Mr. Speaker, I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Thursday, March 13, 2008, be concurred in.
It is my honour to ask the House to support the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. A motion was presented on Thursday, March 13, that the report be concurred in. I will read the motion that is in front of the House right now. It states:
|| The Committee recommends that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.
Members can imagine that when people get married, they would want their wives or their husbands to stay in Canada and be able to live together, to start a family, and to be able to enjoy their time together. The immediate time right after the marriage is the time when people are on their honeymoon and they really want to spend time together.
There is an immigration policy that very few Canadians actually know about. Probably very few members of Parliament know about it as well. It says that if one meets someone here in Canada and that person happens not to be a Canadian, the person might have been visiting in Canada or maybe a student, and one gets married to that person, under the present rules right now some of these spouses would be deported from Canada. Of course, one wants these people to stay in Canada. Then the sponsorship application must begin all over again overseas. In the meantime, these couples are separated for over a year.
I will give an example. On Valentine's Day of this year I highlighted the case in my riding of Mr. and Mrs. Chen. Mr. Chen has been in Canada for many years. He has a very successful business worth about $13 million and it is his family's sole source of financial support. A few years ago he was working with one of his co-worker's and fell in love. This young lady is a Canadian, they are both in their thirties, and a perfectly matched couple. She decided to sponsor Mr. Chen in Canada.
After waiting for six or seven months, the application to sponsor him and allow him to stay in Canada is still proceeding. In the meantime, Mr. Chen has been asked to be deported. This is very strange. Through his lawyer, he said that his wife was dependant on him financially and emotionally, and would be greatly harmed by his removal. Mrs. Chen had an 11 year old stepson and the stepson has adopted this wonderful father. They are very close. They have been living together for two or three years. Yet, this man faces deportation. A few days before Valentine's Day the police came to his house and he was about to be arrested and deported.
There was another situation of Brigitta Sallay. She had been in Canada for seven years. She married Arpad Vadasz or they lived in common law. They have an eight month old child. In April of this year, while her husband was sponsoring her application to stay in Canada, she was deported. She was arrested on April 9 and then a few days later on April 12 she was deported along with her eight month old child to Hungary.
That is completely bizarre because the mom of this baby has a common law husband who lives in Canada and the removal officer forgot to tell their 10-year-old daughter who is also in Canada. The 10-year-old daughter was in school at the time her mom was deported and did not even know about it, so the father ended up having to pick her up from school. As a result, they are now waiting for the mom to come back to Canada.
We can see that married couples are being cruelly separated due to a heartless immigration policy. I hear many heartbreaking stories of couples living in Canada who are about to be separated even while their spousal sponsorship applications are in progress. I asked the immigration committee to pass this very important motion because immigrants deserve fairness. By enacting very small changes, we can make a big impact on many families. The system does not have to be this complicated.
For over a decade, minister after minister talked about supporting families and yet they failed to support loving couples. It is absurd and cruel to separate families, and cause untold emotional and financial hardship just because of a failure of a political will or because Parliament has not been paying attention.
I say that it is time for fairness for immigrant families. It is time to stop the deportation of spouses who have an outstanding application for sponsorship by their Canadian partners.
One of the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is “to see that families are reunited in Canada”, but we are failing far too many families who are separated while living together here in Canada.
Some members may remember that in the House of Commons in 2005 there was a controversy involving the former minister of immigration. She was accused of giving a ministerial permit to allow a woman to stay in Canada while her partner was sponsoring her. This woman happened to be a former stripper and that became a big controversy. It became known as “strippergate”, or something of that nature, and her husband was sponsoring her at that time. Had the policy been changed, she probably would not have had to go to a minister or a member of Parliament. Her husband would have been able to sponsor her within Canada without any trouble.
So, in 2005, a new Liberal minister of immigration at that time made a policy change and said that most Canadians could in fact sponsor their husband or wife in Canada and they would not face deportation.
The policy at that time was clear. It said that we should allow Canadians who wanted to sponsor a spouse in Canada to apply in Canada whether or not their spouse was in status. One would think that was simple. That is what the policy said. There was no objection at that time. There was no uproar. People in the communities thought it made sense to allow these couples to stay together in Canada while their sponsorship applications were processed.
But what happened? What happened was that the department, and allow me to read this:
|| In 2005, a new public policy (the “spousal policy”) was adopted under the humanitarian and compassionate grounds provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to extend the benefit of the SCPC class to spouses and common-law partners who are in Canada without status, subject to some exceptions discussed below.
So, the intention was to allow all inland applicants to apply in Canada for their spouses. Instead of doing it in a very clean, straightforward way, the former Liberal government did not really pay enough attention to it. It changed the policy a bit, but it really did not complete its job. It did not finish the job. It did not get the job done.
According to the Library of Parliament, there are people, loving couples, that are now affected by this. It is not a small number. Since I have been talking about this issue, I have received many examples of people being deported. They are not fraudulent applications remember and we are not talking about people who want to cheat the system. We are talking about allowing them to stay in Canada.
The absurd situation is that when Canada deports people back to their country of origin, we spend a lot of money arresting the people. We then have to ensure they depart and may even provide their means of travel, which again is a lot of money. Then the applications that have been processed within Canada and that may have been worked on a lot for over eight months, these applications within Canada have to be scrapped.
If a person is deported to let us say China, the Canadian spouse would have to start a new application all over again to bring that person back into this country. Think of the cost, the duplication, and the administrative nightmare. The application forms have to be re-submitted, this time in Canada and overseas. None of the old applications would be in order. There would have to be a second medical exam and a security clearance.
We have heard from the minister recently that the backlog in overseas offices is at 925,000 and yet in Canada we are adding to that backlog in a completely needless way. We do not need to do it that way and yet we deport people even though they will eventually come back to Canada.
It is almost as if the right hand, which is the Canada immigration centre, is not paying attention to what the left hand, which is the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, is doing. As a result, the Canadian immigration system is processing an application and in the meantime the person is being deported. Then the application stops and it has to start all over again. It is absurd. It is a complete waste of taxpayers' money doing it that way. Not only does it waste taxpayers' money, it takes a huge emotional toll on couples.
Let me describe a few more examples. In Thunder Bay, there is a couple by the name of Marcel and Cindy Stubbe. Cindy, who is 44 years old, is terminally ill with lung cancer, which has spread to her brain, while her 42-year-old husband lives with her and is facing the constant threat of deportation to his native home, Holland. While his wife is a Canadian citizen, Marcel's status is that of a visitor, meaning that he faces deportation.
He thought originally that the government would show some compassion because of his wife's condition. Remember she has lung cancer, which is a terminal illness. The couple lives in a trailer park on a very strict budget and because Marcel is not allowed to work, he and his wife subsist on her $1,061 from the Ontario disability support program. After paying all the bills, they have about $100 left to buy a month's worth of groceries and pet food for their cats. Because of Marcel's visitor status, he and his wife did not qualify as a family of two, which would have meant a larger payment from ODSP.
Marcel and his wife have a very positive outlook on life. They said that some days are good and some days are bad. The Thunder Bay community is showing heart. It is very kind and generous. A group of strangers, neighbours of theirs, came together and raised over $800 so Marcel could pay the fees required to apply for his immigration status. The fees were $550 and the couple was able to use the rest for food.
The good Samaritans included the Victorian Order of Nurses, social workers and local volunteers. The couple said that they believed in miracles, but would it not be wonderful if he did not have to face deportation and that he could live in Canada with his fairly sick wife.
There is another case from Toronto. The couple had two kids together in Canada. One is two years old and the other one is six months old and is still breast-feeding. One child was born in Ontario in 2005 and the other in 2007. The wife is facing deportation right now even though the husband is sponsoring her. The wife has to quit her ultrasound technician job and leave her properties behind. They have to reapply overseas and wait for another year or so. The two kids will either live with the father in Canada or with the mother back home in China.
It is just unbelievable. Why would we ask a family to make the decision of whether the children will stay with the father or the mother? They are not criminals.
