Mr. Speaker, I am happy to continue my remarks on Bill C-14, the amendment to the Citizenship Act to facilitate citizenship for children adopted by Canadians overseas.
When I was last speaking, I mentioned that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration had been working hard on the question of a revised Citizenship Act, on the necessary revisions that are required to the Citizenship Act, which has not been looked at since 1977.
Some of the things we had been talking about pertained to the whole question of revocation of citizenship. I had mentioned that the process for revoking citizenship should be a full judicial process. That is something the standing committee in the last Parliament felt very strongly about. The standing committee felt that there should be no provision in law for an administrative power to annul citizenship and that to revoke citizenship, false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court. That was a very important standard that the standing committee wanted to hold up. It is something that is dramatically lacking in the current act.
That higher evidentiary standard is higher than the one that currently exists in the legislation. Right now it is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the lower standard of the balance of probabilities, the civil standard. The committee felt very strongly that this needed to be raised to the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
The committee also talked of the need for a review of the residency requirements for citizenship and that refugees should be able to count their residency from the time they make their claim, not from the date of a positive finding of that claim. Those are very significant issues for many people in Canada.
We need to have a standardization of the residency requirement. We need to honour the time that refugees have spent in Canada from the time of making their claim. That is very important. We want to facilitate the gaining of citizenship by refugee claimants. This would be one way of doing it, something that is not currently done in the act and one of the reasons that the standing committee believed there should be a review of the Citizenship Act.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration also said that we needed to ensure that criminal proceedings against an applicant outside Canada could be taken into account in the same way that such proceedings in Canada are taken into account. Given the concerns that many people have about security clearances, security issues and criminal issues, this was seen as an important addition that should be made to the act.
There was a concern about citizenship court judges. The standing committee felt very strongly that they should be maintained. There have been attempts in recent years to get rid of citizenship court judges. I am pleased to see that the government has appointed some new citizenship court judges in jurisdictions where their services were urgently required, but we need to maintain that important position. I think the standing committee last year was very moved by the dedication of citizenship court judges to their important work and felt that they made a very important contribution that should be maintained in any future Citizenship Act.
There was also the matter of the citizenship oath. There is some sentiment in Canada that the oath does not appropriately reflect the reality of Canada today, that the stress on allegiance to the Queen may be something that needs to be looked at. There should be a question of looking at loyalty to Canada and stressing that in the oath as well, perhaps recognizing the importance of the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the oath and establishing the kinds of relationships that new citizens have with their new country.
There were all kinds of issues that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration thought needed to be looked at in a review of the Citizenship Act.
The previous government kept telling us that it was on the verge of tabling legislation. It kept saying that it was almost ready to go and if we only gave it a little feedback, it would be ready to run with that legislation. Unfortunately we never saw it.
I suspect there is draft legislation hanging around in the department, perhaps even in a corner of the minister's office. I would encourage the new Conservative minister to look for it, to blow that pile of dust off of it, to see if it is something he can run with and introduce in the House. There are a number of citizenship issues that are very important and need attention, not just the important matter of adoption and the gaining of citizenship for adopted children.
Another issue that I feel very strongly about in the citizenship file is the whole question of the processing fee for citizenship applications. Unfortunately, the standing committee, in hearing testimony last year, heard of cases where people had to delay their application for citizenship because they could not afford the fee. That is a very serious situation. No one in Canada should be delayed or prevented from attaining citizenship merely because they cannot afford to pay the application fee.
Last year the standing committee said very strongly that the application fee for initial applications for Canadian citizenship should be eliminated. I hope the current government will take that under advisement. No one in Canada should be prevented from taking that step of becoming a citizen because they do not have the financial means to pay for the application. I hope the government will pay some attention to that recommendation.
Many issues in the Citizenship Act should be addressed and many would require a new Citizenship Act. I hope the Conservatives will expand their citizenship agenda beyond the relatively compact issue of adoption and citizenship and move on to a broader agenda around citizenship to update that important legislation.
