Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote to send Bill C-35 to committee for further study. Our party has decided to give the bill a chance, to see if we can improve it in committee. Those watching us at home are trying to understand how the House of Commons and its committees work. We now have the opportunity to explain that the bills introduced here can always be improved in committee. After we hear from witnesses and examine the evidence they have given, we can propose amendments to the bill, which are voted on by the committee members and then reported back to the House of Commons.
We have noted that too many immigration consultants have been acting fraudulently and getting away with it. After all these years, the federal government still has not managed to effectively regulate this area. The failure of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is irrefutable proof of that.
We believe that the committee should examine the issue to determine whether a new regulatory body is needed, one that is better monitored and can crack down harder on corrupt consultants who provide services related to federal immigration programs.
Since the regulating of professions falls under Quebec and provincial jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois is worried that a federal act to create and establish an organization to regulate immigration consultants will interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. This is important. Every day, Bloc Québécois members, who have been elected by the people of Quebec, proudly stand up in this House to defend the interests and values of Quebeckers. An example of those values is respect for our jurisdictions. How professions are regulated is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois will make sure that the government understands this in committee.
The Quebec government demonstrated its jurisdictional authority by passing a regulation concerning immigration consultants. This regulation will come into effect on November 4, 2010. Quebec is often at the forefront of numerous initiatives that are then borrowed by other Canadian provinces. We have always said that when Quebec is its own country—and we hope that will happen sooner rather than later—it will have good neighbours and good relationships with those neighbours. It will continue to create exemplary legislation, as it is doing now, that can be emulated by Canada.
We hope that the Government of Canada will learn from the Government of Quebec. To do this, the federal government must recognize Quebec's jurisdiction as well as that of the provinces so that it is clear that crooked immigration consultants will be replaced by a professional body. This body will then be regulated by Quebec since this falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
On June 9, 2008, the Bloc Québécois convinced the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to pass a recommendation that Quebec immigration consultants be officially recognized under Quebec laws instead of being forced to join the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
The Bloc Québécois is always true to itself. Our excellent critic, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, did a wonderful job making the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration understand that it is important that the Canadian government officially recognize Quebec's immigration consultants, who will be governed by a regulation as of November 4, 2010.
Even though Bill C-35 would better regulate consultants who deal with immigration matters that come under federal jurisdiction, the Bloc Québécois has serious concerns about the power the minister is giving himself to be able to designate a regulatory body in federal legislation. Overlapping jurisdictions never works well, needless to say.
This was particularly evident in recent months, even for over a year. The federal government decided to interfere in the securities market by establishing a national securities commission. And yet Quebec has its own securities commission as do the other provinces. The Canadian system was recognized for having weathered the recent economic crisis—a financial crisis that hit stock exchanges around the world— better than others.
Naturally, it is still rather difficult to understand that, once again, the federal government wants to replace something that works with a centralized, national body even though the effectiveness of the Canadian system has been acknowledged internationally. The passport system allowed every province, Quebec as well as the other provinces, to have their own securities commissions. This provided security during the stock exchange crisis.
Even though the Minister of Finance is practically hoarse from ranting that it is a voluntary system, he knows very well that corporations will be encouraged directly to join the Canada-wide system.
The federal government is always trying to chip away at the powers of Quebec and the provinces. That is fine if it does not bother the provinces; however, we notice that Alberta also has a great deal of difficulty with this. It seems to want to stand its ground, which seldom happens. It usually bows down to the federal government. However, in this case, Alberta seems to want to oppose the national securities commission.
Once again the Bloc Québécois will be vigilant. Above all it does not want Bill C-35, the so-called Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, to infringe on provincial jurisdictions. In fact, as I was saying earlier, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is a dismal failure. Clearly, Quebec and the provinces should be allowed to provide good, effective oversight of immigration consultants.
What is more, our party is of the opinion that there should be closer consideration of the committee aspect. Our concern is that Bill C-35 would require information to be communicated between members of the Barreau du Québec or the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the federal government. We have to take a closer look at this aspect of the bill in order to ensure that it does not conflict with Quebec's laws and to maintain the integrity of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
As a notary by training, I can provide a little lesson in law. As hon. members know, in Quebec notaries are jurists who specialize in the contractual aspect of business and individual relationships. That is the objective. The Civil Code of Quebec is based on the Napoleonic code. That is a particularity of Quebec. I am always surprised to see colleagues who are notaries with a federalist bent, when the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the notary profession are a true reflection of this diversity, this difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. We are the only province to have a chamber of notaries and notarial training. This training is obviously French-based. Notaries are highly respected professionals in France. Again, because the Civil Code of Quebec stems from the Napoleonic code, the notary profession is a direct link to these ancestral laws that Quebec held onto, which is not what happened in the rest of Canada. The rest of Canada has the common law, while Quebec has the civil code.
If it is decided that the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec are to report to the federal government, we must ensure that Quebec's rights and jurisdictions are respected. That is the objective. As for the Chambre des notaires du Québec, we all agree that the federal government has no knowledge of or jurisdiction in the matter.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the federal government encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction in any way. It will ensure that Bill C-35 does not give the minister any power he is not entitled to.
