Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill , yet another immigration bill. With 1.4 million Canadians out of work, 300,000 more Canadians today than in 2008 when there was an economic recession, one would think the House and the Conservative government would actually focus more on job creation instead of putting all their energy into dealing with perceived problems through legislative means.
Since 2000, the auditors general have been saying that the problem with who comes into the country and who gets deported is not really with the law, but with the administration of the law. A succession of auditor general reports, in 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2011, all five reports said the same thing. Between Canada's immigration service and the Canadian Border Service Agency, there are serious problems in how the law is administered as to who gets into the country and who gets deported.
The 2007 auditor general report talked about it not being clear which department did what. It said that it was not consistent as to who was deported and who came in and the level of compliance was not monitored. There was no regard as to how much it cost to remove people from the country. More damning was it could not track those who needed to be deported. For a good percentage of them, it was unknown where they had gone. In dealing with detentions and removals, the report stated that the policies and procedures were not applied consistently and that the database that dealt with detentions and removals was a complete mess, unfortunately.
That was in 2008, four years ago. Surely, things would have improved. Surely, we would know who we were letting in, whether they were criminals or not, and who was being deported. Actually, no, things have not improved.
The Auditor General did another report in 2011. Many hours and months were spent tracking what was happening with Canada Border Services Agency, which has the task of dealing with people, and Canadian immigration services overseas, as to who was admissible to Canada and who needed to be deported. It noted in chapter 2 of the report that the operation manuals had not been updated and there were actually three different screening manuals. However, with the hundreds of bulletins and manuals, if the officers wanted to check, they did not have the search capacity to do so. Therefore, they were trying to find out which manuals to apply and which bulletins they should use. They would go on a search and their computer system would not allow them to search. It was not clear. There are many and they are not necessarily updated either.
It is interesting that there is a lack of country specific risk profiles. The profiles are not systematically produced and, even if they are produced, they are not distributed. According to chapter 2.29 of the Auditor General's report, the overseas officers often have no idea what kind of person should not be coming into our country. In fact, half of the officers said that they did not have specific and sufficient information to assess if people were inadmissible. They do not know whether they have security concerns because the manual is not updated, the risk profile is not clear, it is not systematically produced and it is not distributed.
As I said earlier, there were audits in 2000, 2003 and 2008. The Auditor General went back to see whether there was a framework to ensure the quality of the jobs done, both here in Canada and overseas, and whether there was a performance review. Apparently, there is no performance review, no guidance, no training and not enough information to properly determine who should or should not come into this country. That is from the Auditor General's 2011 report, chapter 2.37.
In chapter 2.39 of the report it states that the department's 2011 program integrity framework calls for the monitoring of the quality of decision making through random, systematic and targeted quality assurance activities. That means that they check to see whether the law is being applied properly. This so-called program integrity framework has not been implemented and, therefore, is not done, which means that we do not know whether the existing law, the previous law or the future law is being applied.
We are seeing that the Conservatives keep trying to change the channel. It is the department that is broken and the system is not working, according to the Auditor General. Instead of cleaning the system and doing it better administratively, the Conservatives are wasting time. They keep trying to change the law every three months and taking the time to change the channel. For Canadians who know that something is not right, the Conservatives would say that it is not the system that is the problem but that it is the law, which is not true. According to the Auditor General, it is the system that is broken.
I have more. The Conservatives said that there are all types of problems because there is no timely review of the effectiveness of the security screening process. Whether it is CSIS, CBSA or Canada Immigration Service, we need to have all of them connected. The Auditor General said that the IT systems are not inter-operable, meaning that they are not necessarily connected. The field agents, the people out there working to decide who gets to come in and who needs to be deported, cannot get all the information they need. That is another problem.
The Auditor General went on and identified other serious problems. It is not just the system. The report also mentions that there is an absence of a formal training program or curriculum. The workers are not formally trained. It says that close to 40% of the analysts had not received training. They do not know how to apply the law because they have not received training. It is not their fault. As well, 74% were missing training in research techniques. That is the majority. Three out of four front-line officers were missing training in research techniques, so they do not know how to do it.
To make it worse, even though there is no formal training program or curriculum, if they have been there for a long time, maybe they would gain that information and knowledge from experience, but no. Forty per cent of the staff have employment records for two years or less, which means there is a high turnover in the front-line staff. There is little stability. With high turnover and very little training, it makes the situation much worse.
It is the system and the administration of the law that are the problems. Instead, rather than fixing the problem, we have yet another immigration bill, Bill , to deal with the admissibility of temporary residents. We can change the law all we want but if there is the absence of a formal training program or curriculum, a high turnover, the manuals are not up to date, there is very little risk assessment and the system is not being reviewed in a way that is comprehensive, there is a serious problem.
The Auditor General went on to say that when officers make decisions, they normally document the reasons for them. Actually, 28%, which is 3 out of 10, have documentation, which means that when 7 out of 10 officers make decisions, they do not document them. Did the person who made the decision follow procedure as to who gets deported and who gets admitted? We do not know. Did the person who made the decision conduct a full assessment? The public does not know because the person did not document what he or she did when the decision was made. Normally there would be mandatory checks but that was not done in 80% of the cases and the checklist was not used, which is a serious problem.
What did the Auditor General say needs to be done? He said that there needs to be a quality assurance process, good training and service standards. Are there service standards yet? No. CBSA and CIC have no service standards. How do we know whether the people coming into this country or being deported are the right people? We do not know.
The Auditor General asked how the problem got started. Apparently, in 2003, when CIC used to deal with enforcement, it separated that out and gave it to the Canada Border Services Agency, which established it and changed the act. Since then, it has not been clear as to who does what. It has done two memorandums of understanding and yet the information, management and share services were still under negotiation as of a few months ago. It is still trying to figure out who is supposed to do what. It was supposed to do a joint risk management strategy so that it would be clear as to how risk would be dealt with, those who are allowed to come into the country through temporary resident permits, except that its joint risk management strategy has not been implemented. It sounds good but it has not done it yet. Instead of ensuring that the director and the front-line staff do what they need to do, we have yet another legislative change.