We have 22,000 people in the backlog waiting to be deported and some are couples. They have Canadians who are sponsoring them and yet we deport them. We spend $23 million a year deporting people out of Canada and yet yesterday the said that Canada needed families, children and workers. He said that because of our declining population and declining birthrate we are in serious need of more workers and young people and yet we are spending all that money to deport people. Half of them have businesses and the other half have very good jobs in Canada. They have kids born in Canada and yet we deport them. It does not make any sense.
We have another situation of a wife and husband who have been married since April 2004 and CBSA is trying to deport the husband. He has no criminal record. He works, pays his taxes and is a good husband and father. The couple bought a house in October 2007 and yet this poor man is being deported while the wife is trying to sponsor him.
These people are writing to the House of Commons through their member of Parliament asking that we please change the rules.
There is another person whose fiancée is in Italy while she lives here. She is a Canadian. They have been together for seven years. The whole situation is quite absurd. Not only is it costly but it increases our backlog and causes untold hardship on families.
I am asking that the House, hopefully unanimously or a good majority, supports the motion so that the matter will not come back here a year from now. I hope the minister will do the right thing and change the rule so that in a few months time or maybe by next Valentines Day we will not see couples being cruelly separated for no reason except some bureaucratic misunderstanding.
I hope all members of Parliament will support this concurrence motion and the immigration committee and allow these couples to stay together in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, the motion does not talk about approval of the application in principle. It simply says that by filing the application, there would be an automatic stay in deportation and a temporary work permit would be issued. It seems to me that if we took this to its logical conclusion, it would certainly allow for potential abuse. I am not talking about legitimate cases and those that are approved in principle because that already happens. This is taking it to an illogical conclusion.
I would like to take this opportunity to speak to the motion proposed by the hon. member for . We oppose the motion.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration voted on the motion that would entitle any applicant to an automatic stay of removal and a work permit until a decision was rendered on his or her in Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application. Allowing automatic stays of removal together with automatic access to work permits could seriously undermine the integrity of Canada's immigration program.
We have established a fair and adequate process in this country which ensures people are protected, but it also allows them to go through various processes that can take years before a decision is rendered. One could take advantage of that in a situation like this. It would almost certainly lead to an increase in applications in the spouse or common law partner in Canada class from individuals whose relationships might not be legitimate and who were seeking to enter Canada by any means. We are not talking about the obvious ones. Applications based on compassionate reasons should go forward, as should those approved in principle. We are talking about the potential misuse that might exist for others.
As members of the House are aware, all immigration applications are carefully examined to ensure that they are bona fide. For spouse or common law applications in Canada, steps are taken to ensure that the relationship which forms the basis of the application is bona fide in order to protect the integrity of the immigration program.
The Government of Canada is responsible for meeting this country's economic needs while fostering family reunification and offering protection to refugees. Those are the three pillars of our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Family reunification is a key element of the act. Keeping families together helps people integrate into Canadian society and contributes to their success. We believe our current policies reflect this goal.
Under the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, measures are in place which allow individuals already living in Canada to apply for permanent residence from within Canada. There are two types of cases involved: those who are in status and those who are out of status.
Spouses and common law partners already in Canada and who are in status may apply for permanent residence in the spouse or common law partner in Canada class. In order to be eligible under this class, applicants must have a bona fide relationship, live with their sponsoring spouse or common law partner in Canada, and have legal temporary status in Canada. That is the way our system ought to work. It ought to have a balance in the process. While their applications are being processed, spouses and common law partners can apply to maintain their temporary resident status.
In addition, once applicants are confirmed as having met the eligibility requirements as spouses or common law partners in the in Canada class, they can remain in Canada and apply for open work permits while the necessary security and medical background checks are done to obtain final approval.
We have a system in place that is working. We have a system in place that allows for open work permits to happen, but there are also security issues that need to be taken into account.
This initial eligibility assessment, also known as the approval in principle, plays an important role in preserving the integrity of Canada's immigration program. It ensures that CIC has determined that an applicant's relationship is genuine before he or she is eligible to apply for a work permit. It only makes sense. It would not make sense to simply file an application just because one says he or she is a spouse. It makes it open to abuse.
I would like to stress that while the majority of spousal applicants are bona fide and are in bona fide relationships, some do abuse our programs. That is why we must take that reality into consideration.
To help prevent this abuse, citizenship and immigration officers check an applicant's background. They perform personal interviews and examine evidence to ensure that the relationship is genuine. Our current policy of restricting access to open work permits until after approval in principle is obtained prevents applicants from using the spouse or common law partner in Canada class as an avenue to circumvent legitimate immigration processes.
These are measures already in place for people who are in status to stay in Canada while their application is in process. However, Canada's immigration system is even more generous than that. We have measures in place for family members who are out of status to stay here permanently as well. For spouses and common law partners who are in Canada without legal immigration status, a public policy was introduced in 2005 to also allow these individuals, including failed refugee claimants, to apply and be processed in the in Canada class.
This public policy was implemented to facilitate family reunification in cases where spouses and common law partners were already living together in Canada, but who may have certain inadmissibilities resulting in a lack of status. This certainly has gone a long way to addressing many of the concerns that have been raised. It is not an opportunity or an availability to address every concern, because in that event, the illegitimate ones, or those that would use the system improperly, would be allowed as well.
The inadmissibilities I refer to include, for example, having overstayed one's temporary status, working or studying without being authorized to do so, or entering Canada without a valid passport, the required visa or other documentation, and would apply to failed refugee claimants.
The ability to submit an application in these cases, and these cases are exempt, allows individuals to remain in Canada for a limited period of time, 60 days, should removal action be initiated. This period facilitates the processing of their application to the approval in principle stage. As with those who are already in status, these applicants will be allowed to apply for a work permit once they have obtained approval in principle.
In addition to this initial 60 day deferral of removal, once an applicant has obtained approval in principle, a stay of removal is granted until a final decision is made on the application. The system has built into it a policy that is equitable, compassionate and takes into consideration many of the issues that have been raised as problematic.
For individual cases where determination of eligibility is complex and may take longer than 60 days, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency consult with one another and reach a decision on how to proceed. This is yet another step in the process.
The current policy is considerably generous and flexible in facilitating family reunification applications and processing from within Canada. In most cases it allows people to stay while their application is in process. Once the bona fides of their application have been established, they are allowed to apply for an open work permit.
The government is diligent in ensuring that these applications are processed in a timely fashion, without undermining Canada's commitment to family reunification. That principle remains intact. That principle continues to be an abiding one that is taken into consideration along with the others that form part of the act.
Moreover, the existing measures minimize the potential for abuse. They strike the appropriate balance between our family reunification goals and the need to maintain the integrity of the immigration program.
Based on the reasons I have outlined, I would encourage my colleagues in the House to vote against the motion before them. It is very easy to bring a motion that would be all encompassing, all inclusive and to say it does apply to some existing extenuating circumstances. What the motion fails to consider is what might happen if an automatic stay and an open work permit were given every time an application was filed without any analysis of the claim or without any analysis of the bona fides of the relationship and without looking at any material. That would be inappropriate. It would not be the type of due diligence Canadians would expect from their government.
They would at least want to ensure a certain threshold was met before any of those actions were taken. As I stated in my speech, when we look at all of the provisions that are already in place, we would have to come to the conclusion that equity, fairness and compassion are parts of the system which not only allow out of status people to remain here, not only provide for a time period to go through the processes to get to the approval in principle, but also allow for discussion to take place between two departments that are involved in the process to ensure that in those cases that require some compassion and equity, discretion will be exercised appropriately.
When we compare what is in place to what some of the needs are, a fair balance has been struck between what is necessary to meet the need and what is necessary to protect the integrity of the system. Canadians would expect that much. A balance is not always easy to draw, but we know that it needs to be a balance. To simply say we can file documents and expect consequences to happen without regard to what is in the documents would not be appropriate. It would not be exercising one's due diligence and would be abdicating in an area where Canadians would expect us to take some measure of work and take some measure of due diligence to ensure that the basic threshold is met.
