This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminals.

Topics

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-43, which we are debating, is a bill amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

First, I would like to say that the New Democrats acknowledge that the judicial process must be effective and flexible when it comes to removing dangerous criminals who are not Canadian citizens.

Canadians want strict measures to be taken against non-citizens who commit serious and often violent offences in our communities. Newcomers, most of whom are law-abiding, would be the first to accept this approach.

What I really like about this bill is the clause that will ensure that entering Canada because of organized criminal activity is not in itself enough for a person to be deemed inadmissible for permanent residency and Canadian citizenship, which is great news for victims of trafficking rings who are anything but criminals.

On the other hand, I find some things in this bill quite disturbing. The first one is the minister’s discretionary power to decide whether or not some people represent a threat to national security and the national interest. In fact, this bill increases the arbitrary powers given to the minister. For example, Bill C-43 gives the minister vast powers that enable him to prevent a foreign national from entering or leaving the country, or declare someone inadmissible based on public policy considerations we think are ambiguous.

We must strengthen the independence of the judicial system, not give the minister the ability to decide who enters and leaves Canada. The last thing our immigration system needs is to be even more politicized.

Canada has an efficient and independent system to determine the admissibility of people into the country. There is no point in replacing it with the whims of a minister. The minister must not be able to prevent people entering the country just because they disagree with the government. It is ridiculous to think that giving the minister more power will solve anything.

Another problem comes from the fact that the provisions of Bill C-43 will apply to people who have been found guilty of serious crimes abroad, as well as in Canada. Canada has one of the world’s best justice systems. Other countries are not so lucky. In many countries, merely belonging to an opposition party may lead to a conviction on serious criminal charges. There is no better illustration of the importance of the rule of law.

We must ensure that Canada remains a country that welcomes and offers hope to people who are fleeing persecution in other lands.

That said, I do think it reasonable to ensure that people guilty of sexual assault or robbery with violence are not running loose on our streets.

In view of the change in the definition of “serious criminality”, the change from the criterion of a two-year sentence to a six-month sentence, and since crimes committed abroad would be considered, the professionals who work with immigrants, refugees and the diasporas have also expressed their concerns that this legislation may unjustly punish young people and the mentally ill.

Therefore, the impact of this provision must be carefully studied to ensure that the measures truly achieve their goal, to prevent dangerous people from entering Canada.

Another thing that disturbs me in this bill—and in the government’s policy in general—is the image of immigrants they have created. The bills are trumpeted as if immigrants were a great threat to the country or as if all immigrants were potential criminals, when almost all immigrants to Canada are people who are seeking a better life and a better future and who, like all other Canadians, want to live in a safe environment.

I am an immigrant. I chose Quebec and Canada to live and raise my family, and I am very happy to be involved in my community in Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. I made this particular choice because I wanted a safe environment for my family, and I have found it here.

Immigrating is not easy, particularly if you are not coming to join family members who are already here. You have to start from zero. You have to find a place to live, and furnish it. You have to find a school for your children. You have to get your diplomas recognized, and in my case that was a nightmare. Finding a job is also a major challenge. A 2010 study shows that the unemployment rate is four times higher among immigrants with a university diploma than among university graduates born in Canada.

The last thing immigrants need is to be stigmatized and have a “potential criminal” aura, which would make it even more difficult for them to integrate and contribute to society in Quebec and Canada. The government has got to abandon the rhetoric that puts all immigrants in the same basket. People in my riding are already telling me disturbing stories about how they are treated and the perception others may have of them, simply because they have come from somewhere else.

That said, we must not ignore the problems that exist. We simply have to be sure our response is measured. As they say where I come from, you do not use a hammer, or a cannon, to kill a mosquito.

I know we can stop non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeal process without denying their rights. We, and the government, have to focus on improving the immigration system so it is faster and fairer for the large majority of people who do not commit crimes and who follow the rules.

I would point out again that the very large majority of people who come to Canada are not criminals. They are people who hope to contribute to society and build a better world. More often than not, they are even professionals and highly educated people.

In closing, I want to say that the question of health care for refugees is still an issue and is still important. The government probably wants us to forget the cuts it has made to that program. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the College of Family Physicians of Canada, who asked me to keep up the fight for health care for refugees. I want to remind the government that we in the NDP are not forgetting this.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to several speeches. What I like is that every NDP member who has spoken has contributed something different to the debate. I thank my colleague for her speech. I especially enjoyed hearing about her experience as an immigrant. She gave us a different perspective on the debate. We look at it from the viewpoint of those who welcome immigrants, but it is also important to hear about the perspective of the people who immigrate to Canada.

