Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in relation to Bill , legislation which will impact on the lives of many of my constituents in Mount Royal and which will also have an important impact on the Canadian immigration system overall.
In presenting the bill, the offered several justifications for the bill, some of which appear reasonable at first glance in their response to admittedly legislative gaps and policy concerns. In this regard the minister began by noting that the bill would “narrow the breadth of the inadmissibility provision for espionage to focus on activities carried out against Canada or that are contrary to the interests of Canada”.
He then continued, noting that the bill “would permit the temporary entry of persons with an inadmissible family member” before adding that the legislation also would provide “express authority for the Minister of Public Safety to grant ministerial relief on the minister's own initiative” and thus would as a whole “strengthen the integrity of the system and protect the safety of Canadians”.
At first glance, all of these are supportable notions. We do not want to exclude those who spied or worked on behalf of allies. We do not want to deny someone entry if he or she is innocent of any wrongdoing but have an inadmissible family member. Nor do we want any convoluted or unclear process for ministerial decision making in this regard. Yet the bill goes above and beyond these simple and seemingly agreeable propositions. Indeed, if the bill only did these three things, it would perhaps even enjoy the unanimous support of the House.
However, the legislation goes beyond this, granting powers to ministers in ways that may breach the charter and changing some of the protections currently afforded by both domestic and international law. In particular, the minister's outline of the two major changes contained in Bill warrant individualized attention and critique from a juridical perspective. I will seek to organize my remarks around the same points that the minister adduces in support of these changes.
First, the minister noted that “the bill will create a new authority for the Minister of Citizenship who will be able to deny temporary resident status to foreign nationals for up to three years based on public policy considerations”. The problem is that there are no criteria respecting what are public policy considerations. What factors will be considered by the minister? When will the determination be made in the application process? What checks are in place to ensure this provision is neither misused nor abused. Indeed the minister himself acknowledged the delicacy, to use his own term, of this authority and invited colleagues and members of the opposition to suggest such criteria either by way of regulation, amendment, or otherwise support content into this rather vague and elastic term.
As a matter of fundamental fairness, persons must be informed of the case to meet and be allowed to present evidence in their favour. By allowing determination on unknown allegations, with a questionable if not elastic standard, namely that of public policy considerations, we are investing the minister with an authority that could end up being discriminatory and otherwise arbitrary and capricious in its application.
Simply because the minister contends that the power would be used sparingly does not mean that it passes constitutional muster. There must be some check, some appeal, some review of the exercise of authority and I am hopeful at committee this section may be amended, as the minister himself acknowledged and invited such amendment, to at least require notice to applicants of the considerations at issue when this section is invoked.
The second change held out by the minister is that “the bill seeks to lower the current threshold to bar access to the Immigration Appeal Division for serious criminality from a minimum sentence requirement of two years to a sentence of six months”.
It is troubling enough that the government speaks of anything netting longer than a six month sentence as “serious criminality”, let alone the denial of remedial relief in this regard. One who obtains a sentence for making a recording in a movie theatre, an offence which can net a two year sentence under section 432 of the Criminal Code, is hardly one who should be denied access to an appeal of a decision that he or she should be put immediately on a plane back to another country, one where the person may not have been to in years, where the person may have no ties, simply because the minister has ordered the person deported.
In this regard, one must note the title of the bill, which is as prejudicial as it is presumptive and where the very title of the legislation is intended to be probative of the raison d'être of the legislation itself. I am speaking to the reference to swift departure of foreign criminals act.
This is not unlike the approach that was taken with respect to the Safe Streets Act. A title does not in and of itself validate legislation. By characterizing the legislation as being the “faster removal of foreign criminals act”, it does not make it necessarily pass constitutional muster. A title does not make constitutionally suspect legislation valid nor does it transform bad policy into good policy.
The people affected by this bill are permanent residents of our country and newcomers. They came here legally after going through a process that requires, among other things, a criminal background check.
An entire community will be affected by these measures, and it is unacceptable to characterize that community the way this bill does and the way the minister did during his presentation to the House.
New immigrants to Canada are active members of their society. They pay taxes and contribute positively to the country's economy. They must be treated fairly and with respect. Indeed, immigrants, as all members of the House know, play an extremely important role in our country's history. They are an integral part of our cherished multicultural mosaic. On a personal note, I am extremely proud to be able to represent one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in the country.
Simply put, the government has not presented the House with any evidence of a higher level of criminality among immigrants to Canada as compared to citizens. Nor has it presented evidence that somehow a sentence of six months plus a day is in and of itself “serious criminality”.
While my colleagues have listed some of the offences for which one might get a sentence of longer than six months, offences which a reasonable person would hardly view as serious, the bigger problem is that the assumption is that a sentence necessarily reflects severity. In a period when the government is intent on ushering in new and longer mandatory minimum sentences, it can hardly be said in the Canadian justice system that there is necessarily a correlation between the length of a sentence imposed by a judge and the severity, let alone the evil of the act itself.