I want to return to Bill C-14 and say that there was one area that the standing committee thought should be addressed with regard to a citizenship application for an adopted child and that was the case where it was refused. The standing committee, in its reports to the government and to the House last year, recommended that a full appeal on the facts and law should be permitted in federal court on any refusal of an application for citizenship for an adopted child. I know this is not part of the legislation. There is the opportunity to apply for leave to appeal at the federal court, but the standing committee believes that should be clearer and more direct in terms of a direct appeal to the federal court. That is one area where the legislation might be improved.
This is legislation that was long overdue. It would provide a measure of equity and fairness to adopted children and to their families and remove that spectre that many adoptive parents and their children have felt that they were somehow second-class citizens in Canada. The bill will finally address that at long last. I hope every party in the House wants this to receive the attention that it so richly deserves.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted the government has brought back our Bill C-76, which would give citizenship to foreign adopted children of Canadian citizens. This bill has now turned into Bill C-14.
This is simply a matter of fairness. In Canada, all children, whether adopted or not, should have the same rights and privileges. The bill would fix the administration so that would be the case. It does not matter how a family is formed in Canada. Families should be allowed to strengthen and grow without any administrative burdens, which would be the case if the bill is passed. The legislation was brought forward a few times before but it was caught up in an election. Hopefully, we can get it through this time.
We as Liberals have always put a lot of provisions into supporting families and that is certainly in the spirit of the bill. I know other groups have been doing great work supporting families. The Canadian Labour Congress Women's Conference is in town today and some members may have spoken to its delegates who are working very hard to improve the funding for day care, which is of such critical urgency in Canada at this time.
The fees at a French day care centre in my riding have gone up $200 and low income parents cannot afford to send their children to day care and go to work. I commend the work of those in my riding who have sent the message loud and clear that we need vastly improved resources for day care but that they are not being provided by any programs so far. They have also made a great case for supporting the anti-scab legislation.
Not having Bill C-14 has caused a lot of administrative problems for Canadian citizens who have generously adopted babies from overseas. In my riding, for instance, 17 Chinese babies have recently been adopted, as well as some African babies, and it has led to some very unfortunate and unnecessary administrative problems for the families. Some of them have had to wait 14 months to get citizenship for these babies and, therefore, a Canadian passport, whereas, had it been their baby born overseas, there would have been no waiting.
It makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for these families to travel. If the baby does not have citizenship and therefore cannot get a Canadian passport, it makes it very difficult for the family to travel together. How many parents want to travel without their young baby? It really causes great upheaval for a family, especially if there are important reasons for travelling to other countries.
This is the time of life when parents often take their babies to meet their grandparents because children under the age of two fly free. Once the child is over two the families many not be able to afford the flight. Once again that is discrimination against families that have adopted overseas as opposed to those that have their own babies, and for no good reasons.
Without Canadian citizenship, babies cannot get a social insurance number, which may lead to a lack of access to other programs. I am not positive but they may not be eligible for the government provided part of the grant for RESPs. We want adopted children to have social insurance numbers just as quickly as babies born to Canadian families so they do not run into these types of unnecessary administrative burdens.
In my riding, which is adjacent to the U.S border, and I am sure this happens in many Canadian territories and provinces, people often go across the border for the day for any one of a number of reasons. In my area they go to a place called Skagway on the ocean. It is a beautiful drive and people go on family outings quite often at this time of year.
All of a sudden a family cannot go across the border because it has adopted a baby overseas who does not have Canadian citizenship and who may not have one for as long as 14 months. The reason may be that the baby has Chinese citizenship and of course anyone with Chinese citizenship cannot go into the United States without a visa. Parents need to go through a long process and for an afternoon picnic it is not very practical.
The families that have adopted overseas babies have acquired a real good feeling for the famous saying that one does not know what one has until one has lost it because when a member of a family suddenly does not have Canadian citizenship, the family realizes the number of problems, the benefits that come with citizenship and the amount of upheaval for the family.
For these reasons, I will do everything I possibly can to make sure that we get Bill C-14 through Parliament as quickly as possible and that it does not again die on the order paper. On behalf of all Yukon families who have adopted babies overseas, I heartily support this bill.
