Mr. Speaker, I rise today to propose several important amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
I know all members will agree that immigration is the lifeblood of Canada and, therefore, vital to its future. New Canadians bring us new ideas, new cultures, new skills and, above all, a fresh vibrancy and energy to our great country. To remain progressive and competitive, Canada needs to sustain and maintain this essential infusion of skill and commitment.
For some time, the prospect of becoming a Canadian is first realized when they apply for and receive a temporary work permit. For hundreds of thousands, such permits have been a doorway to opportunity, hope, security, prosperity and realizing a dream of becoming a Canadian.
It is not only our responsibility as elected representatives to debate and craft the laws that govern entrance to our country, but it is our duty to ensure that these laws reflect a modern, compassionate, flexible and responsible process as well.
The government has brought about a number of significant changes to that process. It has proposed and implemented a number of initiatives and policies that clearly demonstrate a commitment to innovation and improvement. We have also demonstrated compassion and understanding to those in need of a helping hand.
Today I intend to outline to hon. members how the government will help prevent applicants for work permits from being exploited or abused. The amendments would give immigration officers the authority to deny work permits in situations where applicants may be at risk.
Bill addresses an important gap that currently exists in Canadian immigration law. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or IRPA as it is known, provides the Government of Canada with authority to allow an individual to enter this country even if they do not meet all of the requirements and are inadmissible. We do this to ensure that we are able to take into account that each applicant who enters Canada represents a unique situation. Unfortunately and paradoxically, the act does not provide a similar authority to deny a temporary work permit to an applicant who meets the entry requirements.
Other countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, have varying forms of discretionary authority over and above their general inadmissibility provisions but we do not.
Essentially, the current rules allow officers to refuse work permits based primarily on what is or has been happening, for example, if the applicant has a communicable disease or has criminal conviction.
These proposed amendments, however, will allow an officer, based on instructions issued by the minister, to refuse a work permit based on reasonable concern for what will happen, namely, that the person could be in danger of being trafficked, exploited or degraded once in Canada. Immigration officers would make their decision on a case by case basis. Each application for a permit would be assessed on its own merits.
The proposed changes could be used to prevent abuse in a number of possible scenarios, which could include low skilled labourers and exotic dancers, as well as other potential victims of human trafficking. For example, some applicants for work permits may be inexperienced, without a support network and overly dependent on their employer. In many situations, this would not be a problem. However, in some situations this could lead to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.
Where there is evidence that these concerns are serious and well-founded, ministerial instructions would provide the government with the mechanism to protect applicants from abuse and exploitation they might otherwise experience.
Making Canada a safer place for everyone is our objective and the authority is intentionally broad to allow for future unanticipated situations.
Human trafficking is another example of the kind of abuse and exploitation we are trying to prevent. Ministerial instructions issued under this new authority would give us another tool to help stop trafficking at our borders and prevent foreign nationals from becoming victims of this heinous crime.
Because of the broad parameters of the authority, I would like to assure hon. members that we have built a high level of accountability into its use.
I would now like to review the government's commitment to accountability on this matter. First, any instructions issued by the minister under the authority in the proposed amendments would be based on public policy objectives and evidence that clearly outlines an identified risk of abuse or exploitation. The instructions would also need to be linked to the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and they would need to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Second, any decision by an immigration officer to use the new authority to refuse a work permit in Canada would require the concurrence of a second officer. Ministerial instructions would also be published in the annual report to Parliament and in the Canada Gazette. As members can see, these amendments stand on the principles of openness and accountability that are a hallmark of our government.
Since our government was sworn in, we have worked tirelessly to strengthen Canada's immigration system. The last budget highlighted our commitment to making Canada a more welcoming place to newcomers who are so critical to Canada's success. It includes important measures that will help ensure our immigration system is more responsive to the needs of local economies and make Canada more attractive to immigrants who can contribute to our growing economy.
It reaffirmed, for example, our commitment to increase settlement funding to help newcomers succeed. That is a $1.3 billion investment over five years. We want to be sure that the tools are there for those who come to our country and wish to succeed.
The budget confirmed the creation of the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, which will be an important service for immigrants overseas and newcomers already in Canada. As announced by the minister on May 24, the office will give applicants information about the Canadian labour market, credential assessment and recognition requirements. It will help them connect with the appropriate assessment bodies.
The budget also included an important change to our immigration program. This change will allow eligible foreign students who graduate from post-secondary institutions and have Canadian work experience and qualified temporary foreign workers with Canadian work experience to apply for permanent resident status from within Canada. This will allow us to tap into a pool of talented people who have the skills and experience to succeed in our country, our economy and our communities.
Currently, temporary workers and recent graduates usually need to leave Canada to apply for permanent resident status. As a result, many of them end up pursuing other options and do not return to Canada.
Allowing these people to apply for permanent resident status from within Canada will open up an important source of skilled and talented newcomers. This includes skilled tradespersons who may find it difficult to qualify under the current skilled worker program.
The Canadian experience and credentials that individuals who qualify have will enable them to more quickly and effectively integrate into Canadian society and the workforce. This will also help ensure all regions benefit from immigration. Many newly arrived immigrants go to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver but those who have been studying or working temporarily in smaller centres are more likely to stay where they are already established.
Over the past few months this government has introduced various changes to the temporary foreign worker program to ensure the program is more responsive to Canada's labour needs.
Budget 2007, for example, included funding for further improvements to the program, making it faster for employers to get the people they need in regions and sectors facing the most critical shortages. These improvements include negotiating agreements with the provinces and territories to allow them to play a more direct role in helping their employers access temporary foreign workers that they so desperately need.
We have extended pilot projects enabling workers with less formal training to work in Canada for up to 24 months instead of 12 months. We have also extended work permits issued to live-in caregivers to three years and three months, up from one year.
We have also acknowledged and developed lists of jobs where there have been labour shortages to make it easier, quicker and less costly for employers in certain regions to recruit the foreign workers they need.
As our economy grows and the demand for temporary foreign workers continues to rise, we need to ensure that these growing numbers of workers enjoy the respect they deserve for helping to fill our labour shortages. We need to speed up the processing of applications and strengthen monitoring and compliance mechanisms to help ensure that employers respect commitments to wages and working conditions.
Budget 2007 is the second budget in a row that featured important measures designed to help immigrants to Canada get started on the right foot and to succeed.
In 2006, as members will recall, we cut the right of permanent resident fee in half, reducing it to $490. The government has refunded more than $40 million to date. This measure applies to immigrants who become permanent residents under all social, humanitarian and economic classes. It is designed to lessen the financial burden associated with immigrating to Canada.
As well, the government has demonstrated compassion to victims of human trafficking by authorizing immigration officials to issue temporary resident permits for up to 120 days. Individuals who receive these permits are also exempted from the processing fee and are eligible for trauma counselling and health care benefits under the federal interim health program.
These measures have been carefully designed so that only bona fide victims of human trafficking would benefit from them. No one is removed from Canada without consideration of their need for protection.
