House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 29% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, this gives me another opportunity to clarify our position. Regarding human smugglers, we agree with the government. We do have a problem, however, with the government's decision to introduce this bill to deal with the issue of people who arrive here and make claims. That is what it is doing. It is using this as an opportunity to promote its ideology. Will anyone go along with them? Yes, some people agree with the Conservative ideology. The Conservatives will always find people to go along with them. The problem is that the Bloc Québécois does not agree with the Conservative ideology of creating several categories, which is like saying that people from a certain country are allowed and people from another country are not allowed. What we are saying is that all refugee claimants should be treated equally.

The current system is overloaded and poorly managed. The Liberals managed it poorly and now the Conservatives are doing the same thing. Can it be modernized so that everyone has the opportunity to be heard? This does not mean we will let everyone stay. Those who do not deserve to stay will have to return to where they came from. Today, however, because it is advantageous from a media standpoint to further their ideology, the Conservatives are using this as an opportunity to say they are going to solve the problem of human smuggling. However, the problem we are currently facing is that some people who arrived in Canada should have had the right to have their files processed quickly, but that was not the case.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I appreciate my hon. Liberal colleague's question. I know he is very conscientious, but the situation needs to be examined closely. By no means do I wish to protect the Conservatives—the members heard my speech—but nevertheless, they did inherit the situation that was created by the previous Liberal government. On several occasions we asked the Liberals to update the entire immigration and appeal system. They ignored our requests. Of course they are willing to be more conciliatory now than when they were in power.

Thus, asking the right-wing Conservatives—whose ideology makes them more inclined to turn everyone back, regardless of the individual situation—to update the legislation, feels like quite an uphill battle.

We had nearly reached an agreement with the Conservatives. I understand that the media situation gave them an opportunity to further their own right-wing ideology, but once again, they inherited the situation from the Liberals, who were unable to improve and update the system. If it had been updated, if we could have welcomed these people and processed their files quickly, we probably would not be in this situation.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the minister can look at the blues. I said that the Bloc Québécois would be prepared to support a government bill that punished human smugglers. The problem is that, because of these smugglers, we are creating a new category, designated foreign nationals. That is the Conservative philosophy and ideology that the Bloc Québécois has always opposed. We should not create different categories of refugees based on their country of origin or the way they arrive in Canada. They all should be treated the same way.

That is why we were prepared to support the government's Bill C-11. We would also be prepared to support Bill C-49 if it addressed only human smugglers. The Conservatives are taking advantage of the problem with human smugglers and the media attention around the arrival of a boat to push their right-wing ideology. We will always be opposed to this Conservative right-wing ideology, under which they are incapable of treating all human beings, especially children, the same way.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

I understand the minister because those people, obviously, are not Canadian citizens. But they are still citizens of the world who have a right to benefit from the treaties that Canada has ratified and that allow them to seek asylum.

Once again, what we are seeing with Bill C-49 is that the public safety minister can designate as irregular an arrival in Canada of a group of persons, who then become designated foreign nationals. Designated foreign nationals who claim refugee or protected person status will be treated differently from other asylum seekers. The fact that different applicants would be treated differently is what we found to be unacceptable in Bill C-11. In Bill C-49, a different status is created for these designated foreign nationals.

If they are denied refugee status, they have to wait five years before they can apply for permanent resident status. In the meantime, their claim could be re-evaluated to determine whether they can return to their country.

They cannot travel outside Canada or apply for permanent resident status or citizenship for five years. Consequently, they cannot sponsor members of their family, such as their spouse or children. Designated foreign nationals who have been denied asylum cannot appeal to the new refugee appeal division, only to the Federal Court. They also will not have access to health benefits that other refugees can access through the interim federal health program.

And so, not only is the principle of fairness—which says that all refugees have access to the system—being called into question, but asylum seekers who arrive in a group will be in a sort of legal vacuum for five years, which will strip them of the same rights given to asylum seekers who follow the usual refugee process. Just because a group of people arrives, that does not mean that they are not legitimate refugees, and the Bloc Québécois feels that this categorization would be extremely prejudicial to them.

The acceptance rate for refugee claims by Sri Lankan Tamils is 80% on average, and there is no indication that the situation in Sri Lanka will change and that it will be deemed that their lives are not in peril.