According to the Auditor General, there is a huge problem. Chapter 2.96 states that CIC and CBSA do not have systematic mechanisms for quality assurance or measuring performance that would provide a reasonable level of assurance that their processes are working and that practices are appropriate for today's challenges.
Furthermore, the organizations have only recently begun to develop a joint risk management approach, as they have not done it yet, and similar issues have been identified in our audits since 2000. This is not a new problem. There needs to be a sustained effort by CIC and CBSA to address the gaps in the admissibility determination process so that the related risks are properly managed.
That was in 2011. What about this year, 2012? The assistant Auditor General, Wendy Loschiuk, and the principal responsible for the audit I was quoting from, Gordon Stock, came to the immigration committee. At that time, committee members asked whether all the recommendations in the Auditor General report had been implemented. Ms. Loschiuk said that even though some better techniques to track people had been adopted, the whereabouts of some of these people were still unknown.
In fact, it is not clear where 41,000 of these folks have gone and, of the people who were detained but released on bonds, it is not clear whether they have complied with the conditions of their release. There was little information available on the costs of detaining and removing persons or on whether policies and standards for detention were applied fairly. Now we would be giving the minister even more arbitrary power to apply these so-called policies and standards even though we do not know whether they are being applied fairly because there are no performance standards. This whole thing is absurd. They need to better coordinate their efforts.
The report is very damning. It says that there are lots of gaps in the system and very little helpful information available from security partners. It also says that security screening for a permanent residence visa can sometimes take more than three years, which is too long. It also says that the system to check whether it is working needs to be strengthened for the admissibility determination process.
In a system that is supposed to help protect Canadians, it is just as important to review the decisions to grant visas as it is to review the decisions to deny them. As the Auditor General said, rather than focusing on decisions on why visas are denied, we should focus on how visas are granted. However, that has not been done.
Is this a serious problem? Yes, the system is in serious need of change. However, I want to put it in perspective. Only 1% of applicants for temporary residence and 0.1% of applicants for permanent residence were found to be inadmissible. Of the 257,000 people who come to this country and become permanent residents, what are we talking about? We are talking about 46 people, which is not a huge concern in terms of changing the law. The real concern is how the law is being administered.
The Conservatives have fallen down on the job of ensuring the law is being applied properly and fairly.
Mr. Speaker, I must advise the House that I am going to share my time with the member for . We will each speak for 10 minutes.
I would like to start by saying that the title of the bill, quite obviously, is something that should give us pause. The reference to foreign criminals is something that seeps throughout the entire bill. It could, if we are not careful, help construct society's understanding of the contexts that are being discussed in the bill in a way that would separate those of us who are lucky to have full citizenship from those among us who are merely landed immigrants or permanent residents.
I would like to come back to that point when I discuss, a bit later, the cutting of appeal options in new categories of cases. However, I do want to put on record that one of the biggest problems is almost a discursive problem by the reference to foreign criminals in this undifferentiated way in the title.
The second big problem with the bill is that, in some ways, it combines two extremes in terms of the exercise of state power in this context.
One extreme is that it would give a full, at least in terms of the text, and unfettered discretion to the minister with the new section 22.1, which would allow him or her to refuse temporary residence visas on his or her own opinion of what are public policy considerations. There is nothing in the bill that talks about any constraints on that.
We had an answer earlier in the House when the parliamentary secretary suggested that the government might be open to giving a bit more substance to that, but at the moment it is not in the bill.
On the other hand, we have no discretion at all on other fronts in the bill in a way that adds to the repressive dimensions of its structure. Within section 64, which would change the threshold for no appeal rights after being determined to be inadmissible from two years to six months, removing the appeal as of right, there would be nothing in between. There would be no procedure for a leave to appeal. It would be all or nothing. If people have been convicted for an offence that has involved imprisonment of six months, then they have no right of appeal from the decision on admissibility to the Immigration Appeal Division.
On the other hand, in terms of no discretion, there is a new section 25 wording that would remove not just the right of the minister but the power of the minister to consider humanitarian and compassionate considerations in a category of cases.
Now, I want to be careful here when I add this in as a problem because those categories of cases are worded very broadly and they seem like the kind of cases when one would never want to exercise discretion to allow somebody to stay. “Security”, “organized criminality” and “violating human or international rights” are the words used.
However, even within those categories, they are so generally worded, “organized criminality” and “security”, that it is not difficult to imagine some circumstances in which there may be reason to lighten the severity of the law and allow somebody to stay. In fact, that is how the system has worked. On occasion the minister does exercise exactly that discretion for those reasons. The fact is that has been eliminated.
We have to look very carefully when this does hit the committee as to whether or not the use of extremes, nothing in between, has actually created a bill that would, down the road, show itself as producing a lot of hardship.
I am going to primarily address the question of the reduction of the elimination of the right to appeal to a broader category of persons and, also, the public policy discretion of the minister.
With respect to that public policy discretion, let me start here. The new section 22.1 says:
|| The Minister may, on the Minister’s own initiative, declare that a foreign national...may not become a temporary resident if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations.
He may do that or she may do that for up to 36 months.
That is it. That is all we have there.
It is not too difficult to imagine how, in the hands of a certain minister or in a certain period of time, this could be exercised very arbitrarily, if not abusively. There is nothing in the bill to constrain that, other than, I hope, the fact that there would be judicial review available, but judicial review is one of the worst possible ways to produce checks in any legal system because it requires time, money and good lawyers to actually get anywhere. We need to have a system of decision making within the bill itself that checks the minister in his or her decision making, and public policy consideration is just simply far too broad a mandate to give any one person to exercise in the context.
I will not go into specific examples, but we do know of at least a few examples where the has clearly not wanted somebody to enter the country for reasons that, under the surface, appear to be more about politics than they do about sound public policy. That clause has to be looked at in committee. It has to be beefed up if it is to be retained.
The next provision to look at is section 64 which, as everybody has noted, lowers the threshold for removing the right of appeal on an inadmissibility decision from two years imprisonment to six months. If a person has been in prison for six months, that is it in terms of them having any right of appeal. They would not have any.