While I am proud of the progress we have made to date, there are still many challenges ahead and much work to be done. The government is working to ensure that Canada's immigration system can meet our current and future labour market needs and facilitate the integration of newcomers to Canada.
With respect to Bill , it is worth noting that it has been well received by groups working to eliminate human trafficking. Irena Soltys, co-chair of the Stop the Trafficking Coalition, said:
Stop the Trafficking Coalition supports [the minister's] announcement regarding changes to the IRPA to protect vulnerable workers. Included in this are women that may be exploited as exotic dancers and forced to work as sex slaves...Canada, as an international human rights leader, owes them the protection they are entitled to.
Sabrina Sullivan of The Future Group said:
[The] Immigration Minister has taken an important step to protect women from sexual exploitation and end a program that made Canada complicit in human trafficking...It is clear that [the] Prime Minister's government is serious about combating human trafficking--
There are other groups that have stepped up to the plate as well and have indicated that the announcement proposed in the act is something that is well received and is something that will protect vulnerable workers from exploitation. M. Christine MacMillan, territorial commander for The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda, said:
This announcement is an excellent advancement towards the protection of women from sexual exploitation. It is another positive step in the fight against human trafficking, and we are encouraged by the leadership shown by the Federal Government.
Even those in the adult entertainment industry are acknowledging the need for Bill . It is truly unfortunate that the Liberal immigration critic, the member for , was dismissive of Bill when he said it was frivolous legislation regarding so-called exotic dancers' work conditions.
Instead of dismissing Bill as frivolous, the Liberal immigration critic should have sought the opinions of respected organizations, such as Stop the Traffic Coalition, The Future Group and The Salvation Army, who have offered support for the legislation.
The expressed dismay that this legislation would be treated so flippantly. There is no doubt that it is an important piece of legislation that would protect vulnerable foreign workers coming to Canada and those who need protection from being exploited or being subject to human trafficking.
Our government will not apologize for having brought this legislation forward. We will not apologize for introducing added protections that would help prevent situations where temporary workers in Canada, including strippers, may be abused, exploited or possibly become victims of human trafficking.
I would ask that all members support these proposed amendments. They were designed to protect vulnerable persons. They would help ensure that Canada's immigration system is not used by criminals to victimize people. They are intended to prevent the exploitation and the casting of individuals into a life of misery and degradation.
Without these amendments, immigration officers could not deny a work permit to someone who met all the requirements to enter Canada, even if they believed that there is a strong possibility or a reasonable concern of exploitation or abuse.
Strengthening the minister's authority would provide the Government of Canada with a tool to respond to situations where a permit applicant could be at risk.
To sum up, our proposed amendments would go further in helping prevent vulnerable foreign workers from being exploited or abused.
These amendments would further our efforts to strengthen our immigration system. They would give the the authority to instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to individuals, including exotic dancers, who could be subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation in Canada.
It is unconscionable that the previous government gave blanket exemptions to foreign strippers to work in Canada despite warnings that women were vulnerable to forced prostitution and other forms of exploitation.
We are taking real action to help prevent the exploitation of women and children while protecting other foreign workers who could be subject to abuse and exploitation.
Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to exploit people. They expect their government to take all necessary steps to deal with problems associated with exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers and the crime of human trafficking.
No longer shall our government be complicit in facilitating human trafficking by permitting foreign strippers into the country when they could be potential victims of abuse or exploitation.
Canadians are justifiably proud of our reputation for fairness around the world. It is unacceptable to allow situations of exploitation that existed under the previous government to continue.
If we truly value the freedoms and ideals that our wonderful country was founded upon, we will support these amendments.
Mr. Speaker, I stand before the House today to participate in debating Bill .
While I, along with my colleagues, try to debate this bill objectively and examine its components seriously, I have to admit that I am hugely disappointed that the and the Conservative minority government continue to neglect a wide array of immigration files that deserve serious attention and immediate action.
In late February, the House of Commons debated and adopted a motion which stated that the Conservative Party has been failing immigrants and new Canadians and, in fact, all Canadians. The House expressed the concerns of many Canadians about the direction or, more specifically, the lack of direction, that this Conservative government has taken toward helping immigrants and new Canadians reach their optimum potential in society.
Canadians are quite rightly proud of our diversity and our reputation for welcoming immigrants. Immigration is more than just a symbol to Canadians. It is also an economic necessity. Given the dynamic nature of our immigration system and the diverse character of our nation, the federal government, regardless of the party in power, must recognize the magnitude of its responsibility toward these challenges and opportunities.
New challenges arise as our needs for immigration change. The adjustments that many immigrants face are numerous. The opportunities that immigrants bring to our country's skilled labour force enhance the cultural richness of our society and increase the knowledge base of our economy and communities.
I want to take some time to go through a number of challenges and opportunities that the government could be and should be focusing on, but it has unfortunately shown little will or desire to do so.
For example, on foreign credentials, during the last federal election campaign the Conservatives continually stated that if they were in power they would fix the difficulties that many immigrants and new Canadians face when attempting to have their foreign credentials assessed or when obtaining professional domestic licences.
The Conservatives made an explicit promise to eradicate barriers that some new Canadians face and blamed the Liberals for neglecting this issue. The promise to fix the problem of foreign credentials was written into their platform despite the fact that many told them, and in fact many Conservatives knew, that this promise was bogus.
What happened? Once the Conservatives assumed office, they employed delay tactics and deceptive tricks to pretend that they are still committed to fulfilling that promise. A year and a half later, the Conservatives admitted that they are breaking that promise and have abandoned Canadians who took their word at face value.
It is not that the Conservatives have changed their minds about the importance of this real and serious problem, but they have chosen to go from one extreme to another, from promising to take on the whole matter and fix it once and for all, to refusing to accept the role that the federal government can play in facilitating a solution. After repeated promises and a year and a half of claims that they are fulfilling their promise, the Conservatives have decided to shake off their responsibility and pass the blame on to others.
I am sure the Conservatives are aware that Canadians are not pleased with their handling of this file. Canadians continue to expect them to step up to their responsibility and take a leadership role in facilitating a resolution to this complicated matter.
Let us move on to family reunification, another missed opportunity for the Conservatives. They have the opportunity to address the mounting backlog of family reunification applications. Many Canadians continue to wait too long to sponsor their spouse, parents or grandparents, which raises the level of anxiety and frustration among many.
We as a country have made a conscious decision to help Canadians and permanent residents reunite with some of their immediate family members in order to help them in their settlement process and reduce family separation anxiety. The Conservatives appear to have a nonchalant attitude toward this increasing pressure on our system and have yet to articulate a plan and a process to address it.
Also, what about the lost Canadians? There is the matter of the so-called lost Canadians, on which the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has been conducting a comprehensive study, because many Canadians are starting to realize that due to old and archaic clauses within the 1947 Citizenship Act and other unintentional flaws, they have lost their Canadian citizenship.
Unfortunately, rather than stepping up to the challenge and dealing with this matter expeditiously, the Conservatives chose to spend a lot of time attempting to minimize this problem. They expended a lot of energy on arguing whether there were only 400 Canadians affected or upward of 50,000 Canadians affected.
