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House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her wonderful speech, which allowed us to see the human side of the situation of refugees and immigrants. It is important to understand the possible consequences of implementing the arbitrary measures proposed in Bill C-4. This can have human, economic and social impacts since a traumatic experience can take a very long time to get over.

Since the government is always going on about security, does the hon. member believe that this bill, as proposed, will somehow improve national security?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really do not see any difference in an increase to the level of our national security. Our forces do a really good job. This bill is attacking refugees who are coming to Canada seeking a safe haven, like the member for Etobicoke Centre earlier mentioned. I do not think people who are coming to find a home that would welcome them, that would allow them opportunities and provide their children a life are risking the security of our country.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, there has been a lot of talk about what is and is not in the bill. The hon. member referenced two ships that were infamously turned away. I am not sure where in this legislation it contemplates turning any ships away.

She also seems to want to have it both ways. On the one hand, she talks about the professionalism of our security services, the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP. On the other hand, she suggests that the people who have been detained, specifically the individuals who came off these two ships last summer, were been treated unfairly, that the officials in British Columbia and the people who took care of their health, education and endeavoured to find out who they were and under what circumstances they came somehow treated these people so poorly that they have been left traumatized by the experience of being in Canada. I suggest that is absolutely not the case and they were treated properly.

Would she agree with me that it is the responsibility of a government to protect sovereignty and to ensure anybody who seeks to come to this country is the person he or she says? That would include, since she is not willing to give a personal guarantee, that the RCMP and the security services of our country endeavour to make sure that everybody who wants to come here actually comes here for the right reason.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the one ship I spoke about was the MV Sun Sea. When the people were kept in detention, there was only one member of Parliament, as far as I know, who visited them in the detention centre and that was the New Democrat member of Parliament for Burnaby—New Westminster. I was actually providing some translation services and working with local community members on the ground who were visiting individuals in the detention centre on a regular basis.

As I mentioned earlier, people who came out of the detention centre are now living in my constituency. They have said that the individuals treated the adults well, but when children are separated from families and kept in detention centres for long periods of time, it has psychological and physiological effects on children. The member probably missed that in my speech.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to ask for withdrawal of the bill unless it can prove itself to be different and unless we can make some serious amendments to it because the unintended consequences of the bill will have disastrous affects.

No one here thinks human smuggling and human trafficking is good. We know it exploits people, whether it is because they are poor, or they are seeking work in another country, or they are fleeing persecution and fear for their lives. Exploitation of that kind is in fact egregious and all of us agree on that. We all want to do something to target the actual people who do that exploitation.

At the same time, it is not a simple black and white issue. Many people are seeking to come to this country because they fear for their lives and that of their families. Many of them are women who fear they will be raped. We know in certain parts of the world, because of their different caste or religion, or whether they are journalists, or no matter what they are, many people are in danger. History has shown us that people who are afraid, who are in danger and fear for their lives and that of their families will do absolutely anything to survive and to save their families. So many of them sell what little they have and they find ways of even buying passage onboard a ship to come here.

Let us separate the victim from the smuggler. If the bill had new amendments that would deal with those people who exploit, I think we could talk about that. However, the bill has muddied the waters. It seeks to take the victims, the people who are genuine refugees, who are afraid and who seek asylum in our country, and creates a sense that these people are wrong-doers, that they are criminals, that they have no valid reason to seek asylum at all in our country. It creates a sense of xenophobia and fear among Canadians because it muddies the waters and it creates a sort of broad and generic term that does not clearly define what the problem is.

In 2005 the Liberal government and the minister of justice brought in a bill on this issue. It was a bill that tried to deal with the complexity of human smuggling and human trafficking. It talked about preventing the trafficking itself, which is dealing with some of the failed states that we talk about, helping them with democratic institutions and playing a role abroad. It talked about preventing poverty in other parts of the world where people might seek refuge because of lack of poverty and the ability to feed their families.

Prevention was a huge piece. Prosecution of the actual smuggler, the person committing the crime, was a huge part. There were very heavy sentences in prosecution put down. It also talked about protecting the victim, the person who was being smuggled, or trafficked, or exploited. There was a real balance in the bill. It also talked about building partnerships with other nations, with international organizations, with international humanitarian groups, with police around the world, like Interpol, to try to find ways to deal with the criminal element of traffickers.

