House of Commons Hansard #242 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was consultants.

Topics

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague was asking a simple question. What we are seeing, on the Liberal side at least, is an inability to answer yes or no to questions.

On the concurrence of the report from the immigration committee, a unanimous report with 21 reasonable recommendations, will the government side be voting in favour, yes or no?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the persistence in wanting to get an answer on how I will be voting once the concurrence vote comes. I would encourage my colleague to wait and see how I will be voting.

I have talked about the fact that we have many recommendations that have come from that report. Having had the opportunity to go through many of those recommendations, I think there are some fantastic things in there. I tried to emphasize, now to the third member of the Conservative Party, that I would not make any assumptions in regard to the government's actions to date. There are actions through the Department of Citizenship and Immigration that, no doubt, will come out in time, which reflect on some of the fine work that the standing committee did on this particular issue.

As has been pointed out throughout the debate, this is not a new issue. This issue has been there for many years, as I reflected in my opening remarks. Back in the early 1990s, and quite possibly the late 1980s, I remember talking about immigration consultants and this unethical behaviour.

Therefore, I think we should be patient and wait. We will see what takes place. All I can tell the member across the way is that we have both the former and current ministers of immigration who have done fantastic work in advancing the important files related to immigration.

As a government, we recognize the true value in many different ways that a sound immigration policy has for our nation. I can assure the member that we will get it right in moving forward, whether it is this issue, the immigration numbers, and anything else.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Winnipeg North speak on this for 20 minutes, although I have to say it does seem longer. I have the same question as the Conservatives. What is the position of the government on this concurrence motion? Is it that the government is unwilling or unable to give us an answer whether it is going to be supporting this motion? It was debated in committee. We have heard 20 minutes of commentary from the member on it. Why is it that the Liberals cannot give us an answer on whether they will be supporting this motion?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the other day I referred to the “unholy alliance” where I see the NDP and the Conservatives more and more teaming up on their questions and so forth.

I have told the member and explained to the House that all good things will come to an end, and we will have a vote. I am intrigued that members across the way want to hear how I am going to vote on this and how government members will be voting. However, I look forward to the actual vote.

I have emphasized that, within the report, there are a number of recommendations that I have read through, and there are some very good, solid, sound ideas. I look forward to having that continued debate. I know that the current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is very much on top of this file, and the minister recognizes the importance of immigration as a whole for Canada.

I believe that, in 2016, we had just under 300,000 immigrants, or something of that nature, and many would have used consultants. Therefore, we are concerned about the issue we are debating, which is one of the reasons, I believe, that a Liberal member of the standing committee wanted to have this particular debate at the standing committee and strove to have a report.

I compliment the committee, because on this particular issue we actually have all parties working together to come up with some recommendations. I look forward to the vote just as much as my colleagues across the way.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member from Calgary Shepard.

I rise to speak to an issue that, unfortunately, I have heard come up time and again in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It is an issue that I personally have seen happen far too many times. I have seen people misled and taken advantage of.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to speak in this place today on behalf of my colleagues' concurrence motion.

The issue I am speaking about desperately needs to be addressed; that is, the effects of immigration consultants on immigrants coming to Canada. I have provided advice and possible remedies to many friends, family members, and constituents of mine, who had gotten wrong advice or been taken advantage of by phony immigration consultants. Moving to Canada is not an easy feat. I can attest to that.

Those who decide to come to our great country often leave everything behind in hopes for a better life and more opportunity. Yet for many, their first contact with Canada is not one we can be proud of, as many are exploited financially before they even arrive. I have heard horror stories.

The government should work to protect our immigrants from the damage that fraudulent or ghost consultants have on them. Rather than lip service, there need to be real regulations in place to ensure that immigration consultants are authorized and that people are protected.

We can all agree as Canadians that we hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to the quality of care our citizens and immigrants receive. However, there is a clear disconnect between what we want for Canadians and what is actually happening in our immigration system. I am pleased to speak to the concurrence motion presented by my colleague and bring light to the issues that our immigration system is plagued with and the Liberal government is continuing to dismiss.

Earlier this year, in March, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration began its study on immigration consultants. The motion to study this issue was adopted by the committee on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. This study lasted from March until June. Our committee heard from 50 witnesses and received 24 written briefs. The common theme held by a broad range of people was that more needs to be done to combat fraudulent and ghost consultants.

The final report was adopted by the committee on June 14, 2017, and was presented to the House in the following days. This report, titled “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”, was unanimous, a report of cross-party collaboration in an attempt to find a real solution to negligent, fraudulent, and ghost consultants who are taking advantage of their already vulnerable clients. However, today we still do not see any meaningful action being taken by this government.

I heard a witness at committee on May 1, 2017, who stated that:

On April 23, 2015, I submitted a complaint to the Canada Border Services Agency in Toronto about a ghost agent that accepted several thousand dollars from an Australian citizen. The ghost agent informed the Australian that the case would be signed off on by a lawyer in Toronto.

