Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-43.
In a democracy, due process is the very life blood of our freedoms and the protection of citizens' rights. Political power as such must rest with this Parliament and not with any given minister. Any move that is seen as usurping the power of Parliament has to be, at the very least, questioned in this place.
Bill C-43, I would suggest, is coming on the heels of some very heated criticism of the Conservative government and its proposed refugee reform in Bill C-31. It also cuts at health care, as we hear spoken of in this place. It would seem to us that perhaps the government is trying to change the channel with Bill C-43.
The Conservatives' mantra for the last six years has been pretty much “tough on crime”. To some extent, they have extended that past the point of reality and into a great deal of spin.
When government members speak about the need for Bill C-43, they use some pretty extreme examples of foreign nationals abusing the immigration appeal process, to blow smoke over the fact that this bill is designed to effectively remove checks and balances that permit some flexibility within our system for extraordinary circumstances.
I am a believer in due process and the need for the right to an appeal. Not everybody's story is the same. There is a variety of things that can happen, and I will touch on those as I move forward.
However, I also support the ability for humanitarian and compassionate consideration for those people who, in some terms, might be inadmissible on various grounds: security, humanitarian, international rights violations or organized criminality. There are exceptions to every rule. Many times the whole story needs to be truly evaluated regarding a removal order.
We have had situations in Hamilton. For instance, at least one woman I am aware of, who had a number of children born in Canada, received a removal order. The order was suspended, but had there not been some reconsideration of the facts of that case, a pause for a second look, she and her children would have been forced out of this country. They may, in due course, still be forced to leave, but at least they will have had the benefit of due process and a real evaluation of their situation.
I want to stress that New Democrats do recognize the need for efficient and responsive judicial apparatus for the removal of serious criminals from Canada. Having said that, we do not support closing the door on an appeal process. There has to be balance.
None of us is perfect, nor are the ministers of the government. The reality is that sometimes in some places innocent people, even those not totally innocent, may have been inappropriately moved out of this country too quickly if they did not have the option of appeal.
In my opening remarks I talked about the supremacy of Parliament. We do not support granting the minister the power to unilaterally prohibit a foreign national from becoming a temporary citizen for up to 36 months based on public policy considerations. This is simply too vague and I would suggest unnecessarily too broad an application of ministerial discretion.
We have respect for the ministers of the government, and we understand that in most instances they are doing their due diligence as they see it. However, granting extraordinary powers is not going to be in the best interest of Canada and the rights of Canadians.
New Democrats stand with newcomers who want the government to focus on making the immigration system faster and fairer for the vast majority who have not committed any crimes and who have followed the rules.
Practically every member in this place has stories of people, good souls, who waited in line, filled out the forms and did all of the things that were required of them to gain access to Canada and eventually become a citizen, only to be waiting in suspended animation for years.
We want to be sure that whatever changes are made are fair. When the minister talks about this particular bill, he talks about tough but fair measures and repeatedly emphasizes that it is easy for a non-citizen to avoid deportation. The reality is that one should not commit crimes. That is understandable. That is something we support.
However, Bill C-43 redefines serious criminality for the purpose of access to appeal. I keep coming back to that area of appeal, that area of a last chance. Once a conclusion is made on a final deportation order, Canadians expect us to be absolutely sure of the importance and necessity of removing that person.
I would suggest that this change merits further committee study. We in the NDP will support sending the bill to committee. We understand there is an issue. This is not a circumstance where we are on this side of the House saying that we are just going to oppose blindly. We are going to offer positive suggestions for changes to the bill at committee. We will extend our hand to the government to ensure that whatever bill is put forward will accomplish the job at hand, but protect people's rights in the course of that effort.
The narrowing of circumstances under which humanitarian and compassionate considerations can be taken into account makes the system less flexible. This has already raised concerns from groups advocating for people with mental illnesses, for example, who may not have been in control of themselves at the time a crime was committed. There has to be some consideration for that circumstance.
I have had family members over the years who had various stages of depression or various stages of mental illness. In one case a close relative was medicated for all of her life and was hospitalized for 10 years for a serious situation. At that time she was not in control of who she was. That person by the way was my own mother.
The broader discretionary powers in Bill C-43 would grant the minister the power to issue or revoke a declaration that would prohibit a foreign national from becoming a temporary citizen for up to 36 months. Many people in the community feel that this would go too far, and that is something for the committee to consider.
It is troubling to note that the Conservatives have marketed the bill almost exclusively on its design to speed up the deportation of serious multiple offenders. Could that be to draw attention away from the fact that Bill C-43 would remove an appeal process and would bestow these new and extraordinary discretionary powers to the minister?
This is not a case where decisions should be made by one person. Very serious decisions take place relative to removing someone from our country. These decisions have an impact on a person's life and family. There are occasions where it is absolutely necessary to remove someone, but we want to be sure that on those occasions the person has had due process and an appeal process. When we reach the conclusion that the person must leave, we can do that in clear conscience, knowing the facts and not relying solely on the judgment of the minister.
I am going to skip through part of my speech because I think my time is just about up.
In 1999, the Australian immigration system underwent a reordering with striking similarities to what is before us today. It is often worthwhile to look at another country, particularly a democracy similar to our own. The mistakes that were made in the Australian case were clear and well documented, and for some reason our minister thinks that Canada ought to repeat them.
Previous to 1999, people were protected against deportation if they had been residents of Australia for 10 years or more. However new amendments gave the minister new powers to dismiss appeals without judicial review. Many of those people had arrived in Australia as infants.
That kind of excessive power is what the NDP is concerned about. We are concerned that the appeal process would be shoved aside and these extraordinary powers would be granted to the minister. That would have a terrible effect on people in the community and their view of what life is like in a free country.