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.


Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

September 19th, 2011 / 3:25 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege on an issue which I believe constitutes a contempt of the House by the government in relation to the publicly stated efforts of the government to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board with the intent to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. Prior to referencing precedents which support this submission, I would provide the following by way of background.

According to the federal government's MERX web site, operated and controlled by Public Works and Government Services Canada, the following notice of proposed procurement was placed on the site on August 11, 2011: Reference Number 225648, entitled “Assessment and Identification of Assets and Financial Contracts of the Canadian Wheat Board”. The contracting authority listed is a senior contracting officer with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. According to the notice of description contained on the site, the purpose of the contract is stated as follows:

The purpose of the audit is to provide reasonable assurance of the total financial impact of the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and the dissolution or winding up of the CWB after the final pooling periods (expected to be July 31, 2012). The final pool period may be conducted as usual under the Act.

The notice of description continues under the audit's objectives:

A. To provide assurance that the financial reporting is up to date and that all financial transactions have been accurately recorded in order to determine the potential financial impact of the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and the dissolution or winding up of the CWB.

B. To provide assurance that all agreements/contractual and licencing agreements and all marketing plans as well as the security provided for those said plans entered into by the Canadian Wheat Board are all documented and verified in order to determine any potential liabilities and to review all termination clauses. This will also include a review of all documentation with financial implications, such as outstanding legal actions.

The Speaker will note that on at least two occasions in the notice of description, the government has stated clearly and unequivocally that the reason for the audits is based upon “the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and the dissolution or winding up of the CWB”.

The contempt arises from the direct reference that the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and dissolution or winding up the Canadian Wheat Board will follow the final pooling periods expected July 31, 2012.

In other words, there is the presumption that the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, a procedure which can only be sanctioned by an act of Parliament, will in fact occur. The government has made no secret of the fact that legislation to repeal the Canadian Wheat Board Act will be introduced this fall. That is its right. What the government has not stated as clearly as does the notice of proposed procurement is that the pith and substance of the act will be the “dissolution or winding up of the CWB”.

It is my submission that the posting of this notice of proposed procurement with the wording provided is a contempt of this House on the basis that no legislation has been tabled, let alone passed, upon which such a specific intent can be supported.

I would add to this submission the following.

In the July 28, 2011 issue of the Western Producer, an article appeared entitled, “Open market will kill CWB”. In the article reference was made to the establishment by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food of a task force, which is “to look at issues that are likely to arise once legislation to end the single desk is passed.” The task force is chaired by Agriculture Canada deputy minister John Knubley and consists of representatives of the Canadian Grain Commission, Canadian International Grains Institute, Grain Growers of Canada, Pulse Canada, and the Canola Council of Canada.

On September 6, 2011, my office received from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada the terms of reference of that task force. As the Speaker will note, the opening statement of the terms of reference reads as follows:

The group will take as given that:

-- all grains will be removed from the monopoly by August 2012.

I would further note that the reference of the task force provides for the expenditure of public funds of which has yet to be revealed to this House. I quote:

We are targeting up to four meetings in Winnipeg between mid-July and early September, with video/tele conferencing as required. The Department will reimburse invited participants for approved travel expenses.

It is my understanding that the minister was to receive a report from that task force on September 15, 2011.

There is no ambiguity to this statement. Given the specifics contained in the notice of proposed procurement referenced above, the terms of reference of the task force complement the procurement notice and serve to reinforce the contempt I am outlining, namely, that neither the notice of procurement nor the terms of the task force cited are based upon any legitimate action of the House, which is the only body that can authorize a repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and the dissolution or winding up of the CWB.

The government presumes that the act has been repealed, which in fact it has not. It has not been presented; it has not been debated; it has not been amended or in any way pronounced upon by the House or the other body down the corridor.

By way of precedence, I refer the Speaker to the decision of Speaker Fraser on October 10, 1989, at pages 4457 to 4461 of Debates, as contained in Selected Decisions of Speaker John A. Fraser, pages 3 to 11. The context of the decision was the following:

In August 1989, during the summer recess, the Government placed an advertisement in newspapers across the country stating that the proposed new Goods and Services Tax (GST) would come into effect on January 1, 1991. When the session resumed on September 25, 1989, the...Leader of the Opposition raised a question of privilege relating to the said advertisement. He was of the opinion that by placing newspaper advertisements announcing an effective date for the GST, the Government denied the role of Parliament in the imposition of taxes and thereby prejudiced proceedings of the House and its committees.

Speaker Fraser indicated it was not his intent, and rightly so, to rule upon the content of any legislation the government proposed or brought forward to the House, and it is not the intent of this submission either. However, Speaker Fraser did begin by expounding upon the arguments presented by the Liberal leader at the time, and I quote from pages 4 and 5 of Selected Decisions of Speaker John A. Fraser:

...first, that the advertisement prejudices the future proceedings of the House and of the Finance Committee...; and second, that the advertisement is a contempt of Parliament because it leads readers to infer that the House has no role in the passage of the tax, thus misleading the Canadian public concerning the procedures employed by Parliament in adopting such legislation.

As to the first point, Speaker Fraser did acknowledge that the House did have before it a technical paper on the subject which was under discussion. This is a fact not in evidence on the matter that I now raise before the House.

The Conservative government of the day, in its defence, presented the following in response. Again, I quote from page 5 of Selected Decisions of Speaker John A. Fraser:

[The Minister of Justice] explained that in the budget which was approved by the House, the government had indicated that the Goods and Services Tax would be implemented on January 1, 1991. Finally, since the Committee is presently studying the issue, he suggested that no case can be made for the claim that the Committee's work is being impeded.

Again, Mr. Speaker, neither of the facts referenced by the then minister of justice are in evidence with respect to the matter I now place before you regarding the Canadian Wheat Board. There is no reference to the Canadian Wheat Board in any context in the budget the government tabled on June 6, 2011, nor has a technical paper nor a cost benefit analysis of any kind been presented to the House.

Finally, neither is the agriculture committee nor any other committee of the House examining in any respect the issue of the Canadian Wheat Board.

However, the government has stated in its notice of proposed procurement a specific date as to when the functioning of the Canadian Wheat Board's pooling system, as currently provided for by an act of Parliament, will cease, that being July 31, 2012.