However, the lawyer had never heard of the Australian citizen. Evidence of this violation was sent to the CBSA via email on more than one occasion. However, there was no action taken by the CBSA. The Australian was never contacted by the CBSA. The witness said, “It seems as if the CBSA has ignored the complaint.”

Both the RCMP and the CBSA share responsibility for investigating authorized consultants who engage in fraud, and ghost consultants who operate outside the law governing immigration representatives. However, it is clear that further resources are needed for these units to sufficiently address the issue of fraudulent consultants. The ICCRC does not have any oversight over unregulated representatives. Instead, its authority lies with investigating misconduct and potential abuses by its members, who are the regulated consultants.

Why is the government allowing for the exploitation of vulnerable people, people who want to come to Canada to help make Canada better and to make a better life for themselves? Immigrants who look to Canada as a beacon of opportunity, who choose Canada to be their new home, do not have time to wait for the government to decide how it plans to combat this serious issue.

At committee, my colleagues and I heard a great deal of testimony on the damage that fraudulent and ghost consultants have done to new Canadians. While these bad actors are not representative of the industry as a whole, the committee heard of many possible changes that could be made to ensure better protection for newcomers. I heard testimony from various lawyers who said that section 91 of the IRPA needed to be amended to prohibit immigration consultants from providing advice or representation, because they are not held to the same ethical standards as lawyers, and that there are serious gaps in the disciplinary process of the ICCRC with the complaints it receives, and people are at risk.

The immigration lawyers shared their recommendations with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. They said that the IRCC should launch an aggressive public education campaign detailing who may provide immigration advice and representation. This should include website-based links to provincial law society referral services and simple explanatory language on forms. A number of immigration lawyers recommended that section 91 of the IRPA be amended to allow individuals in non-governmental and community-based clinics to dispense immigration advice if supervised by a lawyer. Further testimony suggested that the most significant recommendation was for the government to create an independent body empowered to regulate and govern this profession. Ultimately, this would be a government-regulated body that would replace the current designation of the ICCRC as the industry's designated regulator.

We heard expert testimony, yet the advice is still not being acted upon. Instead, people continue to be taken advantage of.

The government has recently released its response to the report tabled by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on this topic. However, the response was unsatisfactory at best. The Liberal government's response states that, “The Government expects to be able to provide more information on the way forward next year.” This needs attention now. The current regulatory framework is inadequate at overseeing the actions of regulated consultants. This must be addressed. The ghost consultants, the unregulated representatives, are not being adequately pursued and prosecuted for their despicable actions. The government must do more to combat this. There are external factors, including a lack of adequate client services. We need to do more on this issue.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 30th, 2017 / 12:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, for Canadians who have not had to deal with the department, or with consultants, sometimes described as vultures that flock around people who are desperately trying to apply to be in Canada and stay in here, it is the personal stories that matter. It is the experiences of good people who are qualified and meet all the standards our country sets out, who in the midst of that process essentially have it stolen from them by people who, as my friend said, do not have the ethics one would expect.

We had a gentleman in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Mr. Singh. He not only was contributing to our community, but was also the priest of the local gurdwara. He was very critical to the Sikh community in Prince Rupert, which is an isolated place where it is not always easy to attract clerics and people of faith to lead the congregation. He had hired consultants out of Toronto. I will not name them because they are the litigious kind. They said they would file the proper papers on his behalf. A year later, he found out they never did. He was now here illegally. I am working with the immigration minister, who did his best, but he unfortunately was deported back to India. The impact not just on him and his family, but the entire community was felt.

Could the the member comment on the need to disgrace these types of consultants and make it so they cannot do their nefarious work in our country.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I can tell a personal story. I have lived in this country the last 44 years. I have hardly gone back to India. I got a call from British Columbia a month ago. The caller said that I was his uncle, so I asked him to talk me. He said that his father and his great-grandfather were relatives. To make the story short, this kid was a 22 or 23-year-old student and someone offered him a job letter for $20,000. He asked me if I could lend him the money. I told him that the $20,000 was one thing, but that it was a phoney letter, that he was not going to go anywhere. I asked him where the job was and had he seen it.

Those people prey on these innocent souls. They try to convince them to bring them $20,000, $30,000, or $40,000. To get $20,000 cash, at $14 an hour, that is one year's salary. At a $28,000 salary, minus the taxes, they would clear $20,000.

This is the issue, and it started back in the Chrétien/ Paul Martin times. It still goes on today. We need to work on it, and we need to work on it now.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I would suggest that it even predates that time. I was first elected in 1988. I have examples that go all the way back to that point in time. There are opportunities for exploitation and, sadly, there are mean-spirited people out there who have no problem at exploiting. That is one of the reasons why, whether it is in Ottawa as individual MPs or collectively as government, we need to take action. What are the member's thoughts on that?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree with my hon. friend. We need action, and we need it now. The report is ready. All of us, from all sides the House, agreed with the 21 recommendations at committee. I request my hon. friend and the immigration minister to act on it now. I am not talking about the recommendations sitting on the shelf, but about doing something now. People are getting ripped off every day.