We are talking about immigration consultants. One interesting way of reducing the number of crooked consultants would be to transfer part of these powers to Quebec lawyers or notaries or to lawyers in the rest of Canada who are regulated by professional codes.
If we consider what is happening the field of law, there are a few lawyers and notaries who have been caught. However, since there is a process to follow and an established structure, they were disbarred and can no longer practice. That is not the case with the federal structure, which is why the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which was somewhat regulated, was a failure. It was not a recognized profession.
There needs to be a new way of training consultants. They should report to the Chambre des notaires du Québec, the Barreau du Québec or other provincial bars. It would be an interesting path to take.
These professions are governed by Quebec's professional code. Members of the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the Barreau du Québec are governed by Quebec's professional code. We have to make sure that any new power granted to a professional association respects Quebec's jurisdiction and that of the provinces.
I would like to go over some background to Bill C-35. On June 8, 2010, the government introduced Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I will give an overview of the bill now.
The minister will be able to designate a governing body to regulate and oversee consultants' activities; this organization will replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
Only consultants approved by this body or members of a provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires du Québec will be allowed to charge fees for immigration advice, with some exceptions: students-at-law acting under the supervision of a member and entities and persons acting on their own behalf in accordance with an agreement with the government, such as visa application centres and other service providers.
All individuals who “knowingly represent or advise a person for consideration—or offer to do so—in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act” are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison, a $50,000 fine or both. This offence already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Consultants have to be recognized by an organization. If they knowingly advise people, they will be committing a criminal offence.
The law provides for information exchange between different levels of government. The designated organization will have to supply information set out in regulations to allow the minister to determine whether the organization governs its members in the public interest.
Regulations will govern information sharing by enabling the department to disclose professional or ethical information about members of provincial bar associations to the designated organization or to the person responsible for investigating a consultant's conduct.
We must ensure that discussions between the federal government and the members of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces at all times.
On August 30, 2010, the government published a call for submissions from applicants interested in becoming the regulatory body for immigration consultants.
I should point out that in this bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the provisions apply to persons who are the subject of proceedings or applications pertaining to immigration and refugee matters, not citizenship matters. The Citizenship Act does not provide for the same regulatory powers as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. However, Bill C-37, introduced last spring, would provide regulations, in particular, by increasing penalties for consultants who fraudulently help individuals obtain citizenship.
Bill C-35 and Bill C-37 amend different acts.
In short, Bill-35 expands the range of activities governed by the act. In current federal regulations, the government can only take action when the application is submitted or at the beginning of a proceeding. Under Bill-35, the authorized representative commits an offence if he represents or advises a person for consideration in connection with a proceeding or application under that act, or offers to do so. This addition would make it possible to regulate—and punish, if an offence occurs—all forms of representation and advice at any stage, including that provided by unauthorized consultants, who might be involved before an immigration application is submitted.
All those who solicit work, that is crooked consultants, ask for payment in return for helping people with immigration proceedings.
We have seen some abuses—and the media have certainly jumped on them. Some people have been swindled out of a lot of money, sometimes the only savings they had, when seeking permission to immigrate to Quebec and Canada. I believe we must intervene.
The Bloc Quebecois wants to point out that Quebec also has powers in the area of immigration. All we want is for Quebec and provincial jurisdictions to be respected. Earlier I gave the example of securities commissions. The government wants to centralize exclusively provincial powers into a Canada-wide federal organization. That is what is going on with securities. Yet that system is what got us through the crisis. The Prime Minister keeps telling us over and over again that Canada has come out of the crisis exceptionally well, better than any other country in the world, as we heard again today in question period. It is not necessarily thanks to the Conservatives. It was a financial crisis, primarily a stock market crisis. It was thanks to our financial system and the fact that our banks were not allowed to merge.
I was one of those who opposed the Canadian bank mergers, so that they could not turn around and acquire American banks and contaminate all of the investments made by our citizens. That is one of the reasons we were able to get through this crisis relatively well. Furthermore, the stock market system allowed each province to have its own securities commission. When we have 10 such bodies, we can monitor things better than if we have only one. However, it is difficult, because the federal government is always trying to take powers away from the provinces. We will ensure that Bill C-35 does not have this unfortunate tendency to take power from Quebec and the provinces, in this case concerning immigration, and in particular, power over crooked consultants. Quebec is ready to take charge in this important area, since we already have legislation that is about to come into force on November 4, 2010. If all other Canadian provinces were to do the same, all of our immigrants would be better protected.
Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today to Bill C-35, a bill which I prefer to call an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a more formal name than that which it has been given by the minister. Even though I think part of the bill is meant to be a cracking down on crooked consultants, the bill actually has more than that purpose.
I want to discuss for a few moments today some of the important concerns that I have regarding the bill.
I understand that our caucus will be supporting the bill at second reading so we will have a chance to amend it and improve it at committee. I hope we can take seriously the considerations of all members, including those members from Quebec who have some jurisdictional concerns. Other concerns have been raised regarding the resources that are required to make these particular amendments effective.
It would seem to me that the bill needs to deal with two particular problems. One is the consumer protection portion of the bill with all of the concerns that everyone in the House knows about, which are immigrants, potential immigrants and people seeking help with the department being abused by scoundrels in the business who are much less than honourable.