I was struck by one aspect of her speech. She talked about the definition of serious criminality and how it is perceived elsewhere. How can we improve this bill for people who are not really criminals? There are also political considerations. How can we improve the definition in order to be fair to people who apply to Canada?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his pertinent question. He is very familiar with my experience as an immigrant. He knows that after arriving in Canada, I had to fight various battles to get to where I am today.

Unfortunately, this bill would send criminals back to their country of origin. Immigrants have the perception that they are stigmatized, and they believe that other people view them as potential criminals. I would like to clarify that for everyone. As I said, when one immigrates, there is work to be done on both sides: 50% by the host country and 50% by the immigrant. Unfortunately, with certain policies, there is no will to integrate these people, only to stigmatize them.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague's speech. I cannot begin to count the number of characterizations she has used to talk about how we on this side feel about immigrants. We are not talking about stigmatizing immigrants as criminals. That is complete hogwash.

She talked about not politicizing the process. I will ask her a question about people who are non-political but have an opinion on the process, and they are professional opinions. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and Victims of Violence are among the many organizations that support Bill C-43.

Does the member and her party support the views of these organizations on this legislation, or would they rather politicize the process and not listen to professionals?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the member opposite did not listen to the beginning of my speech. I said that the NDP is in favour of a strict and flexible judicial system.

It makes sense. What is written there and what we are talking about are amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. So if we are not talking about immigrants, who are we talking about?

As an immigrant, I am not defending serious criminals. I am defending immigrants. Even if young people commit minor thefts or other similar crimes, we must not give the minister the discretionary power to decide who is a serious or petty criminal, who is a danger to the country, who must not enter or who must leave.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to add my comments to the debate.

We have said that we will support sending the bill to committee. Obviously a lot more information is needed. That has come out in the comments already, and I expect will continue for the balance of the afternoon.

As the government has heard, we have some strong feelings about this issue. We have further strong feels and concerns about why the Conservatives do this, the way they do it, the language they use and what their real intentions are. That comes from experience, watching the government in action.

However, we will be fair-minded and even-handed, but we will stand by the principles we believe in on the issue of new Canadians and those who are on the path to become new Canadians.

Let me say parenthetically before I get into the substantive part of my comments, let us recognize again that every jurisdiction in the country, whether it is federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, regional, townships or counties, recognizes that attracting new Canadians to our country is not just a Canadian value, which would be enough for most of us on this side of the House, but it is a necessary component of our ability to move forward and have the kind of economy that will provide the jobs and quality of life that we have come to enjoy, that we want to continue and that we want to make better for our children and our grandchildren.

We need to be the country in the world that everybody else looks to and says, “There is where I want to go. That is the country I want to go to because of the values of the country, the opportunities it would give me”. More than anything, I think it is fair to say most of those people would be thinking that this is where they want their children and grandchildren to be raised, to give them the maximum opportunity. It matters when we have these debates. It matters what language we use, because we send messages when we do that.

For the longest time, for the whole time I have been at the federal order of government, there has been a growing recognition that more and more new Canadians who come here find that the jobs they were told would be here are not, that the profession they were told they could continue in is no longer possible. When they see all the promises that have been made are not real, many of them do not stay.

Far too many are making the decision down the road, after six, 12, 18, 24, 36 months, that Canada is not what they thought it would be, that it is not the dream they thought they would live and they are sending that message back to their home country, to their family members and their friends and their colleagues, those who want to come to Canada because it is the place to be. They are being told that they might just want to slow down a bit because it is not always that way.

That kind of messaging is antithesis of what we need to send out if we are to attract the kind of new Canadians we want to come in here to be a part of our great nation and to help us fulfill and finish the job of building the kind of Canada that we want for our children and our grandchildren. This is the wrong message when we use language like this. The Conservatives love to say, “foreigners, criminals, crack down”.

I lived through eight years of that under Premier Mike Harris. It was the same language, the same hot button politics. It is not a coincidence that up until recently the chief of staff to the Prime Minister was the chief of staff to Mike Harris, or that three of the senior members of this current government were senior members of the Mike Harris government. Therefore, I have seen and heard a lot of this before.

It took a while, but eventually Ontarians got the message and understood what was really going on behind the names of bills that were the opposite of what they really would do, throwing out hot button words, trying to create emotions, moving people by emotion rather than reason. These were all good political ploys, but at the end of the day, Canadians figured it out and when they did, that premier could not face the electorate in the next election. In my opinion he was so unpopular that he had to step down and another fellow stepped in, but people knew by then it was not really just the leader, it was the whole government and the whole approach. Ontarians threw them out, and according to recent polls, they are not looking to bring them back any time soon.

A lot of my concern is about that kind of thing. We will have a lot more time at committee to look into these issues, that is why we sent things to committee. Hopefully we have an intelligent review, bring in experts, let the public hear and read what we read and then make our deliberations and decisions. Canadians can draw their conclusions and decide whether they want to send each of us back here or not.

