The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read a second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, Bill should be a law that protects Canadians, a law that finally addresses past injustices. Unfortunately, the very opposite is true. This bill attacks the civil rights of Canadians. Never has a bill been such a huge disappointment.
For example, I shall quote Sir Winston Churchill who, during the Anzio Battle, said to an American general who had not been very active: “I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.” The whale, in this case, is Bill , a piece of legislation that in no way corresponds to what Canada needs. I will give three reasons for this.
Canada is a country in which the rule of law prevails. When someone does something wrong, he can expect to have justice meted out to him—this is true for everyone, not just those people that the Conservatives consider a little dangerous. It seems that the political powers that be are still intent on meddling in the management of immigration issues. People want the exact opposite of this bill. They do not want any more political interference in immigration matters. There has been far too much interference in the past, and as a result, what we need now is new legislation, and not simply a rehashing of old ideas from old governments.
We are seeing an increasingly arbitrary concentration of powers in the hands of the minister. The minister now not only wields political power, he also wants to wield legal power. As Machiavelli once said, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What we are seeing in Canada is a government that interferes in immigration matters and merges electoral partisanship with legal duty. This problem should have been fixed; unfortunately, it is being perpetuated.
Bar associations and stakeholders in the legal community and the field of immigration rights have criticized the concentration of political power in the hands of the minister. They all agree that we should not do this, that we should do exactly the opposite. Some even say that the minister has discretionary power to determine the inadmissibility of a deportee’s family members. This is absolute discretionary power. If you are nice, if you look good for the media, and if you could be useful during a campaign, the minister will support you. And if not, it is a pity, but you will suffer the consequences.
As Montesquieu noted, there is no liberty if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. These basic democratic principles, these fundamental principles of our Constitution state that the legislative branch must be separate from the judiciary and from the executive branch. In this case, the government is trying to do exactly the opposite.
The government also wants to do away with the minister's responsibility to examine humanitarian considerations. Generally, in a judicial process, the whole file is considered so that a fair decision can be handed down. That is the normal judicial process. That is what we expected, but the government is doing the opposite. The most essential and most basic rights are being attacked, and this poorly conceived, poorly executed piece of legislation is going to be the subject of a court challenge. And once again, the government will lose, like it loses time and time again. It is a bad piece of legislation.
They were asked to stand up for Canada. What are they doing? The opposite: attacking Canadians. They are attacking their notion of the law.
They are attacking their right to a fair judgment.
Legal proceedings are an essential part of the legislation. However, in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, commission members are appointed in haste, based on their ability to raise money for a political party, based on their personal friendships. This was already the case under the former government of a former political party.
The Conservatives are repeating the same mistakes, all the while saying that they will be tough on crime. No, this is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. We are asking for qualified individuals with solid legal training to make solid judgments. What are they doing? It is mediocrity at its finest: they are doing nothing. They are repeating the same mistakes that were made in the past. It is disastrous. We have never seen anything so pathetic.
It was proven that, upon reading the same legislation, some commission members accepted 98% of refugees, while a certain other commission member, in accordance with the same act, accepted only 2%. On the face of it, it is clear that this formula is not worth very much.
Cases of corruption have not just been pointed out, but they have been proven in court. These people have been convicted, found guilty of corruption beyond a shadow of a doubt. No corrections are made. We are asking for judges to be appointed, individuals who have judicial independence. Once again, they are appointing officials, friends, people who may not even be qualified. The government is not proving that they are qualified.
Once again, they are deciding to do the same things as in the past, with the same flaws, and they are going a step further by saying that they are going to fix the situation. Unfortunately, nothing at all is being fixed.
Now comes the third point, namely, whom they are targeting. All Canadian citizens who were not born in Canada may feel threatened. But that is where the major problem comes in. We are expecting a "Rizzuto" law. Mr. Rizzuto committed murders and is now in prison. He was not born in Canada, but he comes back here and everyone knows it. What is he going to do? He is going to commit murders. The police know it, all the criminal law experts know it. He comes to avenge his father and son, who were killed in a gang war.
We had hoped that this government, which claims to be tough on crime, would prevent individuals like that from coming to spread poison into our lives. But no, it seems to be clear that they are going after the little fish, the petty crooks, the small-time drug dealers, the people who get six months in jail. Yes, they have to be deported, but let us not forget the big fish, the people who bring in cocaine by the container-load. We are forgetting them, we are ignoring them.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Alain Giguère: So my words are shocking, are they? Well, good, because Canadians too are shocked to see that people like that are coming into Canada with a form of immunity. How many big Mafia bosses that are known to us in Canada have been deported? Zero.
Judge Falcone, an Italian anti-Mafia judge, used to say that organized crime could not grow if it did not have political protection. Has the government agreed to become that political protection? We know that political protection existed in the past. We know that the RCMP even said not to accept a certain individual as a minister. He became a minister in a previous government.
So we are asking the Conservatives to make an effort in that area, to allow no more Conrad Blacks, no more people who give up their Canadian citizenship in order to get a British title, but who come back to Canada once they are sentenced to jail. Let us be tough on crime once more.
This government and some of its elected members are clearly fleeing their posts in the face of the enemy. Our enemy is serious criminality. With this bill, they have surrendered.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join today's debate on Bill an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The government has tagged it with new lines, calling it the faster removal of foreign criminals act. It is unfortunate that these types of titles have now been introduced into legislation that is supposed to be very serious. This one is very serious. It is a continuation of our immigration drift.
We are going to support the bill to get it to committee because as New Democrats we believe our immigration system is fundamentally flawed and broken, and we are open to discussing how to improve it in any capacity. Some of the issues in the bill are going to be raised, and we will have some good expert testimony at committee to talk about these issues.
It is important to note that our immigration system is necessary in our country for us to function in an economic democracy. We do not have a population that can sustain itself alone.