There is a related note here that must be made with regard to sentencing. The minister noted:
—we have noticed across the country that courts are often using two years less a day to penalize individuals for their crime. At the same time it obviously changes the aspect of that criminal conviction, because it is less than two years, and therefore the scope of the current legislation does not allow us to pursue those individuals for the purpose of getting them out of the country and deporting them.
The suggestion is that judges somehow sentence offenders to two years less a day so that one would not be deported under the current statutory scheme and that it is in fact the intention of the judiciary itself in these regards. However, the truth of the matter is that two years is a dividing line between offences served in provincial versus federal institutions.
In other words, a judge is not sentencing someone to two years less a day because he or she feels the offender should not be deported. That is not something for the judiciary to consider in a criminal case. Rather the two years less a day sentence allows for the criminal to be incarcerated in a provincial rather than a federal penitentiary.
Indeed, in this regard I would invite the government to submit any evidence it has that any judge has ever taken into account deportation risk in assessing the sentences. It is not a factor under the Criminal Code and surely the government would appeal such a verdict should it have been handed down in that manner. It is simply irresponsible to impute to the judiciary a motive in sentencing where there is no evidence in fact or in law that it has indeed adopted this as its modus operandi.
Returning to the bill before us, the premise is that we must remove foreign criminals faster. Yet, as I noted, the foreign criminals at issue here are really permanent residents and new Canadians. Their crimes may not be all that serious. If the government seeks to ascribe to them the level of “serious criminality”, they would be deprived of a remedy to challenge the summary deportations themselves.
When we think of serious criminality, we think of murder, sexual assault and other violent acts. I do not dispute that there are some committing these despicable acts who may be immigrants to Canada, as well as citizens committing such crime. However, the most serious of all crimes, mainly war crimes, crimes against humanity, let alone that unspeakable crime of genocide, is not something we see addressed in this proposed statute. I believe this point warrants some discussion in this matter.
In this regard, may I turn my attention to the war crimes and crimes against humanity program.
Since its inception in 1997, the war crimes program has provided a means of prosecuting international crimes domestically, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which underpins our war crimes legislation and the implementation of our international treaty obligations.
In doing so, Canada sends a powerful message that not only will our country not serve as a base or sanctuary for war criminals but such war criminals are on notice that they will enjoy neither immunity nor impunity for their international criminality, which transcends borders and jurisdictions.
It is regrettable that the funding for this program has not changed since its inception in 1997. At a time when the government is talking about getting tough on foreign criminals, it is not, regrettably, addressing the problem of foreign war criminals here in Canada and ensuring that they are brought to justice here in Canada.
Rather, we see the problem with the bill now magnified in this regard to how the government treats war criminals, namely through their wholesale deportation. Yet this is not an appropriate alternative to domestic prosecution for war criminals, for they may never face justice in their home countries. Indeed, their home governments may provide protection from prosecution and they may even be rewarded for their criminality. It is our responsibility, both domestically and under international law, to break this cycle of impunity.
At a time when the government purports to be concerned with foreign criminals who enter our country, should this not be the time to reinvigorate the support and funding provided for the war crimes and crimes against humanity program?
These are the real foreign criminals, not Canadian permanent residents. For all the government has claimed that the opposition is soft on crime, why are the Conservatives arguably so soft on war criminals and war crimes?
Again, the point here is that deportation and removal are not necessarily solutions to the problem at hand, and in some cases, returning someone to their country of origin may make things worse.
Another flaw of the bill is that it does not make clear the Canadian obligation, as affirmed by our courts again and again, not to deport to situations of torture or terror. Problematic as it may be to return a permanent resident to a country with which he or she may not have had any contact for years and may no longer have any ties, it is much more problematic in cases of people who came as refugees to Canada before claiming their permanent residency status.
In this regard the removal of recourse to the immigration appeal division is particularly problematic. Indeed, it should be noted that we hold specific international legal obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, to which Canada is a signatory. Article 3 of that convention states:
1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.
While I understand the concern and desire to limit paperwork and resources devoted to claims that will not succeed and I understand the concern that protracted levels of appeal at times burden our system, efficiency cannot replace fundamental rights, particularly those that are protected by treaty. Indeed, the rights at stake here are of the utmost, critical importance.
For permanent residents, such as those who came here as children and for whom Canada may be the only country they have ever known, the decision to return them could prove fatal. Decisions in this regard must not be made lightly, require a full and fair consideration of the facts and cannot be rushed in the interest of political expediency, nor can they ignore the very real dangers that exist.
Lest anyone question whether this is a very serious risk, look at what happened just last week in the case of Fatemeh Derakhshandeh Tosarvandan. While the Canada Border Services Agency has agreed to look at new evidence into the case of her failed refugee claim, there was a brief point where it appeared Canada would send this refugee claimant back to Iran, even though she could face death by stoning.