We should think about some of the things in the Criminal Code that can attract six months, and they may not that often, such as stealing oysters, section 323, selling a betting pool, section 202, and the list goes on. There are lots of offences that can attract six months. We would like to think the system would never end up seeking to deport somebody for these kinds of offences, but the moment we go down from two years to six months, we actually enter that territory where these kinds of Kafkaesque possibilities are there.
What about more recently, the effects of mandatory minimum legislation in Bill ? We know now that with marijuana, for example, the growing of six plants can lead to a six months sentence. The sentence cannot exceed six months, but it can also be six months under the new Bill C-10, when that takes effect in the Criminal Code: six months, six plants, no appeal. Does that seem at all proportionate to the kind of more nuanced decision making that we would want our laws to recognize. We hope that would never be used as a basis by the system to seek to deport somebody in and of itself, but there is nothing protecting against that result the way it is written.
The biggest problem is that the lower the threshold, the more people will be caught by it. More people who have permanent residence and landed immigrant status will suddenly be put in this category of deportable, even though what they have done in the grand scheme of things is not nearly as serious as what used to be the case under the law.
We have to begin to reflect on how much ownership we have to take of those among us who get into criminal trouble, who do end up with sentences right at the edge of six months, eight months, nine months. Who is responsible? What society is responsible for dealing with that issue? Is it always the other country that has a formal nationality, a country that a person may not have seen in 30 years, a person who may have come here at age two or age three and does not even speak the language of the other country, for example, or is it the country where the person grew up and basically produced the condition under which the crime occurred? We are not responsible for it, but we are that person's brothers and sisters. How do we think about the fact that the lower the threshold is, the more likely it is that people among us will end up in the headlights of the minister or the department of administrative immigration for this kind of deportation.
In the general sense, the bill may not appear offensive to those on the other side or to many in society, but when we look at how minimal the trigger is for somebody to be deported with no right of appeal, we really have to question whether this is the way our society wants to go. Two years itself is already something that was a compromise. Why we have gone to six months has escaped me.
Mr. Speaker, I have the impression that what we are seeing here is a massive public relations operation, where the government is saying that it will be tough on crime; that is the Conservatives' mantra. It is an easy public relations operation in that, meanwhile, the government is ignoring what is really going on with immigration in Canada.
I will mention three recent examples that shocked me deeply. Unfortunately I feel there is no justification for what happened. This summer, 25 beach soccer players from Morocco requested a visitor's visa to play in a competition in Montreal. They were coming from the Olympic Games, so it was unlikely that one of them would seek refugee status. Unfortunately, these players were barred from Canada. Thirty-five Haitian businesswomen who wanted to come to Canada to present their achievements were also prohibited from entering and remaining in Canada because, according to the department, a number of them did not have the financial resources or did not provide enough of a guarantee that they were going to return to their country. This week some Burmese artists were prohibited from visiting Canada.
The number of foreign nationals from developing countries who are denied entry to Canada is growing. The government wants Canada to be a place where only the rich and famous can come, even if they have a criminal past. I am thinking in particular of a certain gentleman who was involved for many years in the media and who was given a red-carpet welcome.
This bill is a diversion tactic. I am specifically thinking about the concentration of powers in the minister's hands. The Conservatives are trying to politicize the immigration process in Canada by increasing the minister's powers. One clause in particular states that the minister can declare a foreigner inadmissible for up to 36 months if he feels it is justified by public policy considerations.
I would like to talk about the specific case of a buddy of mine who is locked up in Morocco, Mouad Belghouat. He is a Moroccan rapper who was charged and sentenced to one year in prison for showing police officers with donkey heads in one of his videos. He was sentenced to a year in prison. In Morocco, showing police officers with donkey heads is considered a serious crime. These officers were violently beating protestors.
It goes without saying that this sentence contravenes a number of international conventions on freedom of opinion and expression, including the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I have to wonder whether, in light of the minister's discretionary powers, Mouad would be allowed into Canada in the future. Would the serious crime that he allegedly committed in Morocco, according to Moroccan authorities, make him ineligible to come to Canada? Could the minister deem this foreigner inadmissible because he threatened the public interest in some way?
All this confuses me. The bill must be examined in more detail in committee so that we can limit the scope of the powers granted to the minister.
I think it would be a good thing for all parties in Parliament to work together so that this bill can be something other than a Conservative propaganda tool. This bill should truly target dangerous criminals instead of politicizing the Canadian immigration process, which is what it seems to be doing.
They say that these measures could affect 2,400 of the 1.5 million immigrants or refugee claimants. The says that in some cases, people have drawn out their appeals for 20 years. According to my numbers, that is incorrect. Apparently, this new bill would reduce appeals periods by anywhere from 12 to 15 months. That is not on the same scale at all, which proves that the purpose of this bill is propaganda.
There are other important aspects, such as refusing an appeal by a person who has committed a crime punishable by six months in jail. A number of crimes could lead to deportation even though Canadian society, while not sanctioning them, does not view them as violent crimes or crimes against persons. The Conservatives do not seem to be very concerned about the impact of these deportations on families and children.
This whole issue needs to be cleared up in committee. I really hope the committee will amend parts of this bill in response to our concerns.
Thank you for your attention and interest.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill . I will be sharing my time.
We are supporting this bill's going forward at second reading, with some very strong reservations. As we have seen throughout the debate here today, the reservations speak to a number of issues in the bill that certainly involve moving further than simply the faster removal of foreign criminals
One issue we have great concern about is the concentration of more power in the hands of the minister, giving him the discretionary ability based on public policy considerations to restrict the entrance of foreign nationals, making them inadmissible for up to 36 months.
We have seen the parliamentary secretary stand up and admit that on the face of it, this is very controversial and really needs a lot of work. I think back to what has happened during my time in Parliament and the minister's actions. At his discretion, he refused entrance into Canada of former British MP George Galloway. In a resulting court case, Mr. Galloway challenged the minister over this. The Ontario supreme court came out with a 60-page decision castigating the minister for exercising this authority in that way that excluded Mr. Galloway based on certain political considerations.
Therefore, we really have to be very careful with this. This is treading into an area that has been a minefield in Canada in the past. I think back to the period before the Second World War, when we refused massive numbers of refugees from Eastern Europe because of political considerations, not because they were bad people or criminals who were going to cause a lot of trouble in Canada. No, it was because political factors were taken into consideration. If we are moving back in a direction of looking at political considerations and opening up that door where we have not been for a while, I think it is something we have to look at very carefully.