From my 44 years of experience, I could write a book on the number of people who have been taken for a ride. People borrow on their credit cards. One of my clients, and I sent the information to the immigration minister and everyone else, was sent back home because he had run out of money. He went home, sold his house, came back, and it was still not enough. In the end, he was deported. It is a sad situation. The government can make it work.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I would like to thank the member for Markham—Unionville for his contribution to the debate. I will paraphrase a Yiddish proverb that says, “Gray hair is a glorious crown won by righteous life”. I see the member is just not there yet. He is working on it. I think he would agree that in his situation it is a good thing.

We find ourselves debating this concurrence motion partially because the government provided a response that said, “The Government expects to be able to provide more information on the way forward next year.” It is interesting to note that the government will wait until next year to provide an answer to a report that was completed on June 14, and presented to the House. The report provides 21 pretty reasonable recommendations, so I want to approach this by providing a few points.

Like the member who spoke previously, I am an immigrant to this country. I came here when I was very young and so did my wife who came from Singapore.

I used to work for a professional association. A lot of the contents of the report deals with the relationship between a professional association that watches over its members on behalf of the public in the public's interest, like lawyers, notaries public, doctors. A lot of professions are self-regulated. Typically they have a statute that governs how their members are dealt with. The statute lays out rules for disciplinary action, a code of practice, a code of ethics, and the expectations of the profession while it undertakes work on behalf of the public. That is the way a lot of professional associations in Canada are regulated. The provinces regulate different professions.

Having worked for a professional organization and having worked for a minister of immigration in a previous government as well, those are the kinds of perspectives I want to bring to today's debate.

The 21 recommendations before us and the report itself are pretty reasonable.

Recommendation 3 talks about the need for a regulatory body to develop, establish and require high standards for admission, including but not limited to, the areas of training, education, and a standardized curriculum across the provinces and territories. We are talking about the creation of a pan-Canadian profession with standardized rules for admission.

Some members have said that not all immigration consultants, not all persons involved in this new and emerging profession are bad. There are those who steal. There are those who, through theft or subterfuge, specifically target people who are trying to come to Canada or new arrivals in Canada who do not understand our immigration system.

I cannot blame them for not understanding the system. It has become more complicated over the last 30 or 40 years, and that is not the fault of the Liberals or the Conservatives. It has become more complicated because life has become more complicated. There are more regulations, more rules, and more exceptions.

All governments in general across all provinces have attempted to toughen up our system to ensure it is fair, just, and equitable toward persons who apply to enter Canada under different programs. We sometimes change our immigration programs. We provide different programs for work permits, economic class, express entry, and they all come with rules and regulations that are sometimes hard to navigate.

Then we have what I will call an emerging profession of immigration consultants who advise members of the public, new arrivals to Canada. We find ourselves in a situation where some people have leapt ahead of what the government is able to regulate. The 21 recommendations in the report are an attempt by a committee of the House to provide the Government of Canada with some observations, some proposals, and recommendations on how to reign in some of the more corrupt and vile practices out there, where people go out and steal.

Before I continue, I should mention that each of us as members of Parliament probably has a case file manager in our offices. I have two fantastic people who work for me, Connor and Sukhi. They do amazing work on behalf of my constituents of Calgary Shepard to try to process files. None of us would say that we do the work all by ourselves. We owe a great deal to our staff members, who figure out the rules as they go along. They meet with some of these consultants, some of whom are good and some of whom are bad. It is usually the bad ones who give us more work, because we have to figure out what went wrong, how did it go wrong, and then try to undo the damage that was done by these crooked immigration consultants.

Recommendation 4 states that the new regulatory body should have training and education standards, more rigorous than current standards, for those seeking to become immigration consultants. It brought me back to a May 5 email I received from one of my constituents, Daniel Brière, who is an immigration consultant registered with the RCIC. I met with him and he had some observations that tie in directly with these 21 recommendations. A lot of what he wrote to me about I now find in the recommendations of the report we are now debating in the concurrence motion before us.

In my time at a professional association, having worked in human resources, I remember when HR was an emerging profession. In some provinces it is self-regulated and in some provinces it is not. It provides a designation that members of the public can achieve. There are educational standards and qualifications that have to be met. However, there is also a code of ethics to which people have to live up. That is a really important element of this.

I remember when I became the registrar for the human resources profession in Alberta. We had cobbled together six different associations to create one governing body to oversee human resources professionals in the province of Alberta. The parallel I draw here is that we introduced rules for disciplinary measures against members who violated the code of practice and the code of ethics. When we developed the code of ethics, we had a national code, set out by the CCHRA, which no longer exists as a national body. It has a different name now and different composition of what it does.

