I call the meeting to order.
This is meeting number five of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are here for the study of the subject matter of supplementary estimates (B), 2019-20, votes 1b and 10b under Department of Citizenship and Immigration. Also, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are here to study of the mandate of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
Good morning, everyone.
I would like to welcome the Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship here before the standing committee.
Good morning, Minister. It is your first appearance before this committee.
I also welcome the departmental officials, Catrina Tapley, deputy minister, Harpreet Kochhar, assistant deputy minister, operations, Marian Campbell Jarvis, assistant deputy minister, strategic and program policy, and Daniel Mills, assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer.
Thank you all for coming here today.
Minister, I understand you will be leaving after the first hour and the officials will stay here for the second hour. The floor is yours. You have 10 minutes for your opening remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all of the members of this committee for allowing me my first opportunity to come and address you.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we gather today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
I'm pleased to make my first appearance before this committee as the Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
As a result of Canada's history of immigration, today more than one in five Canadians were born outside of Canada. This is a strength for our country and a source of great pride. Canada's commitment to diversity and inclusion is essential to making our nation and this world a better place.
That is why the Government of Canada is focused on building an inclusive society with a sense of belonging, trust, and shared values throughout our country.
We know that immigrants make important contributions to Canada, both economically and through cultural diversity. Our government will continue to defend immigration in this country. Our aim is to further improve Canada's immigration system for the benefit of all Canadians and newcomers. This is no small task.
The has given me a very important mandate, one that is vital to our future economic prosperity and one that is absolutely essential to who we are. I have already begun this work in earnest.
As you know, in recent years our government has moved to a multi-year levels plan. This approach allows us to work more effectively with our partners all across the country as we make responsible increases to immigration. My department will soon table its annual report to Parliament on immigration, which will include Canada's multi-year levels plan for the years 2020 to 2022.
Immigration builds vibrant and dynamic communities. It gives Canadian businesses the skills they need to thrive in global markets and to create good-paying middle-class jobs. Our government is working with our counterparts to ensure that these benefits are distributed right across the country, particularly in this period where several regions have been affected by labour shortages.
We live in an increasingly competitive world and we must seize the opportunity to work together to ensure that Canada remains a world leader.
I've travelled to Geneva and to Germany where Canada has been recognized as a world leader and a shining example for the rest of the world on immigration. In fact, recently Germany invited us to share the lessons we have learned together over many years. These lessons have strengthened our system, which has been hailed by the OECD as the “benchmark for other countries” when it comes to integration.
To seize the opportunity and to stay in that position as a world leader, we are working on various initiatives to enhance economic immigration everywhere in Canada. Let's take the Atlantic immigration pilot for example, which has been a tremendous success. We are building on it to attract even more skilled immigrants to live and work in Atlantic Canada and we are taking the next steps to making this pilot a permanent part of our framework.
In addition, our rural and northern immigration pilot is rolling out in partnership with 11 communities from northern Ontario to British Columbia.
We're also looking at developing a new municipal nominee program to allow local communities, chambers of commerce and labour councils the opportunity to directly sponsor the workers they need.
Similarly, the express entry program is the fast lane for immigrants who have the skills and experience to hit the ground running. It's getting results. Under this stream, 95% of the participants have a job, with 83% of them in their main occupation, and 20% earn more than the principal applicants who are coming in under streams other than the express entry.
We're also maintaining our commitment to family reunification. We will continue to play a leadership role in refugee resettlement by introducing a dedicated refugee stream for journalists and humanitarian workers at risk, with a target of helping to resettle as many as 250 people per year.
To help all newcomers and their families integrate, our government will continue to deliver innovative settlement programming and to further invest in research, support and employment projects for visible minority newcomer women. Newcomers, whether refugees or from family reunification, give back to their host country by participating in the economic development of their communities. I know you will be as familiar with their successes as I am.
Supporting positive outcomes—not only for the newcomers who come to Canada, but for our communities across the country—is critical, and my cabinet colleagues and I are working diligently with partners and stakeholders across the country to achieve this.
A timely and efficient immigration system is of critical importance in attracting the world's most talented individuals. Canadians continue to view immigration as key to filling labour gaps and as a tool for addressing the challenges of an aging working population. But, while Canadians continue to express strong support for immigration, we cannot be complacent. We know that Canadians' continued support for immigration goes hand in hand with our ability to manage the system in an orderly and principled way and one that is beneficial to our country.
While Canada is open and generous towards the world's most vulnerable, we must also remain vigilant in the enforcement of our borders, while ensuring our asylum system remains open for those who truly need it.
To that end, I am working with my colleague, the, and I will continue to advance reforms and investments in the capacity of the asylum system to ensure it is efficient, while meeting Canada's international legal obligations.
We're also improving our immigration system for all of our clients. This means we must also endeavour to protect them from fraud and from falling prey to immigration and citizenship consultants who are unscrupulous and take advantage of vulnerable people. To that end, my department will implement the new professional governance regime for immigration and citizenship consultants under the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act, which will bring strengthened government oversight and a new and stronger compliance and enforcement regime.
The protection of our official languages is very important and that is why we want to put in place measures to strengthen the capacity of francophone communities across the country.