Speaker Fraser went to considerable length to provide clarification as to what constitutes a contempt. In this regard he cited Speaker Sauvé of October 29, 1980 at page 4214 of Hansard. Rather than take time to quote at length those remarks, I would refer to the Selected Decisions of Speaker John A. Fraser on pages 6 and 7. Speaker Fraser was quite clear and this point is key to the argument I present today. I must quote from page 10 of Selected Decisions of Speaker John A. Fraser:

However, I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous. This is a case which, in my opinion, should never occur. I expect the Department of Finance and other departments to study this ruling carefully and remind everyone within the Public Service that we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.

Speaker Fraser concluded by stating:

This advertisement may not be a contempt of the House in the narrow confines of procedural definition, but it is, in my opinion, ill-conceived and does a great disservice to the great traditions of this place.... [T]his ad is objectionable and should never be repeated.

He went on to say:

[I]f ever this issue has to be debated and considered by this House again these comments will serve to guide the House in its deliberations.

I want to repeat that, Mr. Speaker, because it is important to your decision:

[I]f ever this issue has to be debated and considered by this House again these comments will serve to guide the House in its deliberations.

I would add to the preceding the following from a decision by Speaker Parent, found at pages 8987 to 8988 of Debates March 13, 1997 and referenced in Selected Decisions of Speaker Parent on pages 7 and 8 wherein Speaker Parent, in reference to a matter related to government advertising in the public domain prior to final passage of legislation stated:

[W]here the government issues communications to the public containing allusions to measures before the House, it would be advisable to choose words and terms that leave no doubt as to the disposition of these measures.

Those whose duty it is to approve the wording of communications to the public for a Minister must surely be aware that the terms used in parliamentary language have a very specific meaning. Trying to avoid them or to use them for advertising purposes shows a lack of consideration for the institution of Parliament and the role of the Members in the legislative process.

What should be taken note of is the fact that the Conservative government of the day, in respecting the admonition of the Speaker, withdrew from circulation brochures referencing the implementation of the goods and services tax at that time.

In responding to a question of privilege concerning the distribution of brochures related to the implementation of the GST, on December 18, 1989, at page 12 of the Selected Decisions of Speaker John A. Fraser, he stated:

...subsequent to the Chair's ruling on the advertisements for the GST, steps had been taken to have all offending materials returned to the Department.

I refer as well to a ruling by Speaker Milliken on the issue of privilege again related to government advertising found at pages 6276 and 6278 of Debates, May 29, 2008. In his decision, Speaker Milliken stated that the advertising in question at the time contained caveats which demonstrated that there was no “misrepresentation of the proceedings of the House or of any presumption of the outcome of its deliberations”.

He also stated:

It is with these precedents in mind that I reviewed the advertisements in question. They contain phrases such as “the Government of Canada is proposing measures”, “These important measures, once in effect,” and “These measures are currently before Parliament”. In my view, the advertisements clearly acknowledge that these measures are not yet in place.

Even a cursory examination of the text of the advertisement placed on the government MERX website on August 11 of this year fails to meet the test of clarity referred to by Speaker Milliken in his decision of May 29, 2008 referenced above.

I would also point to a statement of the government House leader on May 15, 2008, on page 5922 of Debates, during a debate on a question of privilege related to government advertisements wherein he stated:

...that advertising undertaken by the government should not presume or suggest that a decision had been made already when it had not been taken by the House of Commons or by Parliament.

Obviously, the government's actions with the MERX ad and the actions of spokesmen in western Canada are clearly operating on the assumption that the Canadian Wheat Board Act is gone as of next year. Legislation has not even been introduced in the House.

At page 85 of the second edition of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice it states:

By far, most of the cases of privilege raised in the House relate to matters of contempt challenging the perceived authority and dignity of Parliament and its Members.

In that regard, I would remind the House of the decision of Speaker Milliken on March 19, 2001, at pages 1839 to 1840 of Debates. With respect to a matter of the failure of the government to provide a legislative briefing to members, the Speaker stated:

To deny to members information concerning business that is about to come before the House, while at the same time providing such information to media--

Or in the case before the House today, the public and potential contractors:

...that will likely be questioning members about that business, is a situation that the Chair cannot condone.

In respect to the matter I have presented today, it is my submission that the government has failed to heed the advice and admonishments of the government House leader himself or of previous Speakers on this matter.

Just before I close, to add a little context I would also add this one final point with respect to the actions of the government in this matter.

Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act is very germane to the argument presented today, which in part states:

The Minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill that would exclude any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley, or wheat or barley produced in any area in Canada, from the provisions of Part IV, either in whole or in part, or generally, or for any period, or that would extend the application of Part III or Part IV or both Parts III and IV to any other grain, unless

a. the Minister has consulted with the board about the exclusion or extension; and

b. the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension, the voting process having been determined by the Minister.

It is my submission that the announcement that the government is seeking audit advice on the process of “dissolution or winding up of the CWB”, which will be under way by July 31, 2012, constitutes a breach of the act as it currently stands.

As far as I am aware, the government has not consulted with the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board on any bill presented to Parliament and the minister has not called for any plebiscite of producers in respect to that legislation. In fact, the Canadian Wheat Board held a plebiscite in which 62% said they do not want the minister to touch the bill.

To summarize, the case of contempt I present here is different from that raised on October 8, 1989, in the following aspects.

First, the notice to propose procurement is clear in that it is proposing to let a contract for audits of the Canadian Wheat Board, based upon the stated fact of “dissolution or winding up of the CWB after the final pooling periods (expected to be July 31, 2012)”.

Second, unlike the 1989 case referred to, the government has not even attempted to provide this House or any committee of this House with any kind of technical paper or any indication that it has done due diligence and completed its own economic impact assessment on any proposed changes to the Canadian Wheat Board, let alone “dissolution or winding up”.

Given the admonition of Speaker Fraser, it is my submission that the case he warned against reappearing has now arisen and one with even less legitimacy than that of the one he decided upon in October 1989. As a consequence, it is my submission that the text of the notice of proposed procurement and the terms of reference of the task force established by the Minister of Agriculture would leave the reader to conclude that the Canadian Wheat Board will be repealed, even though no such legislation in any form has been tabled in this House, and that in less than a year the Canadian Wheat Board will be in the process of dissolution and winding up, two facts which will negatively impact upon the board, those farmers operating under it and those doing business with that board.

My privilege, as well as that of all members of the House, has been affected by the fact that the public has been placed in a position to conclude that Parliament has acted on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board on the basis of a notice of procurement when in fact it has not.

Therefore, I would seek from the Speaker a finding of contempt and I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point. I will try to be far more concise than my colleague from Malpeque.