It will not come as a big shock that my first concern is loading up another minister with even more power. I realize that the concept of benevolent dictator exists and one can only hope, but that is all we are left with is hope. That is not really the way we do things in Canada. Removing checks and balances, making decisions unilaterally, pushing more into the political arena, sometimes these are the right things to do, but we have real concerns about it in this application. Again, that is why we want to send it to committee so we can look at these issues.

Make no mistake, there are many Canadians right now if asked point-blank would they be in favour of giving the Prime Minister's ministers more power, yes or no, some would say yes, but I think the vast majority would, if not say no, would ask why. That is where we are. We are at the why.

I am getting comments and I have some concerns about going down that road overall. However, at committee we will have an opportunity to answer the question of why. What are the reasons the government is giving for wanting increased unilateral powers for the minister to have and do and do they hold up against an examination of the problem they are trying to solve? There are problems everywhere. The solutions, however, can either be appropriate to the problem, or they can be overwhelmingly way over the top, or it can be a nice little fig leaf to put out in front because behind there are other reasons why they want these powers.

All these things are unknown at this point. We are highly suspicious and not just because we are the official opposition, but because we know the Conservatives. However, again, we will send it to committee and have a look at it.

Finally, I would point out it was the whole idea that suddenly someone could be removed without an appeal when they went to a federal prison, but now we will move it down to six months. There is a reason deuce less a day exists. There is a reason some people go to provincial institutions on a sentence of two years less a day and other people are sent to the penitentiary where they will be for many years, possibly decades, possibly the rest of their life. These are two completely different worlds of criminal behaviour. We need to ask the questions and we will. Why is it necessary to make such a dramatic change that results in unilateral action taken against people by removing their right to appeal? Part of the Canadian way is to give people their say, let them have their day in court.

I do not have to time to get into what the Conservatives attempted to do in terms of health care for refugees or the fact that they can bring in foreign workers and pay them 15% less. There are a whole lot of reasons why we have some serious concerns with what has been proposed, but we will support it going to committee. We will roll up our sleeves and do the work. If it is a good idea, we will support it and if it is not, we will take it on with every breath that we have.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am always entertained by the member for conspiracy theory over there. I know he has strong feelings, and that is great. That is what we need in this place. We have strong feelings, too.

He talked about the hidden real intention of our government. I can say what our real intention is and that is to protect Canadians, Canadians who are born here and Canadians who come here. My friend also talked about taking away appeals. That is not the case at all and he knows that. What we are talking about is limiting the appeals to something less than endless numbers over seven to 10 years.

I will ask my colleague a question. He talked about minor crimes. Nobody is going to be thrown out of Canada or deported for minor crimes. Does he think crimes punishable by at least six months are minor? They consist of assault with a weapon, sexual assault, robbery, break and enter. Does the member think that those kinds of crimes or the people who commit those crimes over and over are minor?

It is not the fact that they are immigrants. It is the fact that they are criminals. Saying that we are stigmatizing immigrants is simply nonsense. It is rhetoric and it is out of place. Does he think those kinds of crimes are minor?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would have to think the member believes they are minor. Otherwise, he would have a private member's bill in the House that would turn everything into a penitentiary penalty.

The fact of the matter is that there is a difference between speeding and a minor offence for which a person would receive a four to six-month sentence versus someone who has been sent off to a penitentiary for 20 years. There is a distinction there. Yes, we want to have a discussion about whether that should justify that kind of unilateral action. That is the whole point.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know my hon. colleague to be a veteran in politics and I always appreciate his candour. I wish I could be as forthcoming in my opinions as he is, and in such an eloquent way.

With all due respect to my Conservative colleague on the other side, his main point was about the concentration of power. If we look at the pattern of the government over the years, it has been the concentration of power in the PMO's office or a minister's office. I would like my hon. colleague to perhaps expound on why that is a problem.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my friend can play games about me being a conspiracy theorist, which is fine, but I fully confess that after spending eight years in a Conservative House, one becomes very concerned about conspiracies. I have no problem with that. However, what I really want to focus on is whether the minister should get more power and whether it is reasonable that we would be so concerned about giving him that power.

We do not have enough time to talk about the litany of abuses of power by the government, starting with our very democracy. This is the government that passed the law, and it loves laws, that said there would be an election on a specific date. That was it and it was final. It was decided and there was the law. The first thing it did was ignore that law and set it aside because it did not suit its purposes. That is the kind of thing we are worried about.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question related to the one posed by my colleague previously. It has to do with the increasing movement by the government to give complete discretion, with no criteria, to ministers or some other authority to make decisions that impact the lives of people in Canada.

One thing concerned me about the comment that was made, which I know was meant in all good faith by my Conservative colleague across the way, and that was that it was not the government's intent. Could the member please elaborate for the House?

