The House resumed from October 3 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill .
In a democracy, due process is the very life blood of our freedoms and the protection of citizens' rights. Political power as such must rest with this Parliament and not with any given minister. Any move that is seen as usurping the power of Parliament has to be, at the very least, questioned in this place.
Bill , I would suggest, is coming on the heels of some very heated criticism of the Conservative government and its proposed refugee reform in Bill . It also cuts at health care, as we hear spoken of in this place. It would seem to us that perhaps the government is trying to change the channel with Bill .
The Conservatives' mantra for the last six years has been pretty much “tough on crime”. To some extent, they have extended that past the point of reality and into a great deal of spin.
When government members speak about the need for Bill , they use some pretty extreme examples of foreign nationals abusing the immigration appeal process, to blow smoke over the fact that this bill is designed to effectively remove checks and balances that permit some flexibility within our system for extraordinary circumstances.
I am a believer in due process and the need for the right to an appeal. Not everybody's story is the same. There is a variety of things that can happen, and I will touch on those as I move forward.
However, I also support the ability for humanitarian and compassionate consideration for those people who, in some terms, might be inadmissible on various grounds: security, humanitarian, international rights violations or organized criminality. There are exceptions to every rule. Many times the whole story needs to be truly evaluated regarding a removal order.
We have had situations in Hamilton. For instance, at least one woman I am aware of, who had a number of children born in Canada, received a removal order. The order was suspended, but had there not been some reconsideration of the facts of that case, a pause for a second look, she and her children would have been forced out of this country. They may, in due course, still be forced to leave, but at least they will have had the benefit of due process and a real evaluation of their situation.
I want to stress that New Democrats do recognize the need for efficient and responsive judicial apparatus for the removal of serious criminals from Canada. Having said that, we do not support closing the door on an appeal process. There has to be balance.
None of us is perfect, nor are the ministers of the government. The reality is that sometimes in some places innocent people, even those not totally innocent, may have been inappropriately moved out of this country too quickly if they did not have the option of appeal.
In my opening remarks I talked about the supremacy of Parliament. We do not support granting the minister the power to unilaterally prohibit a foreign national from becoming a temporary citizen for up to 36 months based on public policy considerations. This is simply too vague and I would suggest unnecessarily too broad an application of ministerial discretion.
We have respect for the ministers of the government, and we understand that in most instances they are doing their due diligence as they see it. However, granting extraordinary powers is not going to be in the best interest of Canada and the rights of Canadians.
New Democrats stand with newcomers who want the government to focus on making the immigration system faster and fairer for the vast majority who have not committed any crimes and who have followed the rules.
Practically every member in this place has stories of people, good souls, who waited in line, filled out the forms and did all of the things that were required of them to gain access to Canada and eventually become a citizen, only to be waiting in suspended animation for years.
We want to be sure that whatever changes are made are fair. When the minister talks about this particular bill, he talks about tough but fair measures and repeatedly emphasizes that it is easy for a non-citizen to avoid deportation. The reality is that one should not commit crimes. That is understandable. That is something we support.
However, Bill redefines serious criminality for the purpose of access to appeal. I keep coming back to that area of appeal, that area of a last chance. Once a conclusion is made on a final deportation order, Canadians expect us to be absolutely sure of the importance and necessity of removing that person.
I would suggest that this change merits further committee study. We in the NDP will support sending the bill to committee. We understand there is an issue. This is not a circumstance where we are on this side of the House saying that we are just going to oppose blindly. We are going to offer positive suggestions for changes to the bill at committee. We will extend our hand to the government to ensure that whatever bill is put forward will accomplish the job at hand, but protect people's rights in the course of that effort.
The narrowing of circumstances under which humanitarian and compassionate considerations can be taken into account makes the system less flexible. This has already raised concerns from groups advocating for people with mental illnesses, for example, who may not have been in control of themselves at the time a crime was committed. There has to be some consideration for that circumstance.
I have had family members over the years who had various stages of depression or various stages of mental illness. In one case a close relative was medicated for all of her life and was hospitalized for 10 years for a serious situation. At that time she was not in control of who she was. That person by the way was my own mother.
The broader discretionary powers in Bill would grant the minister the power to issue or revoke a declaration that would prohibit a foreign national from becoming a temporary citizen for up to 36 months. Many people in the community feel that this would go too far, and that is something for the committee to consider.
It is troubling to note that the Conservatives have marketed the bill almost exclusively on its design to speed up the deportation of serious multiple offenders. Could that be to draw attention away from the fact that Bill would remove an appeal process and would bestow these new and extraordinary discretionary powers to the minister?
This is not a case where decisions should be made by one person. Very serious decisions take place relative to removing someone from our country. These decisions have an impact on a person's life and family. There are occasions where it is absolutely necessary to remove someone, but we want to be sure that on those occasions the person has had due process and an appeal process. When we reach the conclusion that the person must leave, we can do that in clear conscience, knowing the facts and not relying solely on the judgment of the minister.
I am going to skip through part of my speech because I think my time is just about up.
In 1999, the Australian immigration system underwent a reordering with striking similarities to what is before us today. It is often worthwhile to look at another country, particularly a democracy similar to our own. The mistakes that were made in the Australian case were clear and well documented, and for some reason our minister thinks that Canada ought to repeat them.
Previous to 1999, people were protected against deportation if they had been residents of Australia for 10 years or more. However new amendments gave the minister new powers to dismiss appeals without judicial review. Many of those people had arrived in Australia as infants.
That kind of excessive power is what the NDP is concerned about. We are concerned that the appeal process would be shoved aside and these extraordinary powers would be granted to the minister. That would have a terrible effect on people in the community and their view of what life is like in a free country.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak about Bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This bill does have some potential, but it also contains some disturbing elements that, in my opinion, should be more thoroughly examined in committee.
In many ways, these amendments to our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act could lead to abuse of the system and abuse of power. Let us start with the clause that gives the minister more discretionary power. This clause gives the minister—not judges or the courts—the authority to rule on the admissibility of temporary residence applicants. In fact, this amendment allows the immigration minister to arbitrarily decide what risk a refugee represents, “if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations”.
Let us now move on to the clause that allows the minister to avoid the responsibility of examining humanitarian grounds in the case of a foreign national who is deemed to be inadmissible. My colleague just spoke about it. In Canada, the government wants to give the immigration minister the opportunity to review people's files to assess whether or not they should be deemed admissible. This would allow the immigration minister to be inflexible with regard to the extraordinary circumstances in which asylum seekers sometimes find themselves.
Let us add to that the clause that amends the definition of “serious criminality”, a clause that uses extreme cases to defend Conservative measures to combat crime. In Bill , the Conservative government is once again introducing the doctrines of its crime agenda by applying them to immigration. Whether we are talking about Bill or Bill , it is always the same thing with the Conservatives.
This bill penalizes all refugees who arrive in Canada. Instead of defining and setting out a framework for the legal treatment of serious crimes committed by non-citizens, Bill , in its present form, punishes legitimate refugees, as well as the civil society organizations, lawyers and other people who are trying to help them.
Michael Bossin, a refugee lawyer in Ottawa, is of the opinion that the amendments to the new law could result in Canada exporting its social problems rather than dealing with the root causes of crime.
The minister said that he wants more power to intervene in order to deport criminals. In my opinion, he should spend less time organizing press conferences that paint a negative picture of newcomers, as in the announcements we saw recently, and instead provide police with the resources they need to protect us from criminals from all walks of life.
Instead of giving far too much vague power to the Minister of Immigration, why do the Conservatives not concentrate on improving the fairness and speed of the immigration system?
There are many immigrants in my riding. They represent almost one-third of the population of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. I meet some of them every week when I return to my riding. In fact, I work on many immigration cases. I have one employee who works full-time on these cases because there are so many of them. The applications are straightforward and move along well. At the meetings, the applicants are given all the certificates, are told that they have been accepted and that they must forward their medical certificates. They wait for the certificates, but it takes months and months to get an answer. All the changes at embassies have made things worse.
There are many people who are good citizens and who have every right to come to Canada in the near future. There are problems with family reunification. There are people who want to come here to start businesses. Others want to come here to work and to live in a free country like Canada. But they sometimes have to wait up to 36 months before getting an answer, even if everything is in order. Even if a young 26-year-old man is moving here to be with his 25-year-old wife, even if these people will better Canadian society, even if they are going to work, are educated, are in perfect health and would make model Canadian citizens, they have to wait 36 months.
In my opinion, this type of bill should really address the problems we are currently having: the red tape involved and the slowness of the process. That is not what I am seeing. None of the bills introduced by our will solve the problem.
We have seen cuts to the embassies and more restrictions imposed on people who want to come here. The government is accusing immigrants and refugees of being criminals, but it is not coming up with anything to make things better. There is nothing in the bill about people who are here legitimately or about plans to help make the process smoother, because often it is an unpleasant and lengthy process. People anxiously await documents. The family in Canada is anxious as well. I think it would be better to include something to address that.
Hon. members will agree that most people whose application is rejected did not commit a very serious crime. Often the minister will nitpick about minor things and minor technicalities in order to have fewer people come here to Canada.
Most newcomers to Canada would like to be treated fairly and, more often than not, be reunited with their family members.
Bill , as introduced in the House, gives far too much discretionary power to the Minister of Immigration and gives far too little importance to human rights. Nonetheless, as I have already said, it shows that the Conservatives have taken a slight step forward. The bill clarifies that entry to Canada as a result of criminal activities is not enough in and of itself to warrant a determination of inadmissibility. This measure protects the victims who are implicated in serious criminal activity.
The NDP supports measures to help victims of trafficking and the provisions that show respect for and openness toward the victims of trafficking. What is more, the NDP urges the government to support an efficient judicial apparatus that respects human rights.
The new legislation limits the right of a permanent or temporary resident to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, including in cases of extenuating circumstances for those who are sentenced to more than six months in prison and cases of appeals related to humanitarian considerations for those deemed inadmissible on grounds of security, violating human or international rights, or organized criminality.
Mario Bellissimo, a Toronto lawyer and a member of the executive of the immigration section of the Canadian Bar Association, said that it is misleading to designate permanent residents as foreigners, that they are casting the net too wide. If people make one mistake—even if it is a non-violent crime—they will be removed.
Mr. Bellissimo believes that Bill reflects the government's lack of confidence in the immigration tribunal and the Canadian judiciary.
Why should such important cases have to suffer because of the Conservative government's lack of political will?
These changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act require more careful examination. That is why we will send the bill to committee. As I said at the beginning, we think this is a good start and the bill has potential. There are still some immigration issues to resolve, but we must examine them carefully and determine how we will resolve them.
It can be sad when I meet with my constituents. The people who come to my office have often been turned down as refugees. They were asked for proof. I recall one young woman. I will not give her name or say where she is from, but she sought asylum because she had problems with the police in her community. But she was asked to prove that the police were not on her side. These are the kinds of situations that I would like to resolve, because when a person has problems with the police, it is hard to get a certificate saying that the police are causing the problems.
I think that very serious problems should be studied to see how they can be resolved.
In conclusion, the NDP believes that we can prevent non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeal process without violating their rights. Let us remember our Canadian values and work together to build a stronger, fairer Canada. Let us show refugees, temporary residents, permanent residents and immigrants that Canada is a welcoming country, as it has always been.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his excellent question and for sharing his story. All parties in the House have members who came to Canada through the family reunification process.
In my riding, I often meet men who came here four or five years ago, ahead of their families, to work and send money back home. They are working here and have been trying for five years to bring their wives and children to Canada. In some cases, they have two-year-old children they have never met.
I am fortunate, because my family is together. I knew my parents when I was young. I may not remember it, but I knew my parents when I was a month old, a year old, two years old. I have known my brothers and sisters since I was born. I would like to be able to recreate that here in Canada. These people who come here to work do very well in our society. They are skilled, they make a financial contribution and they pay taxes. They simply want to bring their spouses and children—some they have never seen—to Canada, but it is a long process.
In my riding, it is usually fathers who come to see me. Some have told me that they have a two-year-old child they have never met. I find that so sad.
We are told that this bill will solve the problem and facilitate family reunification. There are many such cases in my riding. That is why I hope to see this bill examined in committee so that we can improve and strengthen the family reunification process.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech. A number of my colleagues have many people in their riding who immigrated to Canada and who think integration is a very important matter.
With regard to Bill , or the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, we are in agreement that our legal system must be efficient and must deport serious criminals who are not Canadian citizens. All parties agree on this public safety issue. However, we are worried about the scope of the bill. It must give some weight to fairness, to the human element and to justice. From this point of view, Bill poses a problem. The main problem is that it concentrates even more power in the hands of the minister by giving him the authority to rule on the eligibility of a temporary residence applicant.
Questions must be asked about the actions of the current minister. The government's policy is oriented less and less toward immigrant integration, and family reunification is being ignored. This affects me personally. Although I was born in Canada, my parents are of Vietnamese origin. They immigrated to Canada, and a number of people in the Vietnamese community are refugees.
When we look at the direction the government is taking, we realize that they believe integration and reunification are not very important. The government would rather see temporary workers come to Canada. We give them a job, we give them a salary that is lower than what Canadians are entitled to, we say thank you and then we send them back to their home country without really thinking about what they have contributed to Canada.
The bill gives the minister discretionary authority to determine the admissibility of a temporary residence applicant. This is disturbing, as we do not know where the government is going with this. At this point in time, the government does not give priority to people who are asking to come to Canada. We think this is a problem.
There is another major problem: the department will no longer be responsible for reviewing humanitarian considerations. I just mentioned that my parents came from a country where many refugees have come from. Before this bill, the minister had an obligation, at a foreign national's request, to look into the humanitarian circumstances surrounding the situation of a foreign national who was found to be inadmissible on grounds of security, violating human or international rights or organized criminality. There are people who live in Vietnam and who are under pressure from the government.
I will read a quote from the report entitled, “Violations of Human Rights in Vietnam” from the Vietnamese Canadian Confederation. It says, “The government is restricting legitimate speech of journalists and bloggers who are advocating the rights through the usage of the Internet, newspaper and radio. There are some prison sentences for broadcasters and people like that”.
If we were to take out the right of the minister to actually look at how we can help them come here, even though they are being attacked in their own country, we would be moving Canada away from what we used to be, which was a country that was really open and that believed in human rights. The fact that we are taking out the fact that the minister can actually look at that is an issue of serious concern.
We have also noted another problem. This one has to do with the discretionary authority that is given to the minister with regard to the exemption for members of a family of a foreign national found to be inadmissible. The minister may ignore the inadmissibility of a member of the family of somebody who is inadmissible on grounds of security if the minister believes this is not detrimental to the national interest.
Here again, we are talking about powers that are placed in the hands of the minister. Here is what we are saying: if it is only one person who decides, if it is only the minister who has to make the decision, in a rather arbitrary way even though the national interest is at stake, if it is the minister who decides about policies and measures and has full authority, whether it is the current or the minister in a future government, there is a problem. We are seeing this more and more often under this Conservative government. There really is a trend toward more and more discretionary power, not only in immigration matters, but also on an economic level. More and more frequently, the government is giving power and discretionary authority to one person. This is what is dangerous. They are walking a path that is less and less democratic, less and less transparent, and they are relying more and more on decisions made by one single person. For the NDP, this is worrisome.
I reiterate that it is important to deport foreign criminals. We understand this aspect of the bill. We understand that this is what must happen if we want to protect Canada and ensure that the people who come here deserve to come here. A number of my colleagues opposite and we in the NDP are well aware that in our respective ridings the people who come here are usually good people who contribute to Canada's growth and help make Canada a better country. However, when you isolate them and cast them all as criminals, as this bill does, that is going too far. This is why we want the committee to look at the bill, discuss it and try to find good solutions. We really want to promote integration and have fewer discretionary powers. We have to minimize the stigmas attached to certain immigrant groups.
With regard to fairness and time frames, we know there is a problem. Why does the government not focus on the fact that families are not being reunited? This has come up in many riding offices, including my own, because I represent a riding with a high number of immigrants who are trying to bring their families here, or bring some family members here for a wedding, and this means waiting for a number of months. Nowadays, visas are being denied more and more often. The government is moving in a certain direction: rather than integrating and accepting immigrants, it puts them off and tries to send them back. Apparently, the door is open only for temporary workers who can be sent back home after they have been used for cheap labour, as I mentioned earlier.
The New Democrats know that Canada must have an effective judiciary to deport non-citizen individuals who are serious criminals but there are problems with the immigration system that should be addressed, which I just mentioned. We have serious concerns with the amount of power that would be placed in the hands of the minister.
I have something that came from a group that talks about the problems we have in terms the government not doing enough or basically taking away the right of appeal. That is also a big issue for us in terms of this bill.
The bill grants discretionary power, but more importantly, it takes away the right of appeal. It is very worrying that an individual can be refused access to an appeal process. It is a problem when more rights are being given to the Minister, but the right to appeal is being eliminated.
I will quote Andras Schreck, vice-president of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association, who said that the bill raised constitutional issues under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He stated, “I am concerned that there is no right of appeal for those being deported. This is serious injustice in that case and should be heard on their own merit”.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking in the House about the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act.
I believe it is very important to be able to discuss with all my colleagues in the House the problems related to the criminality of foreign nationals in Canada. We would be happy to work with the government on the problems related to the appeal process. We are not denying that there may be problems, but we want to work together to establish the facts and find solutions.
But the government has introduced Bill . It is a starting point, but we have some legitimate concerns that some of my colleagues have taken the time to explain in a very clear and concise manner and that give rise to some very valid questions. We must not forget that we are talking about implementing a legal process. The legal process in Canada is based on a long-standing tradition. This tradition and the principles behind the process date back thousands of years.
One of the basic principles, which is not difficult to understand, is that no one can be detained arbitrarily, without reasonable cause. It is a very simple and basic principle. Over centuries it has resulted in a series of definitions that limit the arbitrary decisions of the Crown in order to prevent abuses and to prevent innocent people from becoming victims, even without a conviction, of the judicial system or the police.
One of the measures in Bill would redefine serious criminality of foreign nationals in order to determine whether or not they have access to the appeal process. The current law establishes the criterion for serious criminality as a sentence of two or more years, a criterion applied in federal and provincial penitentiary systems and also to certain types of crimes and the corresponding sentences.
In changing the prison term to six months or more, Bill greatly increases the number of people who could be excluded from the appeal process for categories of crimes that—I am not downplaying these crimes or excusing offenders—could be given some latitude so the offenders have options to rehabilitate and re-enter society.
When criminals are sentenced for a crime, we must never forget that they will eventually re-enter society, unless they are sentenced for life or are not successful in the traditional parole process. These cases are very rare, since most people re-enter society. They have lives after serving their sentences. I am not only talking about prison sentences, but also conditional sentences that can last years. With these conditional sentences, if an individual offends again, he could receive a harsher prison sentence or be forced to serve a sentence he did not serve as a result of the conditional sentence.
This entire system applies to all Canadian citizens and is in line with international tradition and consensus, which we must respect.
I will talk about another very important point that has not come up much in this debate. It has to do with Canada's place in the world, which I would define as being a good citizen in the community of nations.
One of the principles of international relations is that a sovereign state is not subject to other states. In other words, all states are treated equally and they have full sovereignty and jurisdiction over their own territory.
Given the consequences of the measures proposed in Bill , we have to wonder if a policy to export more criminals—even our petty criminals—elsewhere in the world would turn us into a bad global citizen. It is very important to take that into account.
I can understand that the government wants to make sure criminals coming from outside Canada are not able to settle in Canada with impunity, and too easily. However, we must also not forget that the bill will affect people who have lived in Canada for a very long time, people who in many cases came here to live when they were very young, at a time when they were entirely dependent on their parents. Those people have grown up in Canada, and because of unfortunate life circumstances, they may have committed a crime and become targeted by this law because they unfortunately do not have Canadian citizenship.
In addition to potentially hurting those people, this two-tier system can also harm a country elsewhere in the world. That country could find itself with a person who was born in the country in question and has committed crimes in Canada, but has never committed a crime in their country of origin. What legitimate basis is there for Canada to offload that burden onto people elsewhere in the world? That is one of the questions we have to ask ourselves.
Most importantly, we must not forget that in Canada, we have very extensive protection, thanks to the privilege we have of living in a very wealthy country, with a justice system, a political system and a social and economic fabric that are highly developed. That creates a safe country that gives all of its citizens the opportunity to find their place and succeed. That is truly not the case elsewhere in the world.