Let me state at the outset that there is clearly no case of privilege here. There is no contempt that is being sought by the member for Malpeque. The hon. member went to great lengths to try to compare a situation that occurred with public advertising in 1989 regarding the GST with the situation we have before us now where there was a notice of procurement not made in general terms to the general public but specifically to a company called MERX.

Mr. Speaker, that is critical in your determinations, because we have always stated our intentions to make fundamental organizational changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. We have campaigned for four successive elections on that. The last election concluded in May of this year was no different.

Therefore, there is no question that the general public, producers across western Canada, and anyone else for that matter knows the intentions of our government. We have not introduced legislation yet giving any details of that. When and if that legislation is introduced, we have not stated in any unequivocal or definitive way that there would be a date for the conclusion of that legislation.

The member for Malpeque is clearly trying to draw a very long bow by taking a request for procurement with an end date to the company that may want to submit a tender and stating that clearly since there was a date contained in the ad of request for procurement that must be the date that the government feels this legislation will have been concluded. That is a very long bow to draw and is simply incorrect. There is no definitive statement that the Government of Canada has put out any public advertisements stating that by a certain date in the future the Canadian Wheat Board legislation will have passed. We have not even introduced the legislation so there can be no contempt.

The member for Malpeque is on his tirade once more trying to suggest that Canadian producers in western Canada will be somehow aggrieved by changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. We take a different view. We have stated that many times quite publicly.

In this particular question of privilege that the member raises, there is no question of contempt whatsoever because nowhere has there been any public advertising presented by the Government of Canada giving an end date to legislation that has not even been introduced. The advertisement the member is referring to is merely a request for procurement which provides a date for those companies that are interested to submit their tenders to the government . That is all. It does not state that the government intends to have legislation passed by any specific date. In fact, there has been no indication in a public venue or any public advertisement whatsoever that the government plans to even introduce legislation and at what date.

I know the member opposes the government's plan to give marketing freedom to Canadian western producers, but we will do so. We will introduce legislation that will be debated in the House. All members of this place as well as members of the agriculture committee will have a chance to examine and to speak to the legislation when and if it is introduced. However, it has not been introduced and there is no contempt.

In conclusion, I would suggest to my friend from Malpeque that while he has differing views from the government on the rights of Canadian farmers to market their grain as they see fit there is no contempt in this case.

However, as I am sure my friend from Malpeque wishes to engage in further debate on this, I ask that we be allowed to reserve the right to comment further if needed in the near future.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like the opportunity to intervene first on the point of privilege raised by my colleague from Malpeque and also provide some comments on the intervention by the parliamentary secretary.

I would start by saying that the parliamentary secretary stood and very categorically announced that there is no breach of parliamentary privilege or contempt here. I only raise this point to put to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is not for him to make that determination, but for you as the Speaker of the House to determine whether my colleague from Malpeque has a legitimate point of privilege and whether a finding of contempt may in fact stem from it.

Addressing my colleague's point, we took note as well that the request for proposals on the MERX website that took place in August very clearly stated a wish for help in evaluating and auditing the wrap-up costs associated with terminating the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk monopoly by July 31, 2012. In other words, the Canadian Wheat Board as we know it would cease to exist on August 1, 2012. I agree with him and ask you, Mr. Speaker, given that Speakers are bound by jurisprudence and precedent, to take note of the precedents that he cited, not from one Speaker but three separate Speakers, that such an announcement can presuppose, undermine and prejudice the parliamentary procedure that necessarily determines legislation and would be able to result in the final abolishing of the Canadian Wheat Board.

I would point out that it is not only the collective privilege of members of Parliament that is being impacted by this presupposition, this announcement for all the world to see, that the Wheat Board is finished, over and dead. It is not only those of us in the chamber who are impacted, but the rural Prairie economy is also affected by such an announcement. If this announcement gazetted on the MERX website was so benign and innocuous, as the parliamentary secretary would have us believe, why do we see the spike in the share prices of the very grain companies that will benefit by assuming the very lucrative market share left behind by the $6 billion a year corporation that the government is so hell-bent and determined to dismantle? If this announcement was so innocuous, why are the share prices going up in these companies in anticipation of what the government has very publicly announced?

We should take note that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the minister who is responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and who should by all rights be the Wheat Board's greatest champion, not its worst enemy and saboteur, has visited the offices of the Canadian Wheat Board only one time, and for 20 minutes, although some argue it was 22 minutes. He was being timed.

We just learned this from the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board during our meetings in Quebec City not three days ago. It was announced to us that the one and only time the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food responsible for the Wheat Board has ever visited the Canadian Wheat Board was to announce to it this summer that on July 31 it will cease to exist and that on August 1, 2012, there will be no more single desk monopoly for marketing grain through the Canadian Wheat Board.

That is a public declaration. That is an announcement. That is not even giving us the right to entertain first reading, second reading, committee stage, third reading and report stage of a piece of legislation before the government has decreed by its advertising in MERX and by its public declaration to the directors of the Canadian Wheat Board that they are finished. That does undermine, sabotage and strip away my privilege as a parliamentarian to effect change to that legislation.

It may be that the government will not get its legislation through. It may well be that it becomes amended or modified or ameliorated, or that some of the worst aspects of it do not succeed, even though it has a majority.

We know that for the government to meet that July 31 deadline, that legislation has to clear the Senate by December 15. The members on this side will not allow that to happen. We will use every parliamentary procedure possible to ensure that the government does not get legislation passed, if we cannot amend it to modify it.

That means the government will be undermining the Prairie economy, destabilizing the key industry in our agricultural sector, throwing confusion and chaos into the marketing of grain and grain exports. Grain to Manitoba is what oil is to the province of Alberta. The government cannot be so cavalier and reckless.

The government intends to dismantle the largest and most successful grain marketing company in the world by July 31, 2012, and it does not even know what it will cost. It is only starting to ask now for some help in auditing the impact. Never mind the fact that the government has not done a cost benefit analysis. It has not even done an initial adjudication as to what this might cost.

The figures from the Canadian Wheat Board directors are loosely $500 million in wrap-up costs. A $6 billion a year corporation cannot be wrapped up without some closing costs, not when the government has just contracted to buy new ships for the Great Lakes, not when it has producer cars, not when it has standing contracts that it will have to break.

I would add my voice to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to take note of the rulings as set out by my colleague, the hon. member for Malpeque, and to take into consideration that the unilateral and arbitrary declaration by the government that the Wheat Board is over is deleterious to my privilege as a member of Parliament, deleterious to the Prairie economy and deleterious to the Prairie farm producers who count on the Wheat Board to provide the best return for their grain sales.