We are relieving the minister of the responsibility of looking at humanitarian circumstances in these matters, where human beings' lives are being altered irrevocably by the decisions we are making, and not making the minister look at the situation created by the acts of Canadians officials in expelling people from the country. I think that is really not in the Canadian mould. We tend to say that we believe in the sanctity of families, that we believe in the importance of paying careful attention to children, to the kinds of things that tie people together in a particular instance.
To simply say that we are going to relieve the minister of that responsibility needs some definite explanation. Why should the minister not want to have some ability to deal with this? Why should this not be part of his responsibility? When we have an impact upon people's lives, we need to understand that it is our responsibility and that we need to look at those things in the context they are presented. It is not that simple.
One provision that I find very difficult is the proposed increase in the penalty for misrepresentation. We are all MPs here. We all have offices. We all see people coming in, immigrants, landed immigrants, and people who are looking to get their parents or children into the country. The forms can lend themselves to mistakes.
The difference between a mistake and a misrepresentation is sometimes a very narrow line. When it comes to someone's educational qualifications, he or she may say, “I went to school there. I graduated there”. Is that acceptable? Can he or she prove it? Are there other issues that come into the presentation or the information that may need some clarification?
We need to look very hard at what “misrepresentation” means and what it entails. That can be done in committee. How can we define it carefully so we are not simply shutting people who make a mistake out of the country. We have to be very careful with that. It is something that can lead to all kinds of problems for people.
What constitutes “serious criminality?” This is something we have had a good debate on today. Quite obviously, when we move from a sentence of two years down to a sentence of six months, we are moving the bar pretty low. We are taking that bar right down so the ability of someone to get under it will be much more difficult. We really need to understand it. I assume the committee will go through some statistical analysis of what it will mean, what kind of offences have been generated that produce a sentence of six months in contrast to those that would produce sentences of two years.
Certainly, we have all seen people go to prison for six months for fairly minor offences that do not justify the disruption of their family life or taking them away from employer, if they happen to be good employees, doing all of that for something that is criminal but not necessarily of a serious nature. Therefore, the definition really needs work.
It will be interesting to see how it comes back from committee and what happens with the bill, what kinds of amendments and definitions are struck so we can truly understand how this will impact society.
I trust the Conservatives will follow the example the parliamentary secretary set with the one particular passage in the bill that he clearly stated needed work. We need an understanding of the whole bill in a very careful fashion, which can come through committee. After that, we can see whether the bill will be acceptable to this party. I am sure there will be further consideration of that.
These are important issues which are not to be taken lightly. I trust the government will go into that committee with the good intention of really coming to grips with this bill.
Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to address you as Mr. Speaker. Congratulations on your appointment to the chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to raise my concerns regarding Bill , which I hope will be addressed in further study at committee. New Democrats recognize the need for an efficient and responsive judicial apparatus for removing serious criminals who are not citizens. However, this bill seems to extend beyond this and effectively removes some of the required checks and balances within our immigration system.
I have a few concerns with the changes included in Bill . Bill C-43 would concentrate more power in the hands of the minister, giving the minister new discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. It would relieve the minister of the responsibility to examine humanitarian circumstances and as well would change what would constitute serious criminality for the purpose of access to an appeal of a determination of inadmissibility.
Previously a conviction in Canada with a sentence of two years or more resulted in an automatic revocation of a permanent or temporary resident's right to an appeal at the Immigration Appeal Division. Bill , however, would revoke the right to appeal inadmissibility when there would be a conviction of six months or more.
New Democrats have said time and again that we do not support closing the door to an appeal process as it is an essential component of checks and balances in our immigration system.
An appeal process allows officials to make determinations on an individual basis, weighing all the factors to determine if someone should or should not be deported. Further to this, with the government's tough on crime agenda, we have seen a whole slew of crimes receive a mandatory minimum sentence of more than six months. The change from two years to six months merits further study of the offences that would now be included in this.
This concentration of power in the hands of one minister is a trend we continue to see under the government and is a cautionary tale of the direction of our immigration system under a Conservative majority. Granting the minister the power to unilaterally prohibit a foreign national from becoming a temporary resident for up to 36 months based on public policy considerations is a vague and broad discretion.
The broad and far-reaching powers given to the minister in Bill seem to once again go too far and require balance. Additionally, there seems to be a double standard at play when it comes to ministerial authority. When convicted foreign criminal, Conrad Black wanted back in Canada, the minister claimed that the matter was handled independently, yet now he wants the power to deport criminals.
Across the country, immigration and health experts have been raising their concerns to the changes in the bill. There are concerns among advocates that the bill runs a risk of deporting offenders who arrive in Canada with their parents at a very young age. Despite Canada being the only home they know and grew up in, we would deport them to a country about which they may know nothing.
Moreover, professionals who work with immigrants and refugees have stated that this new federal legislation unfairly punishes the young and people with mental illness. Bill has been marketed exclusively on its intent to speed up deportations of serious multiple offenders. However, the devil is in the details and these details merit further study and expert opinion.
What I also find particularly troubling throughout the course of immigration changes the government has introduced is the language that the Conservative government continues to use when speaking about newcomers in our country.
When discussing Bill , refugees who were fleeing war-torn countries to save their lives were continually referred to as “bogus” and “queue jumpers” in need of mandatory detention by the members opposite. Now under Bill , permanent residents are referred as “foreigners”. This term is misleading and wide-sweeping, completely neglecting the fact that permanent residents have spent the majority of their lives in Canada, contributing to our communities and paying taxes.
The majority of newcomers to Canada are law-abiding citizens who do not commit crimes. Rather than introducing legislation that continues to demonize newcomers, where is the support for newcomers who follow the rules? Why is the government not spending more time ensuring that the majority of newcomers in Canada are being treated fairly and are not waiting three to five years to be reunited with their partners and children? We need a government that acts to help new Canadians reunite with their families and find work that matches their skill set.
The New Democrats look to work with the government to prevent non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeals process without trampling on rights. We continue to stand with newcomers who want the government to focus on making our immigration system faster and fairer for the vast majority who do not commit crimes and follow the rules.