The very reason we pass laws is to provide legal certainty. That is why laws have to be very clear and provide clear criteria for how that discretion is to be exercised. That is the very idea behind why laws are made. Once that law is passed, there is no way the government can say that is not what it meant by that law. The law is clear on its face until it is tested in the courts.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, all I can say is that the member has answered the question herself. The member is a lawyer, so she knows far more about this than I do.

As a layperson, I will just say this, when we pass a law it says to someone that they have been found wrong and that we are going to take action. There is going to be a penalty and it is going to hurt in some fashion in that person's life.

We are also big believers that the person should be given the opportunity to have an appeal, a second opportunity for justice if they believe it was not had in the first case.

When all that power is put in one human being, as flawed as we are, that is looking for trouble. It is looking for trouble if one goes at it with the right attitude, but we do not think the Conservatives even bring that to this issue.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today at second reading to speak to Bill C-43.

It is described as an act for the faster removal of foreign criminals. If we were debating the title of the act, I really do not think there would be anything to debate. I cannot imagine any Canadian who does not think that a foreigner who is a dangerous criminal should be removed from Canada.

As has happened lately with a number of pieces of legislation brought before the House since I have been a member, I have been surprised how far the titles have morphed from the kinds of titles of legislation I once studied at law school. It used to be that we would open a statute and we found that, not only was the book dusty, the title of the legislation was just a blanket description of what was at stake: an immigration and refugee statute or a law to deal with the Fisheries Act.

Now we have titles that seem to, and probably do, come out of focus group testing for legislative titles that would be zingers in future election campaigns. As someone who studied statutes, I find this a dismaying trend. I realized the other day while watching a U.S. program on HBO called The Newsroom that this was invented by the Republicans south of the border. I do not watch enough U.S. TV to have known that if I had not been watching The Newsroom.

Back to the topic, this piece of legislation, which would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, definitely has merit if what it is about is getting rid of dangerous foreign criminals who have no right to be in Canada.

I assert that what we have here is always going to be a question of balance. We do not want dangerous foreign criminals with no right to stay in Canada to be here, threatening Canadians who have every right to be here. However, we also recognize that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, permanent residents and citizens of Canada have charter rights. The question then is whether we have the right balance. Are we protecting permanent residents who are not a threat to our society or are we sweeping them up in the vast and sweeping discretion of the minister?

This could do serious injustice to people who are important parts of Canadian society, who contribute in positive ways and who we would not want to be caught up in a sweep that did not take account of individual rights, individual situations, humanity, compassion, holding families together and other aspects that have always been part of the consideration before deportation takes place.

When we ask if the balance is right in the legislation, I turn to some of the recent comments by members of the Canadian bar. Toronto lawyer Mendel Green is quoted in this story from the Toronto Sun as saying:

I am concerned about the monumental affect this will have on the immigrant community if it becomes law.... This will be a life sentence for many people.

Lawyer Joel Sandaluk, at the same press conference, representing the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association, said:

This will destroy families who've been here for a long time.... It will create more criminals if parents or other family members are removed from Canada.

I have further quotes from other lawyers. Lawyer Guidy Mamann also said this about the potential residents who could be swept up and deported with no chance of appeal and without any exercise of individual discretion. He said:

These are young children brought to Canada at a young age as permanent residents, raised and schooled in Canada...[but] never took out citizenship.... It is unconscionable that a country like Canada, which has always allowed for second chances, to now embark on a new ‘one strike you’re out’ approach.

Last, I will cite lawyer Andras Schreck, vice-president of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association, who said that the bill is drafted in such a way that it could easily sweep up people guilty of minor offences and have them deported. He said:

We are not talking about serial killers, murderers or bank robbers.

Let us take a look at what kind of people could be swept up by the bill and what kinds of crimes people would have to commit for there to be no right of appeal and the person would just be sent out of the country. This can be described as crimes for which people are convicted for a sentence of six months or more.

The current law deals with crimes where sentences are two years or more. To bring it down to six months or more for a crime for which the ultimate sentence could be as much as ten years in jail would bring in a series of crimes that do not threaten the security or at least the safety of Canadians. In other words, it would take in a number of crimes that do not involve any threat of violence. If someone is found guilty of a crime and sent to jail for six months or more, nowhere does this new legislation require that the crime be a crime of violence or something that threatens the security of Canada.

The kinds of crimes listed that I found might fit this definition for which someone who is a permanent resident could get a six month sentence but a ten year maximum would include the deportation for possession of a stolen or forged credit card and the use of that credit card knowing it had been cancelled, the unauthorized use of a computer or forgery, and a host of other offences that carry ten year maximums. In that case, we are talking about no discretion, no appeal.