It was a solid bill and I would have thought that if the government wanted to add to that bill, there were lots of amendments it could have made that would have dealt with it from that kind of balanced perspective. However, what we see here is that this bill catches in its net, and I want to be kind and not say it targets, but inadvertently catches in its net genuine refugees and it creates significant barriers to those who are seeking asylum. In fact, it re-victimizes them if we look at the bill clearly.

I want to back up a bit and look at the history of many of the so-called illegal refugees who have come to our shores over the history of Canada. There were those people who we called the Vietnamese boat people, many of whom are here. They came in boats. We opened our arms so that many of them now are really strong citizens of this country. We saw other groups. In the history of the second world war the St. Louis came here with Jews aboard it. No one knew what was going on in Europe at the time, so everyone thought it was a scam and sent these people back to certain death in the camps in Germany. We know there were about 80 Estonians in World War II who came to these shores on a tiny little boat that was supposed to take 40 people.

We have made mistakes in the past in our country, turning away people who were genuinely seeking help. We do not want to repeat those mistakes. The Prime Minister himself called that the black history of Canada. We have made apologies to these groups. We have given them redress. We have done everything to try to right some of those wrongs we did when we took a sledgehammer to a delicate issue and problem.

We recognize that even now. Many of the so-called refugees that we say are the United Nations convention refugees live in camps, in a sort of free zone between countries that are in conflict. We also know that in the days of Nazi Germany, we did not know what was going on at the time. We were not aware of the full extent of what was happening in Vietnam .

Historically we have not known what is going on in some states, with the quiet pogrom against various people, the quiet disappearance of people in many countries that are supposed to be bona fide countries that we trade with and talk to.

We need to know that people are fleeing for their lives. We need to apply a level of humanitarian empathy toward what is happening to these people. In fact, a very famous illegal migrant to our country came with her family, stowed away illegally aboard a ship coming to our shores. It turns out it was one of very great governors general of the country, the Right Hon. Adrienne Clarkson.

We cannot just throw a piece of jello at the wall and see if it slides or sticks. This is about people's lives. We have to deal with it very differently.

What we would create with this is a two-tiered system of refugees in the country. First and foremost, these refugees would be detained for 12 months without a review. This violates section 10 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, the current provisions within the charter and within law demand some kind of review after 48 hours. The government now suggests this should be 12 months. Children will be detained for 12 months in a camp. This is unconscionable. That violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Do we not care about the international conventions and treaties on to which we have signed?

In fact, under the United Nations convention on the status of refugees, denying asylum to arrivals who come seeking asylum to the shores of any nation, even if those arrivals are illegal, violates section 31 of the United Nations convention on the status of refugees. Therefore, we are already denying and violating our own laws, our own constitution and international treaties that we have signed.

When we put people away after they have been found out to be valid refugees, they are being denied liberty for five years, taking away the ability to get any documents in those five years. For those five years they are stateless, neither permanent residents or temporary residents or citizens. They are nothing. The police can ask them to come and report at any time, asking them whatever questions they wish to and the refugees must produce documents. What is happening in the country, when it has been proven they are genuine refugees and they are still treated in that way.

There is ample legislation in the country dealing with and detaining individuals who are criminals when there is in fact reason for Canadians to fear for their safety or who we think are a flight risk. There are things that we can use. We have instruments to use right now.

Let us imagine the economic loss of opportunity that will be created. For five years someone is unable to work or do anything. These people may come with skills or trades and may be able to contribute to the country, to the productivity and the economic benefit of this nation.

We heard the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism say that today, that immigrants and refugees have come to this country and contributed to nation-building and growth. We are denying five years of a person's ability to do that. During that time people lose their skills, their certification and are unable to work at that because they have lost all the skills and training they had.

To take away the value of these refugees to Canada and to Canada's economic growth and prosperity does not make any sense to me at all. Therefore, for most of us, it is an issue of fully re-victimizing people, not just for 12 months but for 12 months and then for 5 years after, 6 full years. It does not make any sense. It certainly does not give Canada's reputation a boost. It makes us look as if we have become a mean-spirited nation over this period of time.

There is a growing notion among people that an illegal refugee is automatically a danger to our society. I gave some examples of people who have not damaged this country, who have come here and helped to build a strong nation and are strong contributors to our country.

I know that the Prime Minister apologized for all of the bad things that we used to do. He called it the dark history of Canada. We need to think this thing through very carefully. We see an arbitrary attitude: “Who cares. Let them eat cake. There are always going to be bad people and if we find two bad people in a group of 100, then let us slam the two and throw away the other 98. We are going to sledgehammer legislation to catch two people who may or may not be violating the law”.