After repeated pleas by her lawyers and two scheduled deportations that were subsequently cancelled, officials finally notified her lawyer that they would grant her a pre-removal risk assessment.
These cases arise and it must be clear that in all circumstances that Canada, as a matter of law and policy, will not deport to torture or terror which, as the courts have also affirmed, includes deportation to the death penalty in any form.
To conclude my remarks in the time remaining, we all support the idea of creating an efficient and effective immigration process. We support what the minister has said about supporting the integrity of the process itself, but this must not come at the expense of our democratic values, our constitutional rights or international legal obligations. Our government must be open and accountable. Ministerial discretion in a democracy must be exercised with transparency, accountability, in compliance with the Constitution and not shielded by elastic and amorphous terms such as public policy considerations.
The government has yet to justify the primary legislative changes accomplished through the bill in any compelling way. Its advancement only continues to create prejudicial fallout for immigrants, and also prejudicial fallout with respect to the imputations to the judiciary of prejudicial decision-making, let alone breaches of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I am all for immigration reform. Some of the minister's reforms have been welcome. In past Parliaments I have stood with my Liberal colleagues in supporting some immigration legislation offered by the Conservatives, yet this legislation in its present form is constitutionally suspect. It will invite constitutional challenges at the taxpayers' expense as the government seeks to advance that which breaches constitutional requirements for procedural fairness on the one hand and respect for our international obligations on the other.
What is enshrined in the charter and the related duty of procedural fairness are not merely privileges. They are rights that deserve protection and promotion, and the Canadian Parliament should be at the forefront of those seeking such protection for the benefit of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will share my time with the talented member for , who is new to the House and is doing an excellent job. She will speak second.
I will start by saying that we are at second reading of a bill and we are of course talking about the principle of the bill. The NDP supports the principle that those found guilty of a violent crime must face consequences with respect to their admissibility in Canada. In light of this principle, we could support this bill.
When this bill is referred to committee and is at third reading, we will have to point out its flaws, as my colleague from and our immigration critic, the member for , mentioned. We already see that there are flaws. We can support the principle, but we will have to address some of the flaws in this bill.
First and foremost, I must say that the government's record on immigration shows a huge lack of the responsibility that we should be seeing from a government.
I will give just three examples. I have been in the House now for eight years and I have seen over that eight-year period a very clear deterioration in the level of services provided to new Canadians and in the responsiveness of our immigration system.
I am proud to say that my riding of is the most diverse riding in Canada. Over a hundred languages are spoken in Burnaby—New Westminster and every major faith is found in my riding. In a very small area of square kilometres, from the Fraser River through to Deer Lake, we see a diversity that goes even beyond that in other ridings, like . I know the member of Parliament for that riding feels there is a lot of diversity there, but Burnaby—New Westminster certainly is the most diverse, with Surrey North very much up there in terms of diversity.
Back in 2004 the concerns were about delays in the system, the delays around family sponsorship and visitor's visas. The issue of temporary foreign workers had not really come to the fore because at the time there was still a very clear emphasis within the system on ensuring that Canadians, the residents and people living in the community, were going to work. Now eight years later there has been a very clear deterioration. It has happened because of cutbacks, mismanagement and the inability of the government to handle the immigration file effectively.
That is why when we see bills like this come forward, as my colleague from Trois-Rivières just mentioned, we see them as akin to a cannon going after a fly. Even though we can support the principle, we are seeing a lot of work going into expanding the powers of the minister when, under the existing powers and responsibilities of the minister and the framework of the ministry, things are clearly not working. Therefore, we see this as a political document that is being brought forward with a whole number of weaknesses. The government is not dealing with the fundamental problems that we are seeing now, particularly in regard to new Canadians in the immigration system.
Let us look at those three examples that I cited back from 2004 and where we are today. We are in a climate where over the last six years, 400,000 more Canadians joined the unemployment rolls. We have seen more and more part-time work. We have lost half a million manufacturing jobs. We have actually seen an erosion in the average family wage in Canada. The middle class is eroding every year and its losing about 2% of its purchasing power, so its wages are actually being forced down.
Even though the government likes to make up figures for some kind of job and economic record that really come from science fiction, the reality is that most of the jobs created in our growing population are part-time or temporary. We have replaced full-time family-sustaining manufacturing jobs with temporary and part-time work, and people are trying to cobble together a number of different part-time jobs to try to make ends meet.
In the midst of this, we have seen an unprecedented expansion of temporary foreign workers. These workers are brought in and are not subject to our health and safety standards. We have seen so many cases of abuse in British Columbia and right across the country. Temporary foreign workers are simply being pulled away from the health and safety standards that we have, are paid far below our Canadian standards, are given no rights and are sent home at the end of whatever contract they have. This explosion of temporary foreign workers is something that we see everywhere, whether in construction projects where these workers are housed in poor living conditions or the local Tim Hortons where they are brought in and put into very difficult conditions.