What could easily happen is that if any one member of a family, a parent or a younger member, children born in Canada, relatives participating in Canadian society or any one part of the fabric of a Canadian family, is found guilty of something that is not in any way a crime of violence but receives a sentence of up to six months with a maximum of ten years, that individual is gone. The individual would have no chance to plead his or her case.

I will quote one other lawyer on this matter who, I am proud to say, is the current nominated candidate for the Green Party in Victoria in a byelection. His name is Donald Galloway. He is a founder of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and is also a professor of refugee and immigration law at the University of Victoria. In looking at this, he suggested that there was an inherent legal balance built into section 34 of the current act so that the courts have accepted broadly defined prescribed grounds of inadmissibility that are found in section 34(1) based on the assumption that these same sweeping inadmissibilities are balanced by the provisions in section 34(2).

If Bill C-43 were enacted, it would fundamentally destabilize the legal balance by removing the layer of individualized, personalized, case-by-case review guided by, in some cases, humanitarian concerns and compassion that acted as a safeguard against the breadth of prescribed grounds for inadmissibility found in section 34(1). Beyond issues of compassion and fairness, this ill-conceived change would force the courts, as they have already indicated, into a position where they will need to intervene and fix the act to provide a reinterpretation to ensure that the act remains constitutional, otherwise it will violate the charter.

I will now turn my attention to another section of the act that I find particularly egregious and which does not deal with criminals and does not deal with people already in Canada.

If the minister, under the new clause 8, which would change section 22 of the current act, is dealing with a foreign national who has applied to become a temporary resident of Canada, the minister would have unfettered discretion to make a decision to refuse that person the right to be a permanent resident of Canada with no objective criteria that can be measured. This is very unusual. The clause states that section 22.1(1), which can be found under clause 8 in the proposed Bill C-43, allows the minister, “on the Minister’s own initiative, declare that a foreign national...may not become a temporary resident if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations”. This banishment can last for up to three years.

Going back to my time in law school doing legal drafting and statute interpretation, we cannot find anything that gives us more freewheeling power to make up our mind which ever way we want than the language “Minister is of the opinion”. No court will be able to step in and say that it does not like the way the minister has exercised his or her discretion. I am using his or her as this will apply for all time. I am not just thinking of the minister at the moment. This would be a permanent change to our legislation and a dangerous one. The legislation says “the Minister is of the opinion”, and then what? What is the minister of the opinion of? The Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations. We could not come up with something that gives more freewheeling discretion, not bound by anything in particular. What kind of public policy considerations? Maybe the public policy considerations could be that we have too many of a certain kind of person in a town. Who knows? It is without objective criteria.

I hope that when this legislation goes to committee and is studied in committee we can rebalance the balance that must be there.

I stand here as leader of the Green Party not in favour of keeping dangerous foreign criminals in Canada but in keeping the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I share many of the same concerns with the member from the Green Party, I am not clear whether she will support the bill going on to committee if, for instance, a convicted war criminal was found and there were questions like that.

Would she no agree with me that there is a question of priorities here? The government is presenting the bill before the House when there are so many other problems that exist. The underemployment of new Canadians costs us $5.9 billion a year in losses because of their underemployment. We have hollowed out our foreign engagement, eliminating culture as a pillar of foreign policy, and we do not meet them on their soil anymore. We have hollowed out the system to integrate professional new Canadians. Now, we have hollowed out Canadians' trust in new Canadians.

Would the member not agree that perhaps the government's priorities are misplaced? Even though we are supporting the bill at second reading, and we hope she will join us in order to improve the bill at committee, does she not see a question of priorities?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, with not just some but a lot of concern and mixed feelings, I will support sending the bill to committee. However, as I am not a member of that committee, I reserve the right I have as the member representing the Green Party and Saanich—Gulf Islands to submit amendments at report stage if I am not satisfied that the bill has been re-balanced appropriately to reflect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and respect for it.

The member's question about war criminals is a good one. It sounds pretty much like a no-brainer. If someone is a war criminal, we do not want the person in Canada, nor do we want people who have defied their government, committed crimes and spent time in jail. However, every now and then a person like that gets honorary Canadian citizenship, like Nelson Mandela.

The move under this proposed legislation and other legislation, such as the mandatory minimums under Bill C-10, is toward an authoritarian automatic discipline, which is unforgiving forever and lacks any compassion, humanitarian or even a thought process. That I will always oppose.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member did not mean to refer to Nelson Mandela as a war criminal.

When I talk to immigrants in Edmonton or anywhere else, they are the ones who are most upset when people, who get away with serious crimes, come from abroad to be part of Canada as landed immigrants or permanent residents. The expression “get away with murder” is true in some cases but a little extreme in most. However, the immigrants I talk to are some of the most upset about others who do not play by the rules and take advantage of Canada's generosity or, as some would suggest, over-generosity.