It must be understood that the Bloc Québécois' objective has never changed and has always been to oppose categories based on the origin of claimants or how they arrived here, because Canada has signed international treaties. Therefore, these people can make a claim, but that does not mean it will be accepted. We need an analysis process that is effective and quick. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois asked for the current process to be revised and for an appeal division to be set up so these individuals would have the opportunity to assert their rights. It must be effective, and we have to invest the money needed to do that.

The Conservative ideology was bolstered by the arrival of a large number of refugees, which received extensive media coverage. The Conservatives decided to make this their priority and to set aside all the opportunities they had to modernize the current process through Bill C-11.

This does not bode well for future discussions. In fact, the legal vacuum created for this category of designated foreign nationals, who are not yet classified as refugees, keeps these designated foreigners in legal limbo for five years, when they file a claim for refugee or protected person status. During that time, they cannot apply for permanent residence or family reunification. Consequently, they cannot sponsor members of their family or their spouse. Furthermore, they are not free to move or to enjoy all the rights that other claimants may have.

As I mentioned, Canada's international and constitutional obligations are important. Not only does this bill run counter to its international obligations under at least three treaties it has signed, but it also contravenes the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states in subsection 15(1):

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Which includes how they get to Canada.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, about Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act.

It is important to clearly understand the objectives of this bill. One of the objectives is to allow the public safety minister to designate as irregular an arrival in Canada of a group of persons, who are categorized as “designated foreign nationals”. Designated foreign nationals who claim refugee or protected person status will be treated differently from other asylum seekers.

That is the reality. My Conservative colleagues are trying to tell us that this bill is meant to crack down on human smugglers, but its real objective is to create two categories of refugees, or rather a new category for designated foreign nationals. That is the reality.

Again, the Bloc Québécois will not support Bill C-49 and will vote against it, because it aims to do more than just crack down on human smugglers. It will punish people who are fleeing persecution, including children. Once again, the Conservatives are using a specific example from recent events—which made headlines in Quebec and Canada—to advance their law and order agenda, even though the measures they are proposing will not change the situation. The reality is that these people have arrived, they are here and the bill will not change anything in terms of the situation that unfolded when the last boat arrived in British Columbia.

The Bloc Québécois therefore opposes any new refugee category that would be justified only by the manner in which refugee claimants arrive. The fact that claimants arrive in a group does not mean they are not legitimate refugees. The Bloc Québécois believes that a new category that puts even heavier burdens on refugees would be prejudicial. We also deplore the fact that this government is backtracking, after a compromise had been reached on refugee reform. For years now, we have been calling for the refugee system to be updated and for the creation of an appeal system. We had nearly reached an agreement with the government, but instead it has decided to push ahead with its agenda rather than a compromise, because of a media event.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe it is simply inconceivable that all refugee claimants who arrive in a group can automatically be imprisoned for a maximum of 12 months, with no possibility of disputing their arrest. Worse still, according to the bill, that period can be extended indefinitely. This is a matter of fundamental human rights and democracy, specifically, the right to liberty. No human being should have to face such a situation.

This bill on illegal immigration goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as Canada's international obligations under the 1951 refugee convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Bloc Québécois believes that it would be completely irresponsible to vote in favour of a bill that flies in the face of at least three treaties meant to protect fundamental human rights.

For years, the governments, Liberal and Conservative alike, have allowed the current refugee system to get bogged down without doing anything about it. The thing that should be noted about this alarming statement is that this is not the first time the Conservative government has tried to resolve the problem by tightening the rules around asylum seekers coming to Canada. Take, for instance, the decision to require visas from Mexicans and foreign nationals from the Czech Republic, or the government's unwavering desire to develop a list of safe countries of origin as part of the refugee system reform. We do indeed detect, in the development of immigration policies, a discriminatory tendency to want to close the borders, including to those who are seeking refugee status. The proof is in the targeted range for total protected persons, which went from between 26,000 and 31,800 in 2008 to between 19,600 and 26,000 in 2010, not to mention the growing use of propaganda rhetoric that, in the name of national security, is used to justify taking a hard-line approach to this category of immigrants.

Although the government is saying it wants to punish human smugglers with this bill, it is instead punishing people who are fleeing persecution, including children. Once again, the government is being utterly discriminatory toward these refugees and is putting words into action to separate what it considers to be good refugees from bad refugees, as though their lives were not equally threatened.