I will give an example. I know of a case where temporary foreign workers were brought in to work at a business in one particular area for a per diem. Because there was no inspection process, no oversight whatsoever, those temporary foreign workers then had to pay an extraordinary compulsory amount to their employer to sleep in a bed in a small basement at night. In other words, they became indentured servants where they were ordered to spend all of the money they earned in the day on astronomical fees for their poor living arrangements. When they tried to move out, the owner told them they would have to keep paying the hundreds of dollars they were being charged every week for their accommodation, even though they were no longer sleeping in those tiny little beds in the basement. That is just one example of the many abuses we are seeing.
Under the current government there has been a widespread explosion of temporary foreign workers being brought in with no monitoring, safety standards and oversight provided, or responsibility taken by the government. That is simply not reflective of Canadian values. That is not reflective of building the kinds of communities that we want to see. It is not reflective of Canada's tradition, wherein new Canadians come here and join our communities, bring their families, contribute and work hard, and as a result the whole community and whole country prospers. This is just one aspect of what has been a very meanspirited approach by the government not in keeping with our fundamental values.
Second is the waiting list for family sponsorships. With a pen the government has simply ripped away and cast out those who have been waiting years, sometimes for up to a decade. The government has said it is starting over with the sponsorships, but what about those hundreds of thousands of people who were waiting?
Third is the whole issue of visitor visas. It has become a daily challenge for any new Canadians who want to have their family to visit them in Canada for births, funerals, marriages and special events. Visitor visas are routinely denied for the most spurious of reasons.
What we are seeing under the government is a failure in the immigration system. The government brings forward legislation that is problematic and riddled with a series of holes and problems. A few minutes ago, my colleague from Mount Royal pointed to possible constitutional challenges.
There is a whole range of special powers given to the minister. It is very clear to us that the minister does not deserve those powers.
Though we may be in favour of the principle of the bill, it has to be reworked at committee. It has to be reworked so that it is actually in Canada's interest.
Above all, the government finally has to start coping with the fact that it is in government, and take responsibility and fix all of the problems that new Canadians are experiencing with the immigration system. It has to get to work on this. We are hoping that with pressure from the NDP, it will finally do just that.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak on Bill . As the hon. member said, this is second reading and, at second reading, members express support for a principle, an idea. It is the same, for example, as negotiating in international gatherings. This might even serve as a little lesson for the Conservatives. Initially, we agree on a principle, not on a treaty or a piece of legislation. So let us discuss a principle here.
Certainly, New Democrats recognize the importance that Canadians attach to their security. We are here to protect the security of Canadians. No one will question that, certainly not the government.
I want to work with the government to ensure that no criminal can gain any advantage from a process and that the process remains just, impartial and fair. I should point out that those words are from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So I am not inventing Canadian values just for the purposes of my speech. Those are the words used to describe our justice system: just, impartial and fair.
We agree on the principle of holding criminals responsible for their actions, of finding them guilty of the crimes they have committed, and of having them suffer the consequences. But we have to reflect on the subsequent process and the values and principles associated with that process. That is precisely why we are here today. We have to ask ourselves which image we want to project, how we want society and people to perceive our system.
Bill amends a significant number of items. It is important to highlight them. I will begin by pointing out the items that are on the table for discussion. Then I will provide my opinion and make some suggestions to the government.
First, it is important to say that the bill concentrates more powers into the hands of the minister, as if he did not already have enough by virtue of all the bills he has introduced since the election of the majority government. The current minister is likely the Minister of Immigration with the most power in Canada's entire history. I would not make that claim unless I knew it to be true.
Clearly, we do not want Canadians or the rest of the world to view our system as one in which a minister can personally and subjectively determine the eligibility of a temporary resident applicant, regardless of the criteria. It is true that our image and our system influence Canadians, but I would like to make it clear to the government, which claims to be removing barriers and opening itself up to the world, that it is not just removing our economic barriers, but it is also showing the world Canada's image, our values and our principles.
As my colleague said, it is important for the government to take responsibility, to respect and show people what we have fought for for so many years. This must be preserved and cherished as a national treasure, like our national parks and our history.
I should point out that discretionary powers are not common practice in Canadian democratic traditions.
It is good for a country, for a government, to aspire—I am using the word "aspire" because I would not want to say that the government succeeded—to lead the world in terms of the economy and investment, but why not aspire to lead the world in terms of compassion, democracy, justice and equality? Why not? I have never heard my colleagues say anything about that.
I would really like them to stop eliminating these values and principles, so dear to us all, from their speeches in an effort to divide Canadians through the politics of fear. I will touch on that a little later in my speech.
I have a good example. When Conrad Black, a convicted felon who was sentenced abroad, wanted to return to Canada, the minister was quick to say that he wanted the case to be dealt with independently by independent officers. This was very clear from the beginning, and that is what the minister said. However, now he wants to decide the fate of any individual on Canadian soil. In my opinion, this is a contradiction. Once again, we see that the government wants to create different classes: friends of the Conservatives and everyone else.