We have been founded on the principles of multiculturalism and openness. That is changing because we are slowly eroding our immigration system. In fact, even in Windsor West, the riding I represent, I have an immigration office. The doors are shut. People cannot go there to get help on their immigration files.
Karen Boyce and Ian Bawden are in my office. Karen has been with me for 10 years and is finally going to retire at the end of December. I thank her for her commitment in all the cases she has strove through. In fact, many times on her own time she would actually get up in the middle of the night to call an embassy somewhere else to try to get paperwork or something processed. She would do that, literally, all the time. That is how dedicated she is. She has fought many times to have children pulled off planes, who were going to be deported to countries of which they never were actually part. They were born in Canada and their parents had been denied or their process for humanitarian grounds had not been accepted.
It is unfortunate, because when we look at an economy like ours in Windsor, it is critical that we have these processing issues taken care of rather quickly because we have so many people who cross the border into the United States.
I always use this example because I think it is important. We have a lot of doctors and other professionals who are not recognized in Canada and in Ontario who end up working over in Detroit, Michigan, and bringing that economic income stream back to our area. Ironically, sometimes when our hospitals are full here, or there is a specialty that we do not have, we send Canadian citizens over to those hospitals where they can be treated by the doctor who is not trusted over here in Canada. It is ironic that we pay a premium for it.
What is important is that we have many people who cannot get to their jobs until their actual immigration and processing have been completed. Often if we do not solve these cases they can lose those jobs. Those jobs are critical for our economy. The Canadian economy is not having the rebound we want, and I see it every single day on the streets of Windsor, so any extra employment that we can access in the United States is important. It has been a common thing that we have been doing for many years. It is one of the reasons we have a strong and healthy relationship. It is a symbiotic relationship between the Detroit greater region and Windsor Essex County. In fact it makes it a good economic strong hub. Part of that is the ability to traverse back and forth. Our immigration system is not contributing to success.
One of features of the bill that gives me some cause for concern is the concentration of power into the minister's office. At any time he can revoke or shorten the effective period of declaration for admissibility. That is one particular example.
The reason I am concerned is that I remember during the debate on Bill , which was a refugee act that was changed, listening to the minister and the government members. The words they were using on Bill C-31 about the refugees in general were “protection”, “take advantage”, “security of population“, “abuse”, “crackdown” and “bogus”. With that type of tone, what are we going to have out of a minister's office that is going to have more capabilities and less control on oversight if that is the general theme and attitude about refugees?
I want to name a few refugees to Canada, because it is important to put a human face on our refugees. They are people like K'naan. He was born in Somalia. He spent his childhood in Mogadishu, lived there during the Somalia civil war and came to Canada in 1991. Is a person like that a threat? He is a refugee.
How about Adrienne Clarkson, our former Governor General of Canada? She emigrated from Hong Kong as a refugee in 1942. She came here, making her mark and contributing to Canada.
Fedor Bohatirchuk, a chess grandmaster who has since passed away, was persecuted in the Ukraine. He came to Canada and contributed for many years.
Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief, is an interesting one. He left America for Canada as a holy man who led his people as a tribal chief during the years of resistance in the United States. Sitting Bull eventually came to Canada from the United States and became a successful citizen.
In looking at some of these issues, I want to touch on one of the points that has been made with respect to criminal activity. Some of the comments that have been made by professionals are important.
Michael Bossin, a refugee lawyer in Ottawa, spoke about how those who have been convicted of an offence, even a small or lesser offence, can now be deported outside of the country, which will put them further at risk or in trouble. I used to work at the Multicultural Council. I had a program called youth in action. I will talk a bit about that in a minute. However, I want to mention that when refugees or youth commit crimes it is sometimes a cry for help; sometimes it can be due to mental health; sometimes it is just a really bad mistake; sometimes they do not have medication and it could be due to psychological issues that are taking place. When they get into programs that assist those people, they actually become better citizens and better people who are more engaged and contribute to society on a regular basis.
The issue of mental health in the general Canadian public is swept aside, let alone when it involves those who are involved in a criminal activity. It is important for judges to have more flexibility to be able to determine the case. Before I get into the work we used to do, I want to say that our judicial system has made some terrible mistakes. It is not perfect. Mistakes can be made when decisions are being made with respect to people. Maybe information is not presented properly, did not get there or was inadmissible. As we know, those who have money will get the best lawyer they can because they want the best representation. How many refugees in Canada are walking around with a pile of cash and can hire the best lawyer? I have often seen this issue come through my office. It is horrible that people have spent money on lawyers by borrowing it from other people or using credit cards and other types of things, which they find very difficult to repay because they do not have that economic stream going at the moment, and that puts them in an even worse situation. That is the harsh reality of our judicial system.
I want to talk a bit about the Multicultural Council program that I ran. We had 16 to 18 youth at risk between the ages of 18 to 30. I know they are called youth, but it went all the way up to age 30. However, they were usually in the 20-year range. We had eight Canadians who had been in Canada basically all of their lives, who had made mistakes that created a problem by way of a minor fine, a penalty or a criminal record. Then there were eight new people who had just immigrated to Canada. We mixed them together to create a program called multicultural youth in action wherein they did community work, learned all kinds of life skills and conducted interviews. We had an over 90% success rate at getting them back into school and/or employment. When we think about it, that program ran for several years and was very successful.
I will conclude with this. What we were able to do with some of those youth, and I say some because we could not get them all, was save taxpayers money because they were not going back into the judicial system or going into the penal system, where they would actually learn more behaviours and take a longer time to be rehabilitated, as opposed to paying the price for what they had done and learning to contribute as a citizen.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill , which proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
As my colleagues before me indicated, we will support the bill at second reading, but this support is far from being a blank cheque. Bill C-43 has a number of significant shortcomings that will need to be addressed in committee. On this side of the House, we want to co-operate with the government to make Bill C-43 a fairer and more balanced bill.