Volunteer members stepped forward and wrote a code of ethics and a code of practice. I was there to oversee the process as it was developed. At the end of the day, we always thought about one thing, and one thing only, and that was what we were trying to do on behalf of the public. That is what professionals do. That is what professionals are about. There will be that kind of behaviour until the proper rules are set by statute, which is recommendation 1 of the report, a single individual federal statute, that would govern this profession and basically give it the direction and tools it would need to govern its members.

We all have problems in our ridings with ghost consultants who will steal and cheat, but we should give the profession the right tools and statutory rules to discipline non-members, such as sending out cease and desist orders, which other professions have. The legal profession has this tool. The medical profession has this tool. Dentists have this tool. All professions do. Engineers have this tool as well. A member mentioned, too, engineers, the largest professional association in Alberta, with 70,000-plus members, have this tool. Therefore, those who are not members of the profession cannot pretend to be. It is the job of professionals and the professional associations to tell the public what to watch for, such as whether people are dealing with a professional or not.

Here is where the problem exists with the RCIC as it currently exists and immigration consultants. It is really hard to tell whether one is dealing with someone who meets some reasonable standards of professionalism or someone who does not. A licence sometimes is just not enough when it is nicely framed, in French we call it encadré, on a nice piece of paper. However, it does not really convey that the person is a true professional and will have the organization's best interests in mind instead of its own financial interests. That is also important to take into consideration.

Some of the other recommendations proposed in the report talk about better coordination with other federal governing bodies. That is an important component. CBSA and RCMP have a role to play in all of this. Recommendation 21 states, “That the Government of Canada provide adequate, sustainable and targeted funding to CBSA to allow for an expanded ability to investigate and lay charges...”

Recommendations like recommendation 21 are perfectly reasonable. We should give CBSA the tools it needs to police the system. What more can be said? In our constituency offices, we all deal with situations where people have abused the system or individuals have lied on their applications, either the immigration consultants or the applicants themselves. We owe it to our constituents, ourselves, our staff, and constituency offices to concur in this report and vote in favour of the motion. I will be doing just that.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. He is absolutely right about how we are in an excellent position to see how these crooks endanger people's lives, take advantage of whatever they have left, mainly hope, and can damage our reputation.

The member was also right when he said that, although we may be familiar with the issues, it is experts like Vanessa Taylor in my office who repeatedly save people from being deported to their home countries. She has even saved people who were in the clutches of people who had abused their trust and good will.

This is where recommendation 10 could be very helpful. Recommendation 10 reads as follows: “That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a mechanism that will effectively allow individuals who have been abused by unscrupulous representatives to file a complaint without fear it will jeopardize their application or status.”

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on that.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert for his question. I will draw a comparison. When I was the director of the Human Resources Institute of Alberta, I was responsible for any disciplinary action that needed to be taken against our members. We had a disciplinary committee with a chair, which was a volunteer position, but I was an analyst on the committee.

The institute had developed a regulatory system to guide what we could do, how we would address cases of fraud, and how we could protect people when they were wronged by a business or employee, without the business or employee knowing about it.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Madam Speaker, I am really glad that my colleague brought up the fact the recommendations in the report are pretty common sense and a good way forward.

Maybe my colleague could comment on the fact that many of us have had members from groups like the Canadian Bar Association, and some of the other law associations in Canada, come to us to say that the report has been tabled, the government has provided a response, but we are now in this period of limbo. The government really has not signalled to any of the groups that might be affected what will be done, and on what timeline.

Part of the reason for my moving this concurrence motion today was to give the government members an opportunity to vote and debate the report in the House, to show the rest of Canada that the House is unanimous in supporting these recommendations' going forward.

Could my colleague comment on the need for the government to perhaps elaborate a little more on the timing of the implementation of these recommendations, as well as how it will do that before Christmas, as opposed to after Christmas, and why that is important?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, the member for Calgary Nose Hill is absolutely right.

In its response to report 11, “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”, the government states that it “expects to be able to provide more information on the way forward next year.”

The member mentioned “limbo”, but the only place limbo belongs is on a beach, with maybe a drink or two. It should not be part of government policy, especially when the House has provided recommendations to the government. The response cannot be “Sometime in the future, maybe in a year, we will provide to you our action plan.” The House spoke, the House had a committee that determined unanimously that these 21 recommendations were reasonable, and the report was tabled here.

I think it is incumbent upon the government to treat members of Parliament, regardless of the party, with respect by providing us with a timeline, an actual response that we can study to see if the timeline is even reasonable. A year from now will be way too late, in 2018, or early 2019. There is an election coming, potentially in 2019. That could wipe out the work of this committee. There may not be any action taken then, because once it gets too close to an election, it eliminates the opportunity for action to be taken to stop these types of fraudster consultations.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I wish to share my time with my colleague, the member for Calgary Forest Lawn.

I may be a new member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration who was not directly involved in drafting the report and recommendations in its study, “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”, but the report is relevant to all 338 members of Parliament due to the nature of its contents.