We can allow the systems currently in place, including our immigration tribunal and Canadian judiciary, to do their work or provide them with the necessary resources to do the job effectively rather than trivializing the judicial process and giving the minister the authority to arbitrarily make decisions. I should add, if the minister were serious about improving Canada's immigration and refugee system, he would stop appointing his friends to the Immigration and Refugee Board.
We could also do what the Auditor General has repeatedly recommended and make improvements to the current system and administration of the laws currently in place, including proper training, service standards and quality assurance checks.
Rather than continually portraying newcomers negatively, the government should focus on giving law enforcement the resources it needs to keep us safe from all criminals.
I spent the summer talking to constituents about community safety and social issues in Scarborough. What I heard from constituents were worries and concerns for the need for support and prevention strategies to keep our youth from turning to crime and actions from the federal government to keep our communities safe. At the end of the day, victims were concerned that crimes were being committed in their communities and steps were not being taken to prevent these crimes.
I hope the government will take the concerns raised by experts, myself and my colleagues on this side of the House seriously at the committee level and that it will listen to the experts' warnings about the impacts and consequences of the bill on people with the intention of improvements and upholding rights,.
It is a warning to us all that some of the concerns raised by experts during the study of Bill are already being realized. Thanks to Bill , all refugee claimants are now banned from applying for a pre-removal risk assessment within one year of receiving a negative answer on their claim. This assessment is used as a second chance to consider whether it is truly safe to send a rejected claimant back to his or her country of origin.
Last week, we learned of a woman from Iran who could face deportation despite new evidence proving that she faces an adultery charge that could, under Sharia law, result in her being stoned to death. Although her lawyer obtained new documents to speak to her refugee claim, because of the changes included in Bill , this new evidence cannot be considered by the Canada Border Service Agency officials because of the one-year rule.
I recall hearing this very concern raised, that new evidence can come to light during this one-year period, during the Bill study at committee. Unfortunately, this concern, along with many others, fell on the deaf ears of our government and were left unaddressed.
I hope that this is not repeated during the study of Bill in committee, but rather that we listen to the experts and work together to prevent non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeals process while upholding our Canadian values.
Mr. Speaker, I have noticed that, as we have gone through this debate, we on this side of the House seem to be the only party interested in what is going on. I have not heard a lot of questions or comments from the other side.
Bill is called the faster removal of foreign criminals act. The minister himself suggested that the bill would make it possible for legitimate visitors and immigrants to get better treatment. This bill may do that in a tiny way but it would not do it for the majority of well-meaning and non-criminal persons currently in Canada or those who want to come to Canada who are being treated with the slowest process since God made molasses. It is an incredibly slow process.
I have the privilege of representing the riding of York South--Weston which has an immigrant population of well over 50% and well over half live in apartment buildings. That is one of the reasons that my riding is a magnet for refugees and those refugees will be the ones facing the worst time of their lives as a result of the government's new applications. These refugees will find it more difficult to become Canadian citizens because it will be harder for them to reach all of the required thresholds. They will also find it more difficult to sponsor family members once they do become citizens.
The minister suggested that lessening the rules against spies would make it so much easier for persons to come to Canada and stay in Canada. If individuals spied against Canada or Canada's interests, they would not be considered a spy if they were spying for some other country or in some other country. Reading between the lines, it may be that the government is also adding industrial spying to that, although it is hard to tell. I am assuming that would make it easier for the tens of thousands of people who come to Canada, I say tongue-in-cheek, because that is clearly not a big problem.
The minister also suggested that if one member of a group does not meet the criteria, for medical reasons or otherwise, the whole group would be turned down. I agree that that is an excellent use of this legislation. That would actually cause some people to come to Canada who were otherwise be turned down. However, as I will tell members later, there are far more people being turned down for temporary visas without any reason. This is only a small part of the big problem.
The minister also suggested that the could offer relief in some cases. Again, this another tiny piece of the puzzle.
The parliamentary secretary made it clear in his comments that the government's objective is to reduce the backlog of problems created by people coming to this country, and he referred specifically to the backlog that affected temporary foreign workers and the backlog that affected permanent skilled workers taking jobs that are not being filled by Canadians.
Missing from both of those objectives is the huge backlog of family reunification applications. There are probably hundreds of thousands of backlogged cases, some of which will take as many as 14 years from application to reunification because of the delays in processing and because there are not enough people working for the minister to get these things done. We have examples.
A woman wants to sponsor her husband but it is taking an unusual amount of time for the application to be processed. The background check is taking a long time to complete. The couple has been repeatedly asked to wait until a security background is completed, which means they have had to file several sets of medicals at their own expense. The application for sponsorship was forwarded in 2008, four years ago.
Another individual tried to sponsor his parents starting in 2007. They have now had three medicals because they keep expiring because it is taking so long.
Where is the government on trying to figure out how to make these things faster? The Conservatives are talking about getting criminals out faster, but they are not talking about getting deserving sponsored immigrants into the country faster.
Another person has been sponsoring his parents and siblings since 2003. We are now talking nine years. They have now gone through three medicals and they have had their third police clearance done because they keep expiring. In the meantime, the father has passed away. That is what happens when the system takes too long: people die in other countries as a result.
A woman, a convention refugee, who applied for permanent residence, also included her 11-year-old son in her application. Her son is alone in Nigeria. Immigration officials have said, “Too bad, there is a 24-month wait to process her application”.
Another individual has been sponsoring parents and one dependent sister since 2008 and is still waiting. The list goes on and on, and this is but a small sampling of those we have heard about in my office. There are hundreds more in my office, and I have only been there since last year, who have run afoul of the system. We are having to tell them that it takes 14 years, 10 years or nine years, and their parents or their grandparents will die before the application goes through.
Then there is the backlog in skilled worker applications that the minister talked about. Yet with the stroke of a pen the minister actually got rid of hundreds of thousands of skilled worker applications and forced them all to apply again. How is that speeding anything in our system? We are talking about speeding the removal of foreign criminals, but we are not doing anything to speed up the process for legitimate people who want to come to this country and provide a skilled, valued service to this country.
