Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-31, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
We have been asking the government for a long time to introduce this new immigration legislation, which was supposed to have been introduced last year. Whether it is late or not, this bill comes at a time when a lot of flaws and chronic problems are surfacing at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Today I will talk about several issues regarding immigration and the proposed new bill. I will also touch on the auditor general's report on immigration issued a few weeks ago. It has brought to light problems that the government has been aware of for some time.
I would like to set out the recommendations I have brought before the committee. The minister has stated that the bill would be tough on criminals, but I am not so sure. The clauses of Bill C-31 on security are inadequate.
Before dealing with these issues and the bill itself, I want to remind the House that the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is the party of immigration. In the 1980s, under a Conservative government, the number of immigrants had skyrocketed. In 1984, the last year of the Liberal government, Canada had admitted 88,239 immigrants. In 1993, the last year in office of the Conservative government, it had welcomed 255,919 immigrants. We know the value of increasing the number of immigrants. Figures do not lie.
However, we are also aware of the flip side: the abuse of the system that occurs all too often.
In the 1980s we introduced two controversial bills to deal with imperfections in the system. These bills, one of which was emergency legislation, were totally opposed by the Liberals. That is hardly a surprise. The Liberal theory is all about ignoring issues and letting them fester. Liberals do not take a stand on issues out of fear of losing the next election.
When dangers arose we took action. I can assure the House, during the course of this debate on the immigration bill, the PC party will continue its tradition of fighting for an efficient and effective immigration system.
We are familiar with the immigration system. That is why this party is looking forward to debating the clauses and provisions found in Bill C-31.
Just three weeks ago the auditor general released a damning report of the department. Chronic problems exist therein, problems the Liberal government has not addressed. Even worse, there are problems the auditor general had discussed before. Allow me to expand on these serious issues.
All newcomers to Canada must pass a medical test to protect Canadian society from the risk of disease. Criteria for medical tests are next to nil and have been standard for quite some time; 40 years. No testing exists for new diseases like HIV or hepatitis. Even more, physicians do not determine medical admissibility; officers do. Approved doctors carry out examinations and forward their advice to the officers. What medical risks are posed to Canadians? What new diseases are routinely transported to Canada?
Just this past weekend the American president announced that he had declared HIV as the number one security risk for the U.S.A., and we are not really even looking at it.
Sadly, the auditor general underlined deficiencies in medical examinations 10 years ago.
The Liberals need to get off their hands and address potential medical risks to Canadians. How could they possibly delay this?
Reading through the immigration bill does not provide any reassurances that the health of Canadians will be protected any time soon. Medical tests and health provisions are given very little space in Bill C-31. I am not satisfied that sufficient preventive measures are taken in the new bill. When will the criteria for medical admissibility be updated? What health conditions are considered to be a danger to public health? What diseases will excessively burden the health care system? These are only a few questions that the minister should address in this new piece of legislation.
The auditor general also addressed the department's computer systems. The systems are outdated and not integrated. Are these the kinds of computer systems that aid in determining medical and criminal admissibility to Canada?
The minister has announced a new global case management system which she says will cost $200 million. The department has received $575 million in new funding, but $209 million has been spent now. This new funding will be eaten up very quickly. Where does the minister expect to find the extra funding that will be required for the case management system and the increased administration brought about by Bill C-31?
No one will ever know how many criminals are admitted to Canada. Foreign police records may not be updated or reliable. Some countries cannot provide the information due to internal turmoil. The department's solution to this is to simply not require police certificates from 40 different countries. This is a preposterous means to deal with criminal admissibility to Canada.
That is not all. In 1998 over 1,300 ministerial permits were issued to people with criminal convictions. What kinds of people are routinely coming to this country?
Stiffer fines and longer jail terms may help in keeping criminals out of Canada, but we need to start at the source. We need to have a better detection strategy in place abroad to screen criminals. Simply not requiring certificates from unreliable countries does not take care of the problem.
I hope the minister sees fit to take an introverted look at her department and fix it on the inside. I hope the new global case management system will soon be up and running. I am not satisfied that the new bill adequately addresses the holes in the internal administration at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
As the standing committee discussed its draft report on border security I was able to secure two amendments in the final report. That amendment was the requirement for all refugee claimants to be fingerprinted and photographed at first point of contact in Canada.
It often happens that refugee claimants disappear and do not show up for their hearings. One statistic from the Immigration and Refugee Board in Vancouver shows that 71% of claimants did not show up for their hearings. Where are these people going? How many criminals are passing through? What threats and risks are posed to Canadians as these unknowns walk our streets?
As a party we are concerned about these potential criminals. That is why identifying these individuals at first contact is of prime importance. As a sovereign nation we have a right and a duty to know who is entering our country. In such a large country as Canada it is hard to keep track of every single person, but we must make some attempt to be familiar with who is coming in.
This resolution passed unopposed at committee. Members were supportive that it be included in the bill. Members can well imagine my astonishment that the minister did not include the fingerprint and photograph recommendation in Bill C-31. When I asked officials about this they told me that it would be carried out by way of regulation. This does not suffice.
Fingerprints and photographs must be provided for in the new bill. We should not allow such an important provision, unopposed by the standing committee, to be carried out only at the whim of immigration officials. To have teeth, this needs to be written into Bill C-31.
A second resolution I proposed at committee involves safe third countries. A safe third country is one a potential refugee to Canada has passed through on his or her way here. Safe third country provisions would be an efficient and fair means to deal with undocumented refugee claimants. These individuals would have a safe haven in a safe third country.