Speakers are guided by precedent and jurisprudence and there is an abundance of jurisprudence that supports the point that my colleague raises, that we are being denied that most fundamental right and privilege of all members of Parliament, and that is to determine the outcome of legislation and not have it presupposed by a government that has very little respect for Parliament.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief and stick to the principle of process, about which I believe all of us need to be concerned.

My colleague made reference to citations through Speaker Fraser and talked about how important it was that we respect the institution that we belong to and that we participate fully. We have to be very careful of the dangerous slope that we are going into.

When governments or departments make a mistake, there is a great deal of honour in coming forward and saying that they made a mistake and that they will ensure it is not going to happen again.

I would love to see a government minister, the acting House leader, whomever from the government benches, recognize that Speaker Fraser in his comments, which have been referenced in addressing this motion, are in fact applicable for today's motion.

It is indeed critically important that when a minister's office or the government takes an action in anticipation that a bill is ultimately going to be coming through the House of Commons and passed, that is in fact wrong. The process of the House of Commons has to be allowed to do the things that it needs to do in order to ensure that we operate from within the law.

I would ultimately argue that government should not be presuming how the House of Commons will vote on any given issue.

I know from personal experience back in 1986 everyone believed that the Manitoba budget would pass because it had a majority government. No government advertising was entered into prior to the budget that was supposed to pass. The government advertising for the budget always occurs post-passage or post-introduction of the budget itself. In 1986 that budget did not pass even though there was a majority government.

My suggestion is to put the emphasis on the process. We need to be looking at that. I believe my colleague highlighted Speaker Fraser in his remarks to ensure the integrity of the House of Commons is maintained. I would suggest that, at the very least, the right thing would be for the minister responsible to stand in his place, recognize that a mistake has been made, state that he will go out of his way to ensure that it does not occur again and that the problem currently in place is fixed.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I know you will be making your decision available to all of us in the very near future. I would reiterate just one or two points that I made in my first intervention.

Both members from the third party and the member from the official opposition seemed to suggest that the RFP that was put on the MERX web site categorically gave a deadline for alterations to the Canadian Wheat Board, in other words for legislation to be concluded. That is not the case. It was merely a request for MERX to supply a proposal to our government and gave a deadline for when we wish that proposal to be in our hands. It did not refer to the legislation itself. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the legislation has not yet been introduced. There will be ample opportunities for debate on that piece of legislation when and if it is introduced in this House.

However, our intentions have always been clear, so to suggest, as my hon. colleague from the official opposition mentioned, that we are somehow undermining the ability of parliamentarians or destroying or undermining the economy of Canadian western grain producers, is absolutely false. Canadian western producers have known for years the intentions of our government and they have overwhelmingly voted in rural ridings across western Canada for a Conservative majority government, which they now have.

To my colleague from Winnipeg Centre who says that any changes to the Canadian Wheat Board as advocated by our government may destroy the agricultural economy, I would point out two illustrations. One is of a producer who contacted me in my riding and said two years ago that his farming operation lost $250,000 because he could not market his barley to the highest bidder. He was forced to sell his barley through the Canadian Wheat Board and it cost his farming operation $250,000. I would like the member for Malpeque or any other member to stand in this place and please respond to that producer as to why the Canadian Wheat Board was a good deal for him.

In response to questions about the agricultural economy, the Minister of Agriculture pointed out today quite correctly that one of the benefits of having a voluntary wheat board is the positive impact it would have on value-added industries actually starting up their businesses in Canada. Right now because of the Wheat Board, pasta plants, value-added plants and industries like that are not allowed in Canada. They have to find their place of business to be set up otherwise. There are four or five of those examples south of the border. They do not fundamentally understand what the Wheat Board means in terms of restrictions to agricultural industry. That is fine. We can have that debate. We hope to be able to educate them when legislation is introduced, if it is introduced.

In conclusion, to suggest that because of a request for proposal to an industry on a web site, that it be the end date of the legislation we have yet to introduce is sheer folly. It absolutely makes no sense. In my view, there is no basis for privilege. There is certainly no basis for contempt.

I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you give a response to this very important question at your earliest opportunity.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the deputy House leader is absolutely wrong in his remarks and I will make two points to prove so.

The deputy leader talked about the contract with MERX. The advertisement tells the contractor, whoever it might be, and, through that advertisement, the public, that it must assume that the Canadian Wheat Board ceases to exist. That is the assumption that is made when in fact that can only be done through legislation in the House. We are not operating in a dictatorship where the executive branch of government decides all. The deputy House leader is absolutely wrong on that point.

Second, I will refer members back to my remarks. I indicated in my remarks that the Minister of Agriculture set up a task force. On September 6 of this year, my office received from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada the terms of reference of that task force. The very first term of reference reads:

This group will take as given that:

all grains will be removed from the monopoly by August 2012.

I will quote it again for the deputy House leader. The group, the task force, appointed and paid for by the Government of Canada, will take “as a given that: all grains will be removed from the monopoly by August 2012”. That is clearly operating on presumption. Legislation has not even been entered into but it will be gone. A task force has even been set up. We need to keep in mind that the task force was basically secret. Public meetings were not called for farmers to be heard. It was just an internal, little select body chaired by the deputy minister of agriculture.

Mr. Speaker, I do not think you have any choice but to rule contempt of the privileges of the House on the actions of the Government of Canada in this particular matter.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank all hon. members for their submissions. I can assure them that I will take this issue under advisement and come back to the House in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

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

4:10 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Minister of Immigration provided his comments on this particular bill and I do have questions that I want to pose to him. The tradition in the chamber has been to allow opposition members to question a minister on legislation right after he or she has spoken. The Minister of Immigration has spoken and I do have questions. When will I get the opportunity to pose the questions to the minister?

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

4:10 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Unfortunately, since the minister is not available to be here for the question and comment portion of his speech, the tradition of the House is to move on to the next speaker. I will give the floor now to the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

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

4:10 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-4, first, because of its severe impact on legitimate refugees who come to Canada; second, because of its direct conflict with Canada's international obligations; and third, because it takes Canada once again down the wrong-headed road of trying to use incarceration as a solution for social problems.

Looking at the title, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, one might wonder why anyone would be concerned. We all share a common concern about the financial exploitation of desperate refugees. We all share concerns about the unsafe transportation of refugees to Canada. However, the title of the act is clearly more about spin than about information. It is designed to provoke a, “well who could disagree with that”, kind of response. Unfortunately, it is something we have seen all too often on Conservative bills.