I have one applicant who has been trying to come to Canada for five years. He made the application before the “stroke of the pen” issue. At the time he applied, the language requirement was less stringent than it is today. He has studied and worked in the United States. He taught in the United States, so obviously his English is good but somehow he failed the English test that was given to him out of Cambridge University in England.
Why we are giving British tests for Canadian English is beyond me. To a person who is not a native-born speaker, it may be difficult. He found it difficult. He missed by one point. He is a doctor. We need doctors. He is actually certified to practise in this country. He wants to bring his wife with him, who is also a doctor, and his daughter, who is in medical school. They cannot come because he fell short by one point because the language requirement was no good. The skilled worker application has its flaws too.
As for temporary foreign workers, the other side keeps crowing about the many jobs they have created. How many of them are filled by temporary foreign workers? There are over 300,000 jobs currently filled by temporary foreign workers. They are temporary, so that is in the last two years. Since the last recession ended or whenever the economic meltdown happened under the Conservative watch, over 300,000 of those supposed new jobs they have created are actually being filled by temporary foreign workers.
Now, with a stroke of the pen, the minister has decided those foreign workers can be paid 15% less than their Canadian counterparts, so it will be even easier for an employer to say they cannot find anybody because the employer is offering 15% less than the going rate. People are not taking the jobs, so the employer wants to hire foreigners.
We have temporary foreign workers flying planes in this country. We do not have a shortage of airline pilots in this country, but we have temporary foreign workers working for some airlines.
There is something wrong with this system. It would appear to be a part of the Conservative economic action plan to drive down wages in this country through the use of temporary foreign workers at 15% reductions, through the use of reductions in EI that force people to take wages at 30% lower rates than they earned before, and by doing all this, the Conservative can then say, “Hey, our economic action plan is working. We are improving Canadians' productivity. We are getting more out of them for less”.
That is not what Canadians want. Canadians do not want to be working for less money, to have their standard of living eroded by the government. They want real action on the economy and they do not want it through the use of temporary foreign workers, which the parliamentary secretary referred to as a good thing.
We also have a whole bunch of issues with the PRRA system, the pre-removal risk assessment. I have a couple of examples here. We have an individual who is being deported to Spain. His mother is a refugee in Canada who has finalized her refugee status and is actually allowed to stay in Canada. She was born in Peru. He was born in Spain as a result of her being raped. Now he is being deported back to Spain because he was not covered by her refugee application. He is 12 years old. He knows no one in Spain. Spain is the last place he wants to go because it was the source of a lot of pain for his family. What government does this to people?
Now the new rules would be: no entitlement to a PRRA because we do not want to do that anymore.
These are examples of how the system is not working. We are tinkering on the edges with something that might appeal to the Conservative base across the way because it has to do with law and order. It might appeal to the baser instincts of some individuals in the Conservative base, because they can tout it as law and order. However, it is such a small part of the overall problem of immigration in our country that it is difficult to imagine that so much time and effort is being spent on this kind of thing instead of on the real problems that face immigrants in our country, instead of on the real problems that face those who are already here and those who should be here as a result of sponsorship applications. Those delays in the sponsorship applications are costing lives. People are dying in other countries.
The minister also mentioned in his speech this afternoon that he is spending lots more money on immigrant settlement services. He mentioned a figure of $35 million. Well, it sure is not happening in my riding. My riding has seen cut after cut in immigrant settlement services to the point where some organizations have folded altogether. Is that because we have fewer immigrants coming to my riding? No, there are lots coming to the riding. In fact, there are two apartment buildings that are now full of Roma refugees in the last two years, so much so that the superintendent has had to go out and hire a Hungarian translator because he cannot communicate with these people. They are coming to the riding in great numbers but the services that they are asking for keep disappearing.
We have a 6% cut at Access Alliance; a 4.2% at COSTI, which caused a layoff; a 10% cut at the Learning Enrichment Foundation. Midaynta lost all of its funding, $400,000. It has closed up. York Weston Community Services Centre lost $800,000. It closed, with twelve and a half people laid off. Languages that are no longer helped in this riding are Dinka, Nuer, Spanish, Arabic, French, Kiswahili, Russian, Farsi, Dari and Somali.
York Weston Community Services Centre was urged the previous year to sign a long-term lease. It did. The government said the organization was good for it and that it should sign the five-year lease. It signed it and then all of its budget was cut, some $800,000 gone. Northwood Neighbourhood Services lost $378,000, which caused the layoff of five settlement workers and admin staff. That is 100% of its Citizenship and Immigration Canada funds. It gets money from other places, so it is only 30% of its overall budget.
These things are happening in my riding. For the minister to tell us, bold-faced, that he is spending more on settlement services is just crazy. Community Action Resource Centre lost $305,000, which was 40% of its budget. It lost all of the federal funding. It still has some provincial funding, but it has lost 12 staff. It has caused layoffs in my riding, which is already a riding with a huge unemployment problem.
The Vietnamese Women's Association lost $30,000 in Citizenship and Immigration Canada funding. Access Alliance lost $300,000. Toronto District School Board's newcomer services for youth lost 100% of its funding and the program was closed.
There actually are many more but I am going to run out of time if I read them all. The point is that the government is single-mindedly focused on the wrong problem. There is a problem with settlement services in the riding. There is a problem with immigration systems into the riding. There is a problem with the family sponsorship system and with too many temporary foreign workers being allowed to come to this country and take jobs that would otherwise be filled by Canadians.
Rather than focusing on those problems, the government is going to speed up the removal of a handful of criminals, and not necessarily even the right criminals. Because of the cuts to the immigrant settlement funding we now have employers in the riding telling us that it is making it difficult for them to employ the skilled immigrants coming into the country under skilled worker applications because they do not have the necessary fail-safes and backup mechanisms and training to learn how to live in Canada. Those things are not there any more.
Employers are coming to my office and saying it is a problem for them as employers. They are saying that they cannot be as productive or efficient as employers because although these people have great skills to do the jobs, they are not getting along in Canada because the settlement services are just not there. Maybe we need some Conservatives to actually listen to these employers and hear the fact that cutting settlement services was not a good thing. Cutting the settlement services also makes it difficult for the children of these recent immigrants.