The NDP wants justice and equality for everyone. Criteria that apply to one person must apply to everyone. It is not true that there are different classes of citizens, permanent residents and even newcomers to Canada.
Personally, if I could give the minister one piece of advice, it would be to spend less time organizing press conferences that paint a very negative picture of immigrants. Instead, the minister should use these policies and focus his efforts on really protecting us from criminals in our ridings, in our streets.
The minister can declare that a foreign national may not become a temporary resident for a maximum of 36 months if he is of the opinion that it is in the public's interest. Thus, the minister may, at any time, revoke a declaration or shorten that period or whatever.
What are the criteria? The discretionary power in question here is not defined and has no framework at all. There is also no appeal process. To whom is the minister accountable? We know how much the Conservatives love to be irresponsible. They talk about responsible ministers and ministerial responsibility. Yet, instead we see quite the opposite from the Conservative government: irresponsible ministers and ministerial irresponsibility have become the new normal in this country.
We are in favour of the principle: criminals who are found guilty must suffer the consequences. However, we are against giving the minister these discretionary powers. We support equality, democracy and justice.
We see here how different our perspectives are. Has it really come to this? Does the official opposition really have to remind the Canadian government what values Canadians hold dear?
What is so unfortunate about the Conservatives' tactic is that they are using fear and playing on the emotions of Canadians—because I know that Canadians are really very passionate people—to introduce somewhat flawed or sometimes even deeply flawed bills. I think that the Conservatives are going in a truly deplorable direction, and I am very disappointed in their lack of co-operation.
The Conservatives are using prejudices and politics of fear to force Canadians to swallow their far-right policies without saying a word. Has it really come to that? Is the role of the official opposition now to remind the government that it does not rule over its own kingdom, but that it represents Canadians? Is this the role of the opposition now? Are we really seeing these types of far-right policies in a country like Canada? I am very disappointed.
We are talking about an optional appeal process. That is absolutely ridiculous. Has it really come to that? Can the minister really decide whether someone is able to appeal or not?
I personally feel that there is a serious problem with that, especially since the bill also removes the responsibility to consider humanitarian circumstances. For example, what will happen with young children who came here at the age of one? They will be deported to a country whose language and culture they do not know and where they could even be tortured. We have obligations to comply with.
In addition, when we look at the definition of serious crime or serious criminality, we see that there is no definition. We are talking about six months or more, whereas it used to be two months or more.
I am really wondering about the Conservatives' new policies on minimum sentences. We have to think about the image we want our justice system to project. Will people have confidence in our government?
I can assure you that the NDP will never violate the values of democracy, justice and equality that Canadians cherish. We are always going to be there to represent the people.
We are not seeking power because we want to rule over our little kingdom, but rather because we want to change things for the better for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
The debate on Bill , dealing with the removal of foreign criminals, is one I am particularly interested in. This is another step in the comprehensive reform of our immigration system that the Conservatives are doing their utmost to undertake. As the stakes are high and as the decisions made in this House will have major repercussions on many people's lives, it is essential to thoroughly study the changes proposed in this bill.
Ultimately, this bill proposes to do away with the control mechanisms that allow the immigration system to respond to exceptional circumstances in a flexible way. Powers are being taken out of the system and placed into the hands of the minister, who, more than ever before, will be able to decide unilaterally what is good and what is not good for individuals and for our country.
I have to say that this trend leaves me confused in a number of ways. My first concern is with the concept of serious criminality. At the moment, as we know, someone who is not a Canadian citizen can be sent back to his country of origin if he is convicted of a crime punishable by two years or more in prison. This is intended to keep Canadians safe, while leaving some room to manoeuvre for individuals making a simple mistake. There is a good balance between compassion and public safety, in my opinion. But Bill would reduce the prison term triggering deportation from Canada from two years to six months. This would considerably broaden the categories of crimes punishable by removal from our country, pure and simple. I believe that this major change requires more thorough study.
Which crimes would henceforth be considered serious enough to justify deportation? Are there not cases in which deportation would be out of proportion to the offence? I feel that we must think about this before we act, given the dramatic consequences of deportation.
I believe that the government is trying to show its muscle here as it has done with various other bills in the past. This is their no-nonsense, tough on crime approach. But have the consequences of that approach been seriously studied?
I would like to quote the president of the Canadian Somali Congress, Ahmed Hussen. In describing the potential consequences of Bill , he said that a good number of the people who are likely to be captured by this new law are first-time offenders who, if given a chance, could reform and change their behaviour.
This means that if we lower the bar from two years to six months, we could end up disproportionately punishing people who, although they made a mistake—it happens—are capable of turning things around. Where is the compassion that helped our country become what it is today? I do not see that in this bill.
I must point out that the immigration minister promoted this bill by using examples of extremely dangerous offenders. Of course we all agree with the idea of preventing dangerous people from walking freely in our streets. I am just as concerned as the minister about the safety of my fellow Canadians. I recognize the need to have an effective justice system in order to deport serious criminals who are not citizens.