For that reason, we oppose the motion as stated.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to engage in this debate.
I want to say to the parliamentary secretary it is really unfortunate that he had his speaking notes prepared for him for the chamber and that he did not speak with the same rationality he did in the committee, because the policy we are looking at does not make any sense.
Cutting this down to the bare bones, what we have is that somebody applies for inland spousal landing. It is legal. There is absolutely nothing untoward about it. That is how the system was set up to work. However, the processing starts on that application and since it does not get done in time, it is passed on to removal, for no reason other than the fact that the application is not processed. Where does that make any kind of sense?
Somebody takes the right step and makes an inland spousal application to be able to stay here, which is quite proper, but because the bureaucracy does not deal with the issue fast enough, we are going to remove that individual. Where does that many any sense at all? That is what this comes down to.
I am shocked, and I am sure all the opposition parties are shocked, because for years we listened to that party stand in this House and defend family values. How much more of a family value can we have than not splitting husband from wife, father from children, sons and daughters, or mothers from their children? That is what this whole issue comes down to.
If the case were that somebody was found to have a relationship that was not bona fide and it was a marriage of convenience, nobody is arguing that this person be allowed to stay here. What we are talking about is that when somebody makes an application to keep their family together in Canada the case must be processed before one of the spouses is removed.
Mr. Speaker, you must be wondering about it as well because I am sure you heard the same speeches on family values coming from the Conservative Party. This reminds me of the kind of family values where Mexico refuses to recognize religious marriages as far as derivative citizenship is concerned.
However, I mentioned that it really is too bad that the parliamentary secretary gets up in this House and reads notes prepared for him by the department, because when we had committee hearings on this issue, there was a sign in his questioning that he actually understood the issue and knew that this issue was not right.
I am going to refer to the meeting where this issue was discussed in committee and the parliamentary secretary asked the official:
|| I know there's a concern about multiple applications, but from what I'm hearing, if one application isn't determined in 60 days, you make it a point between the two departments to expedite it. If you removed the idea of multiple applications and just dealt with the particular case, is there any reason why, as a matter of policy, the removal couldn't be withheld until the expedited process on that particular application is completed?
This is what we all agree on. I think all of us in the committee agreed on it.
I have had a number of cases, like most members of Parliament have had, in dealing with this. There are two cases in particular to which I will refer. One involved a young couple who were married last summer. The husband was born in Canada. His father had emigrated from Guyana. The husband attended the University of Waterloo, where he met his future wife, who came from Guyana to go to Wilfrid Laurier University. They met and kept in contact.
While the young woman had status initially in Canada, she went back to Guyana. The relationship continued, she came up for a visit and the young couple decided to get married. They filed for inland application, which happened during the summer. While this was granted, the young woman could not get a temporary work permit to engage in her occupation. She happens to be a financial professional.
I come from the riding of Kitchener—Waterloo. We have a lot of insurance companies in the riding. It is the home of Sun Life, Manulife and a number of others. Her skills were in demand, but she could not get a work permit until she had approval in principle, which did not make any sense. When a young couple gets married, we want the couple to start off their life with both of them being able to work. We know the financial strains that can happen in marriages, especially with young people who are paying off students loans or whatever.
The work permit was not allowed until the approval in principle came through, which does not make any sense. We are a country that brings in well over 100,000 temporary foreign workers to work in Canada, yet for people who want to be future citizens and build a family in Canada, we deny them the right to work while the bureaucracy goes through the file.
Another situation I had was in Chilliwack. The son of a friend of mine, who is a teacher, was involved with a veterinarian who happened to be from Holland. When the couple decided to get married, and her status would expire, she specifically went out of the country to make application because that way she could continue to work.
We have two very similar cases being treated totally differently by our officials in the handling of immigration matters for spouses.
I am sure most members of the House, who were here at the time, will recall a former minister who was in trouble around the whole issue of giving ministerial permits to people who wanted to get married and maintain their partners in Canada so they would not be split up.
The problem was, instead of having it down as a matter of routine by the bureaucracy, which is the way it used to be done, the rules were changed to require a minister's permit. This was totally wrong, and the minister was in trouble for showing compassion. The case she happened to deal with spun out of control. It was referred to as “strippergate”, as members will recall.
The basic foundation of it was that a Canadian male married that woman and therefore she was allowed to stay because she got the permit. Given the problems associated with that, we changed the rules back to the way they were. The rules are, if people marry, they can apply to have them stay inland while the case is being processed. There is nothing difficult about this.
I heard questions in the chamber about the queue and about how the time spent in lineups to get into Canada might be harmful.
I would like the House to consider this situation. CBSA expends resources to get people out of the country. Because their application has not been processed, it will have to start to process the application out of the country once again, which will take a lot of time and will back up the queue. Instead of doing that, why do we not dedicate the resources that CBSA spends to go after people who have made legitimate applications to land in Canada to keep their family together, pass it to processing and ensure it gets done. This is not rocket science.
The way the rule stands is just not defensible. It does not make any sense. It is the height of ridicule of a bureaucracy to split up families. We know problems are created when a family is split up for a period of time. They suffer emotionally, financially and psychologically.
Too often our officials separate families for absolutely no good reason. They claim that children are not deported if they are born in Canada. However, the reality is when parents are moved out of the country, the children will be split from them. In the case of undocumented workers, the children follow their parents even though they were born in our country.
I do not understand the change in the approach of the parliamentary secretary. Why does he not go back to the common sense approach that he expressed in committee?
The Conservative government claims it is the pillar of family values, yet it is quite willing to split up families for no good reason. Why? The bureaucracy does not proceed fast enough. Why not? Money has been wasted on border services to round up people, which they never should round up, to send them out of the country. This ends up creating more work in getting people back into the country, and families are being split apart.
I call upon the parliamentary secretary to go back to the common sense approach he had in committee. I call upon him to persuade the minister and his colleagues in the Conservative caucus that keeping families together is a good thing. Splitting them apart unnecessarily is a bad thing. That should not be too difficult. I really am shocked that the Conservatives have not seen that point before, particularly the parliamentary secretary who understands the issues.
The money we spend to remove people from Canada, and I am not sure if it is 10% or 11% of the cases related to this, seems to be a real waste of resources. The government claims that we have to bring in more and more temporary foreign workers because of unfilled positions. To not issue a work permit to a spouse, while a case is being processed, also does not make any sense.
People who make refugee claims are allowed to have a work permit because we want to ensure they have a chance to support themselves. We also want to ensure that when people come to Canada, the first thing we do not say to them is that they have to rely on assistance from someone else, but rather they should come into the country and work. This is a good thing. I am surprised, from that perspective, why this does not make any sense to the Conservatives.
On one hand, the government is defending this policy. Essentially, the Conservatives are parroting the nonsensical evidence we heard from the officials at the citizenship and immigration committee. On the other hand, under the guise of Bill , they really do not want to open up the debate to the extent it should be. Instead, they are saying that the whole system is wrong.
I ask the parliamentary secretary and the government to use a little common sense. Look at the policy, use some innate common sense and fix it. This is not rocket science. Somebody makes a legal application and then, because the bureaucracy does not process it in time, we remove that individual.
When I asked the officials in front of the committee if they could tell us what the percentage of approval of these cases was, they said it was 90%. Then I asked the officials if they could tell us how many people they got rid of because the department was unable to process the case in time and how many of those people came back in because their relationship was legitimate. The officials told me that they did not know and that they did not keep statistics on that, which surprised me.
Why not? Why would the department not keep statistics on something that simple? Then perhaps it could judge the quality of its decision making at the front end, instead of making these ridiculous decisions, removing individuals and making them go through the whole process of applying from outside, and splitting up families. How does this make sense? It does not. The only people it seems to make sense to are those in the Conservative Party, who are supposed to be the paragon of virtue by trying to defend family values. They quite lackadaisically will have families torn apart.