The current system is bogged down because no one wanted to modernize it. When refugees arrive in large numbers, the government's tendency, which was solidified under the Liberals and confirmed by the Conservatives, is to tighten the system and prohibit them from entering the country. Under international treaties that Canada has signed, refugees deserve at least to have their file reviewed. Will we keep them all here? Not at all. Far from it. We will offer hospitality to those who truly need it and who are being persecuted in their home country, but we have to develop an effective file analysis system that respects human rights.

The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly shown the House that the existing system should be updated. The Liberals did not want to do it. The Conservatives appeared to want to do it—we hoped so, at least—but the Minister of Immigration was rebuffed with this bill, which flatly rejects everything he had put in place through discussions and negotiations to change the existing system. By creating a new class of refugees or foreign nationals requesting asylum, they are rejecting all improvements to the existing system.

I will now turn to security. When the MV Sun Sea arrived, the government issued a barrage of public statements positioning the arrival of boats as a threat to the security of Quebeckers and Canadians. As it turns out, those statements were unfounded. True to their ideology, the Conservatives used a widely reported event to promote their own political law and order agenda. There was no reason to believe that the arrival of the MV Sun Sea posed a threat to the security of Quebeckers and Canadians.

Under the existing law, any asylum seeker arriving by boat must be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. Canada's waters are under the authority of the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA, which has the power to detain asylum seekers if there are any doubts about their identity and to oppose their release before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Immigration Division.

Some of the other 76 Tamils from Sri Lanka who arrived last year aboard the Ocean Lady and requested asylum remained behind bars for more than six months. None of them were found to be members of the Tamil Tigers or any similar organization. They were eventually released once the CBSA found that they were not a threat to national security.

Let us not forget that the 492 passengers aboard the MV Sun Sea accounted for less than 2% of the asylum requests received annually. The record, 5%, occurred in 1999, when four boats arrived carrying 600 asylum seekers. In 2010, the number of requests should be around 25,000, the lowest average in the past 20 years.

Arguments to the effect that the arrival of huge numbers of refugees poses a threat to public safety do not hold up. They certainly do not justify passing a bill that treats refugee claimants so harshly. We are not saying that smugglers should not be punished. However, this bill punishes legitimate refugee claimants. That is the problem. In addition, we feel that the existing act has all the mechanisms required to manage the arrival of these boats.

Why create a new category? The Conservatives simply decided to advance their ideological agenda.

Let us examine the compromise struck by Bill C-11. The Conservative government seems to be obsessed with classifying refugee claimants based on their numbers or origin. Such a measure was widely denounced when Bill C-11 on reform of the asylum system was studied. Initially, the federal government wanted especially to implement the concept of designated countries. Failed claimants from countries deemed to be safe would not have had access to the new refugee appeal division, a measure deemed extremely discriminatory by the Bloc Québécois.

The Conservative government insisted on this country classification. It said that, if this measure was not accepted, it would scuttle its own bill. Imagine. By making a strong case for refugee rights to the government and the other parties, the Bloc Québécois helped members reach a last-minute compromise designed to produce a reform that was truly effective and, even more importantly, fair to all asylum seekers.

Once again, it is important to understand that under international treaties that Canada has signed or recognized—and that Quebec would have signed if it were a country—all refugee claimants are treated with respect and have the right to be treated fairly, no matter their country of origin.

Even though the concept of designated countries still exists, this division will be accessible to everyone, including claimants from the designated countries. To compensate for that, two other expediting mechanisms were put in place. That was the compromise with Bill C-11. If the Refugee Protection Division rejects a claim for refugee protection, it may state in its reasons for the decision that the claim is manifestly unfounded if it is of the opinion that the claim is clearly fraudulent. Unsuccessful claims submitted by claimants from the same country that are referred to the RAD would then be expedited. There will be regulations regarding the processing times for refugee claimants from a designated country. They will be shorter than for regular claims so that claimants who file unfounded claims can be deported as quickly as possible.

The Bloc Québécois cannot believe that the government has decided to take a step backwards, when a compromise had been made regarding the reform of the current refugee system. In fact, with Bill C-49, the government is creating a new category of refugee, based solely on the way the refugee claimant arrives. That is what is unacceptable.

