Speaker, in the brief time I have I cannot go over chapter and verse of the bill, but I want to focus on a couple of sections and aspects of the bill.
Bill C-43 concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by giving him new discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. It relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances, changes what constitutes serious criminality for the purpose of access to an appeal of a determination of inadmissibility, increases the penalty for misrepresentation and clarifies that entering with the assistance of organized criminal activity does not on its own lead to inadmissibility.
In case there is any confusion, New Democrats will support this legislation getting to committee. I want to quote the member for Newton—North Delta who, as the NDP immigration critic, has done a tremendous amount of work on this file. In her speech on September 24, she indicated that she wanted to make clear the following:
—that as New Democrats we recognize the need for an efficient and responsive judicial approach to removing of serious criminals who are not citizens.
All Canadians want a tough approach to non-citizens who commit serious, often violent, crimes in our communities. Newcomers in our communities, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and follow the rules, would be among the first to agree with this sentiment.
However, she went on to say that we do have some serious concerns about the bill being proposed. One of the concerns she outlined was that it again concentrates powers with the minister. Part of the concern that the member raised was the fact that our immigration system does not need to be more politicized than it already is. Whenever we start seeing increased concentration of powers in the minister's hands, it removes parliamentary oversight from some of those activities and removes it from the department itself, which often operates in a more arm's-length way.
One of the other items she raised is that:
Another troubling feature for us in the bill is that the bill relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances, taking into account the interests of children affected. In our view, ignoring the interests of children is not something the minister should be relieved of.
I want to touch briefly on the issue of war resisters. War resisters at the time were not permanent residents, but it has been an issue that has come before the House a number of times, including a motion that supported allowing war resisters to remain in this country. We recently had the case of the war resister Kimberly Rivera, who asked the government to grant permanent residence status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The NDP's British Columbia caucus wrote a letter to the minister indicating that we had joined prominent Canadians and international advocates, including Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in calling on the minister to allow Ms. Rivera to stay in Canada with her family. The letter mentioned the fact that Ms. Rivera had children while she was living here and that there were many other factors to consider.
I want to mention another war resister who, unfortunately, was deported from my riding a couple of years ago. It was a young man named Cliff Cornell who had been living on Gabriola. He was a quiet young man. He had joined the forces in the United States. He grew up in a mountain home in Arkansas and in 2002 after leaving high school and with few employment prospects he had accepted a $5,000 signing bonus for a career in the U.S. Army. A few months later the U.S. went to war against Iraq. He deserted and came to Canada in 2005 to avoid combat. It was a case of a young man who grew up in very poor circumstances and ended up perhaps not really understanding what he was getting into. He ended up in Canada. He was well liked and well supported by the community on Gabriola. He found a job there. He was a responsible citizen and yet ended up being deported.
With regard to Bill C-43, there was a recent article in the Toronto Star entitled, “Bill could exile thousands of permanent residents for minor crimes”. The article indicates that under the proposed new law, thousands of permanent residents could lose their status and be deported for minor convictions, from shoplifting to traffic and drug offences, according to Canada’s top immigration lawyers.
These are young children brought to Canada at a young age as permanent residents, raised and schooled in Canada, but who never took out citizenship.
It goes on in the article to say that 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.
As our immigration critic pointed out, with some of the changes in the Conservatives' crime legislation with the mandatory minimums, we now see people getting sentenced for some minor crime to more than six months, so they would not be eligible for any kind of process under this new legislation.
The article also talked about the fact that people may have misrepresented themselves when they applied for immigration. It points out that there could be honest omissions on a person's employment history, or incorrect dates of certain events written down in an immigration application could come back to haunt the immigrant years later.
It is also indicated in here that it is very likely that this could face a court challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, given previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions directing that authorities must consider humanitarian risk factors before deporting a person.
I want to reiterate the fact that New Democrats are in support of getting the bill to committee, but we are calling on the government to consider looking at some amendments that could actually make this a better bill. I will end on that note.