I hope all members of Parliament will support the bill, because it would strengthen families and provide fairness to all, no matter how those families were put together. It would remove unnecessary burdens, such as doing a criminal record check on a baby. It would make it possible for families to stay together and to travel together. It would amend our immigration laws to better reflect the great Canadian values of caring, generosity, equality, inclusiveness, fairness and family.
Mr. Speaker, a while ago I listened to my Liberal colleague say that it was because of the election that we were not able to pass this bill. The Liberals were defeated and that was the explanation for it. I would remind her that they had 13 years to table such a bill, which was awaited by thousands and thousand of parents wishing to adopt.
It was not the Liberal Party of Canada’s priority to grant adopted children a status similar to that of those born here or born abroad but to parents who are Canadian citizens.
It is not a privilege. It is also linked to an international convention commonly called the Hague Convention. Under this convention, parents and children, regardless of their origins or whether the parents are biological or adoptive, must be treated equitably and similarly, without discrimination.
It is understandable that after nearly 30 years and five abortive attempts at passing such a bill, we are happy with this outcome, as are thousands of men and women across Quebec and Canada.
I am not an expert in international adoption. I am quite simply a father who has experience in international adoption. My wife and I are experiencing it still today. We adopted a little girl 19 months old eight years ago now. Today this little girl is 10 years old. We are in the process of adopting a little brother for her from Thailand—Bangkok, to be more specific. I know better than anyone, with my wife of course, all the worries, all the work, all the sweat it can take to prepare an adoption file and deliver it. And then there is the interminable wait and all the steps taken before, during and especially after.
I am in a good position to know that this bill, though it does not resolve all the problems and does not substantially reduce the administrative work, will nevertheless be a great help. It is being well received by thousands of parents who have already adopted or who are in the process of adopting, as is the case for my wife and myself.
There is no reason for having let this debate drag on for so long. There is no reason for not having adopted an accelerated procedure so that such a bill might see the light of day.
First and foremost, this bill is meant to remedy the unfair way that parents in Quebec and Canada are treated. If a child is born outside Canada to Canadian citizens, the child is automatically considered to be a Canadian citizen, even if he or she is born outside the country. On the other hand, a child who comes to Canada as a result of an international adoption is not entitled to the same treatment, even if the parents are citizens of Canada. To begin with, we will have fairer, non-discriminatory treatment that complies in all respects with the spirit and the letter of the Hague Convention.
There can be several months, and even years, of waiting between when the adoption process is begun and when it ends, culminating in citizenship for the adopted child. For parents waiting for a child, this seems like an eternity. They have to be sure that they have all the papers, and a complete file to send to the country of origin of the child who is about to be adopted. It takes months and months of work and of psychological assessments of the adoptive parents.
We often forget this aspect. If we made birth parents undergo all these psychological assessments and tests to evaluate their parenting skills—this is what happens especially for a child coming from somewhere else—I am quite sure that many might be disqualified.
The assessment is thorough: your childhood, your relationship with your parents, and so on. It is never-ending, and it is right that this should be so, because this is how it was intended.
Adoptive parents, or candidates for international adoption, must be able to prove that they will be good parents, that they will be able to include a child who has come from elsewhere in the world in their family, and rear that child, when often, in the case of some countries, they do not know the age or sex of the child.
For months, there are lots of requirements to be met, and there is also anxiety, because while we may all be parents and have good opinions of ourselves as potential parents, doubts will always arise. We have been through this, my wife and I. Thousands of adoptive parents or would-be parents go through it as well, year after year. It is a cause of great anxiety, before the evaluation report comes back to us and tells us, finally, after all of the assessments, that we are going to be good parents.
The Immigration Canada procedure also has to be followed; then there is the Youth Protection Branch, for Quebec; there are even procedures that have to be followed at Sûreté du Québec or RCMP offices to get certificates stating that you have no criminal record, for example; and there are administrative procedures with the registrar of civil status. In other words, there are months of work before a file is complete and can be sent to the country.