Canadians expect us to be capable of reaching compromises. Compromises are at the core of a democratic system such as Canada's. Refusing to compromise is tantamount to failing to fulfill one's democratic obligations. Since the last election, our colleagues opposite have too often shown themselves to be closed off to dialogue and compromise. This is very regrettable. I sincerely hope that that will change.
Canadians want us to impose tough penalties on non-Canadians who commit serious crimes in Canada. I am certain that law-abiding newcomers to Canada—and it is important to say that they are almost all law-abiding—share our opinion.
What people in this country are asking for is a guarantee that our judicial system is efficient and sufficiently flexible when it comes time to return criminals who do not have Canadian citizenship to their countries of origin. Canadians especially want the government to invest more energy in ensuring that applications by newcomers are processed more quickly and more efficiently. The Conservatives should go to greater lengths to ensure, for example, that these people can be reunited with members of their family as quickly as possible.
As I said earlier, I have several reservations concerning the content of this bill. For example, I have trouble understanding the reasons for the new discretionary powers being given to the minister. If Bill were to come into force tomorrow morning, the minister would have the power to declare that a foreign national may not become a temporary resident if he considers that it is justified by public policy considerations. However, one of the problems with this proposal is that the concept of public policy considerations is not defined. This opens the door to very different interpretations of what may constitute public policy considerations. This must be addressed.
I also have a lot of trouble understanding the presence of a clause that relieves the minister of his responsibility to examine the humanitarian circumstances associated with the application of a foreign national deemed inadmissible. I would like someone to explain the reason for this measure to me. I do not understand why humanitarian and compassionate grounds would not be taken to consideration in a review. Is that really the Canada that we want?
One of the biggest problems with this bill is that it severely limits access to the appeals process. We all agree that our appeal system must not be exploited in order to deliberately delay the removal of a non-resident to his country of origin, but the measures contained in Bill should not limit human rights.
The Conservatives have promoted their bill by speaking almost exclusively about the fact that it will speed up the deportation of dangerous offenders. However, Bill C-43 casts a far wider net than that. Among other things, it redefines serious crimes.
Under the present system, an individual who has committed a crime punishable by two years or more has no access to the appeal process. Bill wants to lower the bar to crimes punishable by six months or more. As a result, a lot more people will be denied the opportunity to appeal a decision made in their case.
Let us be clear. I am not fundamentally opposed to tightening the definition of “serious criminality”.
One benefit would be to take in crimes like sexual assault and robbery, which in itself is a good thing. However, I think we have to be vigilant and make sure the new definition does not lead to poorly thought out decisions.
One thing I am concerned about is what effects the new system of minimum sentences provided in Bill might have on decisions to be made in removal cases.
Some crimes covered by that new system are non-violent crimes. So we have to be careful when it comes to limiting access to the appeal process. The restriction in the legislation must not be extended too far by Bill . Yes, we have to stop non-citizens who have committed serious crimes from abusing our appeal system. But we also have to be sure that we take an intelligent approach to all of this. We really have to preserve a balance. Most importantly, we have to be able to guarantee that the right decision will be made in each removal case.
The appeal mechanism is a useful tool for that purpose. Why would we take it away? We will have to pay particular attention to this issue once it gets to committee.
So far, we have heard the Conservatives telling us over and over that it is easy for non-citizens to avoid deportation: all they have to do is not commit serious crimes. I would hope so, but honestly, in real life, things are not necessarily black and white. We all know that reality is more complex than that. Bill should be constructed in a way that reflects that complexity.
For example, what do we do with offenders who came to Canada at a very young age and who know nothing about the country they are to be deported to? Some organizations have raised concerns on this point, but that is not a factor to be considered under Bill .
In the NDP, we want to work with the government to prevent non-citizens who have committed serious crimes from abusing our appeal system. However, we do not want the mechanisms that make it possible for our system to deal with extraordinary circumstances in a flexible manner to be eliminated.
Like the government, we want our judicial system to be effective and to make it possible for non-citizens who have committed serious crimes to be removed as soon as possible, but we do not want to have botched, unbalanced processes that do not take special situations into account. Wanting to expedite the removal of foreign criminals is a laudable objective in itself, but we have to make sure the process leading to removal does not violate the person’s rights. In our society, we have a duty to make decisions that are just and that recognize everyone’s rights.
Bill is a bill on which we can and must build. As I said earlier, we will support it at second reading, but we have to rework it. We will all benefit from being able to hear what the experts and representatives of organizations that specialize in these issues have to say.
Mr. Speaker, Bill , which we are debating, is a bill amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
First, I would like to say that the New Democrats acknowledge that the judicial process must be effective and flexible when it comes to removing dangerous criminals who are not Canadian citizens.
Canadians want strict measures to be taken against non-citizens who commit serious and often violent offences in our communities. Newcomers, most of whom are law-abiding, would be the first to accept this approach.
What I really like about this bill is the clause that will ensure that entering Canada because of organized criminal activity is not in itself enough for a person to be deemed inadmissible for permanent residency and Canadian citizenship, which is great news for victims of trafficking rings who are anything but criminals.
On the other hand, I find some things in this bill quite disturbing. The first one is the minister’s discretionary power to decide whether or not some people represent a threat to national security and the national interest. In fact, this bill increases the arbitrary powers given to the minister. For example, Bill gives the minister vast powers that enable him to prevent a foreign national from entering or leaving the country, or declare someone inadmissible based on public policy considerations we think are ambiguous.
We must strengthen the independence of the judicial system, not give the minister the ability to decide who enters and leaves Canada. The last thing our immigration system needs is to be even more politicized.