Early in the debate, the parliamentary secretary for immigration said that Canadians clearly voted for this measure. In fact, if they had read the title and if this were a vote determining measure, then it was certainly with the expectation that this bill would contain significant measures targeting human smugglers.

However, when we actually look at the bill, what do we find? We find only two significant measures targeting those smugglers. These two measures might perhaps be helpful. One makes the endangerment of life and safety for those being transported an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing. This is something for which we might find support from all sides of the House.

Second, there is a measure that would extend the time for initiating proceedings against smugglers from six months to five years. As we all know, human smuggling cases can be quite complicated. Again, this is a measure that might find a degree of support from all sides of the House and might pass quickly.

The other measures directed at smugglers are of questionable use. They once again stem from the Conservative's approach of trying to deter crime through mandatory minimum sentences and large fines even though all the literature in all kinds of criminal activity and behaviour show that these do not serve as deterrents. I think the problem for the government was that there was not much to do in the area of targeting human smugglers because the maximum penalties are already life in prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Why the dramatic title? Unfortunately, the government either believes in its own rhetoric, which is based on fear, or the government is attempting simply to enhance its tough guy image at the expense of legitimate refugees.

How large is this problem? Of the 30,000 refugee claimants who might arrive in any given year, less than 2% are estimated to have arrived at the hands of smugglers or in the famous cases of the two ships that came. That is less than 2% or 300-500 people out of more than 33,000 claimants. We are taking a sledge hammer to what is a very real but very small problem.

Still, if we were under siege by human smugglers, there are solutions that would quickly address this problem without draconian attacks on refugee rights and without incurring enormous long-term costs of incarceration. These are quite simple. They are enhanced enforcement and the expeditious determination of refugee claims. Both of those measures require annual adequate funding to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and to law enforcement agencies. However, when we have a government that is now obsessed with cuts to public agencies, we cannot expect them to be able to do the enforcement work and do the determinations of refugee claims in an expeditious manner, which would actually take away the problem of smugglers and abuse of the system.

I will outline the main content of the bill because it is this content that gives rise to my concern. It is this content that I do not really understand. Bill C-4 is an attack on legitimate refugees who happen to arrive in a different manner than other refugees. I find the following seven things to be major concerns.

Bill C-4 creates a discriminatory category of designated refugee claimants based on their mode of arrival. It would impose penalties and disadvantages on legitimate refugees who have been forced to use the services of human smugglers to escape with their lives. It would impose penalties and disadvantages that would not be placed on other legitimate refugees who happen to arrive under their own steam, by air or crossing land boundaries.

Second, it provides for the detention of legitimate refugee claimants for up to one year with no review, including children. These are people who have perhaps suffered violence themselves, who have perhaps lost members of their family, who have certainly lost almost everything they had to their name. What will we do in Canada? We will further punish them by keeping them in detention for up to one year with no review.

Third, Bill C-4 proposes a ban on humanitarian and compassionate applications for five years. This would arbitrarily deny a right to those who have already been victims twice over. They were victims in their home country and victims of human smugglers. Now, in Canada, we would deny them a right to make their case on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which all others have the right to do in this country.

The fourth thing of concern for me in Bill C-4 is that it would suspend the right to apply for permanent residency for five years. I cannot imagine what we think we would accomplish by doing this. It can only delay family reunification cases where families have been split up abroad and it can only delay the integration of refugees into Canadian society.

My fifth concern is that it would deny refugees travel documents that they would otherwise be entitled to if they were designated claimants. Once again, I cannot imagine what the problem is we are solving here, but the problem we are creating, once again, is with families who may have been separated abroad and who may need these travel documents to travel to help reunify their families.

My sixth concern is that it would allow the retroactive designation of claimants as possibly coming under this act. It is a fundamental principle of British common law which we use that we do not apply retroactive measures in criminal law. To me, the same thing should apply in the case of immigration law dealing with refugee claimants.

Finally and perhaps most egregious, Bill C-4 would exclude designated claimants from the appeal process, something which I believe the Supreme Court would find very hard to uphold in the long run.

Before I say a little more about my specific concerns, I want to talk a little about my own experience with refugees. As some in the House will know, I am the co-founder of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. It is a society that was set up in the 1980s to employ refugees and immigrants to help other refugees and immigrants with their settlement services in the community of Victoria. I am very proud of my long association with the Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and the very high quality of work it has done in my community.

In the 1980s, I worked with Latin American refugees who came from Central America. Many of them stayed in my home as their first base of arrival in Canada. I visited refugee camps in both Indonesia and Afghanistan and helped on international projects trying to get the safe return home of refugees. First and foremost, I can tell the House that refugees are looking for a safe place for their families. They are not examining the comparative refugee regulations in countries around the world. They are simply looking for a place to go where they can be safe.

I will tell you a short story about the Campos family who came from El Salvador in the mid 1980s. They had two sons. One of their sons was taken from their house and shot in the street by security forces. They left that night without any documents, taking their younger son and fleeing the country. They ended up at my house in Victoria. I do not know how they got there but I have some suspicions that it was not an altogether pleasant journey, and they may have used the services of human smugglers. They felt they had no choice but to try and save the life of their only surviving son. The Campos family, Arnaldo, Virgina and José are still friends of mine today and they are alive because we gave them refuge in Canada. They did not shop for a place to go. They fled for their lives.

In the late 1980s, I served as an expert witness at refugee board hearings on behalf of Indo-Fijians who fled the military coup in Fiji, as I was working at that time for an international non-government organization. Again, when the Canadian minister of foreign affairs at the time, Joe Clark, said that we would accept refugees from the coups, there was great surprise in Canada when tens of thousands of Indo-Fijians got on the next plane and arrived in Vancouver. If we had had this kind of bill in place, those who had organized the flights would have been defined as human smugglers. Those who raised money to help them come to Canada would have been caught in the web of this bill. These are very productive and proud Canadians today, still living and working in Vancouver.

When we ask about the definition of human smuggling, I should add that as my eighth concern. I feel the definition is so broad that we will inadvertently catch those who are helping legitimate refugees out of humanitarian concerns in the web of the bill. I bought tickets for people to come illegally into Canada in the 1980s who were fleeing for their lives. Would I have been defined as a human smuggler? I am afraid under the bill I might have been.

Earlier in this debate the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used a bizarre market analogy about trying to affect the price charged by human smugglers. This is nothing out of the real world of refugees who are living in camps day-to-day, trying to find a way to reach safety.