After that, when the file is complete and has been sent off, there is the waiting. For that interminable waiting period, day after day, there is anxiety, there is excitement, and there are plans. We try to imagine—and we are going through this right now, my wife and I—what the child will be like. We try to imagine ourselves with this child. Everyday, or almost, we have dreams, we build virtually an entire life plan for this child, whom we do not even know.
It is no different for mothers, for example, who are carrying a child, and for the fathers who, too, are waiting. It is exactly the same thing. It means waiting. It means hopes. It means building plans for a life. It even means having a very fertile imagination, so that you imagine, at some point, walking down a path in the woods, having this little one who is coming there between us, sometime in the next few months.
A lot of castles in the sky are built, but a lot of administrative stumbling blocks are also encountered. Even if the files are complete when they leave here, the authorities abroad sometimes ask for further verifications and more documents to be included in the file. Then the anxiety starts all over. Is it all right? Do the authorities consider this application to be completely legitimate? In the eyes of the foreign authorities—Thailand, in our case, my wife and I—are we considered to be good parents?
These months of waiting culminate in the trip to the country where the child so long awaited is currently living. Once we arrive there, it is not over. There remain interminable procedures and incredible red tape. For those not accustomed to working in administration, to shuffling papers, to going through these sorts of procedures—I am not talking about an MP or a lawyer—these are mountains to be crossed. Even for us, this red tape is something very arduous and very demanding, both psychologically and physically.
Once in the country of adoption, it is necessary to deal with the embassy and also with a local doctor. We still do not have the child. Three or four days may go by before we finally meet the child we have been waiting for, often for a year and a half, two years, in some cases two and a half years. Next, as if that were not enough, the country authorities often carry out their own evaluation.
The two adoptive parents are at a table with five or six local officials, whether social workers or university deans. They are asked questions for a period that can range from a half hour to three hours. They are bombarded with questions about their parenting skills, their family history, their connection to the child. If biological parents were asked to take such tests, there would be certain surprises, because this is very demanding and extremely complicated.
This continues after we come back with the child. Six to ten months may go by, even a year, before the adoptive parents become the parents of the child. In Quebec, to confirm an adoption decision, it is necessary to go through further administrative procedures with the youth protection branch, the international adoption secretariat and the Court of Quebec.
I am very happy to have this sort of bill. However I know for a fact, from having discussed this particular bill with my colleague from Vaudreuil—Soulanges who is the immigration critic, that a few amendments should be made to this bill. It is absolutely necessary that this bill be passed quickly to prevent it from meeting the same fate as the five other bills tabled over the last 30 years. There are some minor amendments to be made.
The rules might not apply in certain countries where people go to adopt children. For example, Thailand is a country where the rule of immediate citizenship might not apply. In the Philippines, this bill might not be enforced. Why? Because as long as the authorities of the country of origin—in this case the authorities of Thailand or the Philippines—have not authorized the adoption, something which can take six, seven or eight months, one cannot be the legal and legitimate parent of that child.
“Progress reports” are required, that is, one has to undergo other assessments from month to month. Thailand, for example, requires three progress reports. These reports mention such things as whether the child is integrating well and whether the parents have a good relationship with the child. Once again, the parents are waiting for six or eight months before the Thai authorities decide that the adoption can go ahead.
In the meantime, one has to apply for a placement order upon arriving in Quebec. That makes the parents the legal guardians of the child. As long as the Thai authority has not issued its consent and the assessment reports have not demonstrated that the people are good parents and the child is integrating well, immediate citizenship cannot be granted to the child born in Thailand or the Philippines. A few other countries operate the same way.
There should be a provision in the bill for those countries of origin where the authorities have to provide their approval—an approval that the Court of Quebec must await before it can issue its adoption order. This provision would ensure that when the authorities in the country of origin—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: I know that this is of very little interest to some Conservative members, but the bill is important to thousands of parents. That is what helps me keep my cool and say what I think about this fantastic bill.
