Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join today's debate on Bill C-43, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The government has tagged it with new lines, calling it the faster removal of foreign criminals act. It is unfortunate that these types of titles have now been introduced into legislation that is supposed to be very serious. This one is very serious. It is a continuation of our immigration drift.
We are going to support the bill to get it to committee because as New Democrats we believe our immigration system is fundamentally flawed and broken, and we are open to discussing how to improve it in any capacity. Some of the issues in the bill are going to be raised, and we will have some good expert testimony at committee to talk about these issues.
It is important to note that our immigration system is necessary in our country for us to function in an economic democracy. We do not have a population that can sustain itself alone.
We have been founded on the principles of multiculturalism and openness. That is changing because we are slowly eroding our immigration system. In fact, even in Windsor West, the riding I represent, I have an immigration office. The doors are shut. People cannot go there to get help on their immigration files.
Karen Boyce and Ian Bawden are in my office. Karen has been with me for 10 years and is finally going to retire at the end of December. I thank her for her commitment in all the cases she has strove through. In fact, many times on her own time she would actually get up in the middle of the night to call an embassy somewhere else to try to get paperwork or something processed. She would do that, literally, all the time. That is how dedicated she is. She has fought many times to have children pulled off planes, who were going to be deported to countries of which they never were actually part. They were born in Canada and their parents had been denied or their process for humanitarian grounds had not been accepted.
It is unfortunate, because when we look at an economy like ours in Windsor, it is critical that we have these processing issues taken care of rather quickly because we have so many people who cross the border into the United States.
I always use this example because I think it is important. We have a lot of doctors and other professionals who are not recognized in Canada and in Ontario who end up working over in Detroit, Michigan, and bringing that economic income stream back to our area. Ironically, sometimes when our hospitals are full here, or there is a specialty that we do not have, we send Canadian citizens over to those hospitals where they can be treated by the doctor who is not trusted over here in Canada. It is ironic that we pay a premium for it.
What is important is that we have many people who cannot get to their jobs until their actual immigration and processing have been completed. Often if we do not solve these cases they can lose those jobs. Those jobs are critical for our economy. The Canadian economy is not having the rebound we want, and I see it every single day on the streets of Windsor, so any extra employment that we can access in the United States is important. It has been a common thing that we have been doing for many years. It is one of the reasons we have a strong and healthy relationship. It is a symbiotic relationship between the Detroit greater region and Windsor Essex County. In fact it makes it a good economic strong hub. Part of that is the ability to traverse back and forth. Our immigration system is not contributing to success.
One of features of the bill that gives me some cause for concern is the concentration of power into the minister's office. At any time he can revoke or shorten the effective period of declaration for admissibility. That is one particular example.
The reason I am concerned is that I remember during the debate on Bill C-31, which was a refugee act that was changed, listening to the minister and the government members. The words they were using on Bill C-31 about the refugees in general were “protection”, “take advantage”, “security of population“, “abuse”, “crackdown” and “bogus”. With that type of tone, what are we going to have out of a minister's office that is going to have more capabilities and less control on oversight if that is the general theme and attitude about refugees?
I want to name a few refugees to Canada, because it is important to put a human face on our refugees. They are people like K'naan. He was born in Somalia. He spent his childhood in Mogadishu, lived there during the Somalia civil war and came to Canada in 1991. Is a person like that a threat? He is a refugee.
How about Adrienne Clarkson, our former Governor General of Canada? She emigrated from Hong Kong as a refugee in 1942. She came here, making her mark and contributing to Canada.
Fedor Bohatirchuk, a chess grandmaster who has since passed away, was persecuted in the Ukraine. He came to Canada and contributed for many years.
Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief, is an interesting one. He left America for Canada as a holy man who led his people as a tribal chief during the years of resistance in the United States. Sitting Bull eventually came to Canada from the United States and became a successful citizen.
In looking at some of these issues, I want to touch on one of the points that has been made with respect to criminal activity. Some of the comments that have been made by professionals are important.
Michael Bossin, a refugee lawyer in Ottawa, spoke about how those who have been convicted of an offence, even a small or lesser offence, can now be deported outside of the country, which will put them further at risk or in trouble. I used to work at the Multicultural Council. I had a program called youth in action. I will talk a bit about that in a minute. However, I want to mention that when refugees or youth commit crimes it is sometimes a cry for help; sometimes it can be due to mental health; sometimes it is just a really bad mistake; sometimes they do not have medication and it could be due to psychological issues that are taking place. When they get into programs that assist those people, they actually become better citizens and better people who are more engaged and contribute to society on a regular basis.
The issue of mental health in the general Canadian public is swept aside, let alone when it involves those who are involved in a criminal activity. It is important for judges to have more flexibility to be able to determine the case. Before I get into the work we used to do, I want to say that our judicial system has made some terrible mistakes. It is not perfect. Mistakes can be made when decisions are being made with respect to people. Maybe information is not presented properly, did not get there or was inadmissible. As we know, those who have money will get the best lawyer they can because they want the best representation. How many refugees in Canada are walking around with a pile of cash and can hire the best lawyer? I have often seen this issue come through my office. It is horrible that people have spent money on lawyers by borrowing it from other people or using credit cards and other types of things, which they find very difficult to repay because they do not have that economic stream going at the moment, and that puts them in an even worse situation. That is the harsh reality of our judicial system.
I want to talk a bit about the Multicultural Council program that I ran. We had 16 to 18 youth at risk between the ages of 18 to 30. I know they are called youth, but it went all the way up to age 30. However, they were usually in the 20-year range. We had eight Canadians who had been in Canada basically all of their lives, who had made mistakes that created a problem by way of a minor fine, a penalty or a criminal record. Then there were eight new people who had just immigrated to Canada. We mixed them together to create a program called multicultural youth in action wherein they did community work, learned all kinds of life skills and conducted interviews. We had an over 90% success rate at getting them back into school and/or employment. When we think about it, that program ran for several years and was very successful.
I will conclude with this. What we were able to do with some of those youth, and I say some because we could not get them all, was save taxpayers money because they were not going back into the judicial system or going into the penal system, where they would actually learn more behaviours and take a longer time to be rehabilitated, as opposed to paying the price for what they had done and learning to contribute as a citizen.