I remember something one of my colleagues said to me. She had had the chance to travel in Latin America. In response to the measures that the Canadian government had taken or was considering, elected representatives there asked her what we thought we were doing by sending people back to them like that, people who had committed crimes in Canada. Did she think they would be able to deal with these people? These are people who might set up much more extensive criminal networks in those countries. If we kept them in Canada, we would have the resources to combat their criminal activities. After getting a slap on the wrist and a sentence, young petty criminals might even see the error of their ways and embark on a process to become good, honest citizens.
We may very well be condemning petty criminals to a life of serious criminality by denying them any chance of having hope in the future.
That is one of the aspects of Bill we will have to look at.
I very much want to make sure that Canada does not become the equivalent of the 19th century Wild West, when a town was allowed to tar and feather a criminal to export the problem to somewhere else, which did not necessarily solve the problem.
I will be pleased to be able to continue the debate and discussion with my colleagues and see how we can improve Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Québec, who handles a lot of immigration cases herself and will undoubtedly understand very well what I am going to say.
We must not pretend otherwise: people who come to Canada come here to improve their lives, for one thing, but also because they have complete faith in the system of government, in Canadian institutions. In our offices, we handle cases of people who have permanent resident status or who have not yet acquired that status, who are waiting, who want to bring their spouse or children to Canada. They come in the hope of getting a fair and equitable resolution. Our role as elected representatives, obviously, is to be fair and equitable and not to influence the system unduly.
But at the same time, through our actions and our explanations, we have to be able to confirm to these people, who have come to Canada with high hopes, that they were entirely right to have faith in our institutions and our system.
My colleague has drawn our attention to a particularly fundamental point: what faith will people around the world have in Canada, ultimately, if we become unfair and inequitable?
Mr. Speaker, Canada has a reputation for being a welcoming country, but unfortunately, under this government, problems with our immigration system keep piling up. Instead of dealing with the cumbersome bureaucracy, the Conservative government has instead introduced another bill, on the heels of Bills and , that will not do much and, in fact, will cause more problems of injustice.
Bill seeks to deal with crime and speed up the deportation of immigrants who commit crimes in Canada, but also of permanent residents who have become Canadian citizens.
My colleagues in the official opposition and I, along with colleagues from the other opposition parties, all agree that it is important to have a reliable and fair judicial apparatus. People who commit serious crimes and who are not Canadian citizens should indeed be punished, but let us not be deceived by this bill. The fight against crime is just a smokescreen. The real purpose of Bill C-43 is to give the minister more discretionary power and to remove all flexibility from the justice system and all independence from judges. This will only further politicize our immigration system instead of making it fairer and more efficient.
The bill will make a number of changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I will name a few.
It will change the appeal process in certain cases, which goes against a fundamental right; permanent residents, refugees and illegal immigrants who receive a prison sentence of six months or more in Canada can no longer appeal their deportation; the bill will also allow authorities to hold at the border individuals who pose a risk to Canadians; it will require Federal Court judges to impose certain detention conditions on a person deemed inadmissible; it will put more powers in the hands of the minister—he could decide to deny temporary resident status if doing so is justified by public policy considerations interest, but unfortunately, the bill does not define “public policy considerations”; in fact, the bill gives the minister the power to define “public policy considerations” himself—; and the bill removes the right to appeal if the prison sentence was six months or more.
The first problem with this bill is that it does not differentiate between a minor offence and a serious crime, which is what the hon. Liberal member pointed out. An immigrant who receives a six-month sentence would automatically be deported. The right to appeal is revoked. In addition, the bill redefines “serious criminality” and includes minor offences. With no right to appeal and with such a broad definition, we can expect to see court challenges. This approach is not at all consistent with Canadian law.
The other problem, which is even more serious, has to do with the discretionary power the minister wants to give himself. He is the one who decides whether to issue a visa or not, but he is no longer required to consider the humanitarian circumstances of the situation. That is a double standard. In fact, we get the impression that the minister is targeting immigrants and refugees, forgetting that the vast majority of them are not criminals.
There is no question that this bill will end up eliminating the safeguards that allow our justice and immigration systems to deal with particular circumstances. Immigration officers and judges no longer have the power to examine the cases before them. That is quite serious. Judges have the power to judge, but they no longer have the power to do so properly. Way to go. The minister is imposing a standard model on the system. Abuse of power is a very real possibility. If the government makes mistakes, how will the people affected be able to defend their rights? They have no recourse, and that is serious.
The goal of the bill is commendable, but all those aspects give us reason to fear that there is a breakdown in our Canadian justice and immigration systems.
The fundamental question is this: do we want major decisions in criminal law to be made by a minister? In a state governed by the rule of law, such as Canada, the principle of balance between the judicial, governmental and legislative powers is essential.
Why is the whole process being so politicized? What is the justification for this discretionary power? The answered this recently by saying that he did not have the time, and added that it was important to act when foreign nationals were at an airport. It does not always happen like that, and things are not always so simple. In fact, it is always more complicated.
Too much haste could produce the opposite effect and create a system plagued by abuses of power, as we heard earlier. It could trigger legal challenges and lapses with regard to our international obligations. The bill's intention is good, but the text really needs to be improved, to ensure that it respects our basic rules of law. The entire immigration system needs to be reformed, but certainly not with the radical measures proposed by the Conservative government.
Our system is marred by bureaucratic problems and arbitrary decisions. Since the Conservatives came to power, there has been a backlog of over 1.5 million immigration applications. Parents and grandparents who want to be reunited with their children and loved ones wait, on average, for seven years before receiving a decision. Skilled workers have to wait an average of four years. Some spouses and children who were supposed to be given priority wait three years—and these are the priority cases.
Instead of accelerating the processing of claims, the government is cutting programs for refugees. The planned cuts to the interim federal health program will deprive some people of health care services. The Conservatives are proud of that. They claim to be champions of the economy, but in reality, they are failing miserably. Many immigrants are still waiting for their foreign degrees and experience to be recognized. The federal government could create tools to recognize foreign credentials and allow these skilled workers to contribute to our economic growth.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates the financial loss created by the failure to recognize foreign credentials to be $4 billion a year. And what about the partisan appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board? Applicants' cases are not all treated the same way, and the criteria are not always applied consistently. Why does the government tolerate such an arbitrary and unfair process? This partisanship does not reflect well on Canada and denies immigrants access to a fair and equitable system.
This government treats immigrants like disposable objects. For example, it increased the number of temporary workers by 200% while allowing employers to decrease these workers' earnings by 15% as compared to the earnings of Canadian workers. Rather than encouraging the long-term integration of immigrants, the government is treating them like second-class citizens.
As the daughter of a refugee, I can say that the contribution of women and men, immigrants, refugees, people who come to start a life here is incredible. On average, newcomers are better educated and have a well-developed business sense. The rate of entrepreneurship among newcomers is very high, and they create jobs and participate in the local economy. We cannot assume that all immigrants are potential criminals. That is managing through fear. Foreign nationals can contribute to Canada both economically and culturally.
Let us also not forget that this country was built by people who came from all four corners of the earth and who chose Canada as their homeland. Why not improve our system to give skilled workers the opportunity to come and work in areas where there is a labour shortage? Instead, the government is cancelling the applications of 280,000 skilled workers, freezing sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents, and continuing to deny visas without reasonable grounds and without the possibility of appeal, thereby preventing families from being reunited for the weddings or funerals of their loved ones.
As New Democrats, we are in favour of a justice and immigration system that condemns violence, criminality and fraud. It is vital that we protect our country against criminals, while treating them fairly. We are prepared to work with the government on bills such as this one, but it must be improved and amended to make it acceptable from a legal standpoint. We believe that some aspects of the bill are constructive, but the traffickers at fault must be punished, not the victims.
Why do the Conservatives not put aside their ideology and make it possible for all of us to work on the bill in committee to make it better? It is possible for Canada to welcome newcomers and fight crime at the same time.
It is possible to do all that at the same time.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill .
It seems as though the Conservatives have hired a publicity specialist since they took power, since bill titles are worded in such a way that no one could be opposed to the bill. It is a bit like sugar pie. However, as legislators, we must obviously read the bill and get familiar with the details, the ins and outs, before making a decision about it. We cannot make our decision based on the title; we must base our decision on all of the elements of the bill.
A quick read of Bill exposes a lot of flaws, gaps and vagueness. There are indeed some measures to be adopted to deport criminals who are permanent residents but abuse the system and the procedures to remain in Canada or Quebec.
I think that all members of the House agree on that. After listening to my colleagues who spoke earlier and after reading some other speeches made since the bill was introduced, I see that we are unanimous on that. However, does Bill solve all of those problems? No. Does it create others? Unfortunately, I believe so. That is what I will speak about for the next few minutes.
An ideology is behind all of this. This was brought up by the two members who just spoke during questions and comments. The Conservatives are using a lot of prejudices and clichés to promote what I like to call a “tonight we will scare people” ideology.
The notions of criminality and immigration are often confused, as is the case in this bill, which talks about criminality in relation to immigration. So, whether in reference to criminality or immigration, the Conservatives are trying to prove to certain people that there is a danger. Some refugees arrive by boat and, suddenly, we are led to believe that we are being invaded by a host of refugees arriving from all over. And they are not just refugees—that is not how they are referred to—they are criminals. That is what the government wants people to believe. This makes it easier for the government to tell Canadians not to worry because it will send the criminals back.
On weekends, when we go out and meet the people in our ridings, we realize that they are not aware of all the details of these situations, and they do not know exactly what happened. However, they saw the at a press conference talking about some extreme examples that obviously do not happen every day. Those examples should be used to address the flaws in legislation. We agree with that. But we should not generalize and make people believe that all cases are like that. I think we need to settle down, take a deep breath and correct the real problems. We should not play politics at the expense of the most disadvantaged—immigrants and people grappling with certain other problems.
The Bloc Québécois obviously understands that reasons for protecting society have to be included in immigration laws. Of course, a society will naturally want to receive law-abiding immigrants who have a real desire to integrate. As well, a society will naturally not to want to become a safe haven for criminals who want to flee their own countries. But some of them manage to sneak in. It is absolutely normal for the minister to speak out against it, and that is what everyone else does too. It is also normal to try to improve processes so that proceedings for the deportation of criminals do not drag on.
I talked about abuse just now. We talk about abuse when people come to Canada and continue to do what they did in their country of origin. For instance, they may be street gang members. Sometimes, street gang members from a country get together and organize themselves in another country. A street gang in a country can have roots in other countries. That can also happen to us. If the first thing those people do when they come to Canada is to join a street gang instead of integrating into society, we will obviously not want to keep those types of immigrants here.
