Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak again on Bill C-43, the faster removal of foreign criminals act.
Sitting on the Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration is certainly a privilege and responsibility that I take very seriously. Immigration issues are the number one issue that constituents in the fantastic riding of Scarborough—Rouge River come to me my office about when looking for assistance and support. They are concerned with the direction of Canada's immigration policy as well as the priorities of the government when it comes to immigration.
The citizenship application process in this country can take over three years. Some families are waiting four years or more to be reunited with their loved ones and visitor visas continue to be denied without a reasonable explanation. The residents of Scarborough—Rouge River are looking for action from the government on these problems.
Since the vast majority of newcomers to Canada are actually law-abiding people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families, the Conservatives should be making a greater effort to ensure that they are treated fairly, have the resources they need and can be reunited with their families.
It is clear to me that it is the New Democrats who stand with newcomers and who want the government to focus on making the immigration system faster and fairer for the vast majority of people who do not commit crimes and who follow the rules.That is what my constituents are asking for.
During the study of Bill C-43, committee members were able to hear hours of expert testimony. We all agree that non-citizens who commit serious crimes in Canada should be dealt with quickly. However, the NDP, along with many of the witnesses who came to speak on the bill, had some serious concerns with what the government was proposing. Lawyers, front-line service workers and policy experts all had a lot to say about the bill. It is disappointing that their concerns are not reflected in the bill now back before the House. New Democrats wanted to work across party lines to ensure the speedy removal of serious non-citizen criminals. Disappointingly, the Conservatives did not want to work with us to make this legislation better.
A particular concern of ours is the extraordinary discretionary powers given to the minister in this bill without any checks and balances. Bill C-43 concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by giving him or her a new discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. The minister can declare a foreign national inadmissible for up to 36 months “if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations”. The minister may also at any time revoke or shorten the effective period of a declaration of inadmissibility—but public policy considerations are never spelled out for us or defined. Bill C-43 relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian concerns. It also gives the minister a new discretionary authority to provide an exception for a family member of a foreign national who is inadmissible.
It was extremely disappointing that the Conservatives rejected the reasonable NDP amendments that addressed this chief concern and would limit the excessive new power the bill gives to the minister. The NDP moved an amendment that would have enshrined the minister's own proposed guidelines, word for word, on negative ministerial discretion into Bill C-43. Even that was rejected, despite the fact the minister himself suggested to the committee that we look at such an approach.
Another concern of witnesses and the NDP with the bill was the loss of the right of appeal. Previously, a conviction in Canada resulting in a prison sentence of two years or more constituted an automatic revocation of a permanent or temporary resident's right of appeal at the Immigration Appeal Division of the IRB. Bill C-43 would revoke the right to appeal a determination of inadmissibility where there is a conviction of six months or more. The bill would remove any discretion of a judge to consider the nature of the crime and the context in which it was committed, including potential mental illness in refugees from war-torn countries.
We need to have a fair, transparent and impartial process to review removals and take into consideration individual circumstances. We do not support closing the door to an appeal process, as it is an essential component of checks and balances in our immigration system.
In addition, we heard from numerous witnesses who argued that this bill casts too wide a net. As one expert argued:
The vast scope of the inadmissibility provisions, combined with the dismantling of the only available legal safeguards, will result in the removal from Canada and exposure to persecution of clearly innocent people....
We were also warned that the bill would have a serious impact on the young and people with mental health issues. In committee the New Democrats introduced nine reasonable amendments to this bill, taking into account the concerns of the experts who testified, in order to curb the excessive powers of the minister and to restore some due process. Yet these were all rejected by the Conservative majority on committee.
We support the principle of removing dangerous, violent non-citizen criminals in a timely manner, which is why we introduced reasonable, moderate amendments that would have made the legislation fairer. Unfortunately, once again, these were rejected by the Conservatives on the committee.
New Democrats want to prevent non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeals process, but to do so without trampling the rights of the innocent. I would add that rather than tabling legislation that portrays newcomers negatively, the government should focus on giving border and law enforcement officials the proper resources they need to keep Canadians safe from criminals of all backgrounds. We need to stop criminals and terrorists before they arrive in Canada. However, the Conservatives' cuts will mean that Canadian officials will have to do the best they can with less.
The 2012 budget plan announced cuts of $143 million to the Canada Border Services Agency. These reckless cuts are certainly going to have an impact on the safety and efficiency of our borders. Members know, from the customs and immigration unit, that 325 jobs on the front line at border crossings across the country will be cut. The intelligence branch of the CBSA has been hard hit, losing 100 positions, and 19 sniffer dog units are being slashed due to the budget cuts.
In addition, the government needs to address the lack of training, resources, and integration of information and monitoring technologies within the responsible public service agencies. These are not my own recommendations, but have been repeated by the Auditor General for years.
We should focus on making improvements to the current system and administration of laws currently in place, including proper training, service standards, quality assurances, and checks to improve our Canadian border security and public safety.
Members have just returned from their constituencies. I always enjoy speaking with constituents and sharing in community events throughout Scarborough, a great and dynamic community. However, community safety and well-being are on the minds of constituents. The constituents of Scarborough are looking for leadership on these issues, including support and prevention strategies to keep our communities safe. Instead we are being subject to a huge, $687.9 million cut to public safety by 2015, the bulk of which will fall on the Canada Border Services Agency, at $143 million; the Correctional Service Canada, at $295.4 million; and the RCMP, at $195.2 million.
Proper training and resources are certainly ways to increase border security and public safety. The government needs to stop criminals and terrorists before they arrive in Canada. However, thanks to Conservative cuts, Canadian officials have to try to do the best they can with less and less.
The government needs to start listening to Canadians. It needs to listen to newcomers, who have repeatedly said they want a faster and fairer immigration system, not a process that may be beyond recognition once the government is finished with it, given the current direction the immigration minister and the Conservatives are taking immigration policy in this country.
In this bill alone there is a system that concentrates power in the hands of the minister and removes appropriate checks and balances; negatively portrays newcomers; calls permanent residents foreigners when in reality they are residents of our communities who work, pay taxes and raise their families here in our country and communities; and relieves the minister from taking into account humanitarian and compassionate considerations.
New Democrats had hoped to be able to work together to prevent non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeals process, without trampling on people's rights but upholding our Canadian values. Regrettably, this was rejected by the government. That is why we cannot support this bill.