Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-242. I would like to thank the member for Dufferin—Caledon for bringing it forward as a crucial step in reuniting new Canadians and refugees with their families.
Separation of families, parents and children, or grandparents and children is often a by-product of Canada's deeply broken immigration system. It is something we are all very much aware of. In the past few years, with the COVID pandemic and many humanitarian crises around the world, we have witnessed disturbing trends with regard to the functioning of our much-needed immigration system, whether it is the thousands of refugee applications pending as people face imminent danger in their home countries, or the backlogs or strict restrictions for temporary resident visas for parents and grandparents that prevent the reunification of families.
I am deeply disheartened by the effects that these delays and restrictions have had on real people: families and individuals who are simply seeking peace. I know first-hand the devastating effects of not being able to be with loved ones. Canada has a history of separating families, and particularly indigenous families. Let us not repeat and continue this legacy.
Families should not have to go through long and very difficult ordeals just to be together. Families are an important and critical aspect of how we understand our quality of life, and when we do not have our children, our parents or our grandparents with us, especially after a very difficult life, where does the healing begin?
New Democrats strongly support making family reunification processes easier so that people can reunite with their loved ones. It is critical. I am positive that the measures contained within this bill would help to fill some of the gaps, such as the increase in the length of time, for example, that a temporary resident can stay in Canada while visiting their child or grandchild. It would raise the cap from two years to five years. The reduction of the minimum income requirement is also a helpful course of action. These are real, tangible solutions.
However, I recognize that this bill is simply a short-term solution to a deeply seated problem in our immigration system. For years, Liberal and Conservative governments have made grave errors in the way temporary foreign visas and the parent-grandparent sponsorship program applications are processed. During the Harper government, for example, in 2011, records that were found through access to information requests demonstrated that over 150,000 applications were ultimately denied, and these were all contained within a backlog.
The government at the time then doubled down and created a restriction for further applications to limit the wait. It refused to learn from previous mistakes and made matters worse. The two-year moratorium on applications created a massive backlog that families are still reeling from today.
Then, the Liberal government promised voters a reformed, streamlined immigration process to fix decades or years of pain. It went on to introduce an arbitrary lottery system that made the parent-grandparent sponsorship program the only immigration stream in Canada based on a lucky draw. This meant that a random selection system determined the fate of thousands of families while throwing out many of the applications because they did not pre-screen for eligibility.
Clearly, this system failed horribly. It was replaced by a first-come, first-served basis. This process took eight minutes to fill to capacity, disadvantaging many others who were unable to attain an online connection because they did not have the technology, such as a cellphone or computer, in their place of origin to file online.
What happened to the many applications that were unable to get in by the first-come, first-served basis? They waited. The families waited. In fact, at the time of this program and the first-come, first-served debacle, 70 families filed a lawsuit because they were unable to get the application in time. The government quietly settled that. The government proposed a visa application process that continues to remain inaccessible and to cause deep hardship to deserving families. It is an unfortunate reality continuing to be faced by thousands in our country.
In my constituency of Edmonton Griesbach, we are home to many new Canadians, refugees and immigrants who have waited a long time to come to safety, to seek refuge and peace, and to seek a new way and a new life. They finally have a chance to breathe, to catch up with loved ones and make up the lost time due to crisis and international conflict. It is something that will take many supports and much family to heal.
I know personally of a constituent in my community who has been in Canada for over 10 years. This whole time, his family has been stuck in South Sudan. When the situation got too difficult in South Sudan, their family had to flee to Egypt, where they continued to wait for their family to be able to sponsor them to bring them here. He was separated from his wife and children.
He applied and fortunately the application for his wife went well. The application for the three children, however, did not. As South Sudanese people are not issued a birth certificate at birth, he had to obtain them through a separate process all together. The visa officer, however, did not consider their certificates to be valid and the children's eligibility was not approved. They were asked for DNA testing. The embassy refused to help with this.
Finally, the mother, in order to satisfy the permanent resident request, did have to come to Canada, but that meant leaving three of her children behind. Those three children are ages four, eight and 12. They are now expected to find some way to figure out DNA testing all by themselves, while also simultaneously not having a birth certificate that is recognized. How is a four year old supposed to do that? It is devastating and heartbreaking.
Another constituent of mine is a Syrian refugee. His wife and one of his kids are in Canada. However, his 12-year-old daughter is stuck in Saudi Arabia by herself. One son is stuck in Turkey. Both kids have deep mental health breakdowns and hardships every single day. There is nothing wrong with their applications, but the processing time is literally killing them. This time away from family and away from loved ones can leave scars that last a lifetime.
Again, I would like to further recommend that the government address the long-standing failures of IRCC as a department and reallocate funds for other streams in order to reduce the backlog. I want to conclude by thanking my hon. colleague for tabling this critical, shortstop measure, which would reunite families and save lives. I look forward to hearing my colleagues' speeches.