There would have to be procedures, therefore, to ensure that as soon as the country of origin approves the adoption of a child who is already on Canadian soil, there is a quick arrangement to provide the child automatically with Canadian citizenship. This could be a form to fill out after the receipt of authorization from the country of origin or a Citizenship and Immigration Canada form with an annotation in the upper right-hand corner saying: “Adoption”. Citizenship and Immigration Canada could even be required to grant citizenship within a reasonable amount of time, for example a maximum of 30 days.
This would make it possible to take into account the specifications of the countries of origin of certain children who will not be in a position to take advantage of the bill.
If this is done, it would greatly facilitate the work of parents, which often goes on for two years between the time when their file is forwarded and the adoption order is issued. The result would be less red tape for parents who want to adopt from countries like those I mentioned: Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan too. I would have to check on Taiwan actually, but I am certain about Thailand and the Philippines. So their task would be simplified.
Apart from the bill, an amendment like that would be a kind of acknowledgement added to the federal tax credit for adoption expenses. The Bloc Québécois has introduced this measure on a number of occasions because we thought that these parents deserved some kind of support. These two signals would send adopting parents a clear message that when we talk about family, demography, and the future of Quebec and Canada, children who came from elsewhere to be adopted by parents here must be considered. This is the finest gesture that we could make because it is much more difficult to complete an international adoption than is generally assumed.
It is not just an administrative ordeal, but a deeply human ordeal, experienced by aspiring parents who are practically stripped of their privacy having to put so much on the table: their life, their feelings. Sometimes they undergo an all-out interrogation. And so it should be. A child should not be entrusted to just anyone. Children are precious; they are the most precious gems in the world.
However, this would give some recognition to these parents by virtue of being considered true parents and these children considered true Quebeckers and Canadians, who will enrich our society and be good citizens in the future. It starts here by taking those measures that we can. We do not have any authority over decisions taken by foreign countries. They have already been kind enough to trust us as adoptive parents; they have been kind enough to entrust one of their own to us so we could give these children a future and help them become citizens of Quebec and Canada.
I think that parents here should be recognized for what they are: true parents, not unlike birth parents, with children who must live here without any discrimination. When I say discrimination, this goes for parents as well. This bill, with the desired amendments, will truly address what we want.
The Bloc Québécois feels strongly about everything to do with family and demographic growth. Rest assured that we will work very hard for these amendments to be integrated into the bill. This time the bill must be passed quickly for parents like my wife and I who are in the middle of the adoption process anxiously waiting and hoping to know their baby boy one day.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I also hope that he will experience what my wife and I are experiencing now and will soon experience with our second child, at least we hope so. We do not know how much time it may take.
I think that a bill like this one is a small step, like the tax credit for expenses in connection with an international adoption. I think that this is only fair. We cannot say that we have been going through a demographic decline for at least three generations and that we welcome immigrants with open arms, without granting some sort of collective support when parents, citizens of Quebec and Canada, wish to go and seek a child abroad.
We are not asking the population to take our place as adoptive parents or to do the work in our place, but things should be made easier where possible. There will actually be more and more parents in this situation, who will be opting for international adoption. It is really a nice way of ensuring the integration of citizens in our society for the future.
I do not know how it works in the rest of Canada, but I know that there are agencies. In Quebec, there are agencies recognized by the Secrétariat à l'adoption internationale. These agencies are properly accredited and they help prepare files. They do not take the place of the people, but they endorse files and also handle the procedures for sending them, depending on particular ties with certain countries. I think there are agencies in Ontario. In the rest of Canada, I do not know. These agencies deal with particular countries. If someone is looking at Asia, Latin America or Europe, there are specialized agencies that have established a legal network, of course, and this facilitates the process.
This is an experience which I keenly hope the member will have. If he wishes, I will get some information for the rest of Canada. I will be pleased to do this for him, and I hope he gets to enjoy this tremendous experience.
For the past eight years, my wife and I have been experiencing this with Rosalie and we are getting ready to experience it again with our little boy, who is on the way. It is a parental experience, a human experience, an extraordinary life experience.
Being a parent is already extraordinary, but going through this experience, after months and months of waiting, is quite fabulous, as far as my wife and I are concerned.