The danger there is not only the effect that has on potential immigrants or those with immigration questions, but also on bona fide, excellent consultants who are doing their work honourably and effectively and are being tarnished with the same brush. Therefore, there is that concern around the consumer protection issue of this.
There are also concerns around the governance issues that we have seen over the last number of years since the institution of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. I do not think I am the only member who has been approached by individual consultants as well as members of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants in a formal way to express concerns about the procedures, transparency and governance issues by the society itself.
I am hoping that we can address that. The concern I have is the reluctance of the government to actually put in a statutory, regulatory body that has teeth, resources and effectiveness in doing this regulatory work.
I come at that from my experience as a member of a regulatory body at the provincial level and that was as a member of the Board of Funeral Services in the Ontario jurisdiction. That body was responsible for the licensing of funeral establishments as well as the licensing of professionals. It was one of the many professional boards that was a regulatory body for an independent profession.
I am hoping the government can look at ways that we can apply some of what has been learned from some of the provincial bodies to this federal body.
I have searched for other examples of professional bodies at the federal level that are regulated federally and I could not find any. Perhaps I will get some help on that because I have just started that search to see if there are any precedents. Failing that, however, I looked at the provincial precedent and it seems to me that a provincial regulatory body has several things that it needs to do. It licenses and certifies professionals and ensures their training is adequate. It maintains that training regime by having continuing education requirements and opportunities. It licenses the establishments or the businesses that may employ those licensed professionals. It provides public education for consumers to know their rights to ensure that they are actually involved in the process. It also has a rigorous complaints process as well as a disciplinary process that is effective and has some teeth to it so that consumers know they can make a complaint and have it actually acted upon by that professional body.
Those are statutory bodies. They are not merely dreamt up by the minister and accountable to the minister. They are arm's length, functional, regulatory bodies that are meant to ensure that we have consumer protection and we have professionals who are acting in the best interest of all Canadians and potential new Canadians.
My concern is that this bill will not be as arm's length because it is a creation of the minister as opposed to a statute. I think that has some concern for us in the ongoing way that this will unfold.
When we look at the issue, it seems to me that we have been hearing these concerns for a number of years. I will take as much blame as I need to from this side of the House for not having effectively established a body that was meant to regulate this profession. However, we have learned. The current board has improved somewhat but I am still concerned that it does not have an arm's length relationship with the training board, the Canadian Migration Institute, and that has implications with respect to the same people who are on the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which is the regulatory body.
This is a small profession with somewhere between 1,800 to 6,000 professional consultants working on immigration procedures. While that may sound like a lot, it is not a large body to actually ensure that the training opportunities are there and that they are kept current. The department will need to provide some more resources to ensure that our consultants are part of the public good. That is missing in this legislation. The very training and licensing functions need to be absolutely clarified in the legislation to have an expectation, as well as the membership of this body.
I am also concerned about the way the government is proposing we establish this board. Normally a board would be established by statute with a certain number of members who are part of the profession and then some members from the public. I was a public member of the funeral board in Ontario. The majority were actually licensed members of the profession with a smaller number being interested, hopefully competent members of the public, to ensure that the public interest was broadly defined. That is also missing in this legislation.
It seems to me that the government is kind of privatizing this by issuing out a request for people to bid on becoming the regulatory body. This is unprecedented for me. I do not understand why the government would put out a request for proposals, privatizing a regulatory function, and opening it up to the most successful bidder, including one that people already have concerns about, which is the existing body. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could answer this for me because I have concerns about understanding how that is done. It would seem to me that this should be a statutory body with a clear mandate from the Parliament of Canada, arm's length from the government, with a relationship with the department for transparency. Members of that board should be appointed by order in council. That would be my desire for this as part of a regulatory body.
The hon. members of the Bloc Québécois have offered some concerns about jurisdictional issues. That would also be a concern to me because other provinces are beginning to have more involvement in the immigration selection process and therefore we will need to be concerned about how the provinces are regulating the profession as well.
Underneath some of this concern is not only unscrupulous consultants. They are a concern and we know about them. It is not only governance on the current board and transparency and accountability to the members of the association for the betterment of consumer protection, but also a basic understanding that some of these consultants are finding work because the department is failing in its job.
Those of us who have large multicultural ridings know that half our work in our constituency offices is related to immigration procedures. Actually, we have underpaid immigration consultants working in our offices, and that is a great concern for me.
The great concern for me is that the system is broken, it is not working. We have queues of up to seven years. People are applying for citizenship and they are not getting hearings in our high commissions and our embassies around the world because our embassies and high commissions are understaffed. The department is understaffed with officials to review cases. We have backlogs with respect to security issues, which we want to have done effectively. We want immigrants coming to Canada to have been cleared for security reasons. We obviously want them to be effective in the workforce and to be part of the Canadian mosaic. That is the goal of our immigration system.
However, as long as we have procedures that are not effective, inefficient and keep people waiting a long time, we are creating a market for immigration consultants that perhaps should not be there. If there is that market, then we want it to be a regulated profession with an arm's length, effective body with the resources in it to ensure that the Canadian consumer, the potential Canadian immigrant, is well served, is effective and will be part of a Canadian society for which we can be proud.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate on Bill C-35 on behalf of my constituents in the riding of Winnipeg Centre. As a representative from that inner-city core area riding, I can say that the issue of immigration is top of mind and foremost on the minds of many of my constituents, as many are new Canadians or recent immigrants to this country and many still need settlement services and other immigration services whether they are sponsoring family members or seeking a visitor's visa for a family member to come to this country for a wedding, et cetera.