I do not think there is a whole lot more to say about this, except to ask the parliamentary secretary to do a better job to persuade his colleagues and the minister in caucus that it is worth keeping families together and standing up for family values.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration because our immigration system is out of control and is facing serious difficulties. For the past few months, it has been my great pleasure to participate in this committee, in which I take great interest.
The purpose of the motion we are debating today, which was passed in committee, is to rectify this situation somewhat. This is a tiny contribution, a very small step forward. In my opinion, much more must be done because there are many other problems in the system, which probably needs to be redesigned.
With regard specifically to the issue before us, as the parliamentary secretary suggested, I would like to reread the recommendation before discussing the issue in detail. Here is what the report says:
|| That the Committee recommend that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.
Basically, this refers to a person who is applying to sponsor a spouse. In Canada, an individual can sponsor only one person in his or her lifetime. Now, Parliament has to decide whether it is a good idea to remove a person who has made an application before a decision has been rendered on the application. In the meantime, that person would be able to obtain a work permit to earn a living, like most of us.
We must therefore study two aspects of this issue. The first is removal. I asked Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canada Border Services Agency officials a number of questions, and I was told that in practice—although numbers were unavailable—officials almost systematically do not remove people in this situation and that the Canada Border Services Agency does not typically remove people awaiting a decision on a sponsorship application. Nobody was able to give me any numbers, but with few exceptions, people awaiting a decision are not removed from Canada.
The parliamentary secretary mentioned this earlier today, saying that we already had a balanced approach and that measures to avoid unnecessary deportations were already in place. Since this is what is currently done in almost all cases, I do not understand why the Conservative members would have a problem supporting this motion.
Another thing that seemed to bother the parliamentary secretary even more is the issue of granting a work permit to these people. I find that rather strange, since these people have the right to reside in Canada. They are here waiting for a response from Citizenship and Immigration Canada—a response that could take a long time, as the government itself admits. They are being told that they will have to wait, but in the meantime, they cannot work. They have to stay home twiddling their thumbs and doing who knows what. These people cannot help make Canada more prosperous, cannot pay taxes, cannot contribute to the economy or help their families survive.
This causes people to suffer unnecessarily, especially since, as the government often reminds us, Canada is facing a labour shortage. We are told that there are not enough workers to do the work, and we are not just talking about skilled workers. In fact, Canada is facing a labour shortage even for unskilled jobs. That is what the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration heard about temporary foreign workers when we recently travelled across Canada.
I think that this government, which opened the floodgates on temporary foreign workers by increasing the number of these workers admitted to the country and by stating that it intends to increase their numbers, is talking out of both sides of its mouth.
On the one hand, foreigners want to come and work temporarily in Canada, and we want the number of those people to increase so that we can meet our labour force needs. On the other hand, there are people who are already here in Canada whose spouse already has permanent residence status or Canadian citizenship. These applications will most likely be accepted, given the relatively high success rate of sponsorship. They have every opportunity to make a life in Canada. However, we do not allow them to work while they are waiting for the government's response. Yet, we are willing to bring in temporary foreign workers. That seems to me to be completely inconsistent.
The parliamentary secretary tried to justify his government's opposition to this motion. I have the feeling that it is just that: they wanted to justify their opposition and vote against the motion simply to vote against it. Personally, I do not see what is compromising for the government. They could have very well voted for this motion.
Some people believe that this method will lead to large-scale abuse. The procedure we are talking about is very particular: it is the sponsorship procedure. It would not apply to every applicant, whether they are applying for refugee status or something else. This is a question of people who already have a spouse in Canada who has legal status and can, once in their lifetime, sponsor someone. There is no reason to think that this technique will be widely used to gain undue privileges, especially since the privileges would only apply when the application is being reviewed.
Thus, someone who uses this ploy—a sham marriage—would be allowed to work legally in Canada for only a few months, that is, for the time it takes to process the application. I would also like to remind the House that, in Canada, a person can only get married once, or at least a divorce must be obtained before the person can remarry. One cannot get married over and over again. The parliamentary secretary already knows this. It seems to me that anyone who wants to break the law and cheat our system could do so in a much more straightforward manner by simply working illegally. Furthermore, during our tour, we found out that it is still easy to work illegally in Canada. So why would anyone bother going through such a bogus procedure, when one can simply break the law?
In short, I think the abuse argument falls short. As I said earlier, this sponsorship procedure has a rather low rejection rate. Anyone who applies and goes through this procedure has a good chance of being approved. He or she would not be granted any undue privilege. Basically, if that were to happen, that is, if an individual's application was rejected because it was unsuitable, false or misleading, after he or she had already been working here for a few months, the consequences for Canada would be rather minor. Indeed, if someone works for a few months, helps boost the economy, pays taxes and earns money for his or her family, I think this is inconsequential compared to the potential benefits of allowing that person to work while awaiting the government's response.
Obviously, the crux of the problem lies in the wait times. If the wait times were very short, we could reasonably assume that the motion would never have been introduced before this Parliament. But this problem exists because the wait times are much too long, as the government itself has admitted.
I find it rather interesting and ironic that the parliamentary secretary is talking about balance and integrity in the immigration system. Let us be serious. Any number of examples demonstrate that the immigration system is not working, and this proposal will certainly not create an additional weakness in the system. Quite the opposite, it aims to bring better balance and greater integrity to the immigration system.
Since the parliamentary secretary brought it up, let us talk about balance and integrity in the immigration system.
First, let us talk about the wait times. The government has introduced a bill in which it claims to want to reduce wait times. Anyone who knows anything about how a lineup works knows that allowing people to jump to the head of the line does not make the lineup any shorter. The length of the lineup stays the same, but some people do not have to wait as long. Those who are at the end of the lineup have to wait longer, which makes the average wait time the same for everyone. It is not rocket science. The only way to make the lineup shorter is to process more cases or limit the number of cases in the first place.
The best way to handle this would be to process more cases. To do so, there need to be more commissioners of oaths. The system is currently short about 50 commissioners. When this government came into power, there were roughly five commissioners short of the 150 provided for in the act. Today, the number varies. I have seen a few orders in council recently, but, basically, some 50 positions need to be filled. This is a big part of the wait time problem. If the right number of commissioners under the legislation were in place to process immigration cases, we would get results more quickly.
This would be more efficient for Canada. Our immigration system would be more attractive to people who can make a contribution to Canada.
We would also have a system with better security. Some immigration and refugee status applications are rejected for reasons of national security or serious criminality. That means the longer we take to process such cases, the longer a refugee, for example, stays in Canada. We cannot promote law and order and also allow people who may be a danger to Canada and whose files have not been processed to wait in line simply because we refuse to appoint commissioners and fill the necessary positions.
There is another fairly absurd situation where we can definitely say that the immigration system is not balanced and its integrity is questionable. I am referring to the assessment of applications for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds which, in many cases—I pointed this out to the House last week—are carried out by the same person who does the pre-removal risk assessment. I find that rather odd. I asked the minister this question in the House last week. Officials had pointed out some cases to my riding office and so I asked the minister to confirm whether it was true. She answered that the immigration system in Canada was good and that the Conservatives were great people, even though this was not what I was after.
My office, and surely many other offices in Canada, was informed of several cases of individuals who had applied for pre-removal risk assessment. This is what happens in such cases. The officer who assesses the file of an individual gives a negative response indicating that they are not at risk if they return to their country and then they are asked to go back there. The individual tries another procedure, an application for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds. The same officer who told them they were not at risk will examine the new application. He will do so under another section of the act; however, the fact remains that the same person is conducting the assessment.
That seems to be government procedure and it does not bother anyone. When I asked the minister the question, it did not seem to bother her. However, this seems to be unfair. In speaking of law and justice, there is also the concept that justice must be seen to be done. How can an individual, who resorts to one procedure and is rejected, believe that he is treated fairly when the person examining his file is the same person who rejected his application at a previous stage?