People may be shocked by the examples of people who abuse the processes available to immigrants in order to further delay their deportation. But the minister uses those examples to make us believe that everyone is like that, which is not the case.
However, those measures have to be well targeted; they have to prevent criminals from entering, not stop innocent people at the border.
These measures also have to be proportionate. The government must propose effective measures that respect fundamental rights. We must not adopt a measure that is akin to using a bazooka to kill a fly.
Although the purpose of Bill is commendable, the bill has not achieved the necessary balance to fill the gaps in the current legislation. My colleagues talked about proposing some amendments to the bill in committee. This would allow us to study the bill, which is the right thing to do.
The current legislation includes a right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division for immigrants who feel wronged by the first level decision. Some restrictions already exist. Under the current legislation, a permanent resident or a foreign national who is inadmissible on the grounds of security, violating human or international rights, or organized criminality does not have access to the Immigration Appeal Division.
Currently, serious crime is defined as the commission of an offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years that resulted in a prison sentence of two years. Bill further limits the right to appeal by reducing the imprisonment criterion for serious criminality to six months only.
I heard my colleagues talk about this and I agree with them. What is serious criminality? We would not want to keep someone who lands here and becomes a thief and a highway robber, who commits sexual assault, who repeatedly commits crimes that are punishable by lengthy prison sentences. There is a big difference between someone who commits a serious crime and someone who is found guilty of or charged with possession of drugs—marijuana for example—possession of stolen property under $5,000, or public mischief. I do not have many examples, but I believe a person can be charged with public mischief for urinating on the street or in a parking lot. There is a big difference between that type of public mischief and a more serious crime. I am not saying that people should not be punished for mischief; they should. I am just wondering whether that is reason enough to deport someone. There is a big difference between belonging to a street gang and committing public mischief or being in possession of some marijuana.
The Bloc Québécois is also concerned about the cumulative effect of the Conservative measures. For example, under Bill , a sentence of only six months qualifies as serious criminality. It is important to see the connection with the many minimum sentences that the Conservatives are incorporating into their bills. They have just added a bunch of sentences so that less serious crimes can be used as a pretext to deport people who could contribute to Quebec and Canadian society after they have made amends. The Conservatives are imposing more and more minimum sentences of one to two years in prison, without any regard for how serious the offence actually is and without taking into account the extenuating circumstances.
We have often fought here in the House against the imposition of minimum sentences for anything and everything. This has been the Conservatives' pet project since they came to power in 2006. Regardless of what happened—for example, if the person was only the driver during a crime—and regardless of any extenuating circumstances, what counts is that the person was there at the time of the crime, and he must serve a minimum sentence like the others. The Conservatives are tying judges' hands because there are no gradations in the sentences that they can impose. This breeds inequity.
As a result, an increasing number of people will be labelled as having committed a serious crime. I am thinking of offences related to the possession of narcotics in particular.
I will end my remarks here. Members have talked a lot about the minister's discretionary power. That is another weakness of this bill. We are being told that this process will be guided by regulations, but we do not yet know what these regulations will be. I hope that this will be clarified in committee and that changes will be made to this bill so that we can be safe and so that we are not deporting people who do not deserve to be deported.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague from . I know there are cases like this in his own riding and that he is the immigration critic for his party. He therefore has a great deal of experience with these kinds of issues.
He just gave us an eloquent example. He mentioned of course some well-known individuals, but for everyone, section 42 of the current legislation stipulates that if the person accompanying you, for instance, your husband or wife, has a criminal record in the country of origin, you will be denied entry to Canada. Now Bill is making penalties even tougher. Indeed, even if the individual does not accompany you, but if they have committed any offences whatsoever, then quite simply, you will automatically be denied entry.
The member gave the example of visitor visas. This is even worse. I have been a member of this House since 2004 and have experienced other governments, including his party's government. I have never seen such a serious erosion of our immigration system and Canada's ability to welcome people. That is one major problem. Canada is refusing more and more visas, not only for the reasons the member mentioned, but for all kinds of reasons.
Sometimes even sports teams cannot enter Canada to take part in tournaments for all kinds of reasons. In my riding, I knew someone from Haiti. He was told that he could attend his mother's funeral in Haiti if he wanted to, but there was no guarantee that he would be allowed to come back. Bill will only make these situations worse.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in the House and speak about the important issue of immigration law, procedure and policy in this country.
Before I do, I want to point out the fantastic work done by my colleague from Surrey, British Columbia, the hon. member for . She has done an outstanding job in showing Canadians a different and better way of making immigration policy in Canada, one that would streamline our system and make our immigration system more effective and efficient, but would retain the kind of compassion and respect for law and procedure that all Canadians cherish and have learned to recognize as a hallmark of our system.
The government of course controls the House agenda, particularly a government with a majority like the Conservatives currently enjoy. It gets to choose to bring forward whatever legislation it wants.
I had the privilege of being our party's immigration critic for a year. I represent the riding of Vancouver Kingsway, where the number of new Canadians is among the highest in the country. Well over 70% of the people in my riding represent first, second or third generation Canadians. My office deals with thousands of immigration cases every year. Accordingly, I have a representative sample of what the major issues and problems are in the immigration system.
It strikes me as interesting and fundamentally disappointing that of all the issues in the immigration system the government could be dealing with right now, it has chosen to focus on the deportation of certain permanent residents. I will be getting to what I think should be more important and pressing priorities in a moment.
The bill basically focuses on the important but relatively narrow issue of the procedures to be invoked in deporting people who may have committed crimes in this country or otherwise misrepresented themselves.
The NDP recognizes and supports the need for an effective and responsive judicial apparatus for removing serious criminals who are not citizens. All citizens of this country would agree with that statement. We understand the need to monitor and modernize our occasionally slow system and support efforts to do so.
Nonetheless, this bill contains a mixture of good and troubling things. It would concentrate more power in the hands of the minister by giving him new discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. The bill would relieve the minister of the responsibility of examining humanitarian circumstances in certain cases. It would give the minister new discretionary authority to provide an exception to the family member of a foreign national who is declared inadmissible. Bill would change what constitutes the definition of serious criminality for the purpose of access to an appeal of a determination of inadmissibility. It would increase the penalty for misrepresentation and would clarify that entering the country with the assistance of organized criminal activity does not on its own lead to inadmissibility.
Members can see that there is a mixture of some positive steps and some regressive and negative steps in the bill. It is a common feature of the government and the current in particular to constantly want to concentrate discretionary power in the sole hands of the minister. The government seems to want to continue to try to tighten and reduce and restrict the ability of judicial oversight or access to appeal of decisions often made by single people who are not accountable and who are often political appointees.
These are very troubling components of the Conservative government's approach to the legal system. It is not limited to immigration; we see this in the Conservatives' approach to crime in general.
Where the NDP parts ways with the Conservatives is that we believe that we can build and improve our immigration system without trampling on people's rights, without concentrating dangerous discretion and power in the sole hands of the , while preserving mechanisms that ensure effective review by courts and democratically elected representatives in Parliament and which build up sufficient flexibility to ensure that due consideration is always given to the unique circumstances of every case.
Canadians are rightly proud of our fair and compassionate system and they oppose the government's move toward a cold, meanspirited, ideological, inflexible and extreme position on immigration.
We have seen serious questions of constitutionality raised in the government's agenda. We know that the Justice Department gives advice to government ministers that they are likely pursuing ideologically based legislation that is unconstitutional, and the government says it does not care.
There have been three cases in the last four months where courts have struck down as unconstitutional violations of Canadians' charter rights, which have resulted from the government's blind ideological zeal to pass legislation that makes it look tough but is not backed up by evidence or respect for the courts or the constitution of this land.
An example of the government's meanspirited attitude, and I think one of the reasons this bill is before us today, is to change the channel on Canadians' abhorrence and widespread opposition to the government's taking away of the health care rights of refugee claimants in this country. Whenever the government gets in trouble, which it does quite often, it tries to put forward some tough on crime measure and tries to switch Canadians' attention to important but relatively minor issues in the grand scheme of things.
Here are the real problems with the immigration system that the government should be addressing in legislation before the House. There are huge waiting lists for every single type of immigration application, across the board with no exceptions. The fastest immigration application possible is generally when someone sponsors a spouse. When a Canadian marries someone who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident and quite rightly wants to have their spouse with them, that process takes one to two years.
The current waiting list for someone to sponsor their parents is 10 to 13 years long. The government was so inept and incompetent in dealing with this issue, the only way it could handle it was to impose an absolute two-year freeze on any applications by any Canadian or permanent resident to sponsor their parents, period. That remains in force.
The employers of this country who want to bring skilled workers here routinely complain that it takes six months, one year, two years, three years, five years or seven years. Most of the time it takes so long to get a skilled worker here to satisfy their business needs that by the time they actually get the application approved it is too late.
The question of granting visitor visas is so important. The visitor visa system is absolutely and fundamentally broken in this country. The system is unjust and arbitrary, with no right of appeal. In my neck of the woods, where I have an extensive South Asian population, the refusal rate of visitor visas applications at one of the two visa offices in Chandigarh, India, is 53%. More than half of the applications in Chandigarh are rejected by that office.
What are these applications for? They are for people who want to come to Canada to attend weddings of their family members, births, anniversaries, graduations and visits so that brothers and sisters who have not seen each other for decades can reunite. These applications are for the very important events that Canadians cherish and want to share with their families. The government sits idly by while tens of thousands of visa applications are rejected every single year for no reason whatsoever.
Every member in the House knows that people come to their offices and tell them that they do not understand why their visa applications have been rejected by some faraway, anonymous person working in a consulate, with the applicant having no right of appeal and no way of accessing that person.
These are the kinds of issues the government should be tackling in the current immigration system. These are the broad, general, widespread issues and problems that Canadians face on a day-to-day basis.
I call on the government and the minister to quit playing politics with the immigration system and trying to look like they are tough on crime and actually solve the real problems of the immigration system and produce a modern immigration system that can quickly, efficiently and fairly process every application. There is no reason that any application across the board should not be processed from start to finish within 24 months, and why we should not have a fully computerized system where Canadians could have accountability from the bureaucrats making decisions.
That is the kind of legislation this side of the House would support. We call on the government to table such legislation in the House to make our immigration system modern and helpful, because it is so important to Canadians' futures and the economy of our country.
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by handing out compliments to my colleagues from and , who are doing absolutely remarkable work on issues that are not always easy. I will continue in the same vein as my colleague from and talk about certain aspects of this bill. Speaking of compliments, we said that we will vote in favour of this bill at second reading—let the members opposite take note of this—because we want to study it further in committee.