Canada has an efficient and independent system to determine the admissibility of people into the country. There is no point in replacing it with the whims of a minister. The minister must not be able to prevent people entering the country just because they disagree with the government. It is ridiculous to think that giving the minister more power will solve anything.
Another problem comes from the fact that the provisions of Bill will apply to people who have been found guilty of serious crimes abroad, as well as in Canada. Canada has one of the world’s best justice systems. Other countries are not so lucky. In many countries, merely belonging to an opposition party may lead to a conviction on serious criminal charges. There is no better illustration of the importance of the rule of law.
We must ensure that Canada remains a country that welcomes and offers hope to people who are fleeing persecution in other lands.
That said, I do think it reasonable to ensure that people guilty of sexual assault or robbery with violence are not running loose on our streets.
In view of the change in the definition of “serious criminality”, the change from the criterion of a two-year sentence to a six-month sentence, and since crimes committed abroad would be considered, the professionals who work with immigrants, refugees and the diasporas have also expressed their concerns that this legislation may unjustly punish young people and the mentally ill.
Therefore, the impact of this provision must be carefully studied to ensure that the measures truly achieve their goal, to prevent dangerous people from entering Canada.
Another thing that disturbs me in this bill—and in the government’s policy in general—is the image of immigrants they have created. The bills are trumpeted as if immigrants were a great threat to the country or as if all immigrants were potential criminals, when almost all immigrants to Canada are people who are seeking a better life and a better future and who, like all other Canadians, want to live in a safe environment.
I am an immigrant. I chose Quebec and Canada to live and raise my family, and I am very happy to be involved in my community in Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. I made this particular choice because I wanted a safe environment for my family, and I have found it here.
Immigrating is not easy, particularly if you are not coming to join family members who are already here. You have to start from zero. You have to find a place to live, and furnish it. You have to find a school for your children. You have to get your diplomas recognized, and in my case that was a nightmare. Finding a job is also a major challenge. A 2010 study shows that the unemployment rate is four times higher among immigrants with a university diploma than among university graduates born in Canada.
The last thing immigrants need is to be stigmatized and have a “potential criminal” aura, which would make it even more difficult for them to integrate and contribute to society in Quebec and Canada. The government has got to abandon the rhetoric that puts all immigrants in the same basket. People in my riding are already telling me disturbing stories about how they are treated and the perception others may have of them, simply because they have come from somewhere else.
That said, we must not ignore the problems that exist. We simply have to be sure our response is measured. As they say where I come from, you do not use a hammer, or a cannon, to kill a mosquito.
I know we can stop non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeal process without denying their rights. We, and the government, have to focus on improving the immigration system so it is faster and fairer for the large majority of people who do not commit crimes and who follow the rules.
I would point out again that the very large majority of people who come to Canada are not criminals. They are people who hope to contribute to society and build a better world. More often than not, they are even professionals and highly educated people.
In closing, I want to say that the question of health care for refugees is still an issue and is still important. The government probably wants us to forget the cuts it has made to that program. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the College of Family Physicians of Canada, who asked me to keep up the fight for health care for refugees. I want to remind the government that we in the NDP are not forgetting this.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to add my comments to the debate.
We have said that we will support sending the bill to committee. Obviously a lot more information is needed. That has come out in the comments already, and I expect will continue for the balance of the afternoon.
As the government has heard, we have some strong feelings about this issue. We have further strong feels and concerns about why the Conservatives do this, the way they do it, the language they use and what their real intentions are. That comes from experience, watching the government in action.
However, we will be fair-minded and even-handed, but we will stand by the principles we believe in on the issue of new Canadians and those who are on the path to become new Canadians.
Let me say parenthetically before I get into the substantive part of my comments, let us recognize again that every jurisdiction in the country, whether it is federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, regional, townships or counties, recognizes that attracting new Canadians to our country is not just a Canadian value, which would be enough for most of us on this side of the House, but it is a necessary component of our ability to move forward and have the kind of economy that will provide the jobs and quality of life that we have come to enjoy, that we want to continue and that we want to make better for our children and our grandchildren.
We need to be the country in the world that everybody else looks to and says, “There is where I want to go. That is the country I want to go to because of the values of the country, the opportunities it would give me”. More than anything, I think it is fair to say most of those people would be thinking that this is where they want their children and grandchildren to be raised, to give them the maximum opportunity. It matters when we have these debates. It matters what language we use, because we send messages when we do that.
For the longest time, for the whole time I have been at the federal order of government, there has been a growing recognition that more and more new Canadians who come here find that the jobs they were told would be here are not, that the profession they were told they could continue in is no longer possible. When they see all the promises that have been made are not real, many of them do not stay.
Far too many are making the decision down the road, after six, 12, 18, 24, 36 months, that Canada is not what they thought it would be, that it is not the dream they thought they would live and they are sending that message back to their home country, to their family members and their friends and their colleagues, those who want to come to Canada because it is the place to be. They are being told that they might just want to slow down a bit because it is not always that way.
That kind of messaging is antithesis of what we need to send out if we are to attract the kind of new Canadians we want to come in here to be a part of our great nation and to help us fulfill and finish the job of building the kind of Canada that we want for our children and our grandchildren. This is the wrong message when we use language like this. The Conservatives love to say, “foreigners, criminals, crack down”.
I lived through eight years of that under Premier Mike Harris. It was the same language, the same hot button politics. It is not a coincidence that up until recently the chief of staff to the was the chief of staff to Mike Harris, or that three of the senior members of this current government were senior members of the Mike Harris government. Therefore, I have seen and heard a lot of this before.
It took a while, but eventually Ontarians got the message and understood what was really going on behind the names of bills that were the opposite of what they really would do, throwing out hot button words, trying to create emotions, moving people by emotion rather than reason. These were all good political ploys, but at the end of the day, Canadians figured it out and when they did, that premier could not face the electorate in the next election. In my opinion he was so unpopular that he had to step down and another fellow stepped in, but people knew by then it was not really just the leader, it was the whole government and the whole approach. Ontarians threw them out, and according to recent polls, they are not looking to bring them back any time soon.