Let us criminalize the ones who are exploiting. Let us criminalize the smugglers. Let us find ways to work with others to chase them down and to deal with that issue, but let us not victimize people any more. That kind of doublespeak does not help. It creates among Canadians a deep sense of xenophobia. Everyone is afraid of that other, that is going to harm them, when most of us have been part of that other at some point in time in the history of this country.

I would ask the government to look at the bill carefully. I would ask the government to do one of three things. One choice would be to withdraw the bill because it is the same bill we had prior to the election in the last Parliament. Everyone said it was a bad bill. The government could accept amendments. We could have a generous length of time to look at the bill at committee and present amendments. That would take political will. It would take goodwill. It is a majority government and there is no need to use a fist to ram everything through. The government could actually listen to parliamentarians and people who say there are ways in which the bill could be made better. At the least, the bill should be sent as a reference on certain questions of legality and constitutionality to the Supreme Court of Canada so the court could decide whether the bill is legal and constitutional. Most scholars have told us it is not. Most of us in the House know it is not. I would suggest that the government knows it is not.

The bill plays on emotions. It tells half-truths to Canadians. It confuses them. It muddies the waters. What we are creating is a fear about people who may need Canada to help them find new lives and save their families just as we would if we were fleeing persecution here in Canada. Let us hope that none of us ever has to do that, but let us remember that history has taught us otherwise. Let us remember that there are many people who came here as illegal migrants and are contributing to Canadian society in major ways. They are hard-working people who are helping to build this great nation of ours.

Let us withdraw the bill, or at least send it to the Supreme Court on questions of constitutionality and legality.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2011 / 6:10 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to set the record straight. The member suggested there is no opportunity for those seeking refugee status, but the bill does allow for that. It does allow for those arriving on vessels to have access to Canada's asylum system and are deemed eligible to make a refugee claim. They will receive a hearing on the merits of their claim before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board.

The member led those who are watching the debate to believe there will be no opportunity but there will be an opportunity. The bill does allow for that. It introduces measures to deter the criminal activity of human smuggling and to create enough disincentive so that in the future, people do not place themselves at risk by taking part in the smuggling operations.

To say that these people have no way of claiming refugee status is not true.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are United Nations convention refugees, as I said in my speech earlier. They are people who go into the lineup and sit in camps for years and years until a country will take them. They are called convention refugees. Then there are those who cannot stay because they are afraid. There are no no-fight zones for them to stay in. They have to run and hide. They will do anything to save their lives. Saying that these people do not have to take part in this does not sound reasonable or rational to me. If a person is going to die or be killed tomorrow, if a person is fleeing and hiding with members of his or her family, the person would do anything to save them.

To say that they have access is not true. When they came they would be forced to be detained for 12 months without review. The current law states that within 48 hours they have to have some sort of review to check their refugee status. The hon. member is leading us astray when she says that they have recourse. They do not. Children would be detained for a whole year. Then for five years they would be stateless persons with no documents and they would be subject to recall at any time by police. That is a denial of human rights and civil liberties.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon I have noticed that this debate has dwelled a lot on the frame of mind of people who are refugees or in a situation of complete and utter distress. It is a situation I have never seen and I hope I never will. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of us if not all of us in the House have never been in that position. We have to juxtapose that with what is best for the nation and what is best for them. In saying that, there are several issues at play.

One is we are creating a two-tiered element. In the past we talked about country of origin and now we are talking about a two-tiered element. These are classifications put on human beings under an extreme amount of stress. This has to be a thorough debate simply because they cannot participate in it and I am glad it is happening in this way.

Shifting to the more domestic side of things, this is a question on what is contained within the amendment we put forward this morning. It is about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and protecting against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention because Bill C-4's provisions violate international obligations relating to refugees and respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection.

I would like my colleague to comment on those who are seeking protecting juxtaposed against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier I talked about the fact that this bill is in violation of many treaties that we have signed.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a national piece of legislation. In fact, to arbitrarily detain people without any recourse or review for up to 12 months would violate section 10 of our charter. The current legislation says only 48 hours,

Canada was one of the first nations to sign proudly the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, we would see children being detained for up to 12 months. Even if the country said that it would not detain children, what would we do with them? Where would we send them? Would we take them away from their parents? Would we put them on a boat somewhere out in the ocean? Would we leave them in no man's land?