Before I begin, I want to personally thank the member for Calgary Nose Hill for her tremendous leadership as the Conservative caucus's shadow minister for immigration. She has been tenacious in holding the government to account, while also providing meaningful alternatives in everything the immigration committee does. For that, I congratulate her and am honoured to call her a colleague, as I am with regard to both of the previous speakers, my colleagues from Markham—Unionville and Calgary Shepard.

Before I got into politics at the provincial level in 1999 and then at federal level in 2013, I never expected the amount of immigration cases my office deals with daily. We heard the same from my colleague across the way from Winnipeg North. Even in western Manitoba, not traditionally known as the destination of many new Canadians, there has been a tremendous influx of immigrants who have decided to call west Manitoba their home. I would be willing to suggest that close to 50% of the people who call and visit my constituency office are seeking assistance with the immigration process. I suspect I am not alone in seeing this immigration caseload.

The mere fact that 50% of my constituency office's work deals with immigration is perhaps a sign that we need to improve the service delivery of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. While that is a debate for another day, I am pleased that we are having a discussion today on the committee's report regarding immigration consultants.

Individuals seek out the assistance of immigration consultants because the process is complicated, the wait times can be atrocious, and in many respects people are looking for guidance on the myriad forms they are expected to fill out. It is unfortunate that there are those in Canada who prey on vulnerable immigrants.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this problem is not getting any better. Just this week in the news, a Winnipeg man was charged with illegally acting as a certified immigration consultant, which he most certainly was not. This is not the first time the CBSA has charged someone in Winnipeg with acting as an unlicensed immigration consultant. Just last year, an individual was charged for illegally supplying immigrant workers to restaurants, who were then coerced into giving back part of their paycheques to their employers. If this were not bad enough, another individual was charged for scamming more than 80 people into paying him thousands of dollars.

It must be said, this committee's report was unanimous in its findings. In support, I certainly have other anecdotes from my own constituency that I could offer through my office from the files that we have deal with. That is why it is so important that we deal with these unanimous findings. It is very rare to have unanimous findings from parliamentary committees. It speaks volumes to the importance of getting the necessary recommendations moving.

The reason we are having this debate today is that the government's response to the committee's report was an injustice to the 50 witnesses and dozens of hours put in by committee members and staff to provide the 21 recommendations to the government.

This report shines a beacon on the actions of unscrupulous immigration consultants. If we, for one moment, could put ourselves in the shoes of a temporary foreign worker who has been scammed by a crooked immigration consultant, we could get a better understanding of why the recommendations in this report are vital to cleaning up the industry.

Temporary foreign workers are vulnerable to begin with. They are far from home, come to Canada to work in a job that probably is not that glamorous, and then are taken advantage of because they have nowhere else to turn. The problem with immigration consultants is that while many follow the proper procedures of getting licensed and do provide meaningful assistance, there is very little one can do to stop others from printing business cards and portraying themselves as fully licensed consultants. That is why this report is so important.

I want to briefly go through some of the recommendations. The first is that the Government of Canada create an independent public interest body empowered to regulate and govern the profession of immigration consultants. The reason this recommendation is so critical is that previously, the tasks associated with governing consultants was given to an body outside of the government. While l am not one to suggest that the government needs to control every aspect of society, it is quite apparent that what we are currently doing is not working.

The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council stated at committee that it receives over 300 complaints a year. The acting president of the regulatory council said that since it became the regulator six years ago, it has received over 1,710 complaints filed against consultants. Between 2010 and 2015, the active number of consultants in Canada has more than doubled. To put this into context, that is a significant number of complaints considering there are only 3,600 licensed consultants.

If we could just step back for a moment, we know that the number of complaints is probably far higher, as many immigrants are afraid of the repercussions that may arise from making a formal complaint.

The reason we should create a new independent public interest body is to maintain high ethical standards, preserve the integrity of the system, and protect applicants from exploitation and outrageous fees. The other thing an independent public interest body could do would be to set training, education, and experience standards before anyone could become an immigration consultant. The new regulatory body should also be empowered to investigate and deal with complaints in a timely manner. For these purposes, the new regulatory body should be provided with investigative and disciplinary powers similar to those exercised by Canadian provincial and territorial law societies.

The other important aspect of the report is that not only would a new body be created, but there would also be a regular review by the House of Commons to ensure that it is meeting its objectives. There should be a mechanism that would allow individuals who have been abused by unscrupulous immigration consultants to file a complaint without fear of it jeopardizing their application process or the status of their applications. Furthermore, it is important that organizations that provide the most basic of immigration services be allowed to assist applicants without fear of sanctions. In this regard, I know firsthand the amazing work that Westman Immigrant Services does in Brandon, as it fill gaps and eases the transition of newcomers adjusting to life in Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada should start working with organizations that provide immigration services to educate applicants about the new regulatory body to determine if a prospective immigration consultant is in fact legitimate. The era of back-lane immigration services and shady practices must come to an end.