A lot of my concern is about that kind of thing. We will have a lot more time at committee to look into these issues, that is why we sent things to committee. Hopefully we have an intelligent review, bring in experts, let the public hear and read what we read and then make our deliberations and decisions. Canadians can draw their conclusions and decide whether they want to send each of us back here or not.
It will not come as a big shock that my first concern is loading up another minister with even more power. I realize that the concept of benevolent dictator exists and one can only hope, but that is all we are left with is hope. That is not really the way we do things in Canada. Removing checks and balances, making decisions unilaterally, pushing more into the political arena, sometimes these are the right things to do, but we have real concerns about it in this application. Again, that is why we want to send it to committee so we can look at these issues.
Make no mistake, there are many Canadians right now if asked point-blank would they be in favour of giving the Prime Minister's ministers more power, yes or no, some would say yes, but I think the vast majority would, if not say no, would ask why. That is where we are. We are at the why.
I am getting comments and I have some concerns about going down that road overall. However, at committee we will have an opportunity to answer the question of why. What are the reasons the government is giving for wanting increased unilateral powers for the minister to have and do and do they hold up against an examination of the problem they are trying to solve? There are problems everywhere. The solutions, however, can either be appropriate to the problem, or they can be overwhelmingly way over the top, or it can be a nice little fig leaf to put out in front because behind there are other reasons why they want these powers.
All these things are unknown at this point. We are highly suspicious and not just because we are the official opposition, but because we know the Conservatives. However, again, we will send it to committee and have a look at it.
Finally, I would point out it was the whole idea that suddenly someone could be removed without an appeal when they went to a federal prison, but now we will move it down to six months. There is a reason deuce less a day exists. There is a reason some people go to provincial institutions on a sentence of two years less a day and other people are sent to the penitentiary where they will be for many years, possibly decades, possibly the rest of their life. These are two completely different worlds of criminal behaviour. We need to ask the questions and we will. Why is it necessary to make such a dramatic change that results in unilateral action taken against people by removing their right to appeal? Part of the Canadian way is to give people their say, let them have their day in court.
I do not have to time to get into what the Conservatives attempted to do in terms of health care for refugees or the fact that they can bring in foreign workers and pay them 15% less. There are a whole lot of reasons why we have some serious concerns with what has been proposed, but we will support it going to committee. We will roll up our sleeves and do the work. If it is a good idea, we will support it and if it is not, we will take it on with every breath that we have.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today at second reading to speak to Bill .
It is described as an act for the faster removal of foreign criminals. If we were debating the title of the act, I really do not think there would be anything to debate. I cannot imagine any Canadian who does not think that a foreigner who is a dangerous criminal should be removed from Canada.
As has happened lately with a number of pieces of legislation brought before the House since I have been a member, I have been surprised how far the titles have morphed from the kinds of titles of legislation I once studied at law school. It used to be that we would open a statute and we found that, not only was the book dusty, the title of the legislation was just a blanket description of what was at stake: an immigration and refugee statute or a law to deal with the Fisheries Act.
Now we have titles that seem to, and probably do, come out of focus group testing for legislative titles that would be zingers in future election campaigns. As someone who studied statutes, I find this a dismaying trend. I realized the other day while watching a U.S. program on HBO called The Newsroom that this was invented by the Republicans south of the border. I do not watch enough U.S. TV to have known that if I had not been watching The Newsroom.
Back to the topic, this piece of legislation, which would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, definitely has merit if what it is about is getting rid of dangerous foreign criminals who have no right to be in Canada.
I assert that what we have here is always going to be a question of balance. We do not want dangerous foreign criminals with no right to stay in Canada to be here, threatening Canadians who have every right to be here. However, we also recognize that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, permanent residents and citizens of Canada have charter rights. The question then is whether we have the right balance. Are we protecting permanent residents who are not a threat to our society or are we sweeping them up in the vast and sweeping discretion of the minister?
This could do serious injustice to people who are important parts of Canadian society, who contribute in positive ways and who we would not want to be caught up in a sweep that did not take account of individual rights, individual situations, humanity, compassion, holding families together and other aspects that have always been part of the consideration before deportation takes place.
When we ask if the balance is right in the legislation, I turn to some of the recent comments by members of the Canadian bar. Toronto lawyer Mendel Green is quoted in this story from the Toronto Sun as saying:
|| I am concerned about the monumental affect this will have on the immigrant community if it becomes law.... This will be a life sentence for many people.
Lawyer Joel Sandaluk, at the same press conference, representing the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association, said:
|| This will destroy families who've been here for a long time.... It will create more criminals if parents or other family members are removed from Canada.
I have further quotes from other lawyers. Lawyer Guidy Mamann also said this about the potential residents who could be swept up and deported with no chance of appeal and without any exercise of individual discretion. He said:
|| These are young children brought to Canada at a young age as permanent residents, raised and schooled in Canada...[but] never took out citizenship.... It is unconscionable that a country like Canada, which has always allowed for second chances, to now embark on a new ‘one strike you’re out’ approach.
Last, I will cite lawyer Andras Schreck, vice-president of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association, who said that the bill is drafted in such a way that it could easily sweep up people guilty of minor offences and have them deported. He said:
|| We are not talking about serial killers, murderers or bank robbers.
Let us take a look at what kind of people could be swept up by the bill and what kinds of crimes people would have to commit for there to be no right of appeal and the person would just be sent out of the country. This can be described as crimes for which people are convicted for a sentence of six months or more.