This is a ridiculous piece of legislation in that it does not even pay attention to the basic, logical, legal human rights of people.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to rise in the House, but I wish I did not have to speak on this issue.

I look back to what we did recently in Parliament. We passed a piece of legislation that addressed refugee issues in a very comprehensive way.

It really puzzles me that the bill before us came under public safety. Since when have we started to look at immigration and citizenship issues as issues of public safety? The legislation refers most of the time to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I believe that the wrong minister has presented this bill. It needs to be addressed under immigration.

My colleagues have made some wonderful points about the five years that a person would have to wait to get any papers before being able to travel. A person could wait up to a year to see what kind of designation he or she was going to get. That is a long time. After that it could be another five years. If the person does not report on the right date, it could actually be lengthened to six years. We would be looking at seven years before the person could apply for residency.

I want us to look at the human element. We all value our families and our safety and security. I want us to look at what we are proposing for families who are going to be moving here under refugee status from very difficult circumstances. We are saying that it will be not one, five or six years, but possibly seven years before they could apply for permanent residence. It means many years of having no travel documents and no status.

It also brings to my mind a young woman with whom I have been dealing. She is a refugee from Somalia. She moved to Canada about four and a half years ago. She brought three of her children with her. She left one of her children behind with her mother because the child was still a toddler, two years old. When she got to Canada she wanted to be able to work and she did not know who would look after the two year old. The mother is elderly and she has applied for the child to join her. The child is eight years old. She left that child behind at the age of two.

Under the new proposal, people cannot even apply for five, six or seven years, depending on their luck or the arbitrary decision of someone. Then when applying after that many years, they could wait another three, four, five, six, seven or eight years. That same two year old could be 14 or 15 years old.

Surely when the United Nations came up with a convention regarding people seeking asylum under the refugee status, it did not have in mind that families would be separated for that length of time. I want members to imagine the impact on that mother who lives in my community, even under our current rules. She comes to my office two or three times a week looking for some magic to speed things up.

I want us to always remember that when we sit in this very august House and pass legislation, it has a real impact on families and it will have an impact on those families and individuals moving to this country. What message are we sending around the world?

There was a time in my youth when I travelled around Europe and people used to want to wear the Canadian flag. Americans travelled wearing the Canadian flag. I asked them why they carried a Canadian flag when they were American. I had not moved to Canada at that time and I was interested. They said that it was because Canada was held in such high esteem. If we start taking these kinds of steps in which we create two levels of refugee status and we are seen as separating families for 5, 10, 12 years, very soon Canada's image internationally will be tarnished.

We see ourselves as and we are a compassionate and caring nation. We give a great deal of attention and forethought to humanitarian needs. I would say that the essence of this bill is not humanitarian. It has very little compassion built into it.

This morning I heard my colleague from across the aisle speak very eloquently to the need to punish smugglers. I absolutely agree but I believe we have legislation that exists now that gives the highest sentence possible that any Canadian court can give, which is a life sentence. We do not have punishment beyond a life sentence in Canada, which I am happy about. For me, that punishment already exists.

At this time, we should not punish people who are already victims, because that is what refugees are. They have already been victimized. They have had to leave their homes. They are running away. They have left their belongings behind and some have left their family members behind. They find asylum across the border and eventually hope to get into countries like Canada. When they come here, they make contributions and become wonderful members of society.

Let us not make further victims of those refugees now by making them go through all these unnecessary hoops, which are not going to deter the smugglers or agents who might be involved in wrongdoing. If we are worried about smugglers using the refugee status to bring people into this country illegally, then let Parliament and the government provide funding to the RCMP and other enforcement agencies. Let there be more oversight over the laws that we already have.

As I said previously, we already have a law in place that gives human smugglers the highest possible punishment. Now it is about enforcing that legislation and finding the smugglers. We will not find the smugglers sitting on a boat that is bringing refugees to Canada. I always say that, for all we know, they are wearing Armani suits and sitting in a New York or Toronto cafe drinking cappuccinos. If we are really after the people who are breaking our laws and abusing the refugee laws we have right now, let us dedicate resources and tackle that issue so that we are actually tackling the issue, instead of now, with this legislation, making things more difficult for a very victimized group already.

I have to be honest. I stayed up to go through some of this legislation and kept asking what the purpose of this was. What are we are hoping to achieve? We are a nation of immigrants. We have refugees who come here from all over the world and I would say that we have not had any more than a handful who have been anything but legitimate.

