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.