The Bloc Québécois agreed to make compromises on Bill C-11. The government wanted safe countries. For those arriving from these countries, there was no division that applied, while for those not arriving from safe countries, there was a division that did not apply. All the government said was that the same standards apply to everyone, but for certain countries, the processing time would be shorter. Obviously, that was a compromise that the Bloc Québécois could accept, given the Conservatives' intransigence. Now, the government has changed its mind and is ignoring all of the debates and forcing Bill C-49 on us, because there was a story in the news that gave the government the opportunity to advance its ideological agenda, whether it will admit it or not. Once again, I was listening to the Conservative member who spoke before me. He made it clear that the goal was to combat illegal smuggling, but the real goal is to create a system that treats refugee claimants differently when they arrive by that means.

So there is a new category. The Minister of Public Safety, citizens of the world—

Infrastructure October 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, for years, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for a fair infrastructure program. The president of the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, Bernard Généreux, made some excellent comments about the deadlines. I would like to put his question to the minister.

What difference would it make to the federal government if the amounts committed were used past the set deadline, so that these projects can be completed?

Infrastructure October 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, this is the only party in the House that rises every day to defend the interests of Quebec. That is the truth.

Municipalities in Quebec want the government to push back the deadlines for infrastructure projects. The mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, said, “municipalities answered the call when it was time to implement the plan. Now, they are hoping that the government...will answer the call by heeding their demands for more flexibility.”

Why does the minister not push back the deadlines, as called for by municipalities in Quebec and by the National Assembly?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act October 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. He was against the free trade agreement with Barbados for the same reason we are discussing today.

At the time, the most powerful and most significant lobbyist was the Prime Minister of Canada; he had interests in Barbados. I can understand why friends of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party force the government to sign a free trade with a country, when signing such an agreement legalizes the business they do with that country.

I am very surprised. The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party say we will improve the treaty in committee, but there is nothing to improve. Either we sign a tax information exchange agreement before signing the free trade agreement, or we do not. There is no room for negotiation. That is how it works all over the world. The OECD is asking that exchange agreements on personal information, tax information in particular, be signed.

The Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, on behalf of a few of their supporters who will make money in Panama, a known tax haven, are thumbing their noses at the right approach to politics, an approach the Bloc Québécois has been using since it arrived in the House in 1993 and the approach the NDP seems to be using.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act October 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, at a time of financial crisis and stock market crisis, I can understand why the Americans do not want to sign or ratify any agreements with countries that are known tax havens.

I appreciate my colleague's question. Of course he was on the Liberals' side back when he was defending the treaty with Barbados, which is also a tax haven. I am very disappointed that the Liberals are siding with the Conservatives and have not examined their consciences regarding some of the bad decisions they made when they were in power. Once again, the Liberals are not offering any change. It is not surprising that they are having such a hard time these days, and it will only get worse in the weeks and months to come.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act October 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-46, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

This is important because we are talking about the position of the Conservatives and the Liberals. The people who are watching have seen what their position is. The main reason why the Bloc Québécois is opposed to this agreement and will not support it is that Panama is on the OECD grey list of tax havens.

I will read the four OECD criteria for determining whether a country is a tax haven: nil or nominal taxation; a lack of transparency; laws or administrative practices that prevent the effective exchange of information; and indications that the country is attempting to attract investments that are purely tax-driven and not for economic activity.

One way a country can deal with one of these criteria is to sign a tax information exchange agreement with other countries, and that is what the Bloc Québécois is calling for. The European Union and the United States are working to that end. They have shown that they want to sign a free trade agreement with Panama, but they are dragging their feet because, with the recent financial crisis, the leaders of those countries are very reluctant to develop trade with countries that promote tax evasion. That is a fact.

I understand that the Liberals support this agreement because, when they were in power, they led the way with this sort of agreement. None other than the Liberal leader, who was the prime minister of Canada at the time, promoted a free trade agreement with Barbados. His own companies benefited and got huge tax breaks. The problem is that, when we ratify an agreement with Panama, we will be telling Canadian companies that if they set up a subsidiary that has its own income in Panama, they will not have to declare that income here in Canada.

We do not want that. We do not want the government to encourage Canadian companies to evade taxes and use their income to create subsidiaries in Panama just so they can avoid declaring that income here in Canada. Why would they not do that if there were an agreement that let them do business with Panama? And to top it all off, it would be legal to create subsidiaries whose declared income would not come back to Canada.