However, emotion must not win out over reason in such a complex debate. Blindly and indiscriminately lowering our threshold of tolerance without considering each individual's particular circumstances is not a good solution.
Now let us talk about the vast discretionary powers given to the minister. I cannot support the removal of the appeal process for certain people. Furthermore, I cannot agree with giving the minister unilateral power to prohibit a foreigner from becoming a temporary resident for a period of 36 months, if he feels that it is justified by public policy considerations. That power is much too vast and too vague.
In addition, there is a problem with Bill that the government does not seem to have thought about. We could end up deporting offenders who came to Canada at a very young age and who no longer have any ties to their country of origin. That has happened before. A young person who immigrates at the age of two with his parents has no memories of his country of origin. He considers himself to be Canadian. His friends are here, as are his social network and family. He has gone to school and worked in his community. When he makes a mistake and commits a crime, however, he does not have the same rights as a citizen and risks being deported.
It is not a fundamentally bad concept. We all understand that serious crimes must be punished severely. That is why the rule regarding a two-year prison sentence is justified. However, by reducing that time frame to six months, we run the risk of deporting people who commit relatively minor crimes to countries they do not know.
The problem I have with this bill is not so much its intention, but rather the means it uses. Protecting society from dangerous criminals is one thing; cracking down indiscriminately and imposing disproportionate punishments on anyone who makes a mistake, no matter how minor, is quite another thing. Does the government realize how difficult it might be for someone to be deported to a country they do not know? I urge the government to seriously consider this question. In short, I would like to say this: let us make the system tougher when it comes to removing criminals if need be, but let us not do so blindly.
Another aspect that really worries me is mental illness. The minister does not say very much about this aspect in his press conferences on the bill, but many convicted criminals have mental health problems.
His bill deprives judges of a great deal of their discretionary power to consider the circumstances in which a crime is committed. I do not think this is a good idea.
According to Michael Bossin, a lawyer who specializes in refugee rights and has extensive expertise in that regard, in many cases, people who have mental illness problems often commit crimes when they are not treated. That is a well-known fact. Many convicted criminals struggle with mental illness.
What do we want as a society? Personally, I think proper treatment should be provided to offenders whenever possible. Locking these people up or sending them to their country of origin only covers up the problem; it does not solve it. It means off-loading the problem onto someone else. That is not what I expect from a country like ours.
People struggling with mental illness must receive care, even if they have committed a crime. This is not being soft; it is being compassionate and wise.
Since Bill practically ignores this troubling aspect of criminal behaviour, we have a right to question the bill's real intentions.
This leads me to my last point. This reform does not seem to based on any true facts or hard evidence. The government seems to be taking the same approach it used to amend the Criminal Code. It is clamping down without any sense of the outcome.
Can the minister tell us what crimes will henceforth be punishable by deportation? Can he explain why a person with a mental illness would be better off in prison or in his country of origin than at a hospital? Has he calculated the cost of his reform?
The cost associated with Bill , for example, is $34 million. How much will Bill C-43 cost? We do not know.
Nor do we know the current number of deportations that are the result of a conviction, or how many cases involving a deportation order for a serious criminal offence have come before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
Without such crucial data, how can we assess the potential repercussions of this reform?
I am convinced that it is possible to prevent non-citizens who commit a serious offence from abusing our appeal process without trampling on their rights. Like the vast majority of newcomers, I would like to have a government that is focused on improving the immigration system to make it faster and fairer.
On top of all the questionable changes that I have already mentioned, this government's modus operandi makes me wonder what its real intentions are.
The seems to be contemplating a two-tier system. Just look at the treatment Conrad Black received recently. Mr. Black committed a crime for which he served a sentence abroad, but when he wanted to return to Canada, the minister said he did not want to get involved and that the case should be left in the hands of the officials.
However, through Bill , the minister is now asking for much more freedom of action. He also wants to have more discretionary power in order to intervene in cases involving the deportation and entry of criminals. We cannot always get everything we want in life. We cannot call for an independent system one day and ask for vast discretionary powers the next day.
What is good for Conrad Black has to be good for everyone else. If Mr. Black's file is reviewed by officials, then every file should be. In that sense, the proposed reform in Bill seems out of touch with reality. Does the minister want judges and officials to enforce the rules, or does he want to decide on everything himself?
This doublespeak does not seem very fair to me and makes me wonder about the minister's true intentions.
I am going to summarize my opinions about Bill .
We all want to be tougher on non-citizens who commit serious crimes in Canada. However, like many experts, I am concerned about this Conservative bill that increases the minister's arbitrary powers. Judges will have fewer powers, and individuals who are mentally ill will be treated with indifference. The government is making these changes even though the vast majority of newcomers to Canada are law-abiding individuals who do not commit crimes.