If that is the case, why are we doing this? Why are we instilling some kind of fear in everyday Canadians that there is a gargantuan problem out there and that this is the magic pill. This is not a magic formula to address those who break our laws. All this does is divide families for a longer period and humiliate, and I use that word deliberately, people who have suffered.

I have had the privilege of working with refugee families as a volunteer in the evenings and on weekends while I was a teacher , and I have had the privilege of teaching young people who have come from refugee camps. I remember a young man I reached out to and what his reaction was. He came from a very violent background and what he needed was security and assistance. Those are the kinds of families that may be in limbo for up to 12 months and then, if they are designated into this category, it could be another five or six years.

Let us, as Canadians, remember our humanity and our compassion.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I am pleased to tell the member for Newton—North Delta that she will have up to eight minutes remaining for her remarks, and then there will be a period of 10 minutes for questions and comments when this motion is up for debate again in the House.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question that I raised in June in the House on child and family poverty. At that time, I talked about the fact that nearly 700,000 children in Canada were living in poverty. I asked the minister what the government was doing. The minister at the time acknowledged that the effects of the global recession had been increasing poverty in Canada. However, the substance of her answer did not indicate that there was any meaningful action being taken on the part of the government.

I want to refer to a September 2011 report from the Conference Board of Canada called “Child Poverty”. It essentially lays out why we should be concerned about child and family poverty in this country. The report had a couple of key messages. First, that Canada scores a C grade and ranks 13 out of 17 peer countries, that more than one in seven Canadian children live in poverty. When we talk about first nations, it is one in four children. When we are talking about children, of course, we are not talking just about children but about children and their families.

The report puts child poverty into context. The report indicates that children who experience poverty, especially persistent poverty, are at a higher rate of suffering health problems, development delays and behavioural disorders. They tend to attain lower levels of education and are more likely to live in poverty when they become adults.

The OECD says that failure to tackle the poverty in exclusion facing millions and their families is not only socially reprehensible but it will also weigh heavily on a country's capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come. That is very important because, of course, we will be relying on those children to become productive adults and support us in our old age.

The report had a question, “Is the child poverty rate declining in Canada?”. And, of course, no surprise to many New Democrats, the answer is, absolutely not.

In 1989, the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion to make child poverty history by the year 2000. Initially, there was a drop in child poverty but by the mid-2000s it had increased once again to 15.1%.

There are other countries that are taking meaningful action on that, one being the United Kingdom. It set out a 20-year mission in 1999 to end child poverty through a series a integrated policies, including strengthening early learning, education, affordable housing and health services, as well as raising the minimum wage and augmenting child benefits. It has had some success with those policies. As we can see, other western countries with similar kinds of systems that we have here in Canada have taken meaningful action.

The Conference Board of Canada did go on to state what Canada could do to become a leader on child poverty. It stated that the government needs to fund jobs training, provide child care and introduce things like tax incentives for lower-paid workers.

What concrete measures will the government take to eliminate child and family poverty in this country?

6:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for raising the issue of children and poverty in Canada.

From the outset, I will say that I am as committed as anyone in the House to seeing a decrease in child poverty in Canada and I am confident that we are on the right path toward a steady decline in child poverty.

Our economic action plan has been there to fight poverty. Investments made by our government through the economic action plan, including temporary enhancements to employment insurance as well as permanent increases in child benefits and programs such as the working income tax benefit have prevented many more Canadian families from falling into a low income bracket.

We believe that the family is the building block of society and that one of the most important investments we can make as a country is to help families with the costs of raising their children.

Our government provides over $14 billion annually in benefits for families with children through the universal child care benefit, the Canada child tax benefit, including the national child benefit supplement for low income families, and through the child tax credit.

Since 2006, our government has made significant investments in benefits for families with children.

In 2006, we introduced the universal child care benefit, which pays $100 per month to all families with children under the age of six to help them with the costs of caring for their children. The UCCB alone has lifted approximately 24,000 families with over 55,000 children out of low income circumstances.

In 2007, we introduced the child tax credit, which provides tax relief to families and parents in recognition of the additional costs associated with raising children. It provides a maximum tax value of over $300 in tax relief to more than three million Canadian families with children.

In budget 2009, we increased the amount that families with children can earn before benefits under the Canada child tax benefit, including the national child benefit supplement, thereby providing increased support for low and modest income families with children.

The national child benefit supplement has been successful in reducing the incidence of families with children living in low income and in reducing the severity of low income for those families who continue to live below the low income threshold.

