
I would like to go over some background to Bill C-35. On June 8, 2010, the government introduced Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I will give an overview of the bill now.
The minister will be able to designate a governing body to regulate and oversee consultants' activities; this organization will replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
Only consultants approved by this body or members of a provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires du Québec will be allowed to charge fees for immigration advice, with some exceptions: students-at-law acting under the supervision of a member and entities and persons acting on their own behalf in accordance with an agreement with the government, such as visa application centres and other service providers.
All individuals who “knowingly represent or advise a person for consideration—or offer to do so—in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act” are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison, a $50,000 fine or both. This offence already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Consultants have to be recognized by an organization. If they knowingly advise people, they will be committing a criminal offence.
The law provides for information exchange between different levels of government. The designated organization will have to supply information set out in regulations to allow the minister to determine whether the organization governs its members in the public interest.
Regulations will govern information sharing by enabling the department to disclose professional or ethical information about members of provincial bar associations to the designated organization or to the person responsible for investigating a consultant's conduct.
We must ensure that discussions between the federal government and the members of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces at all times.
On August 30, 2010, the government published a call for submissions from applicants interested in becoming the regulatory body for immigration consultants.
I should point out that in this bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the provisions apply to persons who are the subject of proceedings or applications pertaining to immigration and refugee matters, not citizenship matters. The Citizenship Act does not provide for the same regulatory powers as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. However, Bill C-37, introduced last spring, would provide regulations, in particular, by increasing penalties for consultants who fraudulently help individuals obtain citizenship.
Bill C-35 and Bill C-37 amend different acts.
In short, Bill-35 expands the range of activities governed by the act. In current federal regulations, the government can only take action when the application is submitted or at the beginning of a proceeding. Under Bill-35, the authorized representative commits an offence if he represents or advises a person for consideration in connection with a proceeding or application under that act, or offers to do so. This addition would make it possible to regulate—and punish, if an offence occurs—all forms of representation and advice at any stage, including that provided by unauthorized consultants, who might be involved before an immigration application is submitted.
All those who solicit work, that is crooked consultants, ask for payment in return for helping people with immigration proceedings.
We have seen some abuses—and the media have certainly jumped on them. Some people have been swindled out of a lot of money, sometimes the only savings they had, when seeking permission to immigrate to Quebec and Canada. I believe we must intervene.
The Bloc Quebecois wants to point out that Quebec also has powers in the area of immigration. All we want is for Quebec and provincial jurisdictions to be respected. Earlier I gave the example of securities commissions. The government wants to centralize exclusively provincial powers into a Canada-wide federal organization. That is what is going on with securities. Yet that system is what got us through the crisis. The Prime Minister keeps telling us over and over again that Canada has come out of the crisis exceptionally well, better than any other country in the world, as we heard again today in question period. It is not necessarily thanks to the Conservatives. It was a financial crisis, primarily a stock market crisis. It was thanks to our financial system and the fact that our banks were not allowed to merge.
I was one of those who opposed the Canadian bank mergers, so that they could not turn around and acquire American banks and contaminate all of the investments made by our citizens. That is one of the reasons we were able to get through this crisis relatively well. Furthermore, the stock market system allowed each province to have its own securities commission. When we have 10 such bodies, we can monitor things better than if we have only one. However, it is difficult, because the federal government is always trying to take powers away from the provinces. We will ensure that Bill C-35 does not have this unfortunate tendency to take power from Quebec and the provinces, in this case concerning immigration, and in particular, power over crooked consultants. Quebec is ready to take charge in this important area, since we already have legislation that is about to come into force on November 4, 2010. If all other Canadian provinces were to do the same, all of our immigrants would be better protected.