I want to begin on a comment by my colleague from Don Valley West who quite accurately pointed out, and I will paraphrase him, that the rise in the immigration consultant industry is directly proportionate to the deterioration of our immigration system and the services that people used to be able to get free of charge from their government. They are now increasingly frustrated with backlogs, bureaucracy and incomprehensible delays to the point where they more often than not, and more and more frequently, wind up at their MP's office seeking some kind of relief from what seems to be an incomprehensible immigration system. So I agree with my Liberal colleague that the reason we are wrestling with this matter today and the reason we have had such a burgeoning new industry of unscrupulous immigration consultants is because desperate people are taking desperate measures trying to get access to basic services that used to be quite accessible in this country.
We should begin our study of the bill with the knowledge that there has been a catastrophic failure in the immigration system, backlogs of years and years at a time. For a country that was built on immigration and seeks and relies on immigration for any growth whatsoever, we should take note that we were at zero population growth years ago. Without immigration we would be shrinking. I sat on the immigration committee when we did a study that projected where Canada would be without immigration. Within 50 years without immigration, if we just continued at our zero population growth, we would be 18 million people. In that same period of time, the city of Minneapolis would be 18 million people because its country is growing. So the whole population of Canada would be equal to the city of Minneapolis in the year 2050 without immigration. I share that only to illustrate the point of how vitally important it is.
In the province of Manitoba we have taken great measures to attract more immigration. I am happy to report that we are now up to 12,000 to 14,000 new immigrants per year in a province of 1,000,000 people. Almost all of them come to my riding first because my riding is the inner-city core area of Winnipeg where there is affordable housing, not great housing, frankly. There is a great problem with insufficient housing for these new arrivals, but it is where they start out. So an awful lot of them come to my office with their immigration problems.
I have declared publicly that my office is an immigration consultant-free zone. They are not allowed over the threshold of my office. I will not have them. I will not breathe the same air as them. I will not let my constituents be robbed by them. They will not get in my office. That is how fed up we are with them. I have stories, Mr. Speaker, that would curl your hair about some of the rip-offs associated with this.
I have had examples where an applicant seeking a simple visa was charged $3,000 on the promise that he would get a letter from the member of Parliament to assist his visa. This is what we learned after the fact. The guy was selling access to my office, and this is why I declared an absolute moratorium, a no-go zone. They are not welcome and not allowed in. But people are desperate. They are frustrated and vulnerable. There are all kinds of barriers, first of all, in terms of language or unfamiliarity with the culture, or inaccessibility to the bureaucracy.
In some places the exploitation takes place by members of their own communities who have those language skills and the misinformation begins there. However, the need for control and regulation is so blatantly paramount and obvious that I welcome Bill C-35 and its attempt to deal with crooked immigration consultants. I do not think that is the formal name of the bill, but the way we have it in our speaking notes is Bill C-35, an act to deal with crooked immigration consultants. I do not think that is overstating things at all. When the Minister of Immigration introduced the bill, he used words like loathsome, bottom feeders, reprehensible. I share those views and then some.
I travelled with a former minister of immigration to Hong Kong and Beijing and to some of the foreign missions, the Canadian foreign embassies that deal with great volumes of immigration. Part of the problem with the illegal or crooked immigration consultants is abroad where hopefuls line up at those foreign missions.
I talked about the problem with access, the waiting lists and the backlog. There are people who sleep night after night in front of our immigration offices at foreign missions just to get in the door to get the paperwork necessary to apply for some access to our country. The need and the demand far outstrips our legitimate ability to cope with it.
I am not saying that coming to Canada is a right, that everyone should have instant access to come here. I am saying our intake process is so flawed and in some way, sometimes, and I am not saying this to cast aspersions on the staff of our foreign missions, the intake process at that end is corrupted and is vulnerable to foreign consultants operating in those countries. We know it for a fact. We have seen the billboards in the Philippines, “We can get you into Canada”. Even the Government of Canada trademark logo is abused. It is advertised in this way, “For a nominal fee, we can get you into Canada”, and the Government of Canada's logo is at the bottom of the billboard. It is not put there by the Government of Canada. The phone number is some immigration consultant who will probably sell a person a pile of documents that other people can access free of charge, online or by coming down to the Canadian Embassy or High Commission.
That is the extent of the problem. It cannot be underestimated, but it does compromise and, I think in a way, calls into question the legitimacy of our immigration system if a significant proportion of applicants get access to the documents or get access to visitors visas or whatever, using what I believe is a corrupt process, and that is the fraudulent measures which many of these immigration consultants employ.
I note there is a bunch of recommendations from the immigration committee when it studied this issue. I have to point out that there are great gaps in between what was recommended by the all parliamentary committee and the measures the government has chosen to put into Bill C-35. I am sure some of those shortcomings will be addressed when the bill gets to committee. I am sure the opposition parties at least will make note that recommendation 4, for instance, of the report is not found in Bill C-35. I am not pointing this out as criticism, even. I look forward to perhaps amending the bill so it does satisfy some of the legitimate concerns that were raised by all parties at the committee process.