No one is suggesting that we take away people's rights or ability to appeal, but they should not appeal endlessly for seven to ten years, time and time again, when the evidence is clear and it is simply the immigration industry prolonging the process.

The immigrants I talk to play by the rules and they expect everybody else to as well: existing Canadians, natural born Canadians and new Canadians.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for Edmonton Centre for catching me on that. I certainly did not want to refer to Nelson Mandela as a war criminal.

My point is that history is written by the victors and quite often someone who is accused in another country and called a convicted terrorist or something we would not want in Canada. However, if we lose our ability to examine particular circumstances, we lose our ability to think and to be truly Canadian.

I believe that what we want to do with this legislation is consider all the ways in which it could go awry, which, I am sure, is the minister's intention in bringing this forward. For example, if a member of a family that has been in Canada for a long time is convicted of the misuse of a credit card or of forgery, the bill says “no more chances, you are deported”. That cannot be the Canadian way.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, 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 Alfred-Pellan, RCMP; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Malpeque, Ethics.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to speak about Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, also known as the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act.

Before I speak about this bill specifically, I would like to briefly tell you about my constituency, LaSalle—Émard. LaSalle actually is celebrating its centenary this year. It was founded by a nobleman, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who settled there more than 100 years ago. The name LaSalle comes from the name of this Frenchman who arrived more than 300 years ago. The French settled there, then the English. In fact, my constituency has been shaped by those French and English settlers, who worked together to build the community.

For decades, LaSalle—Émard has welcomed large numbers of newcomers, new Canadians. We have an Italian community that is one of the largest on the island of Montreal. Immigrants have become well established. We also have a large Chinese community and a large southeast Asian community, people from India, Pakistan and other countries in the region. We also are fortunate to have welcomed many people from North Africa and even from other parts of Africa.

LaSalle—Émard really is very representative of a number of communities in Canada as a welcoming place, a place where communities share their daily lives. I must tell you that I am very proud to represent the constituency, because it gives me the opportunity to meet people from every background: Quebeckers, English-speakers, British people with Scottish and Anglo-Saxon roots, and also people from communities all around the world.

As the member of Parliament, I have also put together a team to welcome and provide services to Canadians. I have come to realize that those services involve immigration to a great extent. Our immigration system has been stretched to the limit for years by the lack of resources, the lack of funding, the closure of embassies and places where people can submit visa or citizenship applications, and so on.

And what is happening here too, right inside the Department of Citizenship and Immigration? Cuts once more. There is not enough staff and not enough funding to meet the demand. So what is happening? People are coming to their member of Parliament's office to get information and answers to their legitimate questions and requests.

Every week, we meet with people to talk about their situations. Sometimes it is something quite simple. There is a wedding in the family and the people want their relatives to attend the ceremony, but the visa is denied. All the information has been provided. All the documents have been sent, but for some reason or another—a totally legitimate reason—the visa is denied.

However, other people come to talk about situations that are more complicated. They are expecting a loved one to join them, or they are refugees who have been issued a deportation notice. That is what is happening at our riding offices. It is always an immensely human story that is told in our office. As Canadians, we cannot even begin to imagine the situations that some people are in. We live here, in Canada, freely and comfortably. We have all our papers. We can get a passport, our driver's licence, and our health card without too much difficulty. But there are people who leave behind unimaginable situations, such as famine. There are people who have lived in refugee camps, where it is hard to imagine how they would get their documents, a licence or anything. Those are the stories and events that sometimes—far too often lately—land in our offices.

What we have before the House is a bill that seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act whose short title is the “Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act”, because it is about foreigners.

I want to reiterate this: the NDP recognizes the need to have an efficient legal system in order to deport serious criminals who are not citizens. The NDP believes that it is possible to work with the government to prevent non-citizens who have committed serious crimes from abusing our appeal system without violating people's rights. This is the first thing that I want to say about Bill C-43.

However, this is Parliament. There are laws. The questions that we should be asking when we are in government are as follows. On what basis is this bill being introduced? Is this bill necessary? Does the Criminal Code contain provisions to prevent this situation? These are the questions that I am asking myself and that a government should ask itself before introducing a bill. There are other questions. Does this bill meet an urgent, pressing need or respond to a disastrous situation that is currently affecting our system? That is a question that should be asked. Does this bill fill a gap? That is the question that I am asking because a bill should be justified and justifiable.

There is one other thing that I would like to point out. As my colleagues already noted, this government has a strong tendency to want to push the judiciary into the political arena. In other words, it will transfer powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I explained the situation in my riding office. At some point, will it not just slow down the system and, once again, get into subjective territory to transfer such power to a single person outside the judiciary? The power would be concentrated in the hands of one individual.

I raise all these questions about the bill.