The current law deals with crimes where sentences are two years or more. To bring it down to six months or more for a crime for which the ultimate sentence could be as much as ten years in jail would bring in a series of crimes that do not threaten the security or at least the safety of Canadians. In other words, it would take in a number of crimes that do not involve any threat of violence. If someone is found guilty of a crime and sent to jail for six months or more, nowhere does this new legislation require that the crime be a crime of violence or something that threatens the security of Canada.
The kinds of crimes listed that I found might fit this definition for which someone who is a permanent resident could get a six month sentence but a ten year maximum would include the deportation for possession of a stolen or forged credit card and the use of that credit card knowing it had been cancelled, the unauthorized use of a computer or forgery, and a host of other offences that carry ten year maximums. In that case, we are talking about no discretion, no appeal.
What could easily happen is that if any one member of a family, a parent or a younger member, children born in Canada, relatives participating in Canadian society or any one part of the fabric of a Canadian family, is found guilty of something that is not in any way a crime of violence but receives a sentence of up to six months with a maximum of ten years, that individual is gone. The individual would have no chance to plead his or her case.
I will quote one other lawyer on this matter who, I am proud to say, is the current nominated candidate for the Green Party in Victoria in a byelection. His name is Donald Galloway. He is a founder of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and is also a professor of refugee and immigration law at the University of Victoria. In looking at this, he suggested that there was an inherent legal balance built into section 34 of the current act so that the courts have accepted broadly defined prescribed grounds of inadmissibility that are found in section 34(1) based on the assumption that these same sweeping inadmissibilities are balanced by the provisions in section 34(2).
If Bill were enacted, it would fundamentally destabilize the legal balance by removing the layer of individualized, personalized, case-by-case review guided by, in some cases, humanitarian concerns and compassion that acted as a safeguard against the breadth of prescribed grounds for inadmissibility found in section 34(1). Beyond issues of compassion and fairness, this ill-conceived change would force the courts, as they have already indicated, into a position where they will need to intervene and fix the act to provide a reinterpretation to ensure that the act remains constitutional, otherwise it will violate the charter.
I will now turn my attention to another section of the act that I find particularly egregious and which does not deal with criminals and does not deal with people already in Canada.
If the minister, under the new clause 8, which would change section 22 of the current act, is dealing with a foreign national who has applied to become a temporary resident of Canada, the minister would have unfettered discretion to make a decision to refuse that person the right to be a permanent resident of Canada with no objective criteria that can be measured. This is very unusual. The clause states that section 22.1(1), which can be found under clause 8 in the proposed Bill , allows the minister, “on the Minister’s own initiative, declare that a foreign national...may not become a temporary resident if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations”. This banishment can last for up to three years.
Going back to my time in law school doing legal drafting and statute interpretation, we cannot find anything that gives us more freewheeling power to make up our mind which ever way we want than the language “Minister is of the opinion”. No court will be able to step in and say that it does not like the way the minister has exercised his or her discretion. I am using his or her as this will apply for all time. I am not just thinking of the minister at the moment. This would be a permanent change to our legislation and a dangerous one. The legislation says “the Minister is of the opinion”, and then what? What is the minister of the opinion of? The Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations. We could not come up with something that gives more freewheeling discretion, not bound by anything in particular. What kind of public policy considerations? Maybe the public policy considerations could be that we have too many of a certain kind of person in a town. Who knows? It is without objective criteria.
I hope that when this legislation goes to committee and is studied in committee we can rebalance the balance that must be there.
I stand here as leader of the Green Party not in favour of keeping dangerous foreign criminals in Canada but in keeping the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to speak about Bill , also known as the .
Before I speak about this bill specifically, I would like to briefly tell you about my constituency, LaSalle—Émard. LaSalle actually is celebrating its centenary this year. It was founded by a nobleman, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who settled there more than 100 years ago. The name LaSalle comes from the name of this Frenchman who arrived more than 300 years ago. The French settled there, then the English. In fact, my constituency has been shaped by those French and English settlers, who worked together to build the community.
For decades, LaSalle—Émard has welcomed large numbers of newcomers, new Canadians. We have an Italian community that is one of the largest on the island of Montreal. Immigrants have become well established. We also have a large Chinese community and a large southeast Asian community, people from India, Pakistan and other countries in the region. We also are fortunate to have welcomed many people from North Africa and even from other parts of Africa.
LaSalle—Émard really is very representative of a number of communities in Canada as a welcoming place, a place where communities share their daily lives. I must tell you that I am very proud to represent the constituency, because it gives me the opportunity to meet people from every background: Quebeckers, English-speakers, British people with Scottish and Anglo-Saxon roots, and also people from communities all around the world.
As the member of Parliament, I have also put together a team to welcome and provide services to Canadians. I have come to realize that those services involve immigration to a great extent. Our immigration system has been stretched to the limit for years by the lack of resources, the lack of funding, the closure of embassies and places where people can submit visa or citizenship applications, and so on.
And what is happening here too, right inside the Department of Citizenship and Immigration? Cuts once more. There is not enough staff and not enough funding to meet the demand. So what is happening? People are coming to their member of Parliament's office to get information and answers to their legitimate questions and requests.
Every week, we meet with people to talk about their situations. Sometimes it is something quite simple. There is a wedding in the family and the people want their relatives to attend the ceremony, but the visa is denied. All the information has been provided. All the documents have been sent, but for some reason or another—a totally legitimate reason—the visa is denied.
However, other people come to talk about situations that are more complicated. They are expecting a loved one to join them, or they are refugees who have been issued a deportation notice. That is what is happening at our riding offices. It is always an immensely human story that is told in our office. As Canadians, we cannot even begin to imagine the situations that some people are in. We live here, in Canada, freely and comfortably. We have all our papers. We can get a passport, our driver's licence, and our health card without too much difficulty. But there are people who leave behind unimaginable situations, such as famine. There are people who have lived in refugee camps, where it is hard to imagine how they would get their documents, a licence or anything. Those are the stories and events that sometimes—far too often lately—land in our offices.