This makes no sense. If the government wanted to have a balanced system that operated with integrity, it would not tolerate this sort of practice. What is more, in her reply last Friday, the minister pointed out that there were more than 4,000 officers in Canada who were all highly competent. To my way of thinking, if there are 4,000 officers, it should not be too difficult to find a different officer to examine an application being made on humanitarian grounds, because there are another 3,999 officers. It should not be too hard to find someone else.
I would like to point out that no member of this House would ever tolerate such a policy if it were applied to a Canadian citizen. None of us here would ever agree to take part in an appeal or a subsequent proceeding and be judged by the same judge who had already convicted us previously. Everyone would say that it was not a true appeal and that our chances were virtually nil, because the same person was evaluating our case. If the minister were serious, she would correct this situation.
The other situation that clearly shows the lack integrity of our system concerns the refugee appeal division. When the law was amended to reduce the number of board members who heard refugee claims from two to one—it used to be that two people heard each claim, but now a claim is heard by only one person—parliamentarians created the refugee appeal division, which is part of the law now, so that even though only one person would render a decision, claimants would have an appeal mechanism to ensure there were no errors or abuses, no major problems, no people who would be sent back to their countries to be tortured or killed.
The government has never instituted this refugee appeal division. Even though the law provides for it, the government is still refusing to put it in place. That is why the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to force the government to give these people a right to appeal, as the law provides. It is ironic that the Bloc Québécois should have to introduce bills to enforce the laws of Parliament. I am surprised at this, because I thought it was the government's job to enforce the law, and I am especially surprised since this government claims to be the law and order government.
As it stands, this bill has been passed by the House of Commons and is being held up in the Senate. I hope that the Liberals and the Conservatives will hurry up and move this bill through quickly.
I have a good example from my riding of the problems caused by the fact that the system is not balanced and has lost its integrity because there is no refugee appeal division. This case involves Abdelkader Belaouni, who has sought sanctuary in a church in Pointe-Saint-Charles since 2006. He was in that sanctuary when I was campaigning during the last election. This man is blind and experienced terrible things in his home country. Now, the Canadian government is threatening to deport him if he leaves his sanctuary. When Abdelkader Belaouni applied for refugee status, his case was assessed by commissioner Laurier Thibault, who, at the time, was rejecting 98% of the applications he evaluated.
Mr. Speaker, if you were called before a court one day, and the judge was known to convict in 98% of cases, you might feel that you had no chance of winning. You would not believe that justice had been served. That is the case with Abdelkader Belaouni. He has never been able to appeal the decision because the refugee appeal division is still not in place. Canada should be ashamed.
I will end there so that I can answer some questions and perhaps give the parliamentary secretary a chance to take a call on his cell phone, to which he seems to be paying particularly close attention.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague asked three questions. If I may, I am going to answer them in reverse order, hoping that I do not forget them.
On the third question, dealing with the humanitarian aspect, it is quite obvious that these processing times are far too long. In immigration cases, in my opinion, we should set standards and objectives to be achieved. We should be able to say that answers have to be given within a specified time. We are working with human beings. We cannot leave them for months, or even years, waiting for a decision and then tell them, after all that, that they have not been accepted. That is not humane, we have to give them an answer, yes or no, but quickly.
The second question dealt with the 60-day stay automatically granted and subsequent deportation orders. I recall that in committee we had trouble getting an answer to that question: if the answer has not come in 60 days, what do you do? We were told that in most cases they still waited for the answer and an agreement was made. So I asked whether there were cases where that was not done, whether they had figures, examples, numbers. No one could give me an answer. On that point, I think this motion is worthwhile: these cases will not happen, we will wait for the answer before deporting people.
On the first question, dealing with Quebec and its labour needs, yes, obviously, Quebec, like all the provinces, needs workers. That is specifically why there is oversight of its nominee program, or immigrant selection, by Quebec. I would like to point out to my colleague that for Quebec, immigration is about more than just filling labour market needs, as it may be in the rest of Canada.
The situation for francophones in North America is extremely fragile, and clearly immigration can play an extremely important role in building a unique francophone society in North America. That is why we have long been doing battle in Quebec to repatriate more of our powers, including powers relating to immigration, so that we can built a model that is uniquely our own. For example, Canadian multiculturalism is unanimously rejected in Quebec, but we have to live with it because it is the framework that federalism imposes on us, until Quebeckers agree that the only path is to become a sovereign country.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this motion.
In particular, I would like to examine the report as well as the dissenting report. The particular report by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration states:
|| In accordance with its mandate pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your Committee has considered the questions of spousal sponsorships and removals.
|| The Committee recommends that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.
I also want to put on the record and speak to the House about the dissenting opinion, which was placed by the parliamentary secretary on behalf of the Conservative Party. It states:
|| Dissenting Opinion of the Conservative Party of Canada
|| Existing measures strike appropriate balance between family reunification and the need to maintain the integrity of the immigration program. Current provisions to allow applicants, including those without status, in the Spousal or Common-law in-Canada class to stay and apply for work permits once they have received approval in principle.
Those are very important words, “approval in principle”, and I will come back to them in a few moments.
I want to examine how inland spousal sponsorship works. This is a process that is done from inside Canada. I want to explain how it works and what we are talking about. People listening to this debate might scratch their heads about spousal inland and spousal outland. It is very important for us to look at this very carefully.
Inland spousal involves a couple, common law or who live together for a year or a couple of months and then get married, be it same sex marriage or heterosexual marriage. Then they decide that because of extenuating circumstances the spouse who is not a Canadian, but is in Canada on a visitor visa or is in Canada on status, wants to get sponsored by his or her spouse. Sometimes there are people in this country who have come here and claimed refugee status and who have found a partner and married.
Therefore, what is the process? Once a couple decides they are going to have an inland spousal application, they download the forms from the immigration website and fill them out. They have to provide all kinds of information. Then they send these forms to the case processing centre in Vegreville.
While this process is taking place, the sponsoree, the person who is being sponsored by his or her spouse, cannot leave Canada. They have to stay within Canada. Lo and behold, let us say that the person being sponsored is a female, a wife. If she were to get pregnant, that individual can have the child in Canada but unfortunately her spouse is going to be responsible for the delivery. These are very important things.
There are a few examples that one needs to see and examine to understand. The paperwork goes to Vegreville for processing. Vegreville looks at the forms. If it believes the individual, after it is finished the form is sent to the local immigration centre. The local immigration centre then either calls the individual in to get landed or calls them in to convene an interview so they will find the bona fides of the spousal application, of the marriage.
It is very disturbing that the Conservative government has gone so far as to destroy people's lives. I want to give a few examples. In my riding, I had a young lady who came from China and claimed refugee status. That refugee status failed. She got married to a Canadian citizen. They have two Canadian children. That young lady was deported to China on March 31 of this year.
There were two Canadian kids, the husband is a Canadian, the husband is working and the husband can afford the sponsorship, and yet CBSA moved in and removed this lady. There are two young children, aged two and one. Of course those children cannot stay with their father in Canada. They had to accompany their mother back to China. The sponsorship now will take place outside Canada, which can take anywhere from one to three years. It depends where it is.
We have destroyed the family inside. We have destroyed the family unit, the family sincerity and the family well-being. We have removed the wife and the children followed. The children will be in China and the husband stays back in Canada. I am not sure if his mind will be all there. I am not sure he will be able to concentrate at work while his wife and two kids are half a world away. Of course, wanting to see his family he will make several trips to China at an additional cost.
Here we have the Conservatives, instead of supporting and standing up for young families, they are separating a husband and wife and, in the process, separating children from their father, which will probably destroy him completely because he will not be able to concentrate at work. If he does not concentrate at work, he might also lose his house.
I want to bring to the House a particular example of how the system has failed yet another Canadian family. I raised this example with the minister when she came to committee last year. It was in the newspaper. It is the example of Mr. Masood Firoozian. He came to Canada and, after a few months, he met his wife. She sponsored him and they submitted the sponsorship application to Vegreville. This is an inland spousal application. The two individuals felt they wanted to start a family. They did not want to separate so the sponsorship was submitted inland.