In Canada we must demand more than what has been happening and think of the larger consequences for those who have been negatively impacted, and also for our reputation abroad. If we must increase fines and sentences for offences carried out by crooked immigrant consultants, then let us do it. Let us work with the RCMP and provincial and municipal law agencies to find new ways to deter these individuals from ever thinking of working outside the law again. I acknowledge that not everyone in the immigration consultant business is taking advantage of others, but for far too long we have turned a blind eye to this epidemic of deception.

The committee is a great example of co-operation across party lines in putting forward a great list of recommendations, and the government should adhere to its advice. The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has done a great disservice by signing off on it with the most boilerplate response humanly possible, one that was clearly drafted by his officials. There was little evidence that the government and, in particular, the minister took any serious consideration of the report. Indeed, the government refused to take a stance on any of the recommendations.

In closing, I would like to say that we should not allow the report's 21 recommendations to collect dust in the minister's filing cabinet. For one moment, if we could put ourselves in a newcomers' position, think of what it must feel like to be taken advantage of, to be cheated and to be lied to and then to find out that one is being sent away through no fault of one's own, I believe we would all agree that the time is now to move forward and implement the committee's recommendations.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech full of goodwill.

Earlier he said that the government has not followed up on the unanimous recommendations at all. I would like to point out that this morning's debate is not about, say, forestry or fisheries. If it were, we would be talking about well-known cases that we are familiar with or have heard about, ones where we met with unions and advocacy groups. Today's subject is one we are very familiar with. We have staff whom we supervise and who do a great job handling those cases. They are specialists.

Is my colleague hopeful that the government will actually pay some attention today and not ignore this as it did when the report was tabled?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for that excellent question, because that is what this is all about.

There are 21 unanimous recommendations here from all parties on the committee, and that is why I am here today. I might have been a little harsh on the minister, but I think there is hope that the government will move forward with this. It is an excellent example of where it could move forward if there was a will to do so.

These 21 recommendations are certainly easily implemented, because a lot of them deal with training, education, and ethics. This is something I think my colleagues across the way will continue to look at.

One of the things in the letter from the minister to the chair of the committee I want to emphasize is that there are phrases here such as these: “The Government is seized with any issues related”; “The Government acknowledges that there is a strong need and commitment to ensure that” it moves forward; “the Government will carefully consider”; “The Government expects to be able to provide”; “the Government will continue to monitor”; and “the Government considers the recommendations”.

These are nice phrases, but the government has not quite done the job yet. There is a real opportunity here to help the immigrant population that is moving to Canada.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is worth noting that we literally have hundreds of reports from standing committees, and this just happens to be one. We have a number of standing committees, and they do fantastic work. In those hundreds of reports, members can imagine how many recommendations there would be.

The Minister of Immigration and his department would be very much aware of the report. One should not make the assumption that if the House is not voting on a report, the ministry is not actually taking action on a report.

The same principle applied for Stephen Harper. When we have reports in committee, and there are literally hundreds of them, only a few will actually come to the fore for debate. It would be a wrong assumption to believe that there was no action being taken on a report, because some reports will never see the light in terms of debate inside the chamber. In fact, the vast majority will not.

I wonder if my colleague agrees with the assessment that it would be wrong to believe that nothing is actually being done on the file.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for his observation. The member is quite right. A lot of committee work is excellent. There are a lot of good reports. They do not all come to the House. We are assuming that the minister will move forward, but when we look at actions without anything coming to the House, that is where the rubber needs to hit the road.

In this particular case, it is very important that this discussion is taking place, because a lot committee reports are not unanimous, but this one is. That is why we encourage the government to move forward with this particular report. It is because of the unanimity of all parties.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Madam Speaker, being a consultant in this country is indeed a lucrative business. Do members know why? It is because there is a very weak regime for policing the consultants.

I want to thank the committee for bringing forward a very important issue and its recommendations to the House. I also want to thank my colleague from Calgary Nose Hill, and the government.

I agree with the previous speaker that because this is a unanimous report, it should be brought to the attention of the government. I do not agree with what the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader said, that there is so much work to be done that some of these reports will not be seen. I have been in government as well. It was unanimous, including members of his own party, that this issue needs to be corrected. It is a very small recommendation.

There is a full department of immigration. There is a Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who can devote his time to dealing with it as quickly as possible. Why? It is because Canadians are demanding it.

I have been in Parliament for 20 years. For 20 years my office has been inundated with requests from newcomers. When someone comes to our office, and we cannot provide the services they need, we tell them to go to a consultant. That is what the consultant regime was set up for. When we advise them to go to a consultant, of course we do not recommend which consultant, because the consultants ask for money. However, more and more, newcomers are coming back to our office and telling us that their applications have failed, yet they paid the consultant so much money. If they paid so much money, why did the consultant not do his job properly? I have then delved more into the details, and I have found, shockingly, that the recommendations given by these consultants do not match what our immigration rules require.