I remember that, in 2006, the Conservative government promised to increase the number of police officers on the streets in our communities. But, for various reasons, the government did not keep its promise. I do not know if that was because the government lacked the will, because it was out of touch with reality or because it had misplaced priorities. What I do know is that the government cannot now make permanent residents pay the price for its inaction. Why not focus once and for all on protecting our communities, rather than on demonizing newcomers? Portraying them as future dangerous offenders, as the did in a news conference, is not helping. It looks as though he is trying to divert attention to a certain category of individuals rather than doing something useful.
For all these reasons, I think that Bill should be studied further in committee. A number of questions and concerns remain unanswered, and the only way to make the right decision is to think more about it.
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak today on behalf of the people of my riding about Bill , the short title of which is the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act.
One of the reasons why I am interested in this subject is because I am an immigrant myself. My father was also an immigrant to the country in which I was born. Before becoming a Canadian citizen, I was a permanent resident. I heard the many very relevant comments of my colleagues in this regard. However, we have not yet heard from the Conservative members, which is unfortunate.
Like my NDP colleagues, I have many reservations about this bill. First, there is the short title: the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act. Instead, we should talk about serious foreign criminals.
Bill refers to two types of people who do not have Canadian citizenship. There are newcomers, who are called “foreign nationals”, and long-time residents with permanent resident status. Permanent residents are in a different category than so-called foreign nationals because, under the bill, permanent residents can be temporary workers or students, for example.
One thing that seems to come back in all the pieces of legislation that have been introduced since the beginning of the 41st Parliament is the constant need to give more discretionary power to the . Frankly, this is a trend that I find very threatening as a citizen. Every time that a power is taken from the courts and judges and given to a minister, we have cause for concern. What is strange is that many reports have demonstrated that the law is not properly and fairly applied because of the lack of resources in the ministry and in the agency in charge of immigration.
One of the problems with this bill is the removal of the right to appeal in certain circumstances. That is dangerous, in my opinion. Obviously, nobody likes long appeal processes that last for years. However, the other extreme, which is, namely, no right to appeal, is certainly no better. I see nothing in this bill to prevent the possibility of abusing the system and this is something I would like the justice committee to be able to modify at the next stage.
This is another immigration bill. That is quite strange, because the government tells anyone who will listen that its priorities are the economy and job creation. As it says, it is focused like a laser on the economy and job creation.
We have a number of reservations. Reports from the Auditor General have uncovered serious problems in the processing of immigration files. Specifically, there have been problems with transparency and with information management at the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Auditor General has mentioned that the act is applied randomly and that is very troubling. It is all the more troubling given the Conservatives' current tendency to concentrate decisions more and more in the hands of a few responsible people. But they are reducing the staff tasked with conducting the investigations that lead to the conclusions that allow those decisions to be made.
When you are a member of an immigrant community, as I am, you are inevitably very sensitive to the way in which immigrants are treated when they are convicted of crimes, especially those that the government is now calling serious crimes.
So that brings us back to the famous definition of a “serious criminal“. Previously, it was someone sentenced to more than two years in prison. From now on, it will be someone sentenced to more than six months in prison.
While, in theory, serious criminals are the only ones responsible for their actions, in practice, we see that crimes committed by a handful of people actually spill over onto the entire immigrant community to which those people belong. One of the direct consequences is that, more than anyone, immigrants themselves want a justice system that is effective, but above all fair, a system that ensures that crimes committed by a handful of people, however serious they may be, do not reflect negatively on an entire community that is living and working honestly and taking its place in the economy of this country.
I would also like to refer back to Bill that was brought before us in the spring and that received royal assent in June. Once again, it is very important not to lump together immigration and crime, not even by association, because too often, even systematically, when immigration and crime are lumped together, the result is xenophobia. Xenophobia is a real cancer for any open society, like ours in Canada, and for any country that has decided to use immigration as a way to replace the generations that have passed on.
Generally speaking, it is risky to examine an immigration issue in the context of a bill that targets a minority made up of foreign criminals among which only a very small number are serious criminals.
Let us now talk about the right of appeal. A number of my colleagues pointed this out. In a process—and this is a concern everyone shares—whenever the opportunity to appeal is removed, the image of justice is damaged and there is a risk of adding to the cynicism of a segment of the population that does not believe in our justice system.
There is a risk to the credibility of the justice system. That is why I am rather critical of this bill. There is a risk of adding to the cynicism of a segment of the population that does not believe in justice or in the justice system.
There has also been much talk about the case of new permanent residents who are awaiting their citizenship. There is also another situation that we do not talk about, namely that of people with dual or multiple citizenship. Quite often, people, immigrants, will not apply for Canadian citizenship. This is not because they do not want to participate in the life of our country but, rather, because they already hold citizenship that they would automatically lose if they took Canadian citizenship. This decision not only has consequences for the person who decides not to take Canadian citizenship, it also has an obvious impact on the children who did not make that choice, who did not have the opportunity to express their views on the fact that their parents decided not to take Canadian citizenship.