I must say that, based on everything I have been hearing for the past few days, studying this in committee will be a daunting task. After a quick glance at this bill, it is easy to see that it is flawed. Imagine all the work an in-depth study will entail.
As an aside, the hon. member for has many newcomers in his riding. My riding of Gatineau does not. It is a typical Quebec riding made up of 93% or 94% francophones, whites and young families. One might think that Gatineau does not have any problems regarding immigration or refugees, but my riding assistant might beg to differ. I tip my hat to her. Being so busy, I do not see much of her. Aline Séguin does absolutely incredible work on files that are not easy. When we get the chance to sit down together and talk, you would be surprised at the things that I learn. In my riding made up of 93% or 94% francophones, whites and young families, the majority of our files have to do with immigration, refugees, visas, etc. I hear terms that I am not necessarily familiar with and it is positively dizzying.
Over the years—and I already have quite a few under my belt—whether I was working in radio or television, I learned how easy it is to get people up in arms, to take extremely serious and human subjects and to completely and totally dehumanize them. It is easy to give certain impressions and to play on people's worries and fears.
The hon. member for seems to be offended by the bill's short title. I am too. I always say that, when it comes to the members opposite, reality is in the details. The full title of the bill is . I would like to emphasize the “refugee protection” part of the title because, when we look at the bill, the short title says something different. When I was studying law, I was taught that the short title was a way to shorten titles that were sometimes too long. In law, that is what the short title is. Yet, here, the short title often shows us the intention behind what the members opposite are constantly trying to achieve with their bills. In this case, it is informative because the short title really jumps off the page.
We are talking about . One could wonder how a title like that could be shortened since it is already quite clear and concise. But, the Conservatives shortened the title to the . When I saw that, I said to myself, “Wow! There are going to be plenty of problems with this.” What struck me, when I looked into the subject a little, was that it is difficult to determine how many cases this bill will affect. Why? The reason is that, when we are dealing with the members opposite, we are never able to access any information. It is like going to the dentist and trying to have a tooth extracted every time. And yet, this seems to be an extremely important and valid issue.
I always tell myself that, when we are in this impressive and imposing chamber, we have a role to play. I start thinking about how I am going to go back to the law faculty at the University of Ottawa just to tell them to forget this other principle of law that is taught, that it is not true and that the legislator speaks for the sake of speaking. In fact, I find that, often in this magnificent chamber, people speak for the sake of speaking. Laws are being created that leave me wondering what problem they address.
The government invents problems in order to draft bills that it can show off to people on the 6 o’clock and 11 o’clock news. It is really sad, because this perpetuates prejudices that are so easy to transmit.
When I was a little girl, my parents told me Canada was a beautiful country. They infused me with pride in Canada from my youngest days. Our parents were Franco-Ontarian, but we, the children, were born in Quebec. We took full advantage of our beautiful Canadian federation. My father often told us that the beauty of Canada lay in its three founding peoples. Of course he meant the first nations, Quebec and Canada.
Another element of this beauty is the perception people have of Canada as a land of welcome; a land that takes care of its citizens, of course, but is also concerned with what happens elsewhere. I am not trying to make everyone’s hearts bleed, but everyone knows that. My father always said that Canada welcomed everyone with open arms. I grew up with that concept and that belief. In the last 10 or 15 years, a harder tone has crept into such talk.
Perhaps the media are a little bit to blame. Television news is now on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because of the ratings wars, news organizations often work very hastily and try to find news items that will shock and provoke. What could be easier than to use another human being badly and keep him down? That is what happens when we talk about immigrants and refugees. At least that is so in my humble opinion, which no one is obliged to share.
When I was young, I had some problems understanding the nuances concerning refugees.
What I understand now is that while an immigrant makes the decision to come here, a refugee has no choice. The refugee is seeking a land that will welcome him, because if he stays where he is, he may be killed. As we begin, can we keep this basic concept in mind?
That said, there always are good people and those who are not so good. Like Jack Layton, I have a tendency to remain an eternal optimist and be positive. I tell myself that most people are fundamentally good. I still believe that, although it is sometimes difficult when I see the morning news. Anyway, in my heart, I still believe it.
The bills introduced by the members opposite always try to twist concepts that otherwise would be positive and humane. These bills are making our society one that trusts almost nothing and no one. They leave the very disagreeable impression that on every street corner lurks a criminal refugee who is the worst person ever born, but luckily, here is the great Captain Canada, also known as the . He will ensure that our society can live without fear, because he will be able to send that bad person back where he came from, no matter what will happen to him there.
This bill, like many others, worries me greatly. My only warning is that many powers are being taken away from the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board and given to the minister. I like the minister, but I would not give him—or any other minister—carte blanche.
Thus, we must not think that this bill will be taking away all recourse. In fact, it creates tons of recourse. The party across the way, by creating or passing this kind of measure, will ensure that arguments will no longer be made on appeal and that they will no longer concern the facts of the case. With my crystal ball, I predict that there will be many instances of recourse to get a judicial review of the minister’s decisions. It will all serve to open another Pandora’s box—and the results may be nasty.
So, once again, I hope that they will listen to what is said in committee, that the committee is able to do its work thoroughly, and that the members opposite will stop thinking that a bill is good just because they wrote it.
Mr. Speaker, all I can say is “I rest my case.” I think the hon. member did not hear the main point of my speech. In any case, I do appreciate that a Conservative member has finally risen in the House to at least try to demonstrate some interest in Bill C-43.
That said, I would say no, that is not what I mean by minor. We know that the Conservatives are always trying to make people believe that the official opposition wants to protect pedophiles, bank robbers, and the like.
Here we are talking about making changes concerning people who have been found guilty of an offence subject to a two-year sentence but who had certain rights, and reducing that to six months. I would like to reply to the hon. member that six-month sentences are given for shoplifting. Some minors make mistakes. Some people, when they are young, make certain mistakes and, with a good rehabilitation system, turn into very good citizens.
So, would the other side please stop using the most extreme cases and trying to shove them down our throats, and stop trying to pretend we are saying things we are not.
No one in this house wants to see Canada open its arms to hardened and dangerous criminals and allow them to stay here. That is not the issue. The issue is to strike a balance in this bill, as we would like to see in all things.
Mr. Speaker, what else is there to say after the hon. member for summed up the issue so well? I will say that it is with very mixed feelings that I take part in today's debate.
First, I want to stress that, yes, we do share the government's concern over serious crimes committed by individuals who are not Canadian citizens. However, we think it is just as normal to share some real concerns about Bill .
This bill will prevent permanent residents and illegal immigrants who are sentenced to a jail term of six months or more in Canada from appealing their deportation order. The individuals convicted would then be sent back to their country 12 to 15 months sooner than if they could have pleaded their case before the Immigration Appeal Division.
Currently, only immigrants sentenced to more than two years in a penitentiary are deprived of that right. According to the Department of Immigration, over 2,400 convicted individuals are currently appealing to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. The new rule would eliminate half of those cases.
The bill includes other changes to the act. For example, those who are inadmissible for serious reasons will no longer be allowed to apply to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds. Moreover, the would be given a new power. That is indeed the case. Another power is given to the minister. Obviously, he must have felt that all the powers given to him under Bill were not enough.
And now this government goes so far as to deny permanent resident status to an individual, for reasons of public interest. We can be sure that the courts will have their hands full, even though that is already the case.
Finally, under Bill , a foreign national would also be denied entry to Canada if a member of his family is denied entry for reasons related to security, organized crime or war crimes, even if the individual who committed the crime does not accompany that person.
The immigration minister said that his Bill seeks to restructure the deportation of convicted criminals by restricting their access to the appeal process. The minister indicated that, currently, many immigrants who have been convicted of crimes can avoid deportation because they were sentenced to a prison sentence of less than two years. The term “many” should be put in perspective because, according to Statistics Canada, in 2010-11, 86% of all prison sentences were of six months or less. We want facts because facts show the real picture.
As I already mentioned, this bill seems to follow the Conservative government's alarming pattern of giving greater discretion to ministers in matters of immigration and public safety. The high degree of discretion that Bill grants to the minister with respect to issuing or revoking a declaration, which would prevent a foreign national from becoming a permanent resident for a maximum period of 36 months, seems to go too far and must be clarified. To justify the discretionary powers that he would be given, the minister said, “We just do not have the time.”
Unfortunately, a little bit of time is what some immigrants need sometimes, if only to fill out all the forms and paperwork, to ask questions and make telephone calls to find out where a certain document has to be submitted and by when. Furthermore, massive cuts are being made to Citizenship and Immigration's client service unit. It would not be very difficult for the minister to give them a little more time. It would be the least he could do.
Michael Bossin, an immigration lawyer in Ottawa, says that, in his experience, jail time for these young offenders teaches them a lesson, they get a job, become responsible, build a family and no longer pose a danger to the public. According to Mr. Bossin, with a stay of removal, a young immigrant reacts as though he were on probation and often changes his conduct. Mr. Bossin believes that the changes to the new law could result in the export of Canada's social problems and will not deal with the underlying causes of criminality.
Once again, this government relies on clichés far too often and it does not address the source of the problem. That is what it should be doing instead.
In addition, Mr. Bossin believes that people with a mental illness would suffer undue hardship if they were deported to a country where they are often stigmatized and punished because of their condition. On that topic, Ms. Lash, an immigration and refugee lawyer with community legal services in Ottawa, says that those changes will affect many individuals with psychiatric problems.
According to lawyer Joel Sandaluk, if Bill becomes law, it is likely to divide families. He states that this is going to destroy families who have been in Canada for a long time and that, if the parents or other family members are deported from Canada, this will do irreparable damage. The damage will be irreparable because we are talking about the lives of human beings. We must never forget that.
In addition, Andras Schreck, vice-president of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association, said that Bill raises constitutional issues under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Lawyers across Canada are speaking up for the rights of Canadian immigrants, many of whom came to Canada at a young age. They were raised and educated here, they started families here and they started businesses here. Many companies in Quebec City were founded by immigrants who have received major awards for entrepreneurship. By the way, I congratulate them and I am proud of them.
The government's proposal is clumsy, because it is likely to have a significant impact on immigrants who do not have Canadian citizenship. In fact, the legislation will even apply to permanent residents who have been in Canada for decades.
As justification for this bill, the government has given examples of cases where immigrants have committed serious crimes and then used the system to delay their deportation for years. Those examples show flaws in the system, I agree. It is important to study the matter. We need to know what those flaws are and make sure that any gaps are plugged rather than resorting to stereotypes.