The lady had two children from a previous marriage. Vegreville received the application on July 13, 2006. My office was advised that they had received the application and in July they were processing applications received in 2006.
I will read the fax that I received from Vegreville dated January 8, 2007. It states, “application received 13th of July, 2006. Our office is currently processing applications of this nature, received March 27, 2006”.
Under the Liberals, when spousal applications were sent to Vegreville there was a five month processing timeline. The application was received in July 2006 while they were processing applications received in March 2006.
After that, I did another follow up. In that follow-up I was advised that the application was referred to Etobicoke in March 2007. That is exactly one year to the date from the time that he submitted it.
Fax after fax were sent to Etobicoke in order to find out what the processing time was. On August 13, 2007, we received the following answer. It said that the spousal application was referred to Etobicoke CIC from Vegreville in March 2007. It said that it would be 12 to 14 months before this file would be assigned to an officer for review.
The fax that we received back was dated August 13, 2007 and it said that the application was referred to Etobicoke in March 2007, which was roughly well over a year. Under the previous Liberal regime, it used to take anywhere between 8 and 12 months before the application was dealt with from start to finish. We have roughly about a 50% delay.
The couple then approached me in April of this year. We are almost 25 months in the process. An inquiry was sent to Etobicoke and it replied that the spousal application was referred to Etobicoke CIC in January 2008. I am looking at the previous answer I received from Etobicoke and it said that the application had been referred to them in March 2007. I sat wondering if we were missing a year or we were in the same year. It went on to state that it would be at least 12 months before the application would be assigned to an officer for review.
Right now we are almost at 24 months from the time the application was submitted and it has not yet been looked at. The individual is still in status and has extended his visitor visa application. He has applied numerous times for work but gets refused every time.
If we want to examine it, it would be like driving a car and all of a sudden hitting a wall. I think this family has hit a wall. The wife is sick and needs to have an immediate operation. She will be laid up in hospital and at home recuperating for six months.
On April 16 we were told that it would take an additional 12 months. From the time the application was submitted to the time it is finished, it will be close to 36 months. I wonder what I will be told next year when I go back and ask what is happening. I will probably be told that it was submitted in 2009, of course forgetting the previous years, and that it will take an additional 12 months.
If I were to believe the latest fax I received on April 16, this application should be finished in three years time. Without question, that is an increase of anywhere from 300% to 500% from the previous regime. The minister was confronted in committee about that and I am still waiting for an answer.
Why are we at this stage and what is the problem? The problem is that when the Conservative government came in, it wanted to fulfill its Reform agenda, to fulfill and play to the Reform Conservative base for the votes. It started removing people in massive numbers. It moved individuals from Canadian immigration to CBSA, the Canada Border Services Agency. CBSA has more officials removing individuals from Canada than working to keep people here.
Yes, there are provisions that if people are to be removed they do get another kick at the can, which is called the PRA, pre-removal risk assessment. However, I have yet to see a pre-removal risk assessment go favourably.
I was speaking about the woman from China who has two children and is about to be removed from Canada. A pre-removal risk assessment was done. If anybody were to go positive on a pre-removal risk assessment, nothing could be more compassionate than the case of this mother and her two Canadian children. When they were born, the father had to pay for the deliveries which cost anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 per delivery. The husband was out about $25,000 to $30,000. The only sin the man committed was to get married to a woman and have children in Canada. The man wanted to populate Canada. A Canadian citizen wanted to have a family.
Did the Conservative Party move quickly to find an answer to that family's dilemma? No. Its only answer was to send the woman off to China.
Approval in principle is the key that I mentioned before. Approval in principle is when an application is submitted to Vegreville and it feels that everything is okay so it approves somebody in principle. From what we have witnessed, that climbed anywhere between five to six months under the Liberals, to twelve months under the Conservatives.
I know the parliamentary secretary will jump up and down and say that is not the case, but I would refer to last year when the minister came before the committee. She was confronted with that question and she still has not provided me with an answer.
From five to six months, bumper to bumper in Vegreville and another two months under the Liberals, now we a total of six to eight months and even a year before an individual is processed, landed and given his or her paperwork. All of a sudden we have the case of Mr. Masood Firoozian that is going on three years.
Mr. Firoozian's wife will be going into the hospital and he must wait an additional 300% to 500% longer before being given approval in principle, before being able to apply for a work permit and before being able to say that he is a landed immigrant and would like to have OHIP and medical coverage. Should this individual get into an accident or get sick tomorrow he will have no medical coverage. The reason for that is that we have taken officials from immigration and moved them to removals. Instead of having officials trying to keep families together, officials are removing them. Our dilemma is: Do we work to keep families together? Do we work to help immigrants who are in Canada and would like to support their families?
I have five daughters. What would happen if one of my daughters were to meet a young man in Canada and decide to get married and have a family. According to the Conservatives, a party that is going back to its Reform roots, should my daughter sponsor this young man he might have to wait up to three years and counting before he could apply for work. What do I tell my daughters? Do I tell them not to have children because they will not be able to stay at home and look after the children if their husband cannot go to work and provide for the family?
Where is the compassion and decency? Are we working to keep families together? Are we working to provide for the families? Are we working as a nation to support families? Do we not want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they begin the first steps of getting married, having children and working to provide for them and be with them? Unfortunately, though, that compassion, that interest and that love for the family has left this building. It went out when the Conservative government came to power and decided to move resources from immigration to removals.
We need immediate action. I am glad members of the Conservative Party are in the House because, hopefully, this will go back to the minister and she will listen, instead of taking the “my way or the highway” attitude.
The minister says that Bill will have no amendments. When the Conservative members of the committee said that we would have a dissenting report, I wonder if they talked to their constituents. I wonder if any of them did any constituency work and saw the problems or whether my constituency is the only one with these problems. I wonder whether these problems are only in the constituencies represented by Liberal members of Parliament.
When the was the Leader of the Opposition, I remember him saying that any riding west of Winnipeg was only filled with Asian immigrants or recent migrants from the east. I wonder if that philosophy has changed. I think not.
If we are to have immediate action, we need to do a number of things. First, we need a balance between CBSA and CIC. We need to move more staff from CBSA back to CIC. We need to give an immediate work permit once someone sponsors his or her spouse. We also need additional staff to process spousal applications in Vegreville as well as in other offices. We do not want staff to be removed from other places where they are working on parental sponsorships and on cases of people working on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. We need additional staff. It has been proven that the timelines under the Conservative government have increased and, undoubtedly, all of us would agree that in the case of Mr. Firoozian that application has taken from 300% to 500% longer.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion to concur in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that was moved by my colleague from . I think it is important that we have this opportunity to talk about the work of the standing committee, particularly with regard to this report.
The report deals with the question of spousal sponsorships and removals from Canada. Specifically, the committee recommended that the government allow any applicant, unless he or she has serious criminality, who has filed his or her first in Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application, to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on his or her application. This is a very important recommendation from the standing committee.
I worked for a number of years on that standing committee. I know how carefully the committee members consider the propositions and the work that comes before them and how well they know Canada's immigration system. This recommendation emerged out of people's concern about how folks were being dealt with in our immigration system.
I want to stress that we are talking about first applications here. This is not a way of mounting an ongoing postponement of a removal action. It only applies to the first application.
An important aspect is that it allows the person being sponsored to work while his or her application is being considered. We know that many families in the circumstance of the spousal sponsorship application and establishing a family here in Canada are in desperate need of that income. That is very important to them. Certainly the Statistics Canada report that came out last week which shows the financial circumstances of immigrant families in Canada indicates the difficulties that they face. This drives home the point and the importance of this aspect of the committee's recommendation.
The key part of the recommendation asks that there be no removal action until there is a decision on an application. That particularly pertains to people who might not have an ongoing status in Canada when the application is made. It is very important that we not split up families in those circumstances.