In budget 2010, we reiterated our commitment to giving Canadian parents choices in child care. We improved the taxation of the universal child care benefit to ensure that single parent families are treated fairly. We enhanced the delivery of child benefits for parents with joint custody.

In addition, we have introduced a series of tax measures to better recognize other expenses, such as the child fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit included in budget 2011.

One of the best ways out of poverty is to help Canadian workers gain skills that lead to employment. Our government's approach to reducing poverty emphasizes giving Canadians the skills and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency while providing targeted support for those facing particular barriers.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that the Conference Board of Canada and other reports have indicated that child and family poverty is increasing in this country. There are a number of measures that could be taken in order to alleviate that poverty.

I talked earlier about a job strategy. A comprehensive job strategy is an important part in lifting children and families out of poverty as is a national child care program.

There is one concrete measure that the government could take. In the previous Parliament, Tony Martin introduced Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada. I have reintroduced Tony Martin's bill as Bill C-233 . In conjunction with consultations across Canada, that bill came out with some very concrete steps that could be taken.

Would the parliamentary secretary and the government support Bill C-233, An Act to eliminate poverty in Canada?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, we are very much focused on this subject. We introduced the working income tax benefit in 2007 to help ensure that more low income families are financially better off as a result of getting a job.

In budget 2009, the tax benefit was enhanced by $580 million, effectively doubling the initial investment to provide further support to working families and to other Canadians.

In 2011, approximately 1.5 million working Canadian families are expected to benefit from the working income tax benefit.

We also extended work sharing agreements to keep Canadians working by up to 26 weeks to a maximum of 78 weeks.

We are seeing the results of these investments. In the first eight months of 2011, employment increased by 194,400. This is good news for Canadians and Canadian families.

Under budget 2011, we provided additional funding to make available an extension of up to 16 weeks for active or recently terminated work sharing agreements to be phased out by October 2011.

The family is the building block of our society. Our priority--

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. The parliamentary secretary may know that we have exhausted our time on that particular question.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to ask the minister for a clarification on the answer she provided to the House in June regarding the needs of seniors.

I have been listening to seniors and meeting with seniors' organizations over the summer. I have heard over and over how there is a desperate lack of funding for programs and a very real and legitimate fear that Canada is not prepared for the rapidly rising seniors population.

I am hoping the minister has had an opportunity to meet with organizations as I have. I am sure if she has done so that she will have heard the same messages over and over again, and the extraordinary ideas put forward by people who are working with our seniors or who are seniors themselves. These ideas would go a long way to address the needs of an aging population. I have heard loud and clear from everyone with whom I have spoken that we are in desperate need of a comprehensive plan that will ensure that we can address this demographic shift.

The most important issue voiced over and over is that seniors want to stay for as long as possible in their own homes. They want to be in their communities, near their friends and families. I really do not think this is asking too much.

It is very clear that we need a home care plan, a plan that ensures seniors can stay in their homes and that any modifications needed to be done to those homes are available at an affordable rate.

We also need to make sure that seniors can access services without having to travel great distances, especially as their mobility becomes more and more challenged.

A network of community hubs would be an effective way of assuring that access. This would also help combat the solitude that affects many seniors, especially single seniors or those caring for their partner or loved ones.

What our seniors are asking for is affordable and appropriate housing that will meet their needs as they age. As their abilities change, our older loved ones need appropriate care within the community or residence in which they live. Access to families and their social networks is the key to health and safety for our seniors.

I have also heard that seniors often were not informed about the services available to them, or how to access the information to connect with those services. A community hub could operate as a central location where seniors could go for assistance with health care, financial issues, government funding and other services that directly affect them.

Finally, I heard about elder abuse. It is difficult to paint elder abuse with one brush. It comes in all forms, physical, sexual, financial and psychological. The scale of the abuse can vary dramatically. It can be something that has been happening over a lifetime or can occur when a senior becomes frail and vulnerable.

The source of the abuse can be caregivers, a spouse, children or even strangers looking to take advantage of a vulnerable lonely person. Often the abuse is hidden, not spoken of.

This is a great tragedy. We need a program that can measure and address the varying needs of our older loved ones suffering from abuse or abandoned in our community. I ask the parliamentary secretary across the aisle if she knows if the minister has a plan or is working on a plan to provide our aging population with the protection and funding for the programs they need as they retire.

6:40 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to outline all the actions the Government of Canada has taken to combat elder abuse.