The NDP wants to move this bill forward in committee. Despite the bill's clear deficiencies, we want to hear experts give their opinions on the matter so that reasonable solutions to the problem can be found. New Democrats believe that it is possible to work with the government to prevent non-citizens who have committed serious crimes from abusing our system of appeals, and to do so without trampling on human rights. The NDP also supports those newcomers who want the government to focus on improving the fairness and the speed of the immigration system for the great majority of people who do not commit crimes and who live by the rules.
To conclude, this is one more bill where the Conservative government tells itself that there is nothing finer than to use its majority to push bills through and to steamroller over the opposition and especially over experts in the field. I have quoted a number of them here who confirm that we absolutely must take longer with, and go deeper into, social problems. This bill is oversimplified. We are showing prejudice and a lack of class in dealing with our immigrants. They are here among us and they function very well. In some cases, they are extraordinary people. I have met them, and frankly, they are models for our society.
I feel that it would be a real shame to remove these models, who are teaching our younger people profound and universal Canadian values. It would be a real shame to send these people back with their rights trampled on in this way.
Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for a very good NDP speech. It was one of the best NDP speeches I have heard for some time in that it was an NDP speech. The speech said very much about the offender's rights and that some of the offenders the hon. member knew were model citizens. It said nothing about the victims. It was a wonderful NDP speech. It was light on victims and heavy on the offender.
When I go out into my riding, I have individuals come up to me and say that they read in the newspaper that so-and-so, who came from another country and immigrated here and has committed armed robbery, is now going through an appeal. They want to know why do we not just send the person back home. That is what we hear in our ridings.
We hear of people like Gheorghe Capra who has over 60 counts of fraud, forgery, conspiracy to commit fraud and obstructing a peace officer. He got a sentence ranging from two days to two years less a day. He was asked to leave. The removal order was for September 2003 and he began the appeal process.
The bill would change that. People would need to be on their best behaviour when they come to our country and they are not citizens. They would need to keep clean, be productive and become part of what we expect here in Canada, a multicultural rich heritage, of which we want them to be part, but if they become a criminal they will go home.
Why does the member not care about the victim--
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in the House on behalf of my constituents of Surrey North.
I am an immigrant to this country and I am thankful for the opportunities I have had here. Many other members in the House are also immigrants to Canada.
I listened to the debate this morning. The member from is absolutely right. The vast majority of the immigrants who come here, at one point or another, are good citizens. They contribute to the economy, the culture and make good citizens.
I am also a father of a young girl and boy. Therefore, for Conservatives to constantly ask about which side the New Democrats are on when it comes to rapists and murderers, as a father, I know which side I am on.
We agree in principle with Bill , an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. We agree that there are some good aspects to the bill. However, there are many holes in it and we need to be look at those. Therefore, we will support sending it to committee so it can look at some of these issues.
One issue I have with the bill is it concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by giving him new discretionary authority over the inadmissibility of temporary residents. Basically the minister can declare a foreign national inadmissible for up to 36 months if the minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public consideration. The minister may also at any time revoke or shorten the effective period of declaration of admissibility.
I have trouble with the word “opinion”. What is that opinion? How does the minister form that opinion? Are there criteria set as to how that opinion is formed? It is very troubling.
The second component I also have trouble with is the change to what constitutes a serious criminality for the purposes of access to an appeal of determination of inadmissibility. Previously, a conviction in Canada resulting in a prison sentence of two or more years constituted an automatic stripping of permanent residency or a temporary resident's right to an appeal at the immigration appeal division. However, Bill would revoke the right to an appeal of a determination of inadmissibility where there would be a conviction of six months or more.
We talked about minor offences and young people this morning. There may be young people who have committed a robbery and are put in prison. Their whole family may be here and they would have no right to appeal to get a fair hearing. They may be able to reform and become productive members of society, yet they will be sent back to a country with which they may not be familiar. Therefore, I have a problem with that.
The bigger issue the Conservatives are trying to avoid is the whole immigration system that we have in place. It was broken before. The Liberals had a chance to fix it for many years. We have seen lineups and wait times being increased for family reunification for spouses and for skilled workers. That was under the Liberals. Then the Conservatives said that they would fix it and make it better. What I have seen in the last six years is the dismantling of the immigration system, which is broken, and that is a bigger issue. They are not fixing the immigration system so it is fair, effective, efficient and serves the needs of Canadians.
We are all familiar with the fact that Canada has an aging population and we do need immigrants to fill the jobs that would help the government bring in revenues so we can provide services such as education, medicare and other services on which Canadians depend. Yet that does not concern the Conservatives. They are avoiding the whole issue of fixing the system so it is effective, efficient and is better for our economy.
I will give some examples. A young husband and a wife came into my office a few months ago and I had a chance to sit down with them. They had gone to another country looking for a caregiver. They interviewed a person who they felt could provide child care for their daughter. They came back to Canada and wanted to submit an application. The husband was a businessperson and the wife was a teacher for the local school board. They wanted their daughter to be taken care of at home by a live-in caregiver from another country who they would sponsor. When they submitted their application, they found out that it would take four years before they could get the application reviewed by our embassy.
Therefore, if one were to have a three or four year old child, he or she would have to wait four years to bring someone to Canada to provide child care services. The couple I spoke of are productive members of our society, a teacher and a businessperson, who are providing jobs in our community, yet one of them will have to stay home to take care of their daughter. That was their predicament. That is not right. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. That is what they told me.
There is another case of a woman who had stage four breast cancer and was trying to sponsor her mother to come here from Romania to spend the last four or five months with her so she could be surrounded by family. Her mother had come to Canada previously on a temporary visa and had returned. This woman wanted to spend time with her mother. Because of the present rules, her mother was denied a temporary visa. The system is broken. Her mother had already come to Canada and returned, yet she was denied a visa to return to be with her daughter during her last days and take care of her. The daughter was willing to provide financial support and health care insurance for her mother.
Another example is that of a dying father who requested that his son come and visit him during his last days in hospital. He was denied a visa to come to Canada. When the father died, the son again applied for a TRV, a temporary resident visa, to come to Canada to see his father for the last time.
These are the kinds of problems that the government is failing to fix. If there were—
Mr. Speaker, this is an interesting bill we are looking into today. It is, by all accounts, a bill to allow Canada to deport non-citizens who commit serious offences. This, in itself, is an eminently supportable goal, but it does not fully describe the entirety of Bill .
As my colleague from , the New Democratic critic for citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, has indicated, New Democrats recognize the need for an efficient and responsible judicial approach to removing serious criminals who are not citizens. I agree that all Canadians want a tough approach to non-citizens who commit serious, often violent crimes in our communities. I believe it is also important for us to note that the overwhelming majority of newcomers to this country are actually law-abiding and follow the rules. Those newcomers also support the broader concept that is the stated intention of Bill .
We cannot mix up the facts as we consider how best to weed out a small group of offenders who are no more a reflection of any community they come from than any domestic criminals are to their own home towns. We can see there is agreement on intent, but it is not a free pass for the government to do whatever it wants. New Democrats would like to see amendments to the bill that would allow us to arrive at a piece of legislation we can support. Ultimately, our criticism of the proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act relates to a handful of issues, not the least of which are the concentration of power in the minister and the abandonment of an appeal process.
New Democrats do not support slamming the door on an appeal process, just as we do not support granting the minister unilateral powers to stop a foreign national from becoming a temporary resident for up to 36 months based on what is being called public policy considerations. Surely we can agree that is a vague and broad definition.
We can still hear the peanut gallery on the other side.
In fact, the manner in which this bill concentrates more power in the minister seems to indicate some kind of disbelief in the system that is in place, some kind of a belief that what the process really needs is a sheriff. In Bill we see that. Not only can the minister declare a foreign national inadmissible for up to 36 months if the minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations, but the minister may also, at any time—and I repeat, at any time—revoke or shorten the effective period of a declaration of inadmissibility.
This may sound like jargon, but there is a bigger problem at play that others will recognize, and that is the disturbing trend we see from the government, the trend of concentrating more power in the hands of individual ministers. This arbitrary power is granted at the expense of transparency and clearly defined policies that can be consistently administered.
Members may recall that this is one of the criticisms that was central to the changes to the Fisheries Act in the last budget. Those changes gave the minister discretionary power to determine whether a fish species was important enough to warrant protection. This bill continues that unfortunate trend. It is a pattern of behaviour that puts the government and its decisions behind closed doors. It makes our government more opaque and quite the opposite of the transparent and accountable administration Canadians desire and were promised. However, there is good news. This is something that can be fixed. If there is a willingness, there is a way.
Ministerial discretion can be replaced with clear and effective guidelines that can be publicly administered, which is something we hope the government will consider. It is something we know that Canadians want and will support.
What is more than a little strange is the way in which Bill would give the minister discretionary powers to act in the manner of the sheriff I just described. However, at same time, it would relieve that same person from similar responsibilities related to appropriate discretionary powers. We see the call for the minister to be given the power to declare a foreign national inadmissible, but in those cases where the minister is actually required to use extraordinary powers to ensure the system is performing to its potential, the Conservatives are begging off that part of the job.
As we know, the current arrangement means that on the request of a foreign national or even on the minister's own initiative, the minister is required to examine the circumstances of a person who is considered inadmissible on grounds of security, humanitarian or international rights violations, or organized criminality. In those instances where the minister feels a compelling case has been made, he or she can grant an exemption on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and take into consideration the interests of a child directly affected.
My colleague alluded to this a while ago with respect to children who came here with their family and may not have received Canadian citizenship. If they are permanent residents and have been here since the age of six months, or whatever age, and all of a sudden they find themselves in a dilemma such as this, the minister would then be able to say that they would have to go home to a land where they have never been. The new arrangement would relieve the minister of this obligation altogether. It is as if the Conservatives cannot fathom that there would ever be circumstances where an appeal might be legitimate or even successful.
Let us look at our own criminal justice system. We have had people criminalized and put in jail, but when they have appealed the decision, and sometimes it has taken years, the government has had to actually apologize for that, which is why the appeal process is important.
However, without appeal, it is a black and white view that does not match the reality of the world. It assumes that there will never be a miscarriage of justice, when we know full well that the potential for mistakes is always present, which is why we have appeal processes in the first place.