What we have before the House is a bill that seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act whose short title is the “”, because it is about foreigners.
I want to reiterate this: the NDP recognizes the need to have an efficient legal system in order to deport serious criminals who are not citizens. The NDP believes that it is possible to work with the government to prevent non-citizens who have committed serious crimes from abusing our appeal system without violating people's rights. This is the first thing that I want to say about Bill .
However, this is Parliament. There are laws. The questions that we should be asking when we are in government are as follows. On what basis is this bill being introduced? Is this bill necessary? Does the Criminal Code contain provisions to prevent this situation? These are the questions that I am asking myself and that a government should ask itself before introducing a bill. There are other questions. Does this bill meet an urgent, pressing need or respond to a disastrous situation that is currently affecting our system? That is a question that should be asked. Does this bill fill a gap? That is the question that I am asking because a bill should be justified and justifiable.
There is one other thing that I would like to point out. As my colleagues already noted, this government has a strong tendency to want to push the judiciary into the political arena. In other words, it will transfer powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I explained the situation in my riding office. At some point, will it not just slow down the system and, once again, get into subjective territory to transfer such power to a single person outside the judiciary? The power would be concentrated in the hands of one individual.
I raise all these questions about the bill.
I am happy to answer any questions.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill . This legislation includes many provisions relating to immigration. Some are valid and interesting, while others seem less appropriate.
In short, the bill grants more power to the minister by giving him the authority to rule on the admissibility of temporary resident applicants. It removes the minister's responsibility to review humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It grants the minister a new discretionary power to issue an exemption for a member of the family of a foreign national who is deemed inadmissible. The bill also amends the definition of “serious criminality” to restrict access to the appeal process following an inadmissibility ruling. It increases the penalty for false representation and, finally, it clarifies the fact that entering the country by resorting to criminal activities does not automatically lead to inadmissibility.
I would like to begin by sharing something with hon. members. I am always a bit uncomfortable when we talk about immigration, and that is for a very simple reason: I am not myself an immigrant. I live in the country in which I was born. I never have to question myself. I live in my home country, with my relatives and with my language. My cultural references are the same as those of the majority around me. I never had to consider emigration as an option. If I left to live elsewhere, it would only be for a while. It would not be emigration but, rather, an extended stay.
I know what I am talking about, because I lived abroad. I once was the one who had to adapt. I had to work hard to learn how to function in a foreign language that I did not fully master. I developed new social skills that I was not familiar with. In Russia, I changed. I developed a bit of Russian in me. Thanks to this subtle change, by the time I left Moscow, I had acquired a Slavic heritage that will always stay with me. Mores vary from one country to another.
At the same time, because I was forced to adapt to this otherness, I was becoming increasingly more Quebecker and Canadian. I understood more clearly what it meant to be born in Canada. I could not but realize that the relationship I had with my country was one of trust. I knew that Canada would always be there for me.That trust generated a feeling of pride. I am convinced that many here know what I am talking about.
If I mention my stay in Russia, it is because I want to make us think. During the debate on Bill , we should think about our relationship with the rest of the world. We have been debating the reform of the immigration system since last fall. I am referring to Bill and Bill . I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-43, because it gives me a chance to level a criticism at the government. Not only am I not pleased with the tone used by the government when it talks about immigration and refugees, but I am even more upset by the tone and the comments of some members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
I do not want to preach to anyone, but, for me, it is important to distance myself from the unenlightened remarks we sometimes hear. Pride in one's own country should not give rise to disdain for another's. Nor should it necessarily give rise to an undue fear of foreigners. That is silly and simplistic.
I remain convinced that the government's interest in ethnic communities that have settled in Canada is purely mercenary. The government is not comfortable with immigration and even less so with refugees. My impression is that they see jihadists and smugglers everywhere. I am not accusing them of that; it is just the impression I get. I am sorry.
That said, of the three government bills to reform the immigration system, Bill is the least contentious. It deals with the faster removal of dangerous criminals.
Who could be opposed to that, really? Not the Canadian public, not the NDP. Canada is not a haven for failed tyrants, multimillionaire dictators and petty mafiosi of every description.
In support of this bill, the government wants to show us lists of expert witnesses who agree that dangerous criminals should not be allowed into the country. Really? What a revelation.
I can assure the government that no one, anywhere, wants people who are guilty of serious crimes to be walking free among us and abusing our hospitality.
But I wonder what the government plans to do in order to really crack down on these criminals and to protect Canadians. That is the burning question because the answer is turning out to be a little disappointing.
Basically, Bill gives more discretionary powers to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister will be the one to decide who can stay and who must leave right away. So he will become a kind of James Bond, working 28-hour days to protect Canadians from evil, twisted foreigners and their illicit master plans.
Bill , like Bill , gives the minister more arbitrary powers. I am well aware that we have to crack down on criminals who would come here and put our peaceful communities at risk. No one would ever say otherwise; but why must it be the minister who decides?
The answer is simple. It is so the minister can cut off the appeals launched by those charged with crimes. The minister could then decide to kick out anyone filing an appeal, or, let us come right out and say it, everyone filing an appeal.
All this will help us save time and money and will send the problem far, far away to other less sympathetic shores. When you get rid of a problem, have you not solved it?
With this bill, the government says it is attacking a specific, urgent problem by creating a legal limbo and opening the door to arbitrary measures. This is worrying. How far will the minister's authority go? Where will the limits to these new powers be set?
I just want to say to the government and to the minister that granting discretionary authority is not the answer to every problem. The minister cannot micromanage everything by himself in his office as soon as an exceptional case turns up. That is not a system, that is a despot.
