Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saint John.
I am pleased again to speak to Bill C-16, the citizenship of Canada act. We had 23 amendments before us last night in the House, which familiarized many of the members with the issues in this bill. I hope to speak about some of the amendments that we voted for plus, of course, Motions Nos. 4 and 5, the controversy over revocation. I will speak about the positive points in the bill as well as some of the areas this party is concerned with.
If there is an active department in the government these days, it would be the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. There are presently two bills before parliament, this one and Bill C-31, the immigration and refugee protection act. It is worrisome to note that the present acts, with the exception of a few amendments, date from the late 1970s. These pieces of legislation should have been updated prior to now.
As I stated in my first speech on Bill C-16, the importance of citizenship cannot be questioned. It allows for the ultimate sense of belonging, belonging to a state, a society. Human beings have a need to be accepted and recognized.
The importance of citizenship was not lost on the over 1,000 delegates who attended the Progressive Conservative National Policy Conference in Quebec City. Our policy task force travelled across Canada gathering views from over 23,000 Canadians. Our party and its members realize that Canada was built on immigration, from which citizenship naturally follows.
One of our guiding principles is:
Citizenship is a very sacred status, which places duties and responsibilities on every Canadian to safeguard the integrity of Canada and to uphold the values and institutions of the nation as enshrined in the Constitution and laws of Canada.
When in government, our party took this seriously. That is obvious by the significant increases in immigration numbers we accepted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Numbers prove the benefits immigration and citizenship bring. One recent study has found new immigrants have accounted for more than half of Canada's population growth and 70% of the growth in our labour force. This is not insignificant.
The minister introduced Bill C-16 in November of last year. The minister seems to adhere to our principle of the sacredness of citizenship. Overall, Bill C-16 should maintain the integrity of Canadian citizenship. I am glad the minister has borne in mind the importance of citizenship. I hope the bill is effective but it is certainly not perfect. I wish to speak about some of the drawbacks we do have with the bill.
I am pleased that the minister incorporated many of the recommendations of the standing committee which were done last spring when Bill C-16 was then called Bill C-63.
One example is residency requirements. The committee recommended that a person be physically present in Canada for three out of six years instead of three out of five. I hope the minister continues to seek advice from the committee as the new immigration bill is deliberated and makes its way through parliament.
One area of concern for this party is proof of residency. An individual must be a permanent resident in Canada for three out of six years or 1,095 days. Naturally a person must be able to prove that he or she has been in the country for that period of time. We do not have exit controls in this country, and considering that we have a border that is very long, such controls would be difficult if not impossible.
This also raises the question of individual rights and privacy from the state. When we learned in the news today, and we talked about it in the House, that the government has detailed information on all Canadians, this does cause concern. In any case, exit controls will not be here any time soon.
However, the question remains: How will citizenship officials determine whether or not an individual has met his or her residency requirements? The answer we were given was “cheques, receipts and utility bills”. This simply does not suffice. We must attempt to root out fraud and falsification wherever possible. While most individuals may be honest and provide accurate information, some do not, and no promise is offered in this bill to check the information provided.
Appointments at Citizenship and Immigration Canada have caused concern for quite some time. This party wishes to ensure that competent, able officials are named to positions within the department. This party fought on this in the last election and we have been unwavering ever since.
In last night's motions, the governing party voted against any intent to ensure that competent individuals be appointed at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It is interesting to note also that the first party even voted against Motion No. 7. The motion stated that no one would be appointed as a citizenship commissioner if that individual had been convicted of an offence under sections 39 and 40 of the bill. I find it intriguing, if not disturbing, that the governing party would not see fit to accept this motion. Indeed, I now really worry about the kinds of appointments that will take place in Citizenship and Immigration.
One area of controversy with this bill has been the revocation of citizenship. Revocation of citizenship is no small matter. It is very serious. This issue has attracted a lot of attention recently, especially since the parliamentary secretary voted against his own government and then resigned from the position.
This party is comfortable with the provisions that are in the new legislation. If a revocation occurs, the individual is free to appeal all the way to the supreme court. On the other hand, our parliamentary traditions are respected. We feel an individual's rights in dealing with the state will be protected.
As I said at the outset, this is a busy time for Citizenship and Immigration. We have been dealing with two pieces of legislation making their way through the House and through committee. Citizenship and immigration go hand in hand. Citizenship is dependent on immigration, so it is hard to discuss one without discussing the other. If it were not for immigration, there would not be much need for citizenship, so allow me to address a couple of issues in immigration.
The need for a new immigration bill has been known for quite some time also. It is something we should have looked at a long time ago. There are serious issues around immigration. The Canadian public seldom receive assurances that criminals are being kept out of the country. Border control is an issue. Newspaper articles just a couple of weeks ago were talking about more undocumented arrivals from China. One article said that we could possibly expect another 1,200 arrivals by boat on the west coast.
I realize that in the new immigration bill, the minister has raised fines and penalties and is trying to secure better relations in these matters with China. Fines and punishment work well, but there is only one problem: A lack of both human and financial resources means these people are not being caught. CIC officials are strapped as it is. Now, with added pressures to recognize and catch criminals, it will be very difficult. I hope the government has acknowledged the predictions of more arrivals and has a sufficient contingency plan in place.
I can speak with some experience about our border officials. I have seven border crossings in my riding and these crossings are understaffed. Officers work alone and unarmed. How are they supposed to handle potential security threats to themselves or the country? Furthermore, these officials do not have the training in immigration matters required to deal with the technical refugee or immigration cases.
The department will receive increased funding over the next few years but I do not think much will be left for enforcement. A lot of money has been spent already and desperately needed new computer systems will cost over $200 million. Add to this the deficiencies the auditor general highlighted in his report last month with regard to medical and criminal records, and we find a department that is totally strapped.
The minister must address these issues. I am not satisfied that Bill C-31 will do that. There are no guarantees for continuing funding and no commitment to take photos and fingerprints of new arrivals to Canada.
To come back to Bill C-16, this party will be supporting the bill. We are content that the minister took the views of the committee into account last year. As I did say there are a few problem areas and we will be watching carefully to ensure that citizenship is kept sacred.