We want to increase francophone immigration between now and 2023 and support the integration and retention of French-speaking newcomers outside Quebec.
Canadian citizenship is the hallmark of a newcomer's full integration into Canada. I have attended a few citizenship ceremonies since I took office and I can tell you, there is no greater pride than the pride that can be seen on the faces of newcomers on this significant day.
There is nothing like seeing a smile on the face of somebody who has just been welcomed to the family of Canadians.
Becoming a citizen is a key of an immigrant's journey, and 86% of newcomers go on to become Canadians. This is one of the highest naturalization rates in the world and something we should celebrate. In fact, more than 200,000 took the oath of citizenship and became citizens in 2018-19.
Through our shared citizenship, we are building a stronger Canada and promoting equality and diversity. To encourage even more newcomers to take the full path to citizenship, our government will bring forward a plan to eliminate fees for citizenship for those who have fulfilled the requirements to obtain it, and I look forward to advancing that work.
I will also say that I'm pleased to have recently tabled Bill , which will amend the oath of citizenship to reflect reconciliation and to reflect our essential relationship with indigenous peoples in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action.
Madam Chair, in conclusion I believe that Canadians should have the utmost respect for the people who want to rebuild their lives in Canada and make contributions to our country. I know that everyone around this table shares the same goals of seeing how we can depend and rely on immigration not only to improve our country, but to make the world a better place.
For example, I want to commend this committee's study of labour shortages. I look forward to collaborating with you on that important work. Together, I know that we can generate and shape the ideas that will drive Canada's long-term prosperity, and I look forward to that work with you as well.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Minister, and thanks to your departmental officials for attending today.
I am as new to this file as you are, and you have inherited a truly challenging set of files. The official opposition is committed to assist you in addressing those challenges.
We know from departmental figures that among the 341,000 permanent residents admitted in 2019 to Canada, 4,710 were admitted for humanitarian, compassionate and other reasons. Among the many appeals currently in play for admittance on those grounds, as well as applications for ministerial exemption, is a particularly compelling case, that of an effectively stateless orphan, Widlene Alexis, in hiding in the Dominican Republic in the care of a Canadian family for the past 10 years, a family that sought a temporary resident permit in Canada that would enable her adoption here.
Last month, a Federal Court of Appeal judge set aside an immigration officer's decision to refuse a TRP for Widlene, saying that the decision was “incoherent or profoundly inconsistent with the presented evidence”. Mr. Justice Barnes said the time has come “to take a holistic and full-fledged humanitarian and compassionate review focussed on Widlene's circumstances and needs.”
The judge ordered redetermination by another decision-maker.
Minister, you could send the case back to Canada's office in Mexico where it could languish on an officer's desk for years, or you could, under the powers you hold under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, subsection 25.1(1), grant a “foreign national permanent resident status or an exemption from” the act, if you, the minister, are of the opinion “that it is justified by humanitarian and compassionate considerations relating to... [a] foreign national, taking into account the best interests of a child directly affected.”
Your officials have said that you are considering this case, but I would like to ask you today, will you take a compassionate and humanitarian decision on this case now and then consider the risk that this child is facing now in hiding in very difficult circumstances in the Dominican Republic?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair; and thank you to the minister and his officials.
My first question deals with the estimates component. In the overall spending from the minister, according to the government's website, the planned expenditure is $67.7 million. The actual spending is $48.3 million. That's a shortfall of close to $20 million.
On the FTE side, the planned FTE was 613, but the actual was 460, a shortfall of 153.
Now we go to the programs. On settlement targets, as shown on the website, it achieved one out of three of the desired results. Targets were not met on the percentage of clients who received language training services, yet funding cuts have taken place for NGOs in delivering of services in support of resettlement.
In my own riding, Mount Pleasant Family Centre Society's circles of care and connection program received a funding cut of close to $140,000. That funding shortfall would mean it cannot sustain the program. The number of outreach workers to the refugee community has been slashed significantly.
I'm very troubled by that. The NGOs had a discussion with officials prior to their funding allocation. In the webinar, officials told NGOs that the funding model from IRCC would be improved and resources would be redirected to support the small and local non-profits. This association that I mentioned is a very effective small, local organization, yet it received a significant funding cut.
Why is that, especially when your ministry actually underspent?
Minister, with all due respect, I appreciate those lines, but the reality on the ground is that people are experiencing funding cuts. Some of those organizations that you visited actually received funding cuts. There are programs that have been eliminated.
In spite of all this grand talk, the reality on the ground is different. This is what I'm telling you right now, with these specific case examples, and I have more to come.
Therefore, I want to raise this issue and I would ask you to go back and look at those numbers and talk with your officials to see how it is that those organizations received a funding cut when your department underperformed on the resettlement services, and particularly on the language training component. This is a real issue for many people on the ground. If we want people to be settled successfully, they need to be supported. The funding cut is not helping that.
Your ministry actually had resources. There were resources within your ministry and you underspent by $20 million. I'm going to park that with you, and we can have a further discussion about that.
I want to raise another issue with respect to this. Your ministry mandate letter specifically outlines, “continued work with the United States to modernize the Safe Third Country Agreement”.