Regardless of the number of Canadians affected, it was clear to any intelligent observer that many Canadians were caught in some unfortunate circumstances and the government should have acted quickly to assist them. If it were not for the determined work of our committee members at the citizenship and immigration committee, and the heart-wrenching stories of many Canadians who were affected, the Conservatives would have completely ignored these laws.
What about the points system? Many stakeholders have been arguing that our points system to attract immigrants needs reform and adjustment. The Conservatives are ignoring that matter.
What about the Immigration and Refugee Board? Our Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has tabled a report articulating and describing the state of crisis that the IRB is going through. At least a third of IRB members have not been appointed and the backlog has tripled.
What about citizenship application delays? Many permanent residents have been waiting for months, in fact more than a year, for their citizenship applications to be examined. The backlog continues to mount.
What about temporary workers? A lot of stakeholders have been lobbying on this and arguing that our temporary foreign workers program needs reform.
I deliberately have spent a lot of time highlighting the various pressing issues that the needs to address. These are all serious and urgent matters that Canadians expect the minister responsible for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to be focusing on and resolving.
I have to admit, though, that when I was briefed on Bill , I was disappointed. I was hoping that the minister was going to offer solutions to any of the challenges I have mentioned today. Instead, the Conservatives and the minister have chosen to play cheap political games.
Let me be very clear. I support any and all initiatives to protect Canadian and foreign workers from exploitation and abuse. That is why we will give the bill a chance to achieve what it is intended to accomplish, but we have a lot of unanswered questions. We will be consulting and listening to experts and stakeholders at committee to ensure that we end up with a bill that has real substance, not broad and ineffective unchecked political powers.
I will not hide my disappointment with the fact that the minister appears to have chosen to play politics rather than implement real and sound policies. There are many other pressing issues that deserve the highest level of her attention and energy. As an opposition member of Parliament, regardless of how the parliamentary secretary feels about my performance, I am expected by Canadians to critically evaluate the performance of the Conservative government and to test legislative proposals thoughtfully and deliberately to ensure that Canadians receive effective policies and laws from their government.
I do not think anybody is fooled by the fact that this legislative proposal's main goal is to create the perception that the previous Liberal government was condoning the exploitation of temporary foreign workers who came to Canada as exotic dancers and that hundreds of them were arriving at our borders annually. In fact, the hon. member just mentioned it in his speech.
Having said that, I, along with my parliamentary colleagues, have a responsibility to rise above petty partisanship and posturing and ultimately decide whether we are supporting the bill based on its merit and substance, putting aside all the rhetoric that is based on false perceptions.
There is room for partisan differences, however, during our debates and the exchange of ideas, in order to challenge ourselves to do better and to seek to improve what we have. The Liberal Party strongly believes in protecting women against exploitation and human trafficking. The previous Liberal government made substantial changes to restrict visa applications to foreign exotic dancers.
My Liberal colleagues at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women endorsed a report that called on the government to do more to address the systemic problems that may exist when it comes to vulnerable members of our society. This leads me to the conclusion that the government's approach to this matter only confirms my concern that this bill has more to do with political motivation than a genuine desire to protect exploited women.
The bill, regardless of its declared objectives, does very little, and in fact nothing, to address the systemic problems of exploitation that exist in Canada. If the Conservatives agree with many who say there is a high risk of exploitation, why are they not instructing the human resources and social development department to examine the industry itself?
Why are they choosing to avoid dealing directly with the establishments and employers who are implicitly accused of committing these exploitations? Who is doing the monitoring? Who is protecting the foreign workers who are in Canada now? How will the minister reach a conclusion when allegations are made about abuse? What about other industries that need temporary foreign workers? If we have allegations of abuse, will the minister take measures to deal with these allegations? Again, what is the role of HRSD?
These are very legitimate questions and deserve real answers.
This bill alone does not address the root causes of the problem. I want to urge the Conservatives to expand their policy to include addressing the systemic issues if they are really serious about eradicating causes for abuse and exploitation. If these conditions continue to persist, other women will be victimized, and this should no longer be acceptable to any of us.
The Department of Human Resources and Social Development must have a bigger role in monitoring and verifying working conditions and protecting workers. As it stands right now, the bill provides the minister with unchecked and broad powers that could have serious impacts on our industries. Currently, all classifications under the foreign worker program could be adversely affected, including those of agricultural workers and live-in caregivers. We will be calling for further clarification and restrictions at committee.
If the Conservatives are serious about protecting foreign exotic dancers, why not restrict the mandate of the bill? I want to reiterate that we in the Liberal Party stand firmly against allowing or condoning any form of abuse or exploitation of all women, be they Canadians, permanent residents or foreigners, and we will work diligently with any party on combating it.
We will put partisanship aside and offer thoughtful and constructive ideas that will advance this cause. We are determined to eliminate any causes that may place anyone in a vulnerable position of exploitation and/or abuse. Even though the bill is incomplete, and even though we know it is motivated by petty partisanship, we are prepared and in fact keen to remain a constructive voice in this debate.
I am looking forward to listening to all arguments and to discussing with my colleagues and other interested and concerned Canadians how we can improve the bill. I am grateful for this opportunity to share my thoughts with the House.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite spent a fair bit of his speech not talking about the bill, which I think is important and progressive legislative, but rather criticizing the government's management of the immigration system.
I remind the member that when the previous Liberal government took office in 1993, it inherited an immigration waiting list of some 35,000 files. Thirteen years later, it gave to our new government an immigration waiting list of over 830,000 files. It increased by over 1,000% the immigration wait list in our country and handed it off to this government. Now it blames us for the challenge we have to try to clean up the mess with which it left us.
I further point out that not only did the Liberal government increase the immigration wait list by over 800,000, it actually collected hundreds of millions of dollars in a head tax that it imposed on new immigrants, $1,000 per person.
That means, prior to the Liberal government coming to office, a family of five arriving in Canada did not have to pay a head tax. As soon as the Liberals came to power, they had to pay a $5,000 collective head tax, a family head tax for a family of five, making it extremely difficult to get ahead and make the first down payment on rent, buy the first used car, just to get ahead. That was the Liberal record on immigration.
We have kept our word not only to increase funding for integration and immigration settlement services, but to cut in half the right of landing fee, and we will cut it yet again further.
The Liberals have not endorsed cutting in half the right of landing fee. In fact, they voted against that in our the budget. I therefore infer, and perhaps he could confirm this, that if the Liberals were back in power, not only would they take away the $100 a month per child choice in child care credit, they would also, once again, double the rate of landing fee.
However, the member, and he can respond to this, says that the bill is about petty partisan politics. The bill is the direct result of the tireless and principled efforts largely of the member of the government caucus for , who, and I will reveal a caucus confidence, would get up in the government caucus and demand that we take action to stop the exploitation of foreign exotic dancers in our country. The government responded with this bill, and she deserves a bit of credit for that.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill , a bill that seeks to deal with the issue of sexual exploitation and to make amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
On the basic objective of the bill, we share the same values. We find it completely unacceptable that, here in Canada, people can suffer degrading treatment, be denied their dignity and be subject to sexual exploitation. We agree that legislation is needed to implement measures to protect foreign nationals.