I appreciate the question by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe as it has provided me with an opportunity to raise awareness of this serious issue.

Members of the House surely know that elder abuse takes many different forms, among them financial exploitation, physical and mental abuse, and neglect. It is estimated that 4% to 10% of older adults in Canada will experience one or more forms of abuse at some point in time in their senior years.

The Government of Canada has been very active on this issue of elder abuse. The federal elder abuse initiative, launched as part of budget 2008, took a focused federal approach to combatting this problem. It did so by raising awareness and developing resource materials for front-line professionals who provide support and services to seniors.

The Government of Canada invested $13 million over three years in support of this initiative.

The cornerstone of the federal elder abuse initiative was a national awareness campaign called “Elder Abuse - It's Time To Face The Reality”. This campaign, launched in June 2009 and which ran again in October 2010, used television, print and the Internet to convey its powerful message.

This groundbreaking advertising campaign helped Canadians understand what elder abuse is and provided information on these issues.

The campaign was far-reaching.

Based on the results of a post-campaign survey, the advertisements left audiences with a strong impression and the public became more aware of the issues of elder abuse. Since the beginning of the campaign, more than 80,000 visits have been made to the elder abuse awareness Internet page at seniors.gc.ca. Several thousand calls have been received and more than 100,000 resource documents have been sent to Canadians.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the initiative has been the robust legacy of information and resources that is now available to Canadians through seniors.gc.ca and at 1-800-O-Canada and Service Canada centres across the country. Through public opinion research, we have confirmed that we have successfully raised awareness on elder abuse.

The results from a 2010 survey commissioned by Justice Canada on awareness and perceptions of elder abuse highlight the success of the awareness campaign. The report found that elder abuse awareness had increased by 11 percentage points since 2009 and that 9 out of 10 Canadians or 93% said that they were aware of the term "elder abuse". These results speak for themselves demonstrating that this initiative has successfully fulfilled its mandate during its three-year mission.

While the initiative has come to a close, the Government of Canada remains committed to combatting elder abuse and building on the foundation created by the federal elder abuse initiative.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, seniors fear losing control over their finances and over their personal choices. Families and those with power of attorney can take control and take choice away and consequently take away dignity. Seniors can be forced into housing they do not want to move into. They can be told to hand over their finances. We allow this to happen for the sake of convenience or for our fears of a senior's safety. Yet older Canadians should have a say and should be allowed to determine the directions they wish to take. The emphasis here is that seniors want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.

We have heard about the ad campaigns, but there needs to be action. Once again, what is the plan? What does the government have planned to ensure that seniors will have the opportunity and be able to maintain control over their own lives?

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada remains active in addressing elder abuse through the new horizons for seniors program which helps older Canadians use their leadership skills and energy to benefit communities across Canada. Budget 2010 proposed over $10 million over two years to increase funding to the new horizons program for seniors.

In June 2011, the government launched a call for proposals under the recently enhanced new horizons program with elder abuse awareness included in the funding objectives.

As members of the House can see, the type of programming confirms the Government of Canada's ongoing commitment to combat elder abuse.

The recent throne speech also proposed tougher sentences for those who abuse seniors.

Canadian seniors have worked hard to build our country and our government is committed to supporting those seniors by combatting elder abuse in all its forms. Having underscored all of these actions, I believe our record speaks for itself.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is good to see you back in this chamber at the start of another session.

I want to talk about an interesting and important subject near to me, which is the border. On June 13, I asked a question of the government with regard to the perimeter deal that is currently being constructed between Canada and the United States.

It is very important to acknowledge that there has been a number of recent border deals that have thickened the border. They did not provide the relief for time, travel and reduction of red tape. In fact, the United States has successfully created the northern border thickness based upon political movements in the south. This is unfortunate because it is costing us jobs, and the government has not done enough to challenge this attempt to thicken the border on the northern side.

Consultations are going on right now about the perimeter security deal that is being constructed. It would affect everything from immigration, our privacy, our military and a whole series of things. It would also affect our trade and our travel. As the United States is Canada's number one trading partner, we will see the loss of jobs.

I am concerned that the government has often been too willing to sign agreements that have actually not delivered in terms of the reduction of wait times or the red tape. I would point to one concern in terms of significance, and it is symbolic too because it has affected our tourism, which is that the government tore up a treaty that we had from the War of 1812, which it celebrated. What that did was allow gunboats on the Great Lakes again. We now have gunboats out there that fire 1,200 rounds a minute. I do not know what threat comes from Canada that requires 1,200 rounds a minute. These guns were used in Afghanistan and Cambodia. It is the Browning machine gun in particular.