The committee chose to stress this as well by the way it structured its recommendation, that serious criminality could still mean deportation. If there was serious criminality involved, that still needed to take precedence in the circumstances.
When the committee was working on this issue, it heard evidence from representatives of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. In fact, the committee heard from Mr. Rick Stewart, the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister for Operations in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. He gave a very succinct outline of the existing policy and how it works.
Mr. Stewart noted that family reunification is a key element of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. He said that the department and the government recognized that keeping families together helps people integrate into Canadian society and contributes to their success. It was good to hear that point reiterated by the department.
Mr. Stewart talked about the two situations in Canada where spousal applications are dealt with. One is an in status application, where spouses and common law partners who are already in Canada may apply for permanent residence in the spouse or common law partner class in Canada. In order to be eligible under this class, applicants must live with their sponsoring spouse or common law partner in Canada and they must have legal temporary status in Canada.
The second stream of applications in this regard that Mr. Stewart discussed was the out of status applicant. He pointed out that many applicants in the spouse or common law partner in Canada class have legal temporary status in Canada. However, for spouses and common law partners who are in Canada without legal immigration status, a public policy was introduced in 2005 to allow these individuals, including failed refugee claimants, to apply for and be processed in the in Canada class.
He went on to note that this public policy was implemented to facilitate family reunification in cases where spouses and common law partners are already living together in Canada, but who may have certain technical inadmissibilities resulting in a lack of status. He outlined that those technical inadmissibilities included things like having overstayed their temporary status, working or studying without being authorized to do so, entering Canada without a valid passport, the required visa or other documentations, or of being a failed refugee claimant.
He noted that the ability to submit an application in these cases allowed individuals to remain in Canada for a limited period of time, 60 days, to facilitate the processing of the application to the removal in principle stage. However, during this time, applicants were not allowed to apply for a work permit until they had obtained approval in principle. In addition to the initial 60 day deferral of removal. Once an applicant had obtained approval in principle, a stay of removal was granted until a final decision on the application was made.
That is the existing policy and that is how it operates.
What the committee is getting at is the need to have particular consideration of these. Where there is no question of criminality or no legal problems involved, other than questions around having legal status in Canada, immigration status in Canada, the person should be allowed to remain in Canada until the in Canada application is completely processed and a decision is made on that. This is a very reasonable consideration.
We always have said that Canada's immigration policy is not about separating families. I can remember repeating that to many constituents over the years, when I worked in the constituency office and now as an MP. It was always taken to be one of the fundamental principles of our immigration system, that Canada was not about splitting up families and that we should make this a very high priority, if not the high priority, of our immigration policies.
We all know the terrible trauma and frustration it causes when families are divided. We heard in the debate this morning the kinds of situations that arose when families were split up because of the way our immigration policy and processing system was applied. We know it is a very difficult situation for any family to face. It is particularly traumatic when it feels like it is because of some technicality or some overzealous application of the law that will separate these people, particularly when we know at some point they will be able to come back to Canada. It forces them out of the country, at great expense to the Canadian taxpayer, and then it forces them to go through the application process again, at great cost to the taxpayer. It does not seem like a reasonable approach.
There are many instances where it is very hurtful to the people involved. I think we all probably have examples of that.
I have worked with a family in my riding where there was an in Canada application. A mistake was made and the person being sponsored left Canada. When she returned, she was denied entry into Canada and removed immediately. At that time, her spouse was not allowed to see her before she was removed. The trauma and upset that caused led this person to become ill on the plane before the plane took off and she had to be hospitalized at a hospital near the airport. Again, the spouse was denied the opportunity to see her at that time, which was incredibly frustrating for them, given the trauma, the hopes and expectations they had. A further complication was the woman was pregnant. They were expecting their first child very shortly and looking forward to establishing their family in Canada.
It was a very difficult situation. She eventually was removed and then her partner in Canada had to go overseas to be with her when their child was born. Now they are involved in the wait of having her and their child returned to Canada. He has the difficulty of having to leave his job for a period of time. The family income is in question in that period as they try to sort this situation out and as he tries to be with his wife and young child at this very important time in their family history.
We see all of these circumstances. Granted mistakes are made, but it is how the government, the department and society respond to those very difficult, humanitarian and compassionate situations that constantly arise.
Although I do not think it specifically addresses the kind of specific case I just recounted, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration feels that we need to ensure we have the flexibility to deal with those situations fairly and compassionately and that we do not subject people to arbitrary time periods.
One of the key things about the motion is the 60 day period that is granted for the stay of removal in the current policy. That is very arbitrary. I read in the evidence presented before the committee that perhaps not many people were removed and that 60 day period was not enforced rigorously, which is probably a good thing. However, the reality is it has been enforced from time to time and it has caused great difficulty for the people involved when that decision has been made.
The committee has recommended that an unlimited stay be granted on the first application until the decision is made, which is entirely reasonable. We should not be seeking removal in that period until a decision is made on the sponsorship application. If it is appropriate to have 60 days, then I do not understand why it is not appropriate to see an application through to its conclusion and then either land the person or seek his or her removal if there is some problem with the application. What the committee has reported to us is very appropriate and I strongly support it.
There are related issues. Why, when there is a humanitarian and compassionate application before the department and the government, would we deport someone in those circumstances? Again, if there is a serious humanitarian and compassionate issue, it should be decided finally before somebody is removed from the country.
I know the motion does not deal with this, but it strikes me that is another area where we could look to a change in policy and make it more responsive to the needs of families in Canada. This would ensure that their priorities would be first in the policies of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and the Government of Canada. Hopefully, at some point, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration will have the opportunity to review the policy and consider what is best for Canadian families in that regard.
When I hear the government argue against a reasonable recommendation from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, like the one before use, I begin to question the government's commitment to family reunification in Canada. For many years, this has been a key principle of our immigration program. It is one of the principles on which immigration in Canada was built. It has been a cornerstone of what immigration in Canada is supposed to be about and one of the reasons why our immigration program has been so successful.
The government has questioned the need for a change in this policy by its dissenting report to the committee report. That is unfortunate because it plays into the whole sense that the current government is watering down Canada's commitment to family reunification on many fronts. The policy the committee is asking us to look at is a reasonable one. It would go to strengthening family relationships and its place in Canada. Unfortunately, the Conservatives denied that and would not support this policy when it was discussed in committee.
There are other ways the government is backing away from a commitment to family reunification in Canada. After the Conservatives became the government, I remember the first time the then minister of citizenship and immigration, who is now the , appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It was a very momentous occasion. It was the first time a new minister in a new government appeared before a standing committee to discuss the important issues pertaining to policy related to the workings of that department. It was very instructive. The minister left family reunification out of the list of key principles of the immigration system.
Maybe it was an oversight, but I have to believe that on a first appearance of a new minister and a new government before a standing committee to deal with the minister's policy area, his statement was a carefully considered one, that every word, sentence and paragraph was carefully considered before the minister appeared. I would not expect it to be a last minute thing, something that was just dashed off. I would not even expect it to be something the minister himself sat down and dashed off at his computer before he came to the committee meeting. I would think it was carefully considered before that.
In the past, and even in the immigration law, we have seen the key principles of our immigration policy. It has almost been a mantra that has been repeated by all parties in the House for many years. We have talked about immigration being important to nation building in Canada. We have talked about immigration being important to the economic needs of Canada. We have talked about immigration and refugee policy being important for the protection of vulnerable refugees as a key aspect. We have always said, as part of that mantra, that family reunification was a key principle of our immigration policy.
Therefore, it was very significant when the former minister left family reunification off the list. I do not believe it was a mere oversight. I think it was intentional. When we look at the various policies and decisions of the government, we have seen that this was probably an indication of the direction of the government. Certainly its position on this committee report is another aspect of that.
We can go to the website of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. If we go on the main pages of it and look at general categories and descriptions about what our immigration policy should be about, we would be hard pressed to find the phrase “family reunification”. I could not find it. One can get the application for family sponsorship, but in the descriptions of our immigration policy and its goals, the current government has left out family reunification. Again, that is a very serious oversight and another indication of exactly where the government will go with its immigration policies.