In the past, we have attempted to deal with this issue on several occasions, regardless of which government was in power. If memory serves, around 1991, Barbara McDougall also expressed her desire to amend and strengthen the law—including the Criminal Code—and to introduce other measures to stop this shameful practice. This problem has resurfaced sporadically in recent decades. At present, the RCMP says that between 600 and 800 women are subject to abuse each year. As my colleague opposite has said we are talking about 800 people every year. Surely, we cannot be insensitive to the situation of these women.
On the subject, we think that measures must be taken. However, we must not go overboard. The bill tabled by the minister is incomplete. The definitions are not clear and a lot more work will be needed in committee to clarify some definitions set out in the bill. The manner in which an immigration officer could act and the simple fact that mere suspicion could be taken as proof seems inadequate to us and could cause harm to other women who wanted to come to Canada for completely legitimate reasons.
As I said previously, this bill reminds us of many stories that have come to light in the past two decades and caused great embarrassment to ministers of Citizenship and Immigration.
At present, in terms of immigration, there are no figures available concerning the possible entry method of people who might be subject to this kind of treatment. When we look to the past, around 1991, there was reference to about 600 women who were applying for permits to work as exotic dancers. Over the years, the department has issued directives to different embassies, with the result that immigration officers have been more restrictive, more limiting. Currently, we are talking about some fifteen cases of this type at the embassy.
We believe that the problem has moved elsewhere and that people are arriving in Canada legally. Some women enter Canada with a work permit to be waitresses or to work at other jobs. They may fall into the hands of individuals who misrepresent themselves or persons who will take advantage of them.
We might even take a look at some advertising. My Conservative colleague for told us about explicit ads that appeared in African newspapers. These ads were recruiting young women with the promise of a study permit. Women are arriving in Canada under this pretext as well.
Recent measures allowing students to earn income make it possible for some women to come to Canada as students and to work in the evening as dancers.
Another example is that of domestic help. Successive governments that have reviewed this program have always retained the live-in criterion, whereby the individual must live in the employer's home. This does not minimize the risk of abuse and degrading treatment. The list is long. When we examine the cases presented by the RCMP and we ask them questions, we realize that there are many avenues.
It is not enough to pass immigration laws and to believe that the problem is solved. There should be additional legislation dealing with the other aspects of the issue. As I have already mentioned with regard to current immigration, I believe that we are taking the wrong approach to the problem. We should be dealing with the criminal elements and employers who exploit their employees.
There are still too many people in Canada who find themselves involved in illicit activities. These people are subjected to degrading treatment and are exploited by their employers. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration must study this issue. I am sure that it would uncover situations in which women are being sexually exploited or subjected to degrading treatment. By failing to take action on the issue of people without status, the government is increasing the number of women in Canada who are mistreated.
The intention is good. Nobody wants women to be sexually exploited. Nobody wants women to be subjected to degrading treatment. Everybody wants to condemn this kind of attack on women's dignity. Unfortunately, the proposed solution is inadequate.
There is also a problem with this bill in terms of transparency, as I said at the beginning of my speech. The wording of the Immigration Act in the bill would give far too much power to the in instructing immigration officers. There are already problems related to granting work permits and visas. Many immigration stakeholders have criticized the arbitrary authority of immigration officers.
I am sure that many of my colleagues here in this House have had cases in their ridings where people were turned away, cases whose outcome they do not understand.
This bill gives immigration officers even more discretionary power, which makes us wonder how these officers will be equipped and to what degree the fear of being slapped on the wrist for having made a bad decision will make the system even more restrictive than the bill intended.
The ministerial instructions, and therefore the bills, will be published in the Canada Gazette and will be part of the annual report to Parliament. This measure is important to transparency. We will be able to follow the progress of the problem or situation.
We would be in favour of referring this bill to committee for a more thorough study and in order to complete it. We will try to do so by working on the grey areas, such as the definitions, for example. We will ask the department to provide us with further details in terms of the figures. We could also hear from other stakeholders such as the Canadian Bar Association or professors in the field of the status of women. We could thus determine the best way to address the issue.
This bill's greatest weakness is that it will discourage people who want to obtain a work permit, and they will then come illegally. They will continue to use other avenues. The parliamentary secretary can attest to this, since we heard witnesses who work with refugees near the borders. They gave testimony about what people will do to get across the border. We are only encouraging this practice. In order to escape extreme poverty or even more severe abuse in their own country, people are willing to find other ways to come to Canada. We run the risk of increasing the number of people living here illegally.
As for the work permit, we must do everything in our power to better define, in the bill, the role of immigration officers. The Canadian Council for Refugees issued a press release, which states: “—closing the door on valid work permits may expose women to greater vulnerability by forcing them underground”. Thus, we would only be shifting the problem and it would be even more difficulty for the authorities to act to counter the problem. The human trafficking network is becoming more and more sophisticated at this time, and it often uses other means to smuggle people in.
The study in committee will allow the minister and department officials to better define their intentions and supply figures. Then we would be better equipped to work on this issue. I know that the issue of human trafficking was studied by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We could probably refer to the testimonies heard there.
I will leave it at that for now. We will be in favour of referring the bill to committee. In light of what we hear there and improvements that could be made, we will find a way to eliminate this problem more effectively.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the first debate on Bill . I have been sitting here listening to the debate and, frankly, I was quite appalled to hear the Conservative member within an hour accuse the opposition of stalling tactics when we are debating the bill. I get the feeling that the member would be quite happy if the opposition completely disappeared off the face of the earth and then the government could run on its high-minded agenda with no one in the House to debate legislation on what it is doing. It is an outrage that within 50 minutes of the bill being debated, the member had the gall to stand and say to the Bloc member, and the Liberal member who just spoke and who legitimately raised concerns about the bill, that they were using a stalling tactic.
I would say shame on the Conservative members for being so arrogant in their attitude that they will not even tolerate debate in the House on a bill that we are sent here to deal with representing our constituents and public interests. However, we have come to expect these kinds of tactics from the government. Any time debate takes place in this House the government makes accusations and allegations that the opposition is doing a political job.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that we are here to debate this legislation and we will do exactly that. The sad part of this is that this bill, which does raise a lot of serious questions about the Conservative agenda, will probably be over in a few hours and it will be sent off to the committee. I do not know what will happen after that but that is the sad commentary on what is taking place.
I felt like I had to begin with those comments because I was sitting here feeling a sense of outrage about the political spin and the messaging that the Conservatives were engaging in when we had barely begun debate on the bill. I say shame on them for doing that. It is quite offensive the way democracy seems to take a back seat in this place.
I will now make a number of comments on the bill because I think it has some fundamental problems. At this point we in the NDP feel that we cannot support the bill.