I want to get clarity. When the government said “modernize”, a word that has been used previously, does that mean to say that the government is looking for ways to extend and expand the safe third country agreement?
According to the government's website on service standards, while the target is to process applications 80% of the time within the standard, the reality is that in the provincial nominee program the process performance is at 5% of standard. The performance of the Quebec-selected skilled workers program sees 2% of applications done within the standard. In the skilled trades program—the express entry, of which the minister is very proud—the performance standard is 38% of applications within standard.
While setting standards is great, you're not meeting them for these critical areas.
I want to highlight this again, tying it to the fact that the ministry underspent and cut staff FTEs significantly, by close to 200. That is the kind of performance we're seeing. Is it a wonder that we have such long wait times in processing? I want to highlight this as an issue.
Another issue is that at the last committee meeting, the official said that when a form is missing in an application, or a signature or something is missing, they would contact the applicant to have it fixed, instead of sending the whole application back.
I have two active cases in which the application was sent back and as a result, the people's work permits expired. This creates great problems for them.
Social media is lit up, because somebody had put out something asking the community what their experience has been. Social media is lit up with people with lots of problems with respect to officials not processing these applications as such.
I want to flag these issues to your attention, Minister, and I hope they get fixed.
I'd like to ask a question about refugee sponsorship. In the Group of Five community sponsorships, the refugees who need sponsorship are required to provide a refugee determination certificate. This requirement was waived between 2015 and 2017 for the government to get their Syrian refugee initiative numbers up. This requirement is also not required for any other privately sponsored refugee stream.
Why, then, do we have this for the Group of Five sponsorships?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Just to follow up on that question, I'll tell you that one case I have before me is that of a missing signature, and the entire application was sent back. In another case, one wrong certificate was sent in, and the entire application was sent back. As a result of that, both of those individuals had their work permits expire and they are now in quite a conundrum with respect to this. Had the application been sent back, they would have been able to quickly fix it and get the correct certificate sent into IRCC. No one contacted them.
This was studied by this committee in the last Parliament, and it was indicated that this would be fixed. Here we are, in the second Parliament after the study, and the same thing is happening again.
I can't emphasize enough how frustrating this is, not for me as a parliamentarian per se, but for the applicants and in the workload that is created for the IRCC themselves to have to reinitiate and reprocess another application. I'm spending way too much of my six minutes on this.
I want to ask this question. On the funding shortfall that has existed in the ministry, and given that the ministry has underspent by close to $20 million, could you provide to the committee where the programs are that were underspent and by how much in this last fiscal year?
For example, if you get into resettlement services, on the grant applications and for each of the areas, what's the differential in terms of actual spending versus allocated dollars? If I could just get an acknowledgement—I suspect you don't have those numbers here today—that this would be passed on to the chair for the committee, I would appreciate it.
Thank you for your question.
Francophone immigration outside Quebec is very important to the department, as you mentioned. I would like to make three points regarding our strategy to increase the number of francophone immigrants in Canada.
First, there's recruiting.
Destination Canada is our marquee event that we use in Europe and the Maghreb. I want to continue to invest in Destination Canada.
The second is continuing to invest in appropriate francophone settlement services for people once they arrive, recognizing how important that is.
The third, I'd underline, is being able to use tools well, like express entry, to make sure we are able to take good quality francophone applicants outside of Quebec and to make sure they've got a good pathway into Canada.
Maybe a fourth—I know I said three—would be to continue to work with provinces, particularly the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have really augmented their efforts to attract francophone immigrants to their province and to work closely with them.
Deputy, before I pose my questions, I'll give full disclosure. My wife and I are private sponsors of three Syrian refugees. My questions are informed by fairly close experience with a number of sponsorship agreement holders.
One of the minister's first public appearances was a speech in Europe in which, among other things, he praised the private sponsorship programs for resettling refugees in situations across the country—as we have over the decades going back to the Vietnamese boat people—and fulfilling the reality that in 2018, Canada surpassed the United States in terms of becoming a world leader in refugee settlement.
I know that you are aware that a number of sponsorship agreement holders, SAHs were greatly disturbed and concerned a year ago when you changed the obligations of sponsors, which at least one of the SAHs characterizes as going from humanitarian support and resettlement of refugees to a spreadsheet obligation. I know that this spreadsheet obligation was explained to the SAHs in terms of trying to establish equivalency in the way your department processes government-sponsored refugees and allocates the costs assigned to them. I just want you to know, and I hope that you've informed the minister, that this new program has imposed spreadsheet obligations when many very compassionate private-sponsor groups simply don't have the capacity to abide by your new rules. I know that the department on its website talks about sponsorship agreement holders as religious, ethnic community or humanitarian organizations. Many are considering dropping future private sponsorships because they simply cannot cope.
I wonder if you can respond to that continuing concern and criticism, and whether the minister has been advised to reconsider and get back to some of the in-kind support that very often makes a difference. Going back to the Vietnamese boat people example, people were taken into homes and provided not necessarily with the cash—they were committed to giving an equivalent, but they also were not required to actually meet those cash obligations or the accounting procedures to confirm that support.