Another very important detail is that they want to prevent all family members of a convicted criminal from visiting Canada. They have been careful to cast a wide net. The idea behind this is that the members of a Mafia family, or some kind of gang or the families of overthrown dictators will not be able to come to Canada and will not be able to bring their problems here. It is clearly a desirable goal, in and of itself. However, there are always exceptional cases, even though they are rare, and the minister's discretionary powers will not be intermittent. They will be enshrined in legislation and create a legal limbo that will last forever.
Furthermore, this is a huge undertaking. All family members of criminals sentenced here or abroad will have to be identified, and the road to Canada barred for them. Since the departmental cuts were made, this difficult task will have to be carried out quickly and well with fewer human resources.
The government wants to get rid of the backlog in the immigration system by creating massive research projects for immigration office employees. I imagine there is no other solution.
What I am saying is that the substance is good, but the form seems deficient. The government wants to protect Canadians and better manage our immigration system. The New Democratic Party recognizes that immigration is a priceless resource for Canada and wants to ensure that our system is effective, professional, swift and reliable.
The NDP also recognizes that action must indeed be taken to prevent the abuse of our system. The government is trying to resolve the issue, but it is going about it the wrong way. We think this is a worthwhile bill and that it must be studied in committee. We have already said that Bill has many admirable elements that deserve our support. In particular, the NDP is pleased that the bill exonerates the victims of human smugglers and that their victim status is guaranteed. Apparently, the government has learned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I listened carefully to the speech by the when he introduced his bill. I find it somewhat disorienting to hear him use the word “foreigner” to describe people who have not officially obtained their Canadian citizenship even though they are permanent residents.
All of us, without exception, are the descendants of immigrants. I am getting tired of seeing the Conservatives dismantle what has taken decades to build: Canada's reputation as a compassionate, equitable and fair country. A country that stands up for itself, that knows how to say yes, but also knows how to say no and how to show someone the door when it is necessary, as is the case with serious criminals. I do not want to hear that such and such a budget has tripled; frankly, in a department the size of Immigration, money is not everything. We are not dealing with columns of numbers. We are dealing with human beings who have often been more unlucky than we have. I would appreciate it if the government would stop hiding behind its accounting ledgers.
In conclusion, I am aware that the Conservative government has had to tackle immigration reform but is not terribly interested in it. And with good reason. As soon as the word “immigration” is spoken on the other side of the House, the word “economic” follows in the next sentence. They do not understand that some departments have obligations to the public, and are not just companies that must make a profit. A country is not run the same way as a business. But I am wasting my breath trying to tell them so.
Some institutions exist for reasons that are not strictly economic. Immigration is an inevitable global phenomenon and it will increase in the years to come. Canada would be well-advised to have its immigration system structured by people who see beyond simple economic interests.
Speaker, in the brief time I have I cannot go over chapter and verse of the bill, but I want to focus on a couple of sections and aspects of the bill.
Bill concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by giving him new discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. It relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances, changes what constitutes serious criminality for the purpose of access to an appeal of a determination of inadmissibility, increases the penalty for misrepresentation and clarifies that entering with the assistance of organized criminal activity does not on its own lead to inadmissibility.
In case there is any confusion, New Democrats will support this legislation getting to committee. I want to quote the member for who, as the NDP immigration critic, has done a tremendous amount of work on this file. In her speech on September 24, she indicated that she wanted to make clear the following:
||—that as New Democrats we recognize the need for an efficient and responsive judicial approach to removing of serious criminals who are not citizens.
|| All Canadians want a tough approach to non-citizens who commit serious, often violent, crimes in our communities. Newcomers in our communities, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and follow the rules, would be among the first to agree with this sentiment.
However, she went on to say that we do have some serious concerns about the bill being proposed. One of the concerns she outlined was that it again concentrates powers with the minister. Part of the concern that the member raised was the fact that our immigration system does not need to be more politicized than it already is. Whenever we start seeing increased concentration of powers in the minister's hands, it removes parliamentary oversight from some of those activities and removes it from the department itself, which often operates in a more arm's-length way.
One of the other items she raised is that:
|| Another troubling feature for us in the bill is that the bill relieves the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances, taking into account the interests of children affected. In our view, ignoring the interests of children is not something the minister should be relieved of.
I want to touch briefly on the issue of war resisters. War resisters at the time were not permanent residents, but it has been an issue that has come before the House a number of times, including a motion that supported allowing war resisters to remain in this country. We recently had the case of the war resister Kimberly Rivera, who asked the government to grant permanent residence status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The NDP's British Columbia caucus wrote a letter to the minister indicating that we had joined prominent Canadians and international advocates, including Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in calling on the minister to allow Ms. Rivera to stay in Canada with her family. The letter mentioned the fact that Ms. Rivera had children while she was living here and that there were many other factors to consider.
I want to mention another war resister who, unfortunately, was deported from my riding a couple of years ago. It was a young man named Cliff Cornell who had been living on Gabriola. He was a quiet young man. He had joined the forces in the United States. He grew up in a mountain home in Arkansas and in 2002 after leaving high school and with few employment prospects he had accepted a $5,000 signing bonus for a career in the U.S. Army. A few months later the U.S. went to war against Iraq. He deserted and came to Canada in 2005 to avoid combat. It was a case of a young man who grew up in very poor circumstances and ended up perhaps not really understanding what he was getting into. He ended up in Canada. He was well liked and well supported by the community on Gabriola. He found a job there. He was a responsible citizen and yet ended up being deported.
With regard to Bill , there was a recent article in the Toronto Star entitled, “Bill could exile thousands of permanent residents for minor crimes”. The article indicates that under the proposed new law, thousands of permanent residents could lose their status and be deported for minor convictions, from shoplifting to traffic and drug offences, according to Canada’s top immigration lawyers.