Our immigration rules are very clear and are on the website. Nevertheless, many people will go to a consultant, because there is a sense of comfort that if they go to a consultant, they will get the right advice and may not miss something that will cause their file to be rejected. Unfortunately, the regime is so weak that anyone can become a consultant. We have ghost consultants. Anyone can say, “I am a consultant, and I will charge you this much money.” That is why this matter was brought to the committee.

As my colleagues here, including the ones from the other side, have articulated so clearly, there is a need for quicker action on this. Just because these people are newcomers does not mean we should not have a sound regime in this country. This country is a rules-based country. Our laws are rules-based, and we believe in the law. When we have a regime that is not regulating these unscrupulous consultants who are doing these things, we must come to the conclusion that there is a serious gap in our system that needs urgent attention. Therefore, I will tell the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader that it is important that he tell his government that it needs to look at this report more carefully, and urgently, because it is a unanimous report.

Based on my experience, this is what I like about the report. I love the specific recommendation for an independent body to regulate consultants that would have the power to deal with consultants who are cheating their clients or who are ghost consultants. This is one of the best recommendations, but it should have some teeth. The current regulatory board does not have teeth. That is why we see violations by more and more consultants.

My colleague from Calgary Nose Hill was right that the Conservatives, under our former colleague Jason Kenney, brought this issue forward. We have to admit that the problem with that was that while it was voluntary, it did not achieve the result, and it was misused.

This recommendation, after listening to all the stakeholders and everyone else, clearly states that there is a need for an independent body with teeth. If there are no teeth, this will become another bureaucratic institution, probably filled with patronage appointees.

Let us go back to the whole situation and say that we have experience. Someone asked how we do that. The law societies in Canada have regulations. Every professional body has means and ways by which to regulate itself and has the teeth to bring to account people who abuse their positions. I do not see why those same simple rules cannot be applied to this regulatory body. All it requires is for the current government to act on it very quickly.

I join with my colleagues in the House to ask if we could please have the minister look at it and address the issue, because while it may not be an issue for Canadians or new Canadians, we cannot have a gaping issue in our system that is being abused because people are not following the law. Numerous examples have been articulated by MPs of how their own offices are inundated with immigration issues.

The government just announced the next batch of over 300,000 people coming to Canada. While we cannot do much about the consultants overseas, who are also abusing huge numbers of people coming in, we can indeed use the website to advise them of the issues. However, those who are here in this country should have the ability to address those issues.

Once and for all, if this is done right, this issue will go away. A lot of the workload in our offices will decrease. As well, there will be a level of comfort that we can then say that the rules are being followed in our country.

It is very important in immigration that the rules are followed. Every Canadian becomes upset when rules are not followed, as we can see with the people trying to come into our country and bypassing the rules. We have to have rules. A system without rules would not have the confidence of Canadians. That would be a matter of serious concern.

I am very happy to say that the committee came up with recommendations. If these were done, I would be one of the happiest men. This has come after a very long time. I congratulate everyone in the House. I congratulate the committee and all the members from all sides on the committee. We heard speeches in the House. It is unanimous that we want the government to take strong action in meeting the recommendations of the committee.

I will conclude by asking my friend, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, to please look at this. Let us get it done. Let us get this under way so that the regime of immigration in this country will get back on track and Canadians can have confidence in the system.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a rare day when reports are unanimously agreed to. It shows that this House can work constructively. We can approach issues in non-partisan ways. It is a rare day, and I congratulate the member for pointing out that this current weak regime, as he called it, was a mistake by the former minister, Jason Kenney. However, let us learn from those mistakes and move forward. We can actually work together constructively.

The member spoke of the weak regime and how lucrative this weak regime has become for crooked consultants. It has no teeth. Recommendation 18 calls for stiffer fines and sentences. I was just wondering if the member would like to speak to what he envisions. He has seen first-hand the terrible cases. What kinds of fines? How much should those fines be, in his opinion, and what kinds of sentences should there be?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to tell my hon. friend on the other side, Jason Kenney was not wrong. We did nothing wrong. As a matter of fact, we started the process, and once we started the process it started evolving, and now it has evolved to the level where we are talking about recommendation 18, after the experience. However, it was not wrong. Jason Kenney did the right thing.

Coming back to his question about how stiff the penalty should be, we should start by revoking their licence. This regime should have a licence. We should give them a very clear warning that if they are going to abuse the system, they will lose their licence. If they become, as my colleague from Winnipeg said, a ghost consultant, as others have been charging, then we should bring them very quickly and effectively to court for working unlicensed. Whatever the penalties are for the other ones, that should be applied as well. However, of critical importance is the regime of enforcement, as he pointed out.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, I always listen carefully to the remarks from the member for Calgary Forest Lawn. He has a lot of experience here, and although we do not always agree, I find his contributions very valuable.

Like him, I often have my office feeling besieged by people desperate to deal with their immigration problems. It is peculiar today that we have had speeches from the Liberal side of the House where they have not clearly committed to supporting this concurrence motion. I find that very hard to understand.

