Madam Speaker, I am pleased once again to have the privilege to speak to an issue that appeals to our judgment and requires careful reflection.
The purpose of Bill C-436, tabled by the member for Vancouver East, is to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment states, and I quote:
(1.1) Subject to the regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may, once in their lifetime, sponsor one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.
This proposal reflects the humanitarianism of the member for Vancouver East and her great generosity. Although we agree with the principle of her bill, the current wording leaves us rather perplexed for the following reasons: the lack of clarity of the proposed amendments; the consequences of Bill C-436 on immigration priorities, namely with respect to Canada's role in protecting refugees; and finally the budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.
However, we are open to discussing this well-intentioned bill at greater length in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
When we say that the proposal by the hon. member of the New Democratic Party lacks clarity, we are referring to a certain vagueness. For example, what does our colleague mean by “a foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class”? What are the acceptable limits for the definition of a relative? Is she targeting a specific category of people who would currently be excluded from the family class? Does the notion of relative refer essentially to a genetic relative?
We easily see that there is a great deal of room for arbitrary decisions. If the hon. member wishes to broaden the family class to include other specific family members, she should state that in her bill, because without that, it is too vague and does not make it possible to determine which cases are admissible and which are not.
Not to mention the impact this could have on the time it takes to process claims since it is the officers who will have to determine which cases are admissible and which are not. The arbitrary nature of such decisions could provoke strong reactions from asylum seekers who are turned down.
The current list of persons admissible in the family class is already well defined. How could we justify an amendment this far-reaching without including some limits?
Another question arises. How many people would be affected by this new measure? For now, we can only presume that this kind of proposal would have allowed 229,091 additional sponsorship applications in 2002. The next question is obvious. Would this measure be accessible to all immigrants currently in Canada, no matter when they arrived?
In order to assess this plan and its possible repercussions, we must consider the current use of resources. So, 60% of immigrants selected are economic immigrants, meaning business people, and self-employed and skilled workers. The remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.
Of this group, 75% are family class immigrants, 25% are refugees, and a small percentage are other. If the number of individuals who qualify for family class is significantly increased, without an increase in the available resources, which has been the case for several years now, who will pay? Someone will have to pay the price of these new measures.
Since the total is split 60-40, there is a good chance that asylum seekers will pay the price of these new measures. Those who think the government might reducing the 60% should remember that, before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought over, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada as part of the 60% in the economic class. So, this proposal, which would reduce that percentage, does little to improve the situation.
With respect to the 40%, the headlines show deportation cases for asylum seekers being dismissed almost every week. We need only think of the highly publicized cases of Mohamed Sherfi and the three Palestinians who have taken refuge in a Montreal church. There are numerous conflict situations and civil wars in the world, and the number of countries involved is on the rise: Columbia, Algeria, the Palestine-Israel conflict, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan. All these realities oblige democratic countries to be more humane and more attentive to refugee claimants.
Every year, Canada turns away thousands of refugee claimants whose lives are in danger in their country of origin because of inadequate budgets. By refusing to increase budgets, Canada is deliberately choosing to decrease its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention on the protection of refugees.
Allowing more immigrants to sponsor distant relatives means making use of resources that could instead be saving lives by accepting more asylum seekers. Public policy must follow the same rules as everyday life, not be an exception to the rule; responsible choices must be made after examination of the various constraints. Which is wiser: allowing a distant relative to be brought to Canada, or offering asylum to Palestinians who are going to be deported to refugee camps in Lebanon? Unlike the present government, we must show some administrative rigour, some intelligent management.
The hon. NDP member's humanitarian objective is praiseworthy, particularly since her bill makes us re-examine the budgetary choices of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Canada's ultimate objective as far as immigration is concerned is to attain a level equivalent to 1% of the Canadian population. That is 310,000 immigrants annually. There are two main goals here: to compensate for the demographic decrease and to fill skilled worker positions, particularly with economic class immigrants
In 2002, Canada admitted 229,091 immigrants, compared to the 2001 figure of 250,484. The drop was in part a result of the department's inability to process any more because of budget restraints and the costs related to settlement and integration. It is not enough just to admit people into the country; it is also important to ensure that they receive proper services for a smooth integration into the host society.
The quality of services to newcomers is as important as, if not more important than the number of newcomers. Currently, the small budgets given to Citizenship and Immigration Canada do not allow us to meet the numerous challenges related to the integration of newcomers. Why promote family reunification if we cannot provide adequate services to ensure the integration and settlement of these people?
This lack of resources is the major problem affecting immigration. This inadequacy in the immigration program and the humanitarian spirit reflected by Bill C-436 are the reasons why we support this legislation. Indeed, if the bill passes second reading, it will force a debate in committee and we will be able to show that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration is unable to fulfill its responsibilities because of insufficient financial resources. Moreover, the review in committee will allow us to identify some essential points to be incorporated into the bill proposed by the hon. member for Vancouver East.
I will conclude by expressing to this House my profound disappointment in the current government. In its last budget, the word “immigration” was not even mentioned once. Despite persistent problems in the processing of immigration and refugee claims, despite the numerous months and even years of waiting for a simple sponsorship application—we are now talking about some 35 months—the government does not even deign to allocate a few dollars to correct this unacceptable situation. And Canada claims to be a land that welcomes immigrants. Imagine if this were not the case.