First, the bill itself purports to propose amendments that would give authority to the to instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to foreign strippers. I noticed the government seems intent on using the pejorative term “strippers” as opposed to exotic dancers, which is what they are actually called. Again, that gives us a little understanding of the government's agenda. This authority would give enormous powers to the minister, on what basis it is hard to know. Giving the minister the power to cast a yea or a nay on a permit that comes on her desk raises the question as to whether or not this is really a ban.
The minister has been reported in the media as saying that she would like those permits to go down to zero. Even the government's own press release points out that over the last year it has significantly cut back on the number of people coming to Canada as exotic dancers so we know it has been doing this. This raises the question as to whether we are actually dealing with a ban, in which case the government should be up front and say that this is something it will not allow as opposed to saying that it is a discretionary thing because it has already cut permits back. I think only 17 permits were approved in the last year. This is something that is a serious concern to us in terms of the bill's real intent.
Second, as was pointed out by the NDP women's critic, the member for , when the bill was first introduced a few weeks ago, she said that if the issue is exploitation and harm, then instead of banning workers and the program, we should be focusing on workplace safety and on the rights of workers, whether they be exotic dancers, other foreign workers or domestic workers. Surely that is the issue.
When I read in one of the news reports that the was introducing this bill as a humanitarian response, I just about fell off my chair laughing. I spent three years on a subcommittee of the justice committee studying the sex trade in Canada. We held extensive hearings across the country and heard from sex workers, in camera and in public, and we heard from police and advocates. When we finally issued our report, although I must say that it was a disappointing report, the government's response was quite pathetic. It completely ignored the danger, the exploitation and the incredible risks that sex workers already face in this country because of our laws.
I find it incredible that the minister would pop up and say that she was introducing this bill, in which she uses the term “strippers”, based on humanitarian reasons. This is nothing more than part of the Conservatives' moralistic agenda. They see enforcement, the Criminal Code and sanctions against people as the answer to everything, instead of focusing on what the complex issues are.
I must point out that even the government, in its response to the subcommittee's report on prostitution, the told the committee:
...the Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons...coordinates all federal anti-trafficking efforts. The IWGTIP is composed of 16 participating federal departments and agencies and works in collaboration with its provincial and territorial partners, as well as civil society and its international partners, to prevent trafficking, protect its victims and hold perpetrators accountable.
The government goes on to point out that Bill , which dealt with new trafficking specific offences, was passed in 2005 under the previous government. I remember debating that bill in the House of Commons. In 2006, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced a further series of measures to deal with the vulnerable situation of trafficking victims.
Therefore, by the government's own admission, a bill had already passed through the House and further measures were taken to deal with the serious question of trafficking, which must be dealt with, and we supported those measures. I know that the Status of Women committee has looked at that and studied it.
We now have this weird little bill before the House and we are being told that it is a most important bill. I would agree with the Liberal member for who pointed out all the other issues that the Conservative government has failed to address on immigration and citizenship, and the list can become very long.
With all the problems that do exist within the system, whether it is foreign credentials, family reunification or the massive backlog, none of them are being dealt with. However, all of a sudden we have this bill before us even though the government, in its response, said that it had taken significant measures in previous legislation that was enacted to deal with trafficking. One has to question what is behind this bill.
We cannot support the bill because it is does not actually deal with the problem that exists. If we want to deal with exploitation, abuse and people's rights, then we should deal with that, but to simply give the minister power, with no accountability, to accept or deny permits when she feels like it, is a completely irrational legislative response. I do not see how we in this Parliament can support that kind of legislation. I would much rather see us focusing this debate on the real exploitation that is taking place and on what the government is prepared to do about it.
Again, I will come back to the subcommittee of the justice committee that dealt with our laws on prostitution, where there are very serious issues, where we have seen a high rate of violence because of law enforcement and because of the way laws operate. Women have disappeared. Aboriginal women have disappeared at an alarming rate, a rate higher than that of any other sector of our society.
I represent the riding of Vancouver East, the downtown east side, where we have had 63 women who were missing and murdered. The evidence is piling up that the prostitution law itself, because prostitution is not illegal but all the activities around it are, is one of the main contributors to the harm these women are suffering. In fact, just yesterday in Vancouver a new report was unveiled as a result of a two year community process called “Living in Community”, which tried to grapple with this issue in a very holistic, comprehensive and sensitive way in terms of dealing with safety in the community and the safety of people involved in the sex trade.
This bill has nothing to do with that. This bill will not address any of those issues. All it will do is allow the Conservatives to say they were responding to the issues of women's equality and violence against women, to say that this is what this bill is about, but the bill does not even come close. In fact, it is offensive in terms of the way it lays out its purported response.
I want to say in today's debate that we in the NDP believe this bill is very short-sighted. There were already mechanisms in place that allowed the government to take action in terms of dealing with visas. We know that because the Conservatives themselves admitted that they were cutting down on the permits for exotic dancers. It seems to me that rather than focusing a ban on those individuals and what may be legitimate situations, what they have chosen to do is basically bring in a ban on the whole program. That is what really underlies this, because that is what the minister has told us in the media. That is what the real intent is.
Instead of focusing on the issue of the workplace and abusive employers, no matter what workplace it is, whether it is for exotic dancers or in other areas that employ foreign workers or Canadian workers, what the government does is separate out the problems into little boutique bills. It creates a sort of moral high ground around them and then claims that this is how the government is moving forward when really it has not done anything. What it may do, by an unfortunate consequence, is actually drive the sex trade further underground.
Instead of focusing on the workplace and violations that may take place, instead of focusing on the rights and the safety of sex workers or exotic dancers, because those are real situations that could be dealt with, this bill has moved in a completely different direction.
In our caucus, we have had a lot of debate about this bill. We believe it is important to deal with exploitation and abuse. We believe it is important to focus attention on women's equality in this country. We believe it is critical to ensure that foreign workers are not exploited.
In fact, I find it ironic that the government is actually accelerating the foreign worker program. Pilot studies have taken place in Alberta. We have seen a huge acceleration of the program in British Columbia, because there now is a demand from employers who want foreign workers for the Olympics, for construction and the service and hospitality industries. We actually have seen an acceleration of the foreign worker program.
In fact, it is the NDP that has been calling for a review of this program because we are concerned with the exploitation and abuse of foreign workers that is taking place as a result of this program. However, to bring in this bill and say that it is going to resolve these problems flies in the face of reality.
We in the NDP will not be supporting this bill. I think the other two opposition parties have laid out some very good issues and arguments as to their concerns as well. We of course will be participating in the discussion at committee, where I am sure there will be witnesses, and there may be amendments.
We find that the bill as it is now is not supportable. We are not prepared to support a bill that gives such open-ended powers to a minister. We are not prepared to support a bill that in effect bans these particular workers, the exotic dancers.
The NDP is not prepared to support a bill that really is based on the Conservative government's political ideology. The NDP would much prefer to deal with this issue in a real fashion. We would much prefer to deal with exploitation and to deal with, for example, the prostitution laws that have been ignored by the government. That is where the debate needs to be focused.