I have a huge Somali community in my riding, again because my riding is a place where it is easy for refugees to come because the rents are so cheap and the riding is full of low-income housing. Those Somali refugees have been here for maybe as long as 20 years. It has been 42 years since there was an election in Somalia. The country just had an election this month and a new president was elected. There was a big party celebrating that because they are hopeful that maybe Somalia will turn itself around.
However, the problem is this. We have the tragedy of six Somali youth this summer who were tragically murdered in what we can only assume was some kind of gangland problem, but it raises the spectre of what happens to those disaffected Somali youth when their settlement services are gone, when they have no hope, no job, no help from the government, when the services that even the ministry of public safety had have been cut? There have been cuts and more cuts and these kids have no hope. Some of them turn to crime as a result. What is going to happen to those kids who get a six-month or longer sentence and who are 18 years of age and have been in Canada 17 of those 18 years but are still Somali? They are going to get deported to a country that is war-torn, that really has no government, that is unsafe and where they have no family. That is just wrong.
I said earlier that the wrong people are perhaps going to be deported and I would point to those Somali youth in that regard. With just one bad occurrence they will have a record, but are now going to have an even bigger problem. If the sentence is six months or more, they will get kicked out of the country without their family.
Yet as I said to the minister earlier, Conrad Black is still here and although the crime he committed in the U.S. could apparently have been punished by a 14-year sentence here in Canada, he is still here. It tells us that there seems to be a double standard. There seems to be a system that if someone is just stealing money from ordinary Canadians through some kind of fraudulent system, that is okay and the person can come back.
I also want to comment because Todd Baylis Boulevard is in my riding and was named after the Todd Baylis who was killed. We in the NDP will do anything we can to make sure that kind of thing does not happen again. We are not opposed to the part of the bill that would prevent a criminal being left in this country long enough to be able to commit crimes of a violent nature, nor would we ever be. However, we want to make sure that it is done in a way that is fair and honest and does not rest so much power in the hands of one or two ministers.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that we share the government's concern about serious crimes committed by individuals who are not Canadian citizens.
As a result of this principle, we support this bill at second reading. However, we still have some concerns about this bill, which we feel casts too wide a net over immigrants.
I would like to use a simple analogy to explain the situation to Canadians watching today. When I was young, one of Greenpeace's big campaigns in the 1980s was to save the dolphins. The problem at the time was that tuna fishers were catching dolphins in their nets because the nets were too big. As a result of a campaign against this action and pressure on the processing companies, they changed their way of doing things. That is why we see the “Dolphin Friendly” logo on cans of tuna.
I hope that, as a result of the concerns we voice about this bill and the work done in committee, the Conservatives will make sensible changes to improve this bill so that it becomes “Immigrant Friendly.”
With this story, I want to illustrate two things: first, Bill is a big net, perhaps too big, and in our desire to catch criminals, innocent immigrants are going to get caught in this large net and get hurt in the process. We have some suggestions for improving this bill.
Like most Canadians, we are concerned about criminals and crime, but we want to proceed responsibly and not engage in demagoguery, as the members on the government side often do.
Before explaining what we want to improve, I would like to point out that the opposition's priorities are the economy and the quality of services, such as health care, provided to Canadians. It is sad to see the government fuel stereotypes by focusing on bills that target immigrants and establishing a link between criminal behaviour and immigration.
As many of my colleagues have mentioned, the vast majority of immigrants are honest. They work hard if we let them.
I would also like to mention that crime is a complex process. One of the causes of criminal behaviour is poverty, and not a person's country of origin.
We know that, historically, immigrants have often been targeted and seen as a threat to the well-being of a population during periods of economic crisis.
I hope that the government is not trying to fuel stereotypes. Crime is not really widespread in the immigrant communities, but the government is dwelling on the extreme cases. As we say in English:
It is just a few bad apples.
Keeping with my focus on the economy, I would like to address immigration and our economy and point out where the government's priorities should lie, in general, regarding immigration issues. Then, after talking about where the priorities should be, I would like to look at this particular piece of legislation and point out its useful elements and perhaps where some of the weaknesses lie.
The reason I would like to emphasize this, in a more general sense at first, is that criminality is so often the result of social marginalization and the economic difficulty of individuals and their communities. As I mentioned before, it is not linked to their country of origin or where they come from in the world but to much more complex factors, which I will get into.
First of all, instead of focusing on the few bad apples as the government has, the government should instead focus on the lost economic opportunities of our immigrant communities.
In a study by the University of Ottawa Research Group on the Economics of Immigration, the researchers found that if we found better ways to integrate our permanent residents, such as if their salary scale were similar to that of domestic labourers—in other words, if they were on a more even playing field with domestic workers—we would see a net increase in real GDP. We would also see better labour productivity and an improved federal fiscal balance. If the government is serious about the economy—and it says its priority is on the economy and jobs—focusing on those elements of our immigration system would offer far better benefits than putting the priority on the criminalization aspects of immigration law.
The study further found that immigration can help solve the issue of population aging. It was an interesting factoid in this research. We often hear from the government that OAS is not sustainable, which first of all, is patently false; we have shown the government at many stages that OAS is sustainable in the long term. Certainly, the immigration community could improve the sustainability of old age security. That was studied by this group just last year.
Instead of focusing on minority criminal elements, the government should instead use the power of the federal government for good, by doing such things as encouraging the benefits of employing immigrants in professional spheres, encouraging employers to be proactive by making arranged employment offers and using the federal government to help businesses find quality overseas labour, not to cut costs as it appears the government is doing by offering 15% less to workers but to improve the quality of our workforce.
If we emphasized that as an immigration policy and cast out a net in the world to catch the most qualified and brilliant people from other countries, enticed them to come here and enticed employers to start giving arranged employment offers to these people, we would see great benefits to our immigrant communities. It has been shown that immigrants with arranged employment offers earn 74% more than those who do not have them. There is a systemic problem of underemployment. The problem in the immigrant community of not being able to be employed to their full potential has serious economic effects and drags on our economy, which we could improve if we took action and leadership.