MPs offices have become de facto immigration offices. Every speaker that has stood has talked about the full time staffers that they have in their offices who do nothing but deal with immigration problems. We have immigration clinics on Mondays and Wednesdays when the office is just full of people.
The waves of immigration coming to my part of Canada now are coming from parts of the world where language is a problem and cultural barriers are a huge problem. Most of the new arrivals now are coming from Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, war-torn countries that are not stable. They are not used to dealing with a normal bureaucracy and they do not have, frankly, the skills, the training or the tools.
Part of what needs to be addressed, in the context of trying to stamp out crooked immigration consultants, is to deal with the root cause of the problem, which is people without the requisite skills getting access to the bureaucracy and a bureaucracy that is unnecessarily complex and in some sense virtually broken.
A lot more could be spent on settlement services and helping new arrivals cope with the bureaucracy through guidance, through language training and through better access to advocates. I know the Refugee Council of Canada is swamped with work. It simply cannot give adequate representation of advocacy for all the people who come in.
On that subject, let me point out that we are very concerned about the way the new arrivals on the boat full of Tamil refugees are being treated. The government seems to be sniffing around and contemplating the idea that people who arrive as a group should be treated differently somehow from people who arrive as individuals. I put it to my colleagues from the Conservative Party, it is a slippery slope to apply the rights of the refugee and immigration act differently to people just because they arrived en masse. Each should be treated as if they set foot on Canadian shores as individuals. That is not exactly in keeping will Bill C-35, but it is along the same lines.
The shortcomings of the immigration system are also clearly illustrated in western Canada. We consider Winnipeg to be part of western Canada, notwithstanding the CFL has us lumped in the eastern conference. We are bitter about this, but I will not dwell on it here today.
However, labour brokers are second only to the immigration consultants, and some of them do both. These labour brokers, who are undermining the entire construction industry of western Canada, are often labour consultants, as well, who charge a fee and then get temporary foreign workers.
This is where the current government of the day is at fault. These temporary foreign worker permits are given away like free baubles with a purchase of gas to where crooked labour brokers, who are immigration consultants at the same time. They go to genuine contractors and tell them that they do not have to pay $30 an hour for a labourer because they have 30 guys on temporary foreign worker permits. They tell them to lay off all their Canadian workers and they will put temporary foreign workers on the job, which will save them a fortune because the workers will not give them any trouble. If they do, they will be kicked out of the country.
This is epidemic across western Canada and it is undermining the entire construction industry. We have non-union contractors complaining en masse. I meet with those contractors and they complain to me that they are being destabilized.
I would welcome the opportunity to share the facts I have with the parliamentary secretary because he would be shocked at what is happening all across western Canada with these labour brokers.
We just built the Winnipeg international airport. Where did the tradesmen came from? Lebanon. The last job they had was in Latvia. The whole kit and caboodle of them were packed up by the same labour broker who got temporary foreign worker permits to bring them to Winnipeg to build the new Winnipeg international airport, while 100 unemployed carpenters were shaking the fence, trying to get in because they were unemployed. People would not believe what is going on out there. The parliamentary secretary could use a tour through some of those problem areas, too.
We have to crack down on a lot of these aspects of a broken immigration system. It may have been a good idea to fill legitimate job shortages with temporary foreign workers three and four years ago, when there was a surplus of work. We are in the middle of a recession and we are still bringing in 50,000 temporary foreign workers who take legitimate jobs away from Canadians, and these are not immigrants. These are foreign nationals who leave the country with those pay cheques. How does that benefit anybody? It is madness and it goes hand in glove with the immigration consultants who are milking the system by charging vulnerable people exorbitant amounts of money for services that should be readily available to them through a well functioning bureaucracy.
Not all people helping immigrants are charlatans. We should start from that basic premise as well. There are legitimate consultants and immigration lawyers who are serving a valuable function within the system, but they too will tell us that the system is not what it used to be.
We have never achieved our immigration goals of 1% of the population per year. The closest we ever came was in the Brian Mulroney years, when we let in 220,000 or 230,000. We are close to that level today. There is a myth that in the grand old days of the Liberal government, more people were let in. In actual fact, in many of the Trudeau years, 90,000 or 100,000 a year was the norm. I do not know where this myth came from, that it was the Liberals who threw open the doors to Canada. In the Mulroney years, more were let in, and we have only just come to that level once or twice in recent years. We are still nowhere near the 1% per year that has been set as a realistic target of we can absorb and what we need. That would be about 300,000 per year.
We are the lucky ones when people choose to come to our country. There is competition around the world for immigrants and for economic migrants, et cetera. We are out there actively trying to attract people to come to Canada. That is the stated policy, but our actions seem to contradict our own stated policy because we throw up hurdles and barriers to the point where people are frustrated and stymied. People who are qualified and would make legitimate immigrants look at their options around the world. They look at what it takes to move to Canada, to Australia and to the United States. Not all of them choose Canada because it is difficult to move here.
I recently helped a nurse specialist move here from Australia. She was trained in New Zealand. We need these advanced practice nurses in our country. It took 18 months, and that was after the job offer. We really do have problems to the point where it is no wonder people will look to anyone who can provide them with assistance to try to get through the quagmire of the bureaucracy of our immigration system.