On the other side, we heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration talk about queue-jumping, which implies that there is some kind of organized system for dealing with refugees around the world. This is a system that does not exist and cannot exist when people are fleeing for their lives. Again, there are undoubtedly a few who will attempt to exploit our refugee determination system. The solution for those few is enforcement and swift refugee determinations. This will eliminate the problem of those smugglers who try to target Canada.

My concerns are with legitimate refugees, people who have lost everything, people who have been victims of violence. My concern is how we will treat them when they arrive in Canada. If they arrive by boat, will we deny them the same treatment as other legitimate refugees? The discriminatory category of designated claimants is a clear violation of charter rights and I think the courts, again, would find it hard to uphold such a measure.

The provision of detention without review has already been ruled unconstitutional by the Canadian Supreme Court when dealing with security certificates. Plus we have a provision that says mandatory conditions will be placed on designated claimants who are released and those will be set by regulation. Again, I doubt the Supreme Court of Canada would uphold any such vague determination of conditions for release of detainees.

The bar on humanitarian and compassionate applications for five years and the suspension of the right to apply for permanent residence for five years clearly violate both our obligations under the international convention on refugees and also under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention requires that in all cases the best interests of the child be taken into consideration and I cannot see how that can be met with bans on humanitarian and compassionate applications and with suspensions on the right to apply for permanent residence, which would allow the reunification of families.

I would like to ask the House to listen to the voice of refugees and to those who have actually worked with refugees in the field. Listen to those like the Canadian Council for Refugees that have called for the abandonment of this draconian legislation. Listen to Amnesty International that works every day with those who live in fear of their lives and often tries to help them find safe places to go. Listen to the Canadian Bar Association and its severe reservations about the legislation. Listen to the many other community organizations that work trying to help those who have suffered severe traumas to integrate into Canadian society.

Listen to those voices when it comes time to vote on the bill. Can it be amended? Can it be fixed? My concerns are very severe and I have seen no inclination on the government side to listen to these arguments about humanitarianism, compassion, human rights and treating fairly those who have already been victimized by becoming refugees from their country and by having to resort to the service of human smugglers.

I know many of these people and I know many other members of the House know those who have come to Canada as refugees. The bill would have made that much more difficult for many people who are an important part of our communities now. Let us not deny ourselves the future potential of those people who choose not to come here, but make a wonderful addition to our society.

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

4:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, Poverty; the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Seniors; the hon. member for Windsor West, Canada-U.S. Border.

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

4:25 p.m.


Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the words of the hon. member and thoughtful reflection on issues involving not only our immigration system but those of refugee claimants and the treatment of refugee claimants in very particular dire circumstances. It has captured the House for some time.

The rule of law is an essential component of our society. The rule of law is something that the House, this Parliament, needs to ascribe to and needs to hold as its witness. However, the rule of law as stated within this bill is twofold. The rule of law states that not only is the government prescribing a certain method dealing with refugees, a particular variety of refugees, but what is not stated within the bill is that there is a right to due process. That right to due process allows for a consideration of appeal. No single decision can be taken without review. No government can impose a standard without having it adjudicated for its fairness.

Within the context of this legislation, does the hon. member feel this bill and the prevention of any right to review for certain claimants would be constitutional and be upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada?

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

4:30 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I said, I think there are very clear examples, in particular, Supreme Court cases involving security certificates, where the Supreme Court has upheld the right to due process. I would like to stress that in none of the cases we are talking about of refugee claimants, even those who came on the boats, have we found anyone who is a threat to Canadian security at this time. Therefore, even in those more severe cases that did involve questions of national security the Supreme Court would not uphold taking away the rights to due process.

As well, in the 1985 Singh case, the Supreme Court very clearly said that refugees could not be denied due process rights because of their new status in Canada.

Therefore, I do not believe that many parts of the bill would stand up to a court challenge.

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

4:30 p.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to listen to his debate and I found it interesting. I have one community in my riding, Brooks, Alberta, which is probably one of the most diverse communities around. There are some 110 languages spoken. There are people from probably any five countries and some of these have been refugees. They have told me that we are on the right track. They have said that people who come here, like those who came on the Sun Sea, should not be able to jump the queue, that they should not be able to take advantage of our good Canadian hospitality, particularly with all of the funding that they get for health care and everything else.

From my point of view, from my constituents who are have been refugees and who are supporting us, why is the NDP not supporting us in this position?

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

4:30 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, in this case the government has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In seeking to dramatize the ship arrivals and in seeking to increase fears, it has caused many Canadians to turn away from the generosity with which they have normally received immigrants and refugees in our country.

I believe when Canadians are asked to look at the real facts, the very small numbers involved and the very real situation of human rights abuse they were fleeing in Sri Lanka, then the boats from Sri Lanka no longer look like such a horrible queue-jumping problem. They look like people who were doing exactly what refugees do, and that is fleeing for their lives and fleeing to a place of safety.

I believe Canadians are generous-hearted and understand that refugees need to be welcomed here when they have no other place to go.

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

4:30 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the comments of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca were very cogent and thoughtful. I enjoy having him as part of my caucus.

The member spoke of the issue, as a number of my colleagues have, about concerns on how the proposed legislation strays from already binding commitments by this nation to international law.

First, there seems to be a pattern under the current government to move away from international obligations commitments. There was a comment earlier today from the other side about why the UN did not do the job. Part of the actions with the UN is stepping up to the plate and signing and ratifying international conventions. When we sign and ratify, we are committing that we will abide by those. Could the member speak to that?

The second issue is that this is the second step taken in substantially altering our immigration and refugee system long policy in Canada. The first measure was to massively open the doors to serve certain sectors and bring in tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers and then say that if they came in as a temporary foreign worker, they should not bother applying for their permanent citizenship or bring their families to contribute to society in the long term.

Could the member speak to those issues and the implications of this proposed law?

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

4:35 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, when people point the finger at who should be responsible, I like to point this out. Who takes responsibility for dealing with refugees? Yes, the UN does for some international refugees, but it does this on the basis of voluntary contributions by nations, so there is only so much it can do.

Far more of the work of trying to care for refugees falls to the international non-governmental organizations and humanitarian organizations that, through donors, out of the generosity of their hearts, help finance the attempts to make refugees safe. I worked for two of those international non-governmental organizations in trying to get refugees safely back to their homes.