I would urge the minister and the parliamentary secretary and others in the government who are supporting the bill to read the report that came out of Vancouver just yesterday. It is called the “Living in Community Action Plan”. I would urge them to take a look at what a genuine community debate is all about in terms of the sex trade and what needs to be done. Government members could see how different stakeholders came together, whether it was police, government representatives, city representatives, community advocates, or sex workers themselves, and produced not only a process but a report with recommendations and conclusions that actually make some sense. That was genuine. It has a lot of merit and a lot of legitimacy because of what the individuals went through.
Something like this bill, which almost seems to have been pulled out of a hat because it serves a political purpose, needs to be called what it is, and that is what we are doing here today. The NDP will not be supporting this bill. There are a lot of problems in the citizenship and immigration department. A lot of things need to be fixed. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this bill ignores all of those issues.
We certainly will debate this bill on its merits. We will deal with it in committee. We will debate it when it comes back. However, we believe that we have a responsibility to tell the Canadian public that this bill is a sham and that it is not going to deal with those harmful situations. All the bill is going to do is ban those workers instead of focusing on safety and rights in the workplace, which is really how this intervention should be made.
NDP members are not in a position to support this bill. I have given the reasons why. I certainly am now expecting a barrage of indignation from the Conservatives as they once again get on their little pedestals, but that is okay. We understand what that political spin is about.
I am just glad that there are members in the opposition who understand that debate is not about stalling. Debate is debate. Dialogue and different points of view are legitimate. That is why we are here. Part of our job is to hold the government to account and to look at legislation with a lens as to whether or not it has merit. We take that very seriously.
I look forward to questions and comments. I will respond to them as best I can.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join the debate on Bill .
The proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are much needed measures. Bill addresses an important gap that currently exists in Canada's immigration law. In fact, Christine MacMillan, territorial commander for the Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda has this to say about Bill :
This announcement is an excellent advancement towards the protection of women from sexual exploitation....It is another positive step in the fight against human trafficking, and we are encouraged by the leadership shown by the Federal Government.
With respect to current provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the existing legislation provides the government with the authority to allow an individual to enter Canada even if they do not meet all of the requirements and are inadmissible. Unfortunately, the act does not provide a similar authority to deny a temporary work permit to an applicant who meets entry requirements, but whose presence in Canada may put them in harm's way.
The proposed Bill will give the minister the authority to instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to individuals who might face humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. Without this authority, immigration officers cannot deny a work permit to someone who meets all the requirements to enter Canada, even if they believe there is a strong possibility of exploitation or abuse.
The proposed Bill will help us to prevent individuals from entering into situations where they may be abused or exploited, or where in fact they could become victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, it will help ensure our immigration system is not used by criminals to victimize people.
The Government of Canada should have the authority to institute measures to deny permits if there is evidence that individuals, including exotic dancers or anybody else, would be subject to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.
It is time for us to step up and be accountable. This legislation is all about that. Some may ask the question, why should we be concerned? Why do we need this legislation? The answer can be found in one word: accountability.
As elected representatives of an open and democratic institution, we must demonstrate our collective and unified resolve to ensure as much as possible the safety of anyone entering our country. We must be vigilant in protecting vulnerable individuals against potential exploitation, even though these individuals may not be Canadian citizens, but are considering temporary employment in Canada. We must take every measure possible to ensure that unsuspecting foreign workers are not subject to abuse or exploitation. The Government of Canada cannot be complicit in this kind of activity.
I find it most unfortunate that the Liberal immigration critic, the member for , criticized Bill by saying that he thought that we already had enough protection for vulnerable foreign workers who could be subject to sexual exploitation. To quote the Liberal immigration critic, he said, “I think we have the safeguards in place. It is a cheap attempt to change the channel and pretend to do something while they are really doing nothing”.
Before rushing to judgment, I wonder if the Liberal immigration critic bothered consulting with key stakeholders who welcomed our government's initiatives, stakeholders such as Sabrina Sullivan of The Future Group, who said:
[The] Immigration Minister...has taken an important step to protect women from sexual exploitation and end a program that made Canada complicit in human trafficking...It is clear that...[this] government is serious about combating human trafficking.
For those members of the opposition who think Bill is not needed, I urge them to consult stakeholders such as The Future Group, Stop the Trafficking Coalition and the Salvation Army. Perhaps then they will realize how important the legislation is and how critical it is for them to support it.
Let us be mindful of what we are debating today. We are in part debating the granting of a discretionary authority to the to deny the application of a foreign national for a temporary work permit in Canada. Like any authority granted or legislated to a minister, such a proposed or new authority must be reviewed, debated and enacted in the most open and accountable manner. That is what this government is committed to doing.
In fact, to demonstrate our openness to accountability on this matter, Richard Kurland, as I talked about before, an experienced and well-known immigration lawyer said, and I want to quote this again because this is very important:
What is [absolutely] striking about the new government's approach, unlike the former government, the new government is going through the front door. I have never seen this in 15 years of immigration policy...Normally, in years past, it was done behind the bureaucratic doors or through a [fait accompli] regulation with no debate. That's what remarkable today [for immigration policy].
That is quite a statement.
We are committed to not only an open debate, but also a full explanation of the reasons for the proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Allow me to review the government's commitment to accountability on this matter. First, I will reiterate and support the minister's assurance that a high level of accountability is attached to any exercise of authority proposed in the legislation. As the parliamentary secretary stated earlier, any ministerial instruction would be based on public policy objectives and evidence that clearly outlined an identified risk of abuse or exploitation.
Any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a work permit in Canada would require the concurrence of a second officer. Ministerial instructions to deny any such permit would be published in the Canada Gazette and would be reported in the annual report to Parliament on immigration.
I ask all hon. members to understand the basic principles behind the legislation. These principles are openness and accountability. I further ask this essential question of all members. Would any member support or approve the granting of a work permit to a foreign national knowing that he or she might become vulnerable to any form of exploitation or degradation? The answer, of course, is no.
As previously said, the authority would help target the networks that would profit from human trafficking. It would also stop the flow of individuals who were their prey and ultimate victims.
I submit, as a responsible government, that we should be able to say no to those applying for temporary employment who may not realize that they are being duped and misled. I believe it is only right that we should be able to prevent a human being from entering into a situation that would result in harm.
It is the Canadian way to warn an individual that he or she is about to make a mistake, which could have irreversible negative effects on their future. Above all, it is a Canadian tradition to stand up and be accountable among our friends and help them in a fight against exploitation.
Hon. colleagues will agree that making Canada a safer place for everyone is our objective. The instructions have the flexibility to allow for future unanticipated situations. Human trafficking is but one example of the kind of abuse and exploitation we are all trying to prevent.
Canada does not want to remain a destination country for human traffickers. Ministerial instructions issued under this new authority would give us one more tool to help stop trafficking at our borders and prevent foreign nationals from becoming victims. They build on Canada's existing efforts to protect victims of trafficking by giving them access to a temporary resident permit, health care benefits and trauma counselling.