What the Bloc Québécois is asking for is simple. We want a tax information exchange agreement, which is what the OECD calls for. Such an agreement must not exempt Canadian subsidiaries in Panama from income tax. This would be equitable and logical.

All the taxpayers here in Canada pay their taxes and work hard to pay those taxes. They are seeing their pension income decrease. It is happening, and the media are telling us that the main pension funds have a solvency ratio of 87%, which means they have a shortfall of 13%.

I think that the people of Quebec and Canada should expect the government not to sign trade or free trade agreements with countries that are on the OECD's list of tax havens. This is not Canada's list; it is the OECD's. In response to that, the Conservatives told us today, through the parliamentary secretary, that the Minister of Finance wrote a letter to the leaders of Panama. He told them that they must do what is necessary to be removed from the OECD's list of tax havens.

A lot of good that does to have the Minister of Finance write a letter. They will take that letter and file it away in the circular file. Thank you very much. Why? Simply because being a tax haven has its advantages. That is the reality. These countries have no intention of co-operating, and that is why Panama is on the OECD's grey list of tax havens. If Panama had wanted to co-operate in the past, if it had wanted to be respectful of other countries, it would not be on the grey list of tax havens.

Why does the government want to sign an agreement at any cost and as quickly as possible, if not to encourage Canadian businesses to set up subsidiaries there? Sure, they want to do business in Panama, but by setting up subsidiaries that will enable them to evade taxes on their revenues.

The Liberal member says that we can discuss this in committee, but a discussion will not work. Either we sign an information exchange agreement that prohibits tax evasion by Canadian companies or we do not sign the free trade agreement with Panama.

The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party want to sign the agreement anyway, without requiring a tax information exchange agreement and without requiring that Canadian companies not establish subsidiaries, whose revenue they would not have to declare in Canada. This inevitably encourages tax evasion. What will happen? The same thing that has happened over the past two months. At France's request, the HSBC Bank had to provide a list of clients with Swiss bank accounts, which included some Canadians. Canada did not care. In the past, the Liberals did not care, just as the Conservatives do not care now. France did care because the French people were tired of paying taxes while the rich evaded taxes.

Today, Canada has had to come around because we have a minority government. The Conservatives were afraid of paying the political price. Canadians on the list given to France are being asked to pay up. We know very well that tax evasion is a Criminal Code offence. However, the Conservative government has not indicated that people who evaded taxes will face criminal sanctions.

Today, the Conservative Party, supported by the Liberals, will sign a free trade agreement, supposedly for the sake of potential trade between Canada and Panama. By the way, Panama is a small country. That is not the issue. Yes, we can do business with Panama, just as we can with other countries. It is worthwhile. However, we cannot do business with a tax haven and legalize it in an agreement, in an international treaty, that would allow our Canadian and Quebec companies to create subsidiaries that would be exempt from paying tax on their Canadian revenue. We would be encouraging them to evade tax.

The Bloc Québécois stands up for all Quebeckers, not for the few rich people who might take the opportunity to establish subsidiaries in Panama and, with the free trade agreement, legalize the situation. That is what the Liberals did with Barbados when then prime minister, Paul Martin, had interests in that country. He signed a free trade agreement with Barbados to legalize his own personal business. The Conservatives are doing the same thing for some of their friends.

I find that sad. Quebeckers and Canadians work too hard in order to pay their taxes to then have a few rich and privileged people do business with a tax haven and establish subsidiaries that they would then be allowed to use to hide revenues that should be declared in Canada and therefore taxed in Canada. It is simple: when a subsidiary is established in a tax haven, which, as the OECD explains, imposes no or only nominal taxes, the company pays no tax on business done with that country. In this case, the country we are talking about is Panama. And the company would be crazy not to do this, because the Conservative Party, with support from the Liberals, would ratify this agreement without requiring a tax information exchange agreement, which the Bloc Québécois and the OECD are calling for, and without requiring that tax-exempt revenues be covered by this agreement. A company that establishes a subsidiary in Panama would then be subject to Canadian laws and tax rates, not Panamanian tax rates. This would be a good way for Canadians and Quebeckers to do business.

This would also be a good way for the public to know that everyone doing business with Panama is paying their fair share of taxes, just like the citizens. Once again, the Conservatives are succumbing to the Liberal phobia of allowing the rich to avoid paying taxes.