To recap, the minister wants to be able to act in a decisive manner on a case-by-case basis if he feels it is warranted. On the other hand, the Conservatives are asking to be excused from the responsibility of the office in terms of adjudicating what is basically an appeal process. What we have here is an appeal for both a concentration of power and the removal of a check and balance function. Again, it is about transparency and accountability. We need a check and balance function.
For New Democrats, these items need to be fixed. We have additional concerns with Bill , which relate to changes in the definition of serious criminality as well as the intention to accept the decision of foreign courts that may not operate at the same high standard as ours do in Canada.
As a bit of an aside, I am sure there are many professionals struggling for recognition of their foreign credentials who are looking on with a sense of disbelief. When it comes to branding someone a criminal, the Conservative government is willing to accept the standards of courts from countries whose professional credentials are more vigorously challenged. I am sure that point is not entirely lost on people who are struggling on that front.
To be clear, the larger goal of Bill is not without its merit. New Democrats think this is a case where we can tighten things up. We could take the bill to committee, roll up our sleeves and do the work to ensure Canada comes out of the process with a better Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
However, most of us in this place know that there are bigger challenges that we must address as well. We hear it from our constituents and we see it in our offices.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill . I want to thank my colleague from who just spoke. I could feel how passionate she is about this issue.
I also want to thank the hon. member for who has played such an important role in the House on immigration and refugee issues. I thank her for her fine work on that.
The bill addresses the issue of people who come to Canada and commit crimes. The timing of the bill is interesting, because it comes on the heels of some very serious, difficult and controversial changes in immigration and refugee policy that have touched many members of my own community in Parkdale—High Park. I am speaking specifically about the refugee reform bill, Bill , and also about cuts to refugee health care.
Part of my community is a place where many newcomers first come to Canada. We have seen waves of refugees come from different parts of the world. There are many religious institutions and places of worship that are amongst the oldest in the city of Toronto, because my riding is the first stopping off point for many newcomers to Canada. We have the oldest continuously functioning Jewish schul. We have one of the oldest Hindu temples. We have religious institutions of various denominations.
More recently we have many refugees coming from places such as Tibet and Hungary, as well as other places in Eastern Europe. Something that has been very controversial in our community, and we have joined health professionals in opposing, are the changes to deny some refugee claimants health care benefits.
I have seen, first-hand, people in my community who are directly affected by these changes. It has not been helpful that certain communities, such as the Roma community, have been demonized by the government. It creates a situation that is unhealthy for them here, even prior to the status of their refugee claim being assessed.
It is interesting that the Conservatives are now introducing a bill to get the immigration discussion back into a territory where they feel more comfortable, and that is the tough-on-crime approach. I see that in the political context of dealing with refugee and immigration issues.
The bill would concentrate more power in the hands of the minister in terms of discretionary authority over the admissibility of temporary residents. He can declare a foreign national inadmissible for up to 36 months if in his or her opinion it is justified by public policy considerations. The bill also relieves the minister of the responsibility to consider humanitarian and compassionate situations such as taking into consideration the interests of a child. The minister no longer has to consider humanitarian concerns at all.
It also gives the minister new discretionary authority to provide an exemption to the family member of a foreign national that is “inadmissible” if the minister believes it is against the national interest, specifically examining national security or public safety.
There are also changes in the bill about what constitutes serious criminality. Previously a conviction in Canada resulting in a prison sentence of two years or more constituted an automatic revocation of a permanent or temporary resident's right to an appeal. This would revoke that right with a conviction of six months or more, which has to be explored and investigated as to what kinds of crimes we are looking at and who would be most likely to be affected.
It would increase the penalties for misrepresentation, taking them from two years to five years for inadmissibility for permanent resident status. One thing that is very positive in the bill is that it would clarify that if someone enters Canada as part of an organized criminal activity, that on its own would not constitute inadmissibility, which may be important to people who are trafficked into Canada through some kind of criminal organization.
While I believe Canadians are legitimately concerned about the issue of non-citizens who commit serious crimes in Canada, we have a concern about concentrating more arbitrary powers in the hands of the minister. The vast majority of newcomers to Canada, and I have direct experience with many newcomers in my community, are law-abiding people who do not commit crimes. We believe the Conservatives ought to spend more time and effort ensuring these people are treated fairly and are reunited with their families as quickly as possible.
Conservatives cannot have it both ways. We cannot take someone such as Conrad Black and welcome him back to Canada with open arms and claim, as the minister did, that this was independent of politics and handled by bureaucrats, and then introduce a law like this which clearly would concentrate more discretionary decision-making power in the hands of the minister. Suddenly he seems to have a conversion on the road to Damascus and wants to deport convicted criminals instead of welcoming them with open arms. That is quite a change. However, there are a number of other ways the minister could help, such as maybe no longer appointing his friends to the Immigration and Refugee Board and having a fairer process there.
While the issue of criminal activity and ensuring we are not getting the wrong people in Canada is important, we believe there are concerns that are not being taken into account. Mental health issues are a big area of concern. In my communities and in communities across the country, there are people who come here as refugees from war-torn countries. They do not get the kind of mental health support they need. We know there is a disproportionate representation of people who are mental health survivors in the prison system who desperately need help and would benefit greatly from help here in Canada, including many refugees whom deportation will not help.
Canadians would see people from war-torn countries being disproportionately rejected from Canada under the bill. Mental health is clearly a huge issue, as is the lack of ability to appeal. That is also left up to the discretion of the minister. The lack of appeal is something that has been criticized in other immigration initiatives by the government and is certainly something that I would question here.
While of course we support ensuring that Canadians are protected from criminals who would take advantage of our immigration and refugee system and come to this country and commit crimes, there are problems with the bill that need serious discussion, investigation and change in order to do the job that it is meant to do.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak today to Bill . It is legislation that deserves consideration but, like much that comes from the government, it has significant flaws.
When members on the other side talk about the bill and ask us whether we want criminals who should be deported to get deported, the answer to that rhetorical question is yes. No one is opposed to that. That is why we are actually supporting the bill in principle. Certain people who come to Canada, commit violent crimes, abuse the appeal process and who manage to stay here for many years ought to be deported.
Therefore, the answer to the rhetorical question of whether criminals who should be deported get deported, is absolutely yes. Is this the way to do it? Are the measures in the bill balanced, fair and reasonable and do they comply with the rule of law?
The government claims that Canada is a champion of the rule of law throughout the world. Is it reasonable for a rule of law to have such a broad category that says that anyone who may get a six month sentence for a first offence, after having been in the country for 15, 20 or 25 years and having been here since he or she was a child or an infant, should get deported to his or her so-called home? The home of someone who has been here since the age of 2 and is now 25 is Canada. The fact is that for the 1.5 million people who are here as permanent residents, who have been granted the right to live here as permanent residents and have the right to obtain citizenship once they apply, this is their home.
The member for talked about a person being convicted of growing six marijuana plants. That person is treated as a serious criminal and is subject to deportation to the country of his or her birth without any right of appeal. I do not think that complies with the rule of law. In fact, a number of lawyers who have talked about this suggested that this would not pass with the courts and that it would face a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Some hon. member: Bring it on.
Mr. Jack Harris: Bring it on, someone says. The Conservatives want to keep the courts and lawyers busy challenging their legislation. One would think they would desire to have legislation that meets the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that does the job it is supposed to do.
A member from the opposite side raised another aspect of this a couple of times. My colleague from has quite ably talked about the potential for arbitrary decisions and broad categories. There are broad categories in the bill but then the Conservatives mention specific examples and ask if we do no agree that this should happen.
The member for said that his party wants to prohibit the entry of someone who promotes hatred and asks why do we not support a measure that would do exactly that. Well, it does not do exactly that. It says, in very broad language, that the minister would have the power to deny entry to anyone for 36 months if the minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations.
It might have the effect of allowing that particular thing to happen as part of this broad category, but if what the Conservatives want to do is prevent people coming to Canada on a temporary visit to promote hatred, then they should say that they are going to give the minister the power to prevent people from coming to Canada to promote hatred. If they want to do exactly that, they should do exactly that. Public policy is a very broad consideration. There is that famous legal case in England that said that making decisions in the courts based on public policy considerations was an unruly horse. In other words, one could not control what would be contained under that consideration.
Public policy considerations are so broad that they give the minister almost absolute discretion. That is where we think this bill goes overboard. It gives too much discretion and arbitrary power to the minister. We want something that is flexible and something that will work to ensure we do not allow people into Canada who commit serious crimes, who are unworthy of continuing in Canada and who we would never allow to become citizens if they applied.
We are talking about criminals who have been convicted of significant offences. If they applied for citizenship, which they are entitled to do as permanent residents at a certain point, would they be given citizenship? The answer to that question is no, they would not be granted citizenship. Do we want to find ways that will force people who should be deported to be deported? Yes. If the appeal process is so long, ungainly and unruly that people can abuse it, we need to fix the appeal process, shorten the time limits and find a solution to the root of the problem. As one of my colleagues said, we do not need a sledgehammer to swat a fly. If a less restrictive measure can be used, in other words, one that does not affect so many other cases that it should not affect, then that is what should be used.
We are talking about the unfortunate arbitrariness that applies when we use these broad categories. When we take away the requirement of the minister to take into account humanitarian considerations and international rights violations, that removes the possibility of allowing someone to enter this country. It takes away the requirement of the minister to at least take that into consideration and say that we do not have to worry about that. This is a significant problem.
The risk that we run here is that we may be deporting offenders who may have been sentenced to six months or a year in jail, who arrived in Canada with their parents at a very young age and who may know nothing of the country to which they will be deported. By doing that, we would be leaving at risk people whose only country to which they have an attachment is Canada and they may have been in Canada for many years.
I will quote some of the comments that were made by a group of lawyers in Toronto last week who are active in immigration law. They are very familiar with the broad range of cases. They say that we are talking about many people in the African, Caribbean, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, English, Irish and Scottish communities who have not acquired Canadian citizenship despite the fact that they have been here for a long time. They say that the removal of the appeal process for those who have been sentenced to more than six months would be a terrible burden when their cases ought to be considered.
First offenders who have been here for 15 or 20 years and are incarcerated learn things. They improve their lives. People can go to jail for six months for shoplifting if they do it often enough. Perhaps they are drug addicts and need rehabilitation. Those people would be treated as the dross of society and sent to some potential far corner of the world where God knows what will happen to them. This is the kind of thing we are opposed to. We support the bill in principle in terms of doing what it should do but want to see it substantially improved in committee.
Mr. Speaker, I first want to congratulate the hon. member for his eloquent speech and say that I am also pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill , or the .