It is easy for governments to point the finger at each other, but what we see is ordinary people around the world stepping up and recognizing the problem that refugees have and stepping up to the plate to help them out in those dire times.

As to the other questions, the turning away from our international commitments, the government cannot simply ignore those. They are a part of Canadian law. We have committed ourselves to them and I believe that, again, should this legislation pass in its present form, those commitments will be tested in the courts. As well, they will be tested in the court of world opinion, where Canada's reputation is on the line for being one that not only encourages others to adhere to international law and covenants and their responsibilities, but sets an example in doing so.

It is a very negative trend if we turn away from those obligations. How then can we call on other nations to uphold their obligations when have done so?

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

4:35 p.m.


Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, those who come to Canada illegally should expect to be subject to our laws. I believe the bill sends a strong message to those looking to circumvent the immigration system that this will not be tolerated.

The NDP has said that the bill needlessly violates the rights of illegal immigrants by detaining them in order to determine their identity. Does it maintain that we should allow illegal immigrants to roam free without consequence and without knowing whether they are a threat to public safety?

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

4:35 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's question in particular shines a light on the problem on the other side of the House.

The member has done two things in the phrasing of his question, which I think illustrates the problems with the bill. One is that he has switched from talking about refugees to immigrants. The problem with refugees is that they are not choosing to go anywhere. They are not immigrants. They are refugees.

Second, the member refers to them as illegal entrants, but under the international conventions on refugees, they are not illegal entrants. They have the right to enter Canada and seek refuge here under international agreements which we have signed and ratified.

They may enter illegally if they were immigrants and, as I said, we should use enforcement and quick determination to remove those people who try to use the refugee system as a way around the immigration system. I totally agree with the member on that.

The problem is that if he switches his discussion to refugees, then they have legal status. They have the right to seek that refuge in Canada and we have the responsibility to treat them fairly.

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

4:35 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of thoughts to share with members regarding this particular bill. I will give a bit of an overview.

We look at Canada as a great country that has all sorts of hope and opportunity and that is fairly well established around the world. Today, we have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 0.8% in terms of our overall immigrant population, which is roughly 260,000-plus immigrants every year, and a portion of those immigrants come to Canada as refugees. We had higher percentages during the 1990s when more immigrants came to our country on a per capita basis. However, all in all, Canada has provided opportunity and hope for citizens from around the world to come here and call Canada their new home.

“Refugees” is not a bad word. The government has done a disservice to refugees as a whole because of the way it is branding refugees as being dirty and not really contributing to the Canadian economy. That is what Canadians are picking up on because of the manner in which the government continues to talk about refugees.

What is even worse is that we often hear people use “refugee” and “immigrant” as one and the same. I can say that there is a great deal of concern with regard to trying to fix the system we have, but, all in all, the vast majority of Canadians are quite happy with the contributions of immigration policies from the past that have seen a good balance of immigrants and refugees come to our country.

Dealing with Bill C-4 and why it exists today causes a great deal of concern for many stakeholders who have worked with refugees over the years. I have had opportunities to have discussions with a number of refugees over the years. I believe I have an excellent appreciation of what it is that many refugees have to go through in order to arrive in Canada, ultimately settle and become contributing members of our society. We sell refugees short when we do not better educate the population as a whole in terms of the valuable contributions that refugees make to our nation. Instead, I have found that the government has made the decision to try to come across as talking tough on the crime and safety elements. It has kind of roped in the whole refugee aspect of it, which is most unfortunate.

There are ads that say that the Prime Minister has a plan to crack down on human smugglers and bogus claimants. There is an interesting picture, to which I have made reference, showing the Prime Minister and, what appears to be, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism standing on the back of the Ocean Lady. Members will be familiar with the Ocean Lady, the vessel that had 76 refugees on board.

It is interesting that the government seems to be determined to make refugees look as if they are bad. When we look at the number of refugees who have come in via boats, it is a small percentage of the overall number of immigrants, let alone the number of refugees that come to Canada. To try to put everyone in the same group and demonize refugees is just wrong.

I do not believe this is good legislation. I believe it establishes a second tier of refugee that is not healthy, that promotes and encourages some of the negative thinking and attitudes toward refugees that is out there. I believe the government has a role to encourage more tolerance and better education regarding issues surrounding refugees and so forth.

I was hoping to ask a couple of questions earlier when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism spoke to Bill C-4. Usually members are afforded the opportunity to ask questions. However, the one question I was hoping to get an answer to concerns the boat on which he was standing side-by-side with the Prime Minister, the Ocean Lady. There were 76 individuals who claimed to be refugees. How many of those individuals are, in fact, settled today? It would have been wonderful to have heard a response from the minister. My understanding is that all of them had qualified for asylum here in Canada. That was a photo-op that the government used to tell Canadians that refugees are bad.

The feedback I get from the average person, because of the way in which the government has persistently attempted to make refugees look bad, is starting to have an impact, and it is not a pleasant impact. There is a percentage of Canadians who have very little tolerance toward refugees and, to a certain degree, immigrants. The government is feeding into that anger by taking the types of stands it is taking. It is a hatred.

I would caution the government in terms of the way in which it continues to move forward on this issue. If the government really wants to make a difference, if it really wants to have a more positive impact it should be focusing on how to bring refugees in and process them in a more timely fashion so that those who are legitimate can become a part of the Canadian economy. That would be something that would be wonderful to see from the government.

What was the minister talking about in his comments? He stated that the reason we have Bill C-4 is because of the profiteers, the profiteers being the human smugglers. That is the reason we have this bill. That is what the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism said just a few hours ago.

To what degree would this legislation penalizing the smugglers? The smugglers, generally speaking, are, as far as I am concerned, unethical individuals who base a dollar value on humans. They exploit tragedy. I and members of the Liberal Party have very little sympathy for these profiteers or human smugglers.

Having said that, the impact of Bill C-4 would be far more profound on the refugees, not the smugglers, not the profiteers who the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism says that he is trying to hit and hurt with this particular legislation.

If the minister does not change the legislation, the real victim here will be the refugees because he has established that second tier. He says that we will now be able to hold off in recognizing someone. It could be four, five years before they would ultimately be able to sponsor a family member.

As a member of Parliament, I am sure all offices have communications with immigrants who are trying to sponsor family members from abroad, especially if it is a parent, but also brothers, sisters, siblings, nephews, nieces, and so forth. Do members know what the processing times for those today?