I wonder if the member would agree with me that one of the problems we have now is that because the waiting lists are so long to get answers from Immigration Canada, it sometimes causes people who are desperate to reunite their families and deal with these problems to maybe take leave of their critical faculties when dealing with some of these corrupt consultants. I really feel these delays fuel this problem of bad consultants who are out there because of the desperation of people to solve these problems.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Madam Speaker, I concur with the member. Also, I thank him for the nice words he said about me. He has been a member there as well, so I have a high level of respect for his views as well.

Yes, there is no question the delays and everything in the immigration offices are fuelling desperation among people. When we tell someone it is going to take two or three years to get someone over here, or if someone wants to come for a marriage or something, the whole process and delays cause people to seek shortcuts. This is where the unscrupulous consultants use them.

I absolutely agree with my colleague that we should have a strong regime to ensure there is compliance.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in support of the concurrence of this report, approving the government oversight of immigration consultants. What I am not pleased about is the debate that I have heard today. Although every person on that committee supported the 21 recommendations in this report and they brought it forward 10 months ago, there is no evidence that anything has happened about that.

All day long we have seen members in the government talk about this and are not able to provide any evidence of whether they will support the concurring of the motion, let alone the 21 recommendations in the report. What a waste of the taxpayer money it is when people sit at committee, come with a reasoned report that everyone is in agreement with, and the government does nothing with it.

This is not the only case I have heard of. I was part of the pay equity committee where we put a special committee together in Parliament. We heard testimony. We took a lot of time. There was an extra cost to the taxpayer and what we heard there was that the Bilson report done in 2004, 12 years ago, was actually the answer. The recommendations in there that were unanimously supported at the time were the answer. We are still trying to fix this, but no action has been taken.

It is very frustrating when I see that waste of taxpayer dollars. I also know that we have heard MPs on all sides of the House talk about how each one has nearly a full-time person in their office who spends time trying to fix up these screwed-up immigration issues. If we add that all up, that is a cost of $150 million a year. That is a huge cost to the taxpayer to fix this.

I do not understand what is so difficult about fixing it when it seems that there are people walking across the border from Quebec and Manitoba who seem to be able to get their PRCs in a matter of days or weeks instead of the aggravation of years that we are seeing in these examples.

To illustrate the toll that this is taking on people's lives as new immigrants coming to Canada, I want to share some specific cases from my riding of Sarnia—Lambton. I will protect the identity of the people.

There was one fellow who worked in a global company and his company decided to transfer him. He was a citizen of New Zealand, but he was working in Australia and the company moved him from its office in Australia to its office in Sarnia—Lambton. He came with his wife and his son. The company at the time took care of all the immigration protocols, which was fine.

He was here for three years working away and then he decided to apply to be a Canadian citizen. He hired an immigration consultant. When I look at the files that are coming through my office in immigration that are screwed up and there are lawyers who have been involved in them, there are three lawyers' names who are probably responsible for 40% of the screwed-up cases that are coming through my office. I have recommended in every circumstance that people complain to the Bar Association about this, but to no effect. They continue to operate. They continue to impact lives.

Back to the story. The fellow applied and was refused by immigration saying that the initial papers filed originally when he first came here were not correct. The guy had been here for three years, working and paying taxes. His wife was working and paying taxes, his son was attending high school. He came to our office and we tried to help him and get the original papers from New Zealand and Australia that were required to remediate. Those were submitted and then the government came back and said it has been a year and a half, almost two years by the time it looked at this, now his labour market survey had expired and he would have to start with that again. We began to undertake that. That was done and submitted.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was a downturn in the economy and the guy was laid off. He received a deportation order. Of course this is ridiculous. These are law-abiding, tax paying, hard-working citizens, the exact kind of people that we want to have come to our country and help our economic growth. Of course I intervened with the minister. I intervened five times on this file alone and it was not fixed. When officials decided to deport him back to New Zealand it was the week after a big earthquake in New Zealand. We sent this guy back with no job to an earthquake disaster zone. This is the kind of toll we are seeing from consultants who get involved and screw up files.

It is just totally unacceptable. It seems to me that if the system is so complicated that people think they need to get a consultant in the first place, something that needs to be fixed. I really like recommendation 16, which states:

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada undertake a review of the use of consultants..., and develop a formal working group with members of the department and the new regulatory body to explore ways of simplifying its processes to reduce the need for third party assistance.

If it can be done for people crossing the border in the wink of an eye, certainly we must be able to simplify it so people can come and apply.

The other thing I want to say is that when it comes to foreign markets, I have had examples of people who have paid consultants in foreign places and have been totally ripped off for the money they paid, and have then been in our country and had to be deported at a huge personal cost there as well. Recommendation 14 speaks to that, and talks about educating and publicizing in these foreign places to make sure people do not think they need those consultants in order to come to our country.

I see my time is running out. I am very happy to support this, and I hope the government will take this seriously and take some action.