The government could improve funding to language programs. My colleague from pointed out many of the cuts made to settlement programs. Researchers and experts in the field know that language ability is one of the key factors in the full employability of permanent residents. If we improved funding to language programs offered by the provinces and gave guarantees and benchmarking, we would see net improvements. We have seen that the government is willing to offer piecemeal, half measures of giving loans to professionals wishing to improve their credentials in Canada. We believe the government is not doing enough to recognize fully the contributions that professionals trained abroad could offer to our country.
The Conservatives have talked a lot about this, but instead of focusing on this problem of recognizing foreign credentials, they choose to make these few bad apples a priority, the few criminals who have abused the system. If they are truly concerned about Canada's economy and it is truly their number one priority, as they say day in and day out, then they should look at the economic aspects of immigration, rather than the few criminals who cheat the system. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, my suspicion is that they are playing a political game and are being demagogic in their approach to immigration. I do not think their true priority is the economy. Rather, it is keeping their base close to them.
I have had many conversations with permanent residents in my riding and in other ridings, frankly. I have talked to an engineer who was trained abroad, and he spent up to two years looking for a job in his field. After landing, he was still searching for employment in the engineering field. We know Canada needs engineers in certain sectors, yet he could not find a job. This just should not be happening.
There are 1.5 million permanent residents who could contribute to our economic success if they were allowed to do so and if the government got behind them. Unfortunately, the government's priority seems to be looking at the criminal elements of our immigration community.
In a study, Bonikowska, Green and Riddell found that immigrants have more years of education and experience than Canadian-born individuals. Bastien, Bélanger and Ledent, in their study, found that having a degree from a western country increases the chances of finding a skilled job. There are some very complex questions that arise in these findings that I think the government should begin to tackle, to dismantle, but instead it is focusing on the criminal aspects of permanent residents, as I said.
To summarize, improving the economic situation of our permanent residents may actually decrease the rates of criminality, which are already incredibly low and not a serious demographic problem.
After addressing where our true priorities should lie, let us look at this particular piece of legislation and the positive and negative aspects of it.
I would like to start with the short title of the bill, faster removal of foreign criminals.
Certainly, people who have come to Canada as tourists and commit a crime, I would have no problem calling them foreign. If they are here on a trip and commit a crime, they are “foreigners”, in common parlance. However, someone who has undergone the years necessary to come to our country as a permanent resident, has undergone all the steps to acquire permanent residency, I would say is not a person who is foreign to us. I would never characterize such a person as a foreigner. Therefore, first of all, I take issue with the short title of the bill.
Someone who has been here for 20 years, does not take citizenship and screws up would be treated the same as someone who has been here for just one month. There is no discretion in the bill to differentiate these two individuals. I would be very uncomfortable treating these two people in the same fashion. That is something, if it comes up in committee, that I would urge the government side to tighten.
I do not think most Canadians would call somebody who has been here for 20 years a foreigner. I personally never use the term and I am uncomfortable with it. When I lived overseas, I was uncomfortable being called a foreigner. It immediately sets a distinction between somebody who belongs in the country and somebody who does not.
In the proposed section 22.1, the government's amendment would allow the minister to prevent someone from becoming a temporary resident if he feels it is justified by public policy considerations. That statement is much too vague. The English version of the bill uses “public policy” and the French version uses “intérêt public”. Those are not at all the same. There are nuances between the two. That statement is much too vague.
Legislators from all parties often base their decisions on morality. We often see in the immigration system that children are judged based on offences committed by their parents. We can find many examples in many moral systems where judging children for their parents' crimes is not a fair way of doing things.
It worries me that this bill gives the minister a new discretionary power to grant an exemption for a family member of a foreigner deemed inadmissible.
At the request of the individual or on the initiative of the minister, the minister may ignore the inadmissibility of a family member of someone who is inadmissible for reasons of security, human rights or international law violations, or organized crime, if he is satisfied that it is not contrary to the national interest.
National interest requires the minister to specifically take into account national security and public safety. Why not completely remove the section that concerns the children of the guilty party instead of giving the minister a discretionary power? Instead of giving the minister a discretionary power, the bill could state that children will not be found guilty like their parents.
What I agree with is that serious, violent criminals and war criminals should not receive a safe haven in Canada. That is why we are supporting the bill in principle at second reading. The principle of the bill is not misplaced, but it needs serious improvements.
Likewise, we believe that the priority should be placed on bettering the condition of the vast majority of law-abiding immigrants rather than targeting the tiny minority of law breakers. Maybe improving the condition of permanent residents would also have the effect of lessening the incidents of criminal activity, which is already very low, as I mentioned before.
We will be voting in support of this bill at second reading in order to clean up the sloppy elements of this obtusely written bill, because even though Maclean's may have named him the hardest working minister, something I do not deny, it obviously does not read his legislation and may confuse press conferences with hard work. Perhaps the minister should spend more time on the legislation and less time on the media prep for it.
Like the association of police chiefs, we think we need to close the loopholes in immigration legislation, and we support the principle of the bill. However, we believe the bill needs tightening up in committee.
In addition to the association of police chiefs, here are other validators of our position.
Mario Bellissimo, lawyer and executive member of the Canadian Bar Association, is one of the nation's top lawyers and part of an immigrant community that has often been tarred with the criminal epithet. He said referring to permanent residents as foreigners is misleading.
|| They are casting the net too wide... People make one mistake—even if it's a non-violent crime—they will be removed.
Furthermore, he thinks the bill reflects the government's lack of confidence in the immigration tribunal and the Canadian judiciary. We believe in the power of the Canadian judiciary and the tribunals to take care of these cases and to offer fair judgment. We do not believe that the minister necessarily needs discretionary powers.
As a member of Parliament, I personally help my constituents with the immigration process, but I have never once gone to the to lobby a case that has already been dealt with by the judiciary and the tribunals. I simply have trust in the system. I believe in that system and I believe it needs support and leadership. However, taking the discretionary element away from the tribunals and judiciaries and giving it to the minister is not the right way to go.
In terms of dealing with violent criminals and war criminals, we certainly agree with the approach of the government. That is why we would support this bill in principle at second reading, to give the government time to do its homework and tighten up the bill.
Just as the tuna canners of old created dolphin-friendly tuna, we hope the government will make this legislation permanent resident friendly.