What we are saying is that based on the assumption, and it is a fair assumption, 99% of those who are arriving on the boats are in fact legitimate refugees who need asylum. It would have been nice if the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism were here to provide an answer himself.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism wants the power and the authority, which he would get through this legislation, to tell refugees that they cannot land in Canada for five years. We can just imagine leaving a country where we were being shot at, we were receiving death threats and so on, landing in Canada considering ourselves fortunate because we survived and then being told that our life was on hold. Yes, we made it to Canada but our life is on hold for maybe five years. After five years we may be able to sponsor our family. That would mean anywhere from nine months to twelve years. Considering the direction in which the government is going it would probably get closer to the latter.

Canada has a moral and legal obligation to accept refugees. We can imagine a 23-year-old man wondering when he would be able to see his wife and 6-year-old child.

I always thought that families were important here in Canada, that Canadians recognized the value of family. Do we see that value in this legislation? I would say no. The minister of immigration does not recognize the value of family and he wants to put it into law and wants us to pass it. Members need to look at what the minister is asking us to do. If the purpose is to target profiteers, then let us change the focus.

The minister himself, in addressing the legislation, said that the government was doing some other things in the background, working with other levels of government and that it has been very successful. He made reference to other boats that were prevented from leaving. Maybe the minister should invest more resources in that as opposed to bringing in legislation that is questionable at best. That would be a good direction for the minister to take.

I would suggest to all members, in particular, government members, that they hold their ministers accountable for the legislation they bring forward. Just because a minister brings in legislation does not mean that it is good legislation. If a minister brings in something and a little red flag, blue flag or orange flag goes up, we have a responsibility to look into it and hold that person accountable, just like I would have welcomed the opportunity to pose some specific questions to the minister of immigration on this legislation.

We do have an immigration standing committee. Even though I am somewhat new to the House of Commons, I am not overly impressed with the immigration standing committee because it does not allow for ongoing questions relating to the accountability of the individual who I believe is most important, and that is the minister of immigration.

There are so many issues facing immigration today and yet the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would have us address a seriously flawed piece of legislation that would likely get defeated if it were brought to the Supreme Court. That is what he has us debating today. I can tell the House that there is a list of at least a dozen issues, maybe 20, that need to be addressed by the minister in his portfolio.

The minister made reference to the bill going to the immigration standing committee, which is great because that is part of the process. I still think we can strengthen the process by allowing critics and other members of Parliament to ask more specific questions of the minister, because. ultimately, we have the responsibility to think outside a political agenda. I have witnessed a political agenda in this particular bill and the agenda has more to do with hatred I would suggest, although I do not want to over-react. There was a bit of hesitation when I used the word “hatred”, so I will just rephrase it.

I am sure every member in this chamber would recognize that refugees contribute a great deal to our economy and they will continue to do that into the future. Overall, refugees have made a significant impact in our economy, our social fabric and who we are today as Canadians, as a country. I will acknowledge the fact that there is a small percentage of refugees that do create some problems and there are some individuals who will take advantage of potential refugees. Those ones upset me and many members all the time, and quite significantly.

The image and the message that the government sends out to the public are not positive when it comes to refugees, and I cited two specific examples. When we have the Prime Minister standing on the back of a boat saying that we are after the human smugglers and brings in legislation of this nature, many Canadians, and members can go and canvass their own constituents, are of the opinion that people who came in on that boat should be shipped back to the country of origin, whether they are legitimate or not. That is because the government of the day has fuelled that sentiment and given that impression either directly or indirectly. Tell me how that is a healthy thing for government to be doing.

I would suggest that there are things we can do, that we have to recognize the importance of the rule of law, that we have to ensure that individual refugees are provided the opportunity to appear and allow for a judge or appeal board to provide a decision in as quick a fashion as possible.

The reason I talk a lot about the process is because if we want to move forward and continue to be a country that can provide hope and opportunities, we need to recognize there are things that government can do to improve the system. We are spending too much time on things that I believe are hurtful. If we want to spend time on improving the system, the biggest recommendation I can give on the whole refugee file is to provide the resources necessary to ensure we have a process that is more timely and that is fair. Whether they are children or adults, whatever gender and whatever part of the world they are coming from, we need to ensure there is a sense of fairness to the process and it is done in a timely way. The quicker it is done, the sooner legitimate refugees will be able to settle and contribute to our communities and for those who are not legitimate, then the sooner they are out of Canada.

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

4:55 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have heard some pretty outlandish statements by the member opposite. In the member's presentation, he has made Canada appear as somewhat of a pariah on the international stage for this bill and what we plan to do, throwing innocent refugees at the mercy of preventative detention. I would contest those statements.

Would the member like to comment on the fact that this legislation brings us in line with the UN protocol against smuggling of immigrants by land, sea and air which, among other things, requires states to criminalize migrant smuggling?

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

4:55 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe when the Minister of Immigration gave indication as to the primary reason for the bill, it was all about smugglers and the profiteers. In trying to address the legislation, my emphasis was more so on the refugees and the way in which the legislation would have a negative impact on legitimate refugees to the degree in which it would make the refugees the victims, not the profiteers. I do not understand how members believe that the bill would have that desired impact that the government talks about with regard to the profiteers.

There are other ways of doing it so that we do not have to penalize legitimate refugees who are fleeing countries where, if they remained, they might lose their lives.

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

5 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the hon. member for Winnipeg North. We are really struggling here with the notion that there is a queue for refugees.

I used to practise in immigration law. I had a lot of refugee claimants. In fact, they mostly were ship-jumpers in Halifax. They would take their one chance to get away from a repressive regime.

I say with some humour, in the hopes of waking up other members around the House, that at one point my colleagues in my law firm said I knew how to say “Hi, sailor” in 27 languages.

However, there is no queue for refugees. Refugees show up with the clothes on their backs. They are trying to get away from a repressive regime. When I have raised this point with the Minister of Immigration, and I have heard it from government members today, it has been said that there is a queue and they just go to a United Nations refugee camp and wait there.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Winnipeg North this question. The claim by the government that there is such a thing as a queue for refugees will be at the heart of the public relations campaign to defend an indefensible bill. We have to really explain to people that the UN High Commission for Refugees is a voluntarily-funded branch of the United Nations. It does not have the capacity to provide places for people, like waiting rooms around the world, in refugee camps. That is not the route refugees take. They show up here, they ask to be assessed and they ask for their rights to be respected.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of CrimeRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting this way. I am sure the member will get the appropriate answer.

I would like to table at this time, in both official languages, the 2008-09 and 2009-10 annual reports of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, as well as the Government of Canada's response to these reports.