I am going to conclude by saying that, for all these reasons, we will support Bill at second reading. However, given the strong reservations that we have, we will give the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights an opportunity to hear expert testimony that may support the serious concerns raised by my colleagues and myself during this debate.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their encouragement. I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to comment on this very important bill.
I would like to start by stating some principles. First, I agree that an efficient judicial system is needed so that we can deport serious criminals who are not Canadian citizens. This is a principle on which everyone here is in agreement. No one has a problem with it.
Another point on which almost everyone is in agreement—at least, I hope so—is that it has to be done fairly, humanely, justly and intelligently. And therein lies the problem. I will give a few examples. We want fairness, but one of the problems with this bill is that, once again, it broadens the minister's discretionary power. This is the trademark of the Conservative government. We have to wonder what discretionary power the Conservatives will give to the minister next.
I will not go back over the details of these measures because several of my colleagues spoke about them earlier. The real problem is this trend of giving more discretionary power to the minister.
That is what happened with the list of safe and unsafe countries to which refugees can be deported. Once more, the minister was given more discretionary power instead of calling on a panel of experts. That is dangerous. I do not know why the government wants to put its own minister in a situation like that. In international negotiations, other countries will put pressure on the minister to remove them from the list of unsafe countries. The minister will no longer even be able to point to the fact that an independent body draws up the list.
The government is always giving itself more discretionary power while reducing the flexibility that judges have. That is a problem because the minister exercises those discretionary powers behind closed doors. The minister makes the decisions; we do not know the details and we have no information. Conversely, when a judge renders a decision, the information is public; it is much more open. Reducing judges' flexibility and giving ministers more discretionary power compromises the transparency of the process. My fear is that fairness will be affected as well.
According to the bill as drafted, the minister is not even required to take humanitarian circumstances into account. Need I say more? This bill lacks compassion.
With respect to simple natural justice, the right to appeal for crimes where the sentence is longer than six months is being removed, whereas previously an individual could not appeal when the sentence was longer than two years. This issue needs to be considered in a broader context. On the one hand, harsher minimum sentences are being imposed, and judges cannot reduce those sentences based on the specific circumstances of the case. On the other, the period beyond which an individual does not have the right to appeal is being reduced from two years to six months.
To fully understand what this means, we need to stop and think about specific cases. I am trying to imagine a young Vietnamese boy who came to Canada when he was seven or eight years old and who started going to school and playing hockey with his friends. Now he is 19. He goes to CEGEP. At some point, he does something stupid. I am not saying that it is right, but he does something stupid. Under the new legislation and under the new regime, it does not have to be a huge mistake. He gets six months in prison. He is deported. He does not have the right to appeal. He is sent back, without his parents, to a country where he knows no one, where he may no longer have any family and where he barely speaks the language. Is it fair and humane to treat people like that? I am not so sure.
We have to be smart about this. Let me provide an example that is based on comments made by Ottawa lawyer Michael Bossin. He says that under this new bill, a judge no longer has the discretionary power to take into account the nature of the crime and the context in which it is committed. That is important. A judge no longer has the right to make his own ruling based on what he sees. A judge will not be able to look at the context in which the offence was committed and take into account, for instance, the possible mental illness of refugees or permanent residents from war-torn countries. Mr. Bossin said that in many cases, those people committed crimes when they were not being treated for their mental illness.
The government recently made cuts to refugee health care. Organizations such as RIVO, in my riding, provided psychological care to refugees from war-torn countries and refugees who were tortured or suffered other atrocities. It provided psychological counselling to prevent refugees from going off the rails and becoming criminals. These services are being cut, which hinders prevention. At the same time, cases of mental illness will not be taken into account. Nonetheless, refugees who are provided with these services can often turn their lives around.
Speaking of being smart about this, it should be noted that there is a lack of data and basic information. We are being asked to speak to this without having all the basic information on the annual number of cases, the seriousness of the cases, etc.
I want to point out that the government, in fact, is trying to punish everyone because of a handful of problem cases. That is what the Conservatives always do when it comes to refugees and immigrants. The striking thing about this bill is that its title refers to foreign criminals, as though permanent residents were foreigners. They are not all foreigners.
There was a well-known case in Quebec recently. A Portuguese man had permanent residence status and had been living in Quebec for 35 years. He was married and had children and a house. I would not call someone like that a foreigner. I would call him a non-citizen, a permanent resident, but not a foreigner. I have a good friend originally from England who just got married. He has a job and a circle of friends. He volunteers. To me, he is not a foreigner. I have a real problem with the short title of this bill.
As usual, the Conservatives are being stubborn and inflexible. They are being inflexible towards others, because they themselves always have discretionary power. There is no rigidity for them.
More importantly, they are refusing to attack certain known sources of the problem and are slashing health care spending for refugees and refusing to work on what we can do to better integrate immigrants, who have so much to offer to Canadian society.