I remember when we were at the Canadian embassy in China. We were in Fuzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. They showed us some of the clever forgeries on immigration documents. They can reproduce almost anything and these forged documents are often what are selling for a premium price in terms of getting access to Canada.
I do not think we catch them all. There is more work we could do to enforce the system. I am not suggesting making it more difficult, because it is difficult enough as it is. However, there are checks and balances that we are leaving unchecked and unbalanced in terms of legitimate, honest people trying to get in and also the fraudulent examples that are being coached and guided by these expensive immigration consultants operating at home and abroad.
While we are busy working to fix the system, the one thing we could do is provide more assistance in our immigration offices in our country and take some of the burden and pressure off MPs offices. It is not really our jobs as members of Parliament to run an immigration office, yet that is what many of us end up doing about two-thirds of our time. Granted, we help a lot of nice people weave their way through the quagmire.
The way the Liberals balanced the budget in the 1990s and the early 2000s was by cutting and hacking and slashing the civil service by 30%. First one trims the fat, but when the fat is already trimmed, some cuts do not heal. Some of these cuts have not healed. The government cannot cut the civil service by 30%, increase its volume of work by 30%, and then not have something fall apart and break.
What happened here was that the government left a gaping hole in service in that immigration department. That void, that vacuum, is being filled by an unscrupulous mini-industry of immigration consultants.
Mr. John Cannis (Scarborough Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to add by voice on Bill C-35, the cracking down on crooked consultants act.
The only thing I would add is the word “immigration” consultants. I think that clarifies it.
It has been stated by my party that we will be supporting the bill at second reading to send it to committee. That is where we are going to be able to do a lot of fine tuning. From what I have read in some of the notes, this bill needs a lot of fine tuning. I will cover some of the areas where I think we need to address some of these concerns.
Immigration, as mentioned by many other members, is really the foundation of our country. I remember speaking at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate in my riding many years ago. We talked about immigration. As I said to the audience, young men and women, when we look at every one of our family trees, at some point in time one of our ancestors, whether it be our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents, arrived on these friendly shores from somewhere, aside from our first nations people.
It has been a great mix. It has been the formula for making this country one of the best countries in the world to live. If anything, some years ago, for seven consecutive years, Canada was recognized as the number one country in the world. I believe that we are number two now.
Nevertheless, there have been problems. Policies, such as our immigration policy, are evolving. The member from Winnipeg Centre talked earlier about today's immigration problems. The immigration of today is different from the immigration of 20,30,50, and 60 years ago. Fifty years ago we did not have a temporary workers program, for example. We did not have such an extensive refugee program. We did not have a board, per se.
If we look at the trends of yesterday, we would look at vast numbers of family reunification, such as war brides, for example. Things have changed.
I am glad that this is coming forward. Many years ago, as I mentioned earlier, when I was elected, in 1993, I had a private member's initiative that addressed some of these issues that came from an industry that I was in, which was the executive search consulting business. I related the rules and regulations that governed that industry to the immigration consultant industry.
Let me provide some examples. In order to operate our business, we had to be licensed by the provincial government, and we had to be bonded. There were guidelines, and there were specific rules and regulations that we had to abide by. If we violated those regulations, that licence came right off the wall, preventing us from earning a living and preventing us from running our companies.
What I think needs to be done here is a clear definition, clear guidelines, and clear rules but also clear, stiff penalties. In addition to that, we need to have a mechanism to enforce those penalties. Otherwise, it all goes for naught.
I am concerned, though. This piece of legislation talks about the creation of a body that will be reporting to the minister. I do not agree with that. I think that is wrong.
The minister has nothing to say about running this body. It should be a totally independent, arm's-length body, with rules and guidelines as set out by legislation. It is not for the minister to interfere in any way, shape, or form. That is not how it works.
In the case of these immigration consultants, let me also point out that it is not just a federal piece of legislation that is going to help us resolve some of these issues. We have to work with the provinces. It affects them too. It is a two-way street.
On that issue, let me just go off track for a moment and point out that in our province of Ontario, we have a minister of citizenship and immigration. We can understand a minister of immigration, because provinces, too, have their own immigration procedures and policies.
The Liberal government allowed provinces to provide immigration facilities according to their needs. They were able to identify their specific needs and recruit as required. But what is puzzling is the fact that provinces do not give citizenship. It is my understanding that the federal government provides citizenship. I would ask the provinces to maybe look at that.
The intent of the legislation is positive, and if properly amended may still produce some good public policy. That is why we are supporting it. We see a lot of good work and a lot of goodwill around the committee table.
I remember former immigration minister Elinor Caplan; I can mention her by name because she is no longer a member. She was a good immigration minister. The member for Winnipeg Centre talked about the abuse that goes on abroad. He is right. Minister Caplan spent her time visiting our embassies and our high commissions in different parts of the world because we in Canada had observed that abuse was going on. Did we address it? We did. Did we improve the situation? We did. Did the problem go back offline again? Unfortunately it did.
Former minister Lucienne Robillard was also a good minister of immigration.
Some of these areas that we are talking about today, like enforcement and regulations and the body that was formed, all came from committee work, all came from consultation.