We see it again in the whole debate on Bill and the attempt by the government to stick something in a budget bill that pertains to immigration, to give the minister significant discretionary power to ignore applications that have been appropriately submitted in our immigration system and the ability to dismiss those applications without considering them. The Conservatives say that this is a way of dealing with the backlog and the large number of applications received. However, in this corner of the House, we do not believe that giving the minister power to choose to ignore an application, is an appropriate way to proceed on immigration policy and on the processing decision for immigration applications. Every application that is submitted and qualifies to be considered should be considered carefully by the department and the government.
It is another place where families are rightly concerned that their need for reunification, their need to have family members join them in Canada could easily be ignored and pushed aside for other priorities that would instead occupy the attention of the government.
We know there is a huge backlog in Canada of immigration applications. We have seen the government establish targets, I think it is around 265,000 applications this year. However, it has also introduced a new category of application where temporary foreign workers and students can apply from within Canada to remain in Canada as permanent residents. I think there are 25,000 applications to be accepted in that new category, but that comes from the overall target established by the government, which in turn will reduce the number of places available for family reunification in the overall target.
There is a serious problem with the government with regard to family reunification. The government's lack of support for this very reasonable and limited recommendation from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is another indication of its failure to appreciate the importance of family reunification and of keeping families together, of not separating families in Canada. I hope the government will reconsider its position on this and ultimately support the concurrence motion from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's intervention and his work on this. I know it is often difficult in the position of parliamentary secretary when one is involved in policy discussions at committee level and one is also representing the government's position on things. I do appreciate that the parliamentary secretary worked hard with all of those sometimes competing aspects at committee.
With regard to serious criminality, I do not think I need to define it today. That is something that would happen in the process, if this resolution were adopted. The government would define that. I think it is well defined. I think we all know what kinds of issues would be serious and what other issues would be considered very minor. I do not think a traffic infraction is an issue of serious criminality.
I do not think it is my job here at this moment to define that, as part of this debate on a concurrence motion from a committee asking the government to review a policy that has been in place for a number of years. I think that is something that would be developed. It is something that maybe could come back to the committee at some point for discussion. I do not think that as an individual member of Parliament it is my responsibility to come up with that kind of definition.
With regard to work permits, I do think this is a really crucial aspect of the recommendation. I think it is very important that families that are here in Canada, that are in the immigration process, have the ability to earn a decent income. We all know that having both spouses work is the reality of most Canadians, not just immigrant Canadians but all Canadians. To have the kind of income they need, to have the quality of life they aspire to, both spouses need to be working. To insist that where there is an in-Canada spousal application in place and one of the spouses is not eligible to work is putting undue hardship on that family. I think that makes it a very reasonable suggestion from the committee, and one that I would hope the government would act on.
The parliamentary secretary asked about negative decisions. Well, I do support having a removal program. I believe that if people do not quality, if they have engaged in criminal activity, if for whatever reason their immigration status has been turned down after a fair process, after an appeal, that they should be removed from Canada.
I think removal is an aspect of our immigration policy that needs to have appropriate attention given to it. I do not deny that that is an important aspect of immigration policy and the kinds of considerations we should be working on.
If we do not have a removal policy, then we really do not have an effective immigration policy in Canada. We do have to pay attention to those issues. I do not believe in endless appeals. I believe that if one has done something wrong, one should face the consequences of that. I do believe that if decisions have been made and they have been made in a fair and appropriate manner, that removal is an aspect of the process that should be engaged and is entirely appropriate.
I do not think there is any question that a removal process does have to be engaged in a situation where an application has failed and appeals have failed, and that is absolutely the appropriate step to take in those circumstances.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate today. As the member for has just indicated, members of the New Democratic Party, actually I think all members, have been very much engaged in the debate around immigration issues in the last while precisely because we have seen a systematic, if not a somewhat subversive, tearing down by the government of some of the most important traditions and practices which have made our immigration policies so successful over time.
What has made this country strong and enviable in the eyes of the rest of the world is our policy of openness to people coming to this country and deciding to build a better life and contributing to the building of a better world. That is a fact. That is reality. That meant we had to be open to families who were fleeing desperate conditions. That meant we had to be open to policies that would allow new immigrants to occupy jobs that were building the infrastructure of this country. The heart of a successful immigration policy is family reunification.
What we have seen over the last while is a surreptitious shift by the government, not well disguised at all, in developing policies for future immigration practices. These practices have a lot more to do with the narrow notion of exploiting cheap foreign labour that is the antithesis of the openness to welcome new immigrants into the Canadian family as full participants. The window is also narrowing with respect to family reunification.
That is why today the New Democratic Party immigration critic, with the support of the caucus, has brought forward a concurrence motion to support a simple proposition, one that was supported by the majority of the members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The committee is recommending that the government allow any applicants, unless they have serious criminality, who have filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application, to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.
We are all strongly endorsing this recommendation because evidence shows that reinforcing the strength of partnerships and family relationships is key to the successful settlement of new immigrants in this country. It is the single most important thing we can do to ensure that families thrive, that people who go into the workforce have the strength of family behind them, and that in general, they become much more happily and easily integrated into the larger society.
What is being recognized here is that it is inconsistent with that evidence and inconsistent with past practices that we should contemplate this, unless there is evidence of some kind of criminal record. I think all who have spoken have reinforced and reaffirmed our belief that a criminal record is a reasonable basis for not accepting, for not giving the benefit of the doubt, which is what we are really saying, and that otherwise we should recognize that it is a very shortsighted, counterproductive policy to actually require the breakup of a relationship and the expulsion from Canada of somebody who is stuck in that lineup of over 900,000 delayed cases being dealt with through our clogged-up immigration system. It is a very shortsighted, counterproductive policy to actually require that they leave the country when, in the overwhelming number of cases, they will be given approval because they are exactly the kind of people who we want coming to Canada and helping to build this country.
It is a very practical policy as well as a humanitarian and compassionate policy to recognize that we are constantly telling the world and telling each other, because it is a fact, that we need a lot more immigrants in this country. I remember somebody saying something once, although I do not remember who it was, in the context of Atlantic Canada, where we struggle with out-migration. We struggle with the fact that we lose so much of our productive workforce to greener pastures. We struggle because so many of our young people are forced to leave Atlantic Canada these days just to get the mountain of debt off their shoulders from having paid very heavy costs for education. They are forced to leave for where they can earn the level of income that will allow them to pay off those debts in a timely way, so they are attracted away, to where they can get better paying jobs and so on.
In the context of Atlantic Canada, I remember someone saying once that there is nothing wrong with Atlantic Canada that two or three million more immigrants could not solve. That is the situation we are faced with in this country. We need more immigrants, so why are we not embracing the policies which we know will ensure that new Canadians get the best possible start in building their new lives?
Why are we not embracing the policies which will ensure, as this particular recommendation from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration stipulates, that such persons, while awaiting a final determination on their ability to remain in the country with their spouse or partner, should be entitled to a temporary work permit? The reality is that we have many jobs in many parts of the country that are going unfilled, or there are long delays in employers filling those jobs because of the shortages of labour in many parts of the country.
Coming back to the importance of family reunification again, what we know is that there is nothing more devastating to any family than being forced, for whatever reasons of economic pressure, economic hardship or flawed immigration policy, to split up a family and require in this case that somebody leave not just the community but the country.
This is a practical but also a humanitarian response.
Along with my colleagues, I think all of us have been very dismayed at the thinly disguised shift in policy, but it is not well enough disguised for us to not be able to recognize how dangerous it is. We now have an attempt by the government to usher in some major changes in the thrust of our immigration policy by burying it in the budget, knowing that this is exactly the wrong direction in which to go.
I am very glad today that we have had the opportunity to debate this issue. I think it reflects the compassionate considerations of most Canadians, but it also is a very practical policy with respect to what makes for both successful immigration and settlement and also a sound economy.