I am happy to answer any questions.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke at length about her riding and the wide range of groups of people she represents. I too, in Newmarket—Aurora, represent a community that has changed very quickly over the last 10 years. I have been pleased to welcome into Newmarket—Aurora people from every corner of the world. These are people who have come to Canada because in many cases they are looking to escape from places in the world that have been plagued with difficulty and corruption. They have come to Canada because they are looking to raise their families in safe communities.

My question to my colleague is: Why does she want to expose the constituents in her riding to people who have been deemed foreign criminals, dangerous to our society and our communities? These very people who have come here and played by the rules want to live in safe communities, which is what we are trying to establish. Why does she want it to be different?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague.

I completely agree with her that we all want safe communities in which people can live in peace.

However, I wonder whether the bill addresses the flaws that appear to be in the Criminal Code or in our current immigration system, which is there to identify people who may be serious criminals.

Once again, it does not seem clear to me, and this could be clarified in committee, but what does “serious criminality” mean? I would like to know because I am being told that a prison sentence of six months or more is given in cases of “serious criminality”. One member mentioned violent crime.

Quite simply, things need to be clarified.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member in her question illustrates why it is that this is an anti-immigrant bill, at least in good part. She keeps wanting to use the terms “foreign criminal” and “dangerous people”.

What we are talking about are permanent residents. Most of the criminals she is referring to are not child molesters, murderers, drug addicts and so forth. With a six-month sentence, we could have 19-year-olds who have lived in Canada for 17 years but never got their citizenship, who got caught with six marijuana plants in their home. They are going to be deported. The rest of the family stays, but they are going to be deported to another country, even though they have been here for 15 of 17 years, because they did not get their citizenship.

All the Conservatives have to do is read their own legislation. My question is: Is the wording not important in terms of how the government is even labelling this issue, much as it used the term “bogus refugee”?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will quote an excerpt of an article I just read on this subject:

The federal government has always had the authority to strip landed immigrant status from a permanent resident convicted of a serious crime, but Bill C-43 would allow appeals only for those sentenced to less than six months in jail, down from the current threshold of two years.

This authority already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. So is this bill necessary? That is what I was asking.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This legislation includes many provisions relating to immigration. Some are valid and interesting, while others seem less appropriate.

In short, the bill grants more power to the minister by giving him the authority to rule on the admissibility of temporary resident applicants. It removes the minister's responsibility to review humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It grants the minister a new discretionary power to issue an exemption for a member of the family of a foreign national who is deemed inadmissible. The bill also amends the definition of “serious criminality” to restrict access to the appeal process following an inadmissibility ruling. It increases the penalty for false representation and, finally, it clarifies the fact that entering the country by resorting to criminal activities does not automatically lead to inadmissibility.

I would like to begin by sharing something with hon. members. I am always a bit uncomfortable when we talk about immigration, and that is for a very simple reason: I am not myself an immigrant. I live in the country in which I was born. I never have to question myself. I live in my home country, with my relatives and with my language. My cultural references are the same as those of the majority around me. I never had to consider emigration as an option. If I left to live elsewhere, it would only be for a while. It would not be emigration but, rather, an extended stay.

I know what I am talking about, because I lived abroad. I once was the one who had to adapt. I had to work hard to learn how to function in a foreign language that I did not fully master. I developed new social skills that I was not familiar with. In Russia, I changed. I developed a bit of Russian in me. Thanks to this subtle change, by the time I left Moscow, I had acquired a Slavic heritage that will always stay with me. Mores vary from one country to another.

At the same time, because I was forced to adapt to this otherness, I was becoming increasingly more Quebecker and Canadian. I understood more clearly what it meant to be born in Canada. I could not but realize that the relationship I had with my country was one of trust. I knew that Canada would always be there for me.That trust generated a feeling of pride. I am convinced that many here know what I am talking about.

If I mention my stay in Russia, it is because I want to make us think. During the debate on Bill C-43, we should think about our relationship with the rest of the world. We have been debating the reform of the immigration system since last fall. I am referring to Bill C-4 and Bill C-31. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-43, because it gives me a chance to level a criticism at the government. Not only am I not pleased with the tone used by the government when it talks about immigration and refugees, but I am even more upset by the tone and the comments of some members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

I do not want to preach to anyone, but, for me, it is important to distance myself from the unenlightened remarks we sometimes hear. Pride in one's own country should not give rise to disdain for another's. Nor should it necessarily give rise to an undue fear of foreigners. That is silly and simplistic.

I remain convinced that the government's interest in ethnic communities that have settled in Canada is purely mercenary. The government is not comfortable with immigration and even less so with refugees. My impression is that they see jihadists and smugglers everywhere. I am not accusing them of that; it is just the impression I get. I am sorry.

That said, of the three government bills to reform the immigration system, Bill C-43 is the least contentious. It deals with the faster removal of dangerous criminals.