I remember having the minister in my office in Scarborough Centre many years ago. The local communities expressed a lot of concerns. As a result, the independent consultant body was created. It remains in existence today.
The member for York West did a great job in her time as a minister of immigration. But the numbers were growing each year, the 1% that the member for Winnipeg Centre talked about. It is great to achieve. The member was also right that there is a lot of competition going on out there today in a lot of these countries.
I remember being at the European Parliament many years ago when it was talking about its difficulty in attracting skilled labour. We had a problem here in Canada just a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, Canada, maybe not as much as other countries, had experienced some difficult times. We could not get enough people, so we had to bring them in from Mexico, the Philippines, and other countries.
I have a policy in my office. I refrain from dealing with an immigration file that is in the hands of a lawyer or a consultant, because I too, along with many of my colleagues on the Liberal side, have heard of the abuse that goes on. We have heard about this over the past couple of days in debate. Let me give the House an example.
A person wants to bring in his wife and children and all of a sudden he is approached by some so-called immigration consultant, who comes to our offices and seeks information. Unfortunately, the applicant is ignorant, and I use that word in a good sense, meaning that he does not know that he can approach a member of Parliament and seek help.
We also heard earlier today about how our offices have become inundated with a lot of these files because these individuals reach out to us. We have an obligation as their representatives to address their concerns as best we can.
My colleague from Don Valley West told us about staff being tied up on these issues. All of a sudden they have to squeeze time here and there, maybe to address a pension issue, a disability issue, a passport issue, or whatever. If we are going to take on all of these responsibilities, and we have no objection to doing so, maybe we should be looking at the budgets of members of Parliament so that we can dedicate staff to address these concerns.
Our birth rate in Canada is not that high, and it is down in many other countries as well. If we are going to grow and sustain the social safety net that Canada is so recognized for, then we need immigration. We need input.
Let me get back for a moment to this board. That is my greatest concern in this piece of legislation.
When I read in the documents that this board would be reporting to the ministry and the minister, that caused a lot of concern for me, and I am sure many of my constituents and others felt the same way. The minister has every responsibility to try to bring forth legislation, send it to committee, have the members of the committee bring in witnesses, seek input and guidance, and work to fine-tune this legislation. Surely to God, the minister has no business having this board report to him. It should be totally independent and at arm's length. Should people have to compete to be selected to run this board? No.
Let me simplify it. Anybody who wants to work as an immigration consultant, which I do not think is the exclusive business of lawyers, should have the proper training, a proper course to go by. They should make themselves aware of the legislation, seek a proper licence from the ministry and the province, because it is a business. They would charge a fee for service according to specific guidelines, and then there would be a board to make sure that these guidelines are followed, to ensure that immigration consultants do not violate the rules that the ministry and the board set down.
The moment those rules are violated, these individuals should be penalized with stiff, enforceable sentences. The worst-case scenario is to yank their licences off the wall and shut them down, period. It would be a totally independent mechanism. That is how I suggest this system should operate.
When the member for Bourassa was the minister of immigration, he moved into that area and made a quantum leap forward. Almost every minister under a Liberal government, let me point out very proudly, moved this file forward in a positive manner. Never have I seen a perfect piece of legislation. We do the best we can today, and if something unfolds three or five years down the road, then we have to make adjustments. That is exactly what was happening under a Liberal administration.
When the cuts were made, I agreed with the member for Winnipeg Centre that trimming needed to be done, but I pointed out then, and I will point out again today, that the system was working better. Somehow it was working better.
What I found unacceptable, and I am sure my colleagues on the Liberal side would agree, is this: when a constituent said that he or she was having a family wedding, or that a family member had passed away, or that he or she had not seen a brother, a sister, or parents for a long time, and the constituent wanted to sponsor these people to come over for a holiday, the way these applications were being put in abroad and assessed was problematic.
Let me provide a scenario. Somebody from country A goes into one of our offices. The person is as nervous as can be, forgets maybe to add one word, and all of a sudden that person is denied. I believe the Immigration Act has to change to address the way our offices work abroad. Do the offices want to give members of Parliament a little more? Fine, they can set guidelines. Maybe they should take it totally away from us, but that is taking a service away that MPs get voted in to perform, namely, to serve their constituents.
I encourage the minister to look at how we can work with our offices abroad. I am sure the minister's intent in addressing this horrible situation is to address the abuse that has gone on throughout the years. I personally have heard horror stories and I will provide an example.
An Albanian mother and daughter some years ago approached me from St. Irene's, the church that my dad built, and my dad told me I had to help this family. They were not even in my riding, but they came to see me. The story I heard raised what little hair I had left.
This mother and daughter were working three jobs, day and night, cleaning, doing anything they could. They were using a lot of their earnings to pay a person who was like a paralegal, nothing wrong with the profession, but she portrayed herself as an immigration consultant. Meanwhile for four or five years it dragged on until, by God's will and some good fortune, they came to my office and we addressed their concern. It really was a simple issue. It was a matter of communication, getting paper documentation for them. Today, several years down the road, they are a happy family. They are working for themselves. They are contributing to our system and glad to say they are Canadian citizens. There are many other examples that I could talk about.