Canada's immigration legislation includes stiff penalties of up to life imprisonment and fines of up to $1 million for traffickers.
In conclusion, I would like to cite John Muise, Director of Public Safety for the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, who said that Bill “is part of the response that needs to occur in terms of protecting women and children in this country”.
I urge all members to put aside their partisan views and do the right thing and support this very important Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to make some comments on Bill . Certainly it is an issue which I know a fair amount about and I am glad to have the opportunity to comment on it.
Bill is about a page and a half long. It makes an amendment to our immigration laws. Certainly on the face of it, it should not take very long for any of us to deal with it, whether we are debating it at length or not. Part of our role in Parliament is not just to take something at face value and say that it looks good, it is an area that many of us care about and that we would like to see some improvements to strengthen it. Parliament is about debate and discussion to make things better.
For a bill to pass without our having a full opportunity to debate and discuss it, frankly, would be viewed upon as our not carrying out our responsibilities to ensure that legislation brought forward accomplishes what the intent of it clearly is, and if possible, to go further than that. That means we should look for areas to add further strength in the bill and make sure it is going to achieve the same goals that all of us in the House want to achieve.
I am pleased to take a few minutes to comment on this important issue today in an attempt to move the bill forward to committee so we can ensure that it accomplishes what we all want it to accomplish. The bill is an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which recognizes quite clearly, “Whereas Parliament recognizes the importance of protecting vulnerable foreign nationals who come to work in Canada from exploitation and abuse”. That is very clearly written into the Immigration Act and I know all of us want to ensure that happens.
This bill proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow immigration officers the ability to refuse or authorize foreign nationals to work in Canada based on if they are considered to be vulnerable persons and/or at risk of exploitation or abuse. That very much is left up to the person who is doing the interviewing.
Currently, the visa officer can explain to individuals that they have certain rights when they go to Canada. The visa officer can hand them pamphlets outlining that they may be asked to do certain things and that they do not have to because they have certain rights under their visa applications. That does not always sink in with the person on the other side of the desk who is fleeing poverty or for whatever reason desperately wants to come to Canada and is willing to take a chance. This bill would end that opportunity. It would give the visa officer the opportunity to decide that the person would be exploited. It gives the officer a huge power. It is something that needs to be seriously looked at.
The bill would also allow immigration officers to determine if granting authorization would be contrary to public policy considerations that the has specifically outlined or based on evidence that people are at risk of exploitation. Often it is a feeling that someone gets. When we ask why a visa was refused, the visa officer will say that it was instinct, just a feeling that a certain person would find himself or herself in a vulnerable position. It puts a lot of emphasis and trust on the minister giving visas on judgment.
I do not see where there is harm in doing that as long as we make sure the checks and balances are in place. In reading at least the beginning of this bill, I see it is going to require a second person to comment and that is helpful.
Under the proposed amendments to the IRPA, the could issue written instructions to immigration officers giving them the authority to deny work permits to applicants who appear very vulnerable to them. The instructions would be based on clear public policy objectives and evidence that outlines the risk of exploitation that the applicants face.
Written instructions could help identify, for example, individuals who would be vulnerable to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. All of us as parliamentarians have been around for a few years and we have certainly had an opportunity to hear firsthand about the exploitation of many people who come here on a variety of different permits. They are very vulnerable and do not have a lot of support or resources, or even know where to turn to get help. They often end up in our offices, sometimes even our campaign offices.
These could include low skilled labourers as well as potential victims of human trafficking. Immigration officers would make their decision on a case by case basis. Each application for a permit is always assessed on its own merits.
Without this authority, immigration officers cannot deny a work permit to someone who meets all the requirements to enter Canada, even if they believe there is a strong possibility of exploitation or abuse.
Clearly, if we have licensed establishments that have a labour shortage, and through our process through HRDC, they can apply to have someone come over to fill that shortage. That is a problem for those of us who are trying to find ways of tightening up the system.
Either we start to ban some of these businesses and decide we are not going to have them. But if we have them, we have to recognize that they have the rights under the law to apply for workers to come to their legitimate businesses.
Strengthening these rules will hopefully provide a tool to respond to situations where a permit applicant could be at risk. Again, it puts a lot of effort and a lot of trust into the visa officer who is making that decision.
Here in the House I am sure that all parliamentarians support the protection of human rights and the prevention of exploitation of foreign nationals, and in particular, women who are at risk.
I must point out that we talk a lot about the exploitation of women, but it certainly goes on with the exploitation of many men who are in positions who do not know any other way out. They are fleeing again from poverty, looking for money to send home to their families, and often find themselves doing work that would be quite unacceptable to Canadians who are born here.
I would like to assure Canadians who are watching at home that the Liberal Party is committed to working closely with the international community to prevent human trafficking. Bill was an excellent piece of legislation that was just enacted at the beginning of 2006 specifically on the issues of human trafficking. We all recognize that it is a very important area that we need to do all we can to prevent that.
Previously, we had made substantial changes to restrict visa applications to temporary foreign workers who we believe to be at risk.
We also endorse the recent Standing Committee on the Status of Women report, “Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada”. It calls on the government to do more to address existing systemic problems involving the most vulnerable members of our society. Clearly, on this side of the House we are waiting to see what kind of action the government takes to address those very issues.
As the former chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and throughout my political career at the municipal and the federal levels, I heard heart-wrenching stories from marginalized women who fell victim and also heard many constructive suggestions for solutions to this grave problem.
I believe that we need strong laws to protect the most vulnerable, so I will be supporting sending the bill to committee for further review and study. We need further consultation and possible amendments that I am sure will come from some of the members of the House to strengthen the bill.
Although the intent of the legislation is critical, it no doubt needs to be improved and we will do that at committee, which I hope will be done quickly and hastily.
There are considerations that first must be made to ensure the legislation truly achieves the goal of protecting all foreign workers. This is why I believe it should go to committee and I am confident that the work will get done there.
A serious shortcoming of the bill is that all classifications under the foreign worker program could potentially be adversely affected, including agriculture workers and live-in caregivers. If the bill were enacted as it is written today, these workers would have to be denied entry to Canada, exasperating temporary foreign worker shortages in certain sectors of the labour economy.
Therefore, the committee needs to find that balance to ensure protection and avoid exploitation, but still allow people to come into the country to carry out the needs that we have as far as labour shortages. It must ensure that these people know what their rights are and that they have an avenue to complain, to make changes, and to change an employer if the employer is abusive.
Refusing foreign workers entry to Canada based on the potential risk for abuse does not decrease the demand for these workers. This has the potential to create underground economies which render temporary workers even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse which is exactly what we are trying to avoid with the intent of this legislation.
We need to ensure that blame is placed on the abusers, not on the victims. This is so important because victims of human trafficking, which my colleague continues to refer to, are often so frightened to come forward and admit what has actually happened to them.
I look forward to the bill being sent to committee, for improvements to be made, and for it to be referred back as soon as possible. I hope that we will be able to work together in a non-partisan way to prevent temporary foreign workers from being subjected to exploitation or abuse in Canada and for people to clearly know that they are welcome.