The thinking behind the safe third country provision is that it is mutually beneficial. More important, the refugee claimants are given a safe haven in a country they pass through on their way to Canada. Second, Canada is able to control its borders from undocumented arrivals.
I am pleased that Bill C-31 makes provisions for safe third country negotiations in clause 95. The government is willing to pursue the idea of safe third countries, but why has it not taken any action? Over the past seven years the Liberals have negotiated safe third country provisions with only one country, the United States. They spent one and a half years at negotiations with no success. That is strange since it is beneficial to both countries.
The minister must have an idea of what other countries are seen as potential partners. I would ask if she would provide the House with such a list and when negotiations will start.
One of the biggest fears of this party is the entry of foreign criminals. As we heard from members of the NDP, Canada has enough crime of its own. We do not need to start importing it. Though the new bill purports to toughen our present stance on criminals, much more can be done.
In the new legislation provision is made to bar individuals from the refugee determination system in clauses 31 and 32. Clause 31 deals with those inadmissible on the grounds of having violated human rights. Clause 31 refers to representatives “of a government against which Canada has imposed or has agreed to impose sanctions in association with the international community”. Would the minister please clarify a representative? Is it a government official or a national of that country?
Clause 32 of Bill C-31 sets out criteria for serious criminality. I do not understand why a serious criminal is only deemed to be someone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by 10 years or more in Canada. Why these numbers? Is the minister telling us that offences for which someone could serve only nine years are not serious? What does she mean by serious criminality? I am baffled at why the minister would not take all crime seriously.
Even more, there is not necessarily consistency between the justice systems of two countries. An offence punishable in Canada by 10 years may not be punishable in another country at all. I am not comfortable with these numbers. As they are set out in the bill I do not see how these provisions will be effective in keeping criminals out.
In the PC Party's platform for the 1997 election we spelled out our commitment to end patronage appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. In keeping with good Liberal traditions, part 4, clause 150, states in black and white that members of the IRB will be appointed by the governor in council. No means of ensuring meritorious appointments are outlined in the new bill. This party and numerous witnesses at committee, including the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Bar Association, have called on the government to end patronage appointments. The government has again cast aside this recommendation in favour of its own partisan interests.
I believe an effective and representative opposition will criticize the governing party when necessary but will also give it a pat on the back if it does something right. I am pleased that the minister has changed the provisions and requirements for in Canada processing. Spouses, students and temporary workers will now be able to apply for permanent residency from right here in Canada. They will not have to uproot themselves and go through the delays in the immigration system once they have settled in.
This is important for me because I come from Lennoxville, a university city whose population increase in September with the arrival of students who come from all over the world to go to Bishop's University.
I have met many bright, talented, and ambitious students from abroad who would have liked to stay in Canada to start a new life. Unfortunately, I have also met some who did everything they could to stay in Canada, but who had to interrupt their courses or their work program to go abroad in order to apply for permanent residence. This is one measure that will be beneficial to those young people who are brilliant and full of energy.
Recently, a woman from my riding was a victim of the flaws in the current landing provisions. She moved to Canada two years ago to live in the Eastern Townships with her husband, who left her shortly thereafter. Since she had asked to come to Canada under her husband's name, she found herself in a critical situation. She must now leave Canada to be able to apply for permanent residence.
This is all the more difficult since she has four young children, two of whom go to school. That family has begun its integration into Canadian society, but the mother is now forced to leave Canada with her family to apply for permanent residence in Canada. On top of all the trouble this is causing her, she does not even know how long she will have to wait before being granted permanent resident status.
I congratulate the minister for the measures she is taking in that regard. It is a step in the right direction that will open our front door a little wider.
I am happy to express my point of view and that of my party on Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger. Members of the Progressive Conservative Party will be at the forefront of this debate. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, we are the immigration party. We took the necessary measures to correct, as much as possible, the flaws in our system.
We have a good knowledge of the subject and, as we have done in the past, our party will see to it that Canada and its borders are well protected.
I will talk about a couple of cases which may illustrate why I feel a lot of things have not been addressed in the bill.
I had the opportunity to sit in on some interviews, the first one being an immigration case involving a young gentleman and his wife. The gentleman was an aeronautic engineer with six years university in another country which he knew from previous experience was not recognized in Canada. By the way, aeronautic engineers were being given high marks on our points system.
He was applying as an aircraft mechanic since he also had experience in that field. Unfortunately our points system had not caught up and he was not recognized as being in demand in Canada. He spoke both of Canada's official languages. He had a young family and a good background and was willing to establish in Canada. Yet, because of the problem with the points system and with not recognizing certain educational certificates from other countries, we are having to refuse people like him. That is one point where our system is missing out, and it is not being addressed in the new bill.
Since I do not have much time I will go directly to the problem of border security. Customs officers in many cases are our first line immigration officers. Unfortunately they have very limited powers, resources and training. This is being looked at.
In my riding I have seven border crossings. The government has decided that at one of these border crossings it will be training people and giving them the required power they need and everything that goes along with it. However, that is one border crossing. It makes absolutely no sense at all. That leaves six other crossings in the riding for which there are absolutely no plans for changing the people, giving them proper training and equipment and everything that goes along with it. Therefore there will not be a problem with any criminals who want to come across the border. They will just pick another border crossing.
That is not directly related to immigration but yet it attacks immigration all along the line. I will leave it at that and I will say that I look forward to bringing forth some amendments and having some good discussion and debate in committee.