That has had a cooling effect in terms of trade and tourism because people do not want to be around that stuff. Blackhawk helicopters have been added and a number of different dirigibles that do spying in Canada. Ironically, these things are not allowed to be used to spy in America, but they were being used to spy into Canada. The most famous one was in Sarnia. The people there went out to moon the balloon because they did not accept that there was a dirigible over top of their homes.

I have talked to a lot of businesses to put some pressure on the government. There should be some direct measureables about signing those agreements. We signed that shipwright agreement which now allows American boats to come into Canadian waters and arrest Canadian citizens. Interestingly enough, we are not even an equal partner in that particular program.

The Americans have their state police, their federal police, their customs officials and their municipal police who can now arrest Canadians, but when it comes to us, only our RCMP can reciprocate. Our own good men and women of the customs services are not treated to the same degree. We are not even in the same relationship at the same time.

I have asked the government to be more open and accountable, which means no longer just having a website to have hearings about the perimeter security. I am asking the government to conduct real parliamentary hearings and have oversight, not just website, one way announcements and a consultation. It is not acceptable when so much is at risk.

6:50 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, Canada and the United States share a remarkable history that greatly benefits both countries. We are each other's closest trading partners. In fact, our relationship is a model for the world.

Like all partnerships, ours must continue to evolve to address challenges and opportunities if it is to last and flourish. We share a common goal of keeping our borders open to commerce and closed to criminals and terrorists.

On February 4, the Prime Minister and President Obama announced the Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. This declaration marked a new long-term partnership between both countries and demonstrated a continued commitment to promote greater economic opportunity and to address threats as early as possible on both sides of the border.

Since being announced, we have been listening to the views of Canadians on this important initiative to ensure that Canada's interests are protected as we move forward.

In total, the government received input from more than 1,000 Canadians and almost 200 submissions from groups and organizations, including business groups, provinces and territories, municipalities, organized labour, civil society groups, academics and think tanks.

We reached out directly to national and regional groups and organizations, as well as border communities and first nations. A letter was also sent to every premier and territorial leader inviting provinces and territories to engage in the dialogue.

On August 29, the Minister of Foreign Affairs made public two reports on these consultations and, earlier today, these reports were tabled in the House for all members to review. The member opposite should review them.

The member speaks of a secretive process. This could not be further from the truth.

We thank the people and businesses who took the time to provide us with so much thoughtful input. These are important issues for Canada and Canadians and the overwhelming response we received makes this evident.

We will continue to work with President Obama and his administration to deliver on this initiative without compromising Canadian sovereignty.

Canadians elected a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government in May. They gave us a strong mandate to secure our economic recovery by protecting their interests and promoting their values.

Keeping our borders open to legitimate trade and travellers and closed to criminal and terrorist elements is vital in that regard.

I would think that the member opposite would want to join us in securing Canada's security and economic prosperity.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the problem is that every time an agreement has been signed we have had a thickening of the border and the government has not contended. It has listened to Hillary Clinton, Lieberman and other elected officials run Canada's name down with regard to 9/11. At the same time, it has never challenged them on that and has allowed this myth to develop.

With regard to the process right now, it is done in a vacuum. It should be done in the public. The dialogue should be going back and forth between the different groups. It should not just be point and click on a website right now. A thousand people is not a lot when we consider our sovereignty and our personal privacy are at risk. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner has warned of the threats with regard to losing personal security.

As things currently stand, the government did nothing when the patriot act was introduced, and Canadian personal information is taken from us without our knowing if we have our data assembled in the United States, for example.

I would point to the fact that we need to have greater accountability because even the Rideau Institute has noted that personal privacy and a number of different issues will be at risk with regard to this deal. Why can it not happen in these chambers? Why can it not happen in the halls of Parliament where we actually have the parliamentary oversight of legislation that affects so many Canadians?

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, our shared border plays a fundamental role in Canada's relationship with the United States and speeding up legitimate trade and travel is crucial in this regard, as is creating jobs and opportunities for Canadians and Americans alike.

The government received a great deal of valuable input from the public consultation process, as well as diverse views on many issues. These are important issues for Canada and Canadians, and the overwhelming response that we received makes this evident.

We are working with President Obama and his administration to streamline and secure our border and to enhance regulatory co-operation, ensuring that people and goods can flow freely and safely between our two countries.