Who could be opposed to that, really? Not the Canadian public, not the NDP. Canada is not a haven for failed tyrants, multimillionaire dictators and petty mafiosi of every description.

In support of this bill, the government wants to show us lists of expert witnesses who agree that dangerous criminals should not be allowed into the country. Really? What a revelation.

I can assure the government that no one, anywhere, wants people who are guilty of serious crimes to be walking free among us and abusing our hospitality.

But I wonder what the government plans to do in order to really crack down on these criminals and to protect Canadians. That is the burning question because the answer is turning out to be a little disappointing.

Basically, Bill C-43 gives more discretionary powers to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister will be the one to decide who can stay and who must leave right away. So he will become a kind of James Bond, working 28-hour days to protect Canadians from evil, twisted foreigners and their illicit master plans.

Bill C-43, like Bill C-4, gives the minister more arbitrary powers. I am well aware that we have to crack down on criminals who would come here and put our peaceful communities at risk. No one would ever say otherwise; but why must it be the minister who decides?

The answer is simple. It is so the minister can cut off the appeals launched by those charged with crimes. The minister could then decide to kick out anyone filing an appeal, or, let us come right out and say it, everyone filing an appeal.

All this will help us save time and money and will send the problem far, far away to other less sympathetic shores. When you get rid of a problem, have you not solved it?

With this bill, the government says it is attacking a specific, urgent problem by creating a legal limbo and opening the door to arbitrary measures. This is worrying. How far will the minister's authority go? Where will the limits to these new powers be set?

I just want to say to the government and to the minister that granting discretionary authority is not the answer to every problem. The minister cannot micromanage everything by himself in his office as soon as an exceptional case turns up. That is not a system, that is a despot.

Another very important detail is that they want to prevent all family members of a convicted criminal from visiting Canada. They have been careful to cast a wide net. The idea behind this is that the members of a Mafia family, or some kind of gang or the families of overthrown dictators will not be able to come to Canada and will not be able to bring their problems here. It is clearly a desirable goal, in and of itself. However, there are always exceptional cases, even though they are rare, and the minister's discretionary powers will not be intermittent. They will be enshrined in legislation and create a legal limbo that will last forever.

Furthermore, this is a huge undertaking. All family members of criminals sentenced here or abroad will have to be identified, and the road to Canada barred for them. Since the departmental cuts were made, this difficult task will have to be carried out quickly and well with fewer human resources.

The government wants to get rid of the backlog in the immigration system by creating massive research projects for immigration office employees. I imagine there is no other solution.

What I am saying is that the substance is good, but the form seems deficient. The government wants to protect Canadians and better manage our immigration system. The New Democratic Party recognizes that immigration is a priceless resource for Canada and wants to ensure that our system is effective, professional, swift and reliable.

The NDP also recognizes that action must indeed be taken to prevent the abuse of our system. The government is trying to resolve the issue, but it is going about it the wrong way. We think this is a worthwhile bill and that it must be studied in committee. We have already said that Bill C-43 has many admirable elements that deserve our support. In particular, the NDP is pleased that the bill exonerates the victims of human smugglers and that their victim status is guaranteed. Apparently, the government has learned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I listened carefully to the speech by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism when he introduced his bill. I find it somewhat disorienting to hear him use the word “foreigner” to describe people who have not officially obtained their Canadian citizenship even though they are permanent residents.

All of us, without exception, are the descendants of immigrants. I am getting tired of seeing the Conservatives dismantle what has taken decades to build: Canada's reputation as a compassionate, equitable and fair country. A country that stands up for itself, that knows how to say yes, but also knows how to say no and how to show someone the door when it is necessary, as is the case with serious criminals. I do not want to hear that such and such a budget has tripled; frankly, in a department the size of Immigration, money is not everything. We are not dealing with columns of numbers. We are dealing with human beings who have often been more unlucky than we have. I would appreciate it if the government would stop hiding behind its accounting ledgers.

In conclusion, I am aware that the Conservative government has had to tackle immigration reform but is not terribly interested in it. And with good reason. As soon as the word “immigration” is spoken on the other side of the House, the word “economic” follows in the next sentence. They do not understand that some departments have obligations to the public, and are not just companies that must make a profit. A country is not run the same way as a business. But I am wasting my breath trying to tell them so.

Some institutions exist for reasons that are not strictly economic. Immigration is an inevitable global phenomenon and it will increase in the years to come. Canada would be well-advised to have its immigration system structured by people who see beyond simple economic interests.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we go to questions and comments, I would observe that there are times when many members wish to pose questions. We only have five minutes for questions and comments, so I would ask hon. members who wish to pose questions to keep their questions and responses to no more than about a minute so that as many members as possible will have an opportunity to pose questions.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.