This bill, if passed as is, will lead to numerous legislative changes with the purpose of accelerating the deportation, to their country of origin, of foreign nationals and permanent residents who have committed a serious crime in Canada or abroad. The Conservatives say that the faster removal of foreign criminals would prevent some of them from abusing the Canadian legal system to try to delay their deportation and extend their stay in the country.
One of the main provisions of Bill would amend the legal definition of "serious criminality" in order to restrict access to the appeal process should an individual be found inadmissible by a judge. Currently, a permanent or temporary resident of Canada can appeal such a decision to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, unless the individual is sentenced to two years or longer.
Such a sentence generally leads to the automatic revocation of the permanent or temporary resident's right to appeal a determination of inadmissibility. If Bill is passed, this right would be revoked as soon as a sentence of imprisonment of six months or longer is imposed. Such a sentence will not necessarily be imposed in cases of excessively violent crimes, as some of my colleagues mentioned a little earlier. Such sentences will be given to people who repeatedly commit crimes that might be considered less serious. At that point, they receive a sentence that is more severe than the original one. These people are not necessarily violent criminals. They are people who could still be rehabilitated.
Bill also puts more powers in the hands of the minister by allowing him to render a decision on the admissibility of temporary residence applicants. The minister is given very broad discretionary power in that case. He could now declare that a foreign national is inadmissible for a maximum period of 36 months if he feels that it is justified by public policy considerations. There is no clear definition of "public policy considerations" here. The minister will define it, without further justification.
Furthermore, although Bill specifies that entering Canada through criminal activity does not automatically make a person inadmissible—which can be important for people who were victims of human trafficking networks—it will take away the minister's responsibility to consider the humanitarian circumstances related to the individual's case. As a result, the minister will no longer be required to consider particular circumstances, such as security considerations, human rights and international rights violations, or organized criminality, in order to determine whether or not a humanitarian exemption has to be granted to a claimant.
Bill has to do with an issue that is a central concern for Canadians: their safety.
Keeping the people of Canada safe is also a priority for the NDP. We recognize the need to have an efficient justice system in order to deport real criminals who are not Canadian citizens to their country of origin. We do not support allowing these dangerous criminals, who put the safety of Canadians at risk, to stay in the country. If circumstances require it, we want to make sure that those people can be quickly deported to their country of origin in order to protect Canadians' safety.
We in the NDP also believe that we can work with the government to prevent non-citizens who have committed serious crimes from abusing our appeal system. That is why I will support this bill at second reading. We also believe that it is possible to protect our people and to avoid those abuses without trampling on the rights of individuals who are not Canadian citizens.
The NDP is opposed to the idea of refusing anyone access to a just and fair appeal process. We are also opposed to the idea of giving the minister the power to unilaterally prevent a foreign national from becoming a temporary resident for a period of 36 months, if justified by public policy considerations, without our being able to identify clearly what exactly those public policy considerations are.
At the moment, as they often do, the Conservatives are trying hard to focus the debate on the issue of criminality in order to try to hide from Canadians the fact that Bill would henceforth grant wide discretionary powers to the minister and could violate the rights of a large number of foreign nationals and permanent residents. It is much easier to accuse everyone who objects to this bill of being soft on crime, as we often hear, or of not caring about the welfare of victims. That is completely false, and we must be able to keep things in perspective if we are to do our work properly here in this House.
So, because of the precise problems I have listed, it seems to me essential that, in committee, we study each of the provisions of Bill in depth and consider the potential negative consequences of enforcing it in its present unamended form.
In committee, it will be possible to focus on the provisions of this bill that present the greatest problems and make the changes necessary to ensure that the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike are respected and protected.
Another problem with Bill that deserves to be studied in depth is the fact that the bill restricts judicial independence by preventing judges from considering both the nature of a crime committed by a resident, whether temporary or permanent, and the circumstances under which the crime was committed. So, with Bill C-43, judges would no longer be allowed to consider the fact that some refugees from war-ravaged countries may be suffering from a mental illness. As we know, unfortunately, people fleeing from countries in the grips of war all too often arrive in Canada bearing the severe physical and psychological consequences of the trauma they have gone through in their country of origin. Unfortunately, when those people do not receive treatment, they often end up committing crimes. Whether they are citizens or not, they need help and treatment. Given the resources they need, they can frequently be rehabilitated. That will not be true of all foreign criminals who are going to be caught, but it will be true of a number of them, especially if they are suffering from a mental illness as the result of the trauma they have gone through at home.
Furthermore, Michael Bossin, an immigration and refugee lawyer in Ottawa, has said that young offenders commit a crime that gets them into a system that gets them treatment, medication and a rehabilitation program. They have family support, they have community support, and they are in no way a threat to anyone anymore.
Unfortunately, the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act may well affect a large number of permanent and temporary residents with mental health disorders, who could be helped with treatment.
As we can see, Bill eliminates a number of control mechanisms that currently exist in the legal system and that provide a certain amount of flexibility. However, the flexibility being discussed here is absolutely necessary when somebody is confronted with extraordinary circumstances, such as the right to appeal in the case of mitigating circumstances and the possibility of appeal on humanitarian grounds for those who are deemed inadmissible on grounds of security or of violating human or international rights. It is obvious that much remains to be done to ensure that Bill C-43 fully respects the fundamental rights of individuals who want to become citizens, whether they are admissible or not.
Rather than demonizing all new Canadians because of a handful of foreign criminals, as the Conservatives have done many times over the last few weeks, they should make a greater effort to reunite families and recognize the skills held by new immigrants so that they can find a job that uses their experience and their talent. We all want to be more strict with non-citizens who commit serious crimes against Canadian citizens, but we must never forget the fundamental values on which our legal system is based, even when dealing with people who have broken the law.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her interest in this issue. I am in favour of referring this bill to committee so that we can review it.
This bill gives rise to a lot of discussion and questions. Once again, the Conservatives have introduced a tough-on-crime bill. They are saying that there is a crime problem in this country and that it has to be solved. Statistically, it is quite the opposite; there is less and less crime in this country.
What is the purpose of this bill? Instead of addressing the challenges facing immigrants in this country, this bill comes down hard on crime committed by immigrants. As an hon. member said earlier, the crime rate among immigrants is statistically lower than that among Canadian citizens. In addition, the crime rate is going down.
I will ask this question again: what public policy considerations justify this bill? We have to ask ourselves that question, because this is a very important aspect of the bill. Ministerial discretion has been created for the definition of public policy considerations. Under the bill, the minister can now declare, for a maximum period of 36 months, that a foreign national is inadmissible based on public policy considerations. But the concept of public policy considerations is not defined. The minister has total discretion. We do not understand why the minister should have more power, when a number of immigration tribunals are already hearing immigrants' cases and the reasons why they came to Canada. There are currently enough tribunals to allow immigrants to present their evidence and to justify their place in Canada. There is no need to create another bill that will make the burden of proof heavier on immigrants, when that is not the case for ordinary citizens. Once again, this bill does a poor job of defining the concept of public policy considerations.
Why give the minister so much discretionary power in so many bills? This does not concern just this bill on criminalization in immigration. Almost all the bills that the Conservatives have introduced in the past year broaden ministerial discretion, which decreases the possibility for people to be heard by the tribunals.
Historically, the purpose of democracy was to take discretionary powers away from kings and ministers and to define the powers they have. For the past year in the House, the exact opposite has been happening. This is not normal. A living, breathing democracy should clearly define the government's power. But here, the government is in the process of broadening it.
Bill creates ministerial discretion with respect to the assessment of environmental projects. From now on, the minister has the right to decide whether or not a project will have to undergo an environmental impact assessment. Previously, certain factors would be used to determine whether or not an assessment would be done, but now it is left up to the minister. With this bill, ministerial discretion is once again being broadened, which I think is unacceptable.
A debate in committee could be useful. That is why, even with the huge reservations I have about ministerial discretion, I will continue to support the bill at second reading.
I also want to point out some inherent problems with the bill, problems that I find really very serious. In the past, in accordance with the act, an immigrant who had been sentenced to two years or more would have his permanent resident status revoked immediately. That is how it still is today. The bill we are looking at proposes reducing that sentence to six months or more. Any permanent resident who is convicted and sentenced to six months or more would lose his or her permanent resident status.
My Conservative colleague pointed out a few minutes ago that we are talking about foreigners and asked why the opposition did not support cracking down on foreign criminals in this country. Right now we are talking about permanent residents; they are not foreign. They have been allowed to enter Canada. We know them. They work here and, for the most part, they are contributing members of society and yet the Conservatives are saying that if they make a mistake, no matter what it is, a six-month prison term will strip them of their citizenship and their permanent resident status. That is it; they will be deported. That is very harsh, extremely harsh. I would like to expand on this in committee. A debate on this would be worthwhile.
Several laws in Canada impose a jail term of six months or more. I can give examples of people I know who have not paid their parking tickets. If too many parking tickets accumulate, a person can be sentenced to six months or more. If someone fails to pay their parking tickets, does that really justify deporting them out of the country? I find that a little much, to be honest.
It is extremely important that this bill be the subject of testimony by expert witnesses. Unfortunately, the people who draft the Conservatives' bill tend to go too far, perhaps because this government has a majority. Sometimes they cannot help themselves. That tends to be the Conservative way. They often appear incapable of seeing the fact that their bills benefit only a very small percentage of Canadians—perhaps those who give more money to the Conservative Party. I do not know, but maybe that it is.
It is very important for these bills to reflect the Canadian reality. I want to point out once again that crime rates are going down in Canada. I know that a few years ago the Conservatives were saying that they wanted to crack down on crime because a lot of crimes are not reported to the police. I am not going to chase shadows here; I am going after real criminals. I want to find a happy medium between protecting Canadian citizenship and an immigrant's right to a fair and equitable process. There is a fundamental right in Canadian law: everyone has the right to be heard. The minister's authority continues to grow. His discretionary powers are looking more and more like the powers of a king. That runs counter to legal tradition in Canada and all Commonwealth countries. The right to be heard is a fundamental right that the government would violate with this bill. This bill must absolutely be sent to committee to be examined carefully.
I hope that all members of the House will be open enough to allow amendments to this bill. Expert testimony will help with this. Many parts of this bill must be broken down, clarified, and debated so that the bill can truly benefit the Canadian public. Ultimately, immigrants must feel that Canada is a welcoming country. Historically, we have always been very open to immigrants, and I hope that we will continue to be.