We need them to come to Canada. We want them to come and do well, and to move forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to have this opportunity to join the debate on Bill . Canada's immigration and refugee system is an important part of our identity, economy and society. For those people who are applying to enter our country, Canada represents hope, safety and a new start.
The has the authority under the act to grant entry to individuals who would otherwise not be permitted to enter Canada. This authority is an important tool, as it ensures that we are able to take into account the unique situation of each applicant. It helps us to remain fair, balanced and humane.
As hon. colleagues know, this authority is designed to be exercised in a transparent and accountable manner and the use of instructions is reported annually to Parliament. However, what the government cannot do under the current legislation is deny a work permit to someone who meets all the entry requirements; that is to say, under the current legislation, we cannot deny a permit even if we are convinced there is a strong possibility that a person may be exploited or abused in Canada.
Under the previous Liberal government, some applicants for work permits found themselves in situations leading to humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. As I raised in this House repeatedly during the infamous strippergate scandal of the previous Liberal government, women were degraded by being forced to provide nude photos of themselves. The hypocrisy of the previous Liberal government on this matter was stunning. While the Liberals stood in the House and for years acted out a routine of defending women, they did nothing to help, while some of their staff literally enjoyed the show.
Going back about 13 years, I had the privilege of volunteering at a sexual assault centre for just shy of seven years. Through that opportunity, I learned that one out of three women will be assaulted at some point in her lifetime. I think it is important to point out that now, 13 years later, that statistic has not changed. In fact, there is concern that it has increased and that one out of two will experience this.
At the height of the Liberal strippergate scandal, the price for one applicant was to work as a volunteer on a former Liberal cabinet minister's campaign. At one point the former Liberal minister of immigration said that admitting strippers under the temporary foreign work program was necessary to protect women. Then she flip-flopped and said it was exploiting women.
Essentially, the previous Liberal government gave blanket exemptions to foreign strippers to work in Canada despite warnings that women were vulnerable to being forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitation. It was shameful that the previous government helped facilitate what was in essence human trafficking by permitting foreign strippers into the country regardless of whether they could be potential victims of abuse or exploitation. This was all in spite of warnings that these women were vulnerable to being forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitation.
Of particular concern to me is the fact that the Liberals, despite being booted out of office, still do not seem to get it. The Liberal immigration critic, the member for , was dismissive of Bill when on May 17 he said:
I think we have the safeguards in place. This is just an attempt to change the channel to grab some headlines.
He also said:
It's a cheap attempt to change the channel and pretend to do something while they're really doing nothing.
On May 29, the Liberal immigration critic, the member for , dismissed Bill and said that it was frivolous legislation about so-called exotic dancers' working conditions.
Instead of dismissing Bill as frivolous, the Liberal immigration critic should have sought the opinions of highly respected organizations, but of course what would the Stop the Trafficking Coalition or the Future Group and/or the Salvation Army know?
What those groups do know is that this legislation is long overdue. All of those organizations have offered their support for this legislation.
I echo the , who expressed her dismay with the Liberal immigration critic who so flippantly dismisses Bill , especially in light of the trouble the Liberals found themselves in during strippergate.
I am surprised that the Liberals would attack legislation that protects vulnerable foreign workers. I suspect the Liberals do not want a new law that protects workers coming to Canada from being exploited or subject to human trafficking, as a means to deflect from their own embarrassment and record of inaction. The Liberal Party, in my opinion, is out of touch.
Our government is very proud of having brought this legislation forward. We are proud of putting forward protections that will help prevent these situations for temporary workers in Canada, including strippers, who may be abused, exploited or possibly become victims of human trafficking.
Fortunately, this government is doing things differently and is getting things done for Canadians. Under our legislation, ministerial instructions would provide the government a mechanism to protect applicants from abuse and exploitation that they might otherwise experience. I should point out that this legislation only creates the legal authority to issue instructions and does not create actual instructions or target specific occupations. Instead, it sets out areas of concern and offers a set of possible risk factors for officers to consider.
The amendments we propose would include strong measures to ensure that the government is accountable and transparent as it uses this new authority. Each time the minister issues instructions under the authority, there will be transparency, as they must be published in the Canada Gazette. Furthermore, they must be published in the department's annual report to Parliament. This will finally cast light on the shadowy approach of the previous Liberal government.
Additionally, any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a permit would require approval by a second and more senior immigration officer. Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to victimize or exploit people. The new authority would also help stop human trafficking by ensuring traffickers cannot exploit the hopes and dreams of those who are seeking a better life in Canada.
This legislation is the latest of our ongoing efforts to strengthen Canada's immigration system. As I have said, this government is committed to transparency by ensuring that any instructions used under this authority are included in the annual report to Parliament. We are committed to ensuring that Canada's immigration and refugee system continues to have a positive impact on our economy and our society. Everyone who enters Canada should have a fair chance to find what they are looking for: hope, safety and a new start.
I think it is important to note what the NDP has said respecting the issue of the previous Liberal government facilitating the sexual exploitation of temporary workers. Here is what the NDP member for had to say about the previous government's record:
The door is still wide open for the type of wholesale exploitation that existed with the eastern European dancers, and, in reality, the minister of immigration is still pimping for the underworld...by providing an endless stream of fodder for the underworld of pornography and prostitution under the guise of legitimate dancing.
Regarding the Liberals' allowance of a visa for exotic dancers, the member for also said:
I condemn the government for allowing this program to exist. I cannot believe how callous and uncaring it must be.
The leader of the NDP, commenting on the so-called exotic dancer program, said:
Now the government might not any longer be pimping for the sex industry and that is a good thing and it never should have been doing that in the first place.
Given the strong statements by the NDP, I would hope that the leader of the NDP and his caucus will vote in favour of Bill . Surely the NDP recognizes that our government is taking necessary action to deal with this issue, which once again is something the previous Liberal government failed to do.
As for the Bloc Québécois, its former status of women critic said:
When a nation...gives out temporary visas for so-called artists who are generally headed for the male entertainment industry, do you think we are opening the door to trafficking?...I feel that this is a sort of somewhat disguised legal trafficking.
Also, the Bloc member for said:
--we are wondering if there could actually be policies unwittingly promoting human trafficking.
--the gist of what the member for Winnipeg Centre said...was that when offshore labour is imported in response to a shortage...like in the case of bars looking for exotic dancers and importing them from Rumania or elsewhere, these individuals often get mixed up with organized crime.
--I am talking about the Canadian government, of course. Is it not contributing to getting individuals, in this case exotic dancers, mixed up with organized crime?
Members of the NDP, the Bloc and the Conservatives all previously raised concerns about the previous Liberal government's lack of action on affording protection to foreign workers subject to abuse and exploitation. I hope their previous comments are followed up with action by voting in favour Bill C-57.
Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to exploit people. They expect the government to take all necessary steps to deal with the problems associated with the exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers and the crime of human trafficking.
Bill is an important step toward that goal. I urge all members of this place to do the right thing and support this very important legislation.