The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is a good idea. It is a body that could be empowered with more tools to oversee the enforcement of the legislation. That is as a result of input from a Liberal government. Was it the right thing? Maybe it was the right thing at the time. Maybe today, four or five years down the road, it needs to be changed. Circumstances have changed.
However, I do not believe a competition has to be put out, that a board has to be established that reports to the minister. Members and the audience will say I have said this twice, but I am saying it again because I see great danger in reporting to the minister. In essence, the minister would have absolute say, period. The minister could do anything he wanted. We know he can do anything he wants as a minister, but surely this is not transparent. The board should be able to work totally independently.
There was a comment made that lawyers should be looking after these immigration files, as they know better and there is technical data, and so on. With the greatest respect to the profession, I do not think that is the only way to go. An individual could approach a lawyer if he wished to, but if an immigration consultant is properly trained, then he or she should be able to do the work properly. If proper guidelines are set, then we as members of Parliament might feel much more comfortable in dealing with these people.
I know I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the Liberal side. We hesitate to deal with these so-called immigration consultants, primarily because of the horror stories that we have not only heard but also, in essence, experienced. It is not a matter of $100 or $500. It is thousands of dollars. It is shameful. It is unacceptable when these people come here wanting to start a new life and get taken for a ride. It is unacceptable when an individual in another country who wishes to immigrate to Canada walks into one of our offices and is not even given an interview. That is another area the minister has to look at. Sometimes a person cannot even get in the door of one of our offices or embassies and the application is turned down.
There are offices in our embassy in one specific country where the moment the applicant comes out the door the so-called consultant says the person will be given one-stop shopping, guaranteed. The person is promised a ticket and a visa for a fee. That is unacceptable. Those are some of the areas the minister also has to address.
In closing, on behalf of the Liberal Party and our critic, we will support sending the bill to committee. That is where a lot of good work will be done, where good input will be provided. We will bring in witnesses and seek their guidance, and at the end of the day we will come up with a piece of legislation that will help our country continue to grow and grow properly.
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton—North Delta, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today in the House to speak to Bill C-35 which is set to bring long overdue regulations to the industry of immigration consultants in Canada. This is very important legislation for my constituents of Newton—North Delta and one that inspires great personal interest for me, as well.
When we talk about the immigration process in Canada, the discussion represents a range of issues much larger than forms, applications and interviews. What we are ultimately talking about are the hopes and dreams of people looking to come to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families.
As an immigrant to Canada over 25 years ago, I can personally recall how emotional it was to step onto Canadian soil with desire, determination and the will to succeed. So, when I hear off cases where people filled with this spirit of optimism have been taken advantage of and bilked of thousands of dollars, it makes me very angry.
I will now talk about the current situation and how ghost immigration consultants, as they have been labelled, operate with impugnity.
These particular individuals are known as ghosts within the industry because all their activities take place before the submission of an immigration application, keeping them off the radar and unregulated. Their names never show up on the documentation and oftentimes, these consultants do not even bother to show up at the hearings even though they have already pocketed the fees they have charged in advance.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, in its current form, has no ability to crack down on the pre-application stage, and this is where immigration applicants become victims in the hands of those who provide bad advice and offer false promises. Sometimes these false promises include fast-track approvals and high-paying jobs. Sometimes applicants are not even eligible for a visa but are told differently by their consultants. These consultants sometimes advise applicants to lie about their past or to fill out their forms improperly so that they are charged with misrepresentation later on.
Ultimately, all of these ghost consultants, more often than not, lead to two outcomes: the rejection of the application and the loss of thousands of dollars of an applicant's hard-earned money. This is a phenomena that has been going on for decades in Canada and the most recent developments to correct the industry's problems have not been effective.
The establishment of an advisory committee by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration in 2002 led to a set of corrective options. However, the creation of a self-regulatory body to regulate immigration consultants in the fall of 2003, namely, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants or CSIC, has not provided an adequate solution to the problem that arises from the acts of these consultants I am talking about. In fact, some might argue that the conditions within the industry have continued to deteriorate over the past seven years. The problem with the CSIC is that it really has no teeth or enforcement capacity to take the proper measures to crack down.
It also became clear in the standing committee's hearings surrounding the proposed changes that CSIC clearly does not have the confidence of immigration consultants right across the country.
Furthermore, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has little ability to disclose information on those who provide unethical or unprofessional representation or advice.
Bill C-35 represents a series of very positive steps because of the sweeping changes they will bring to this unregulated industry. The bill is proposing that a new entity be established that has the ability to properly license its members; to regulate, conduct and look into the complaints; and to have the government intimately involved in its affairs to ensure that investigations occur and the necessary disciplinary actions are taken.
It is about time that providing professional immigration consultation without the proper authorization and certification is a criminal offence.
It can only be done by looking at the examples of other self-regulatory bodies as earlier speakers have pointed out, such as the associations for lawyers. I personally belong to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia. I am also a member of the Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors that regulates us and disciplines us if we do not perform according to the standards and guidelines it has set.
It is about time that we bring in an association that would regulate those consultants so the prospective immigrants to this country are not ripped off. It is about time that the industry had a governing body that all consultants could participate in, where being a member of that society would only let them practice in that way.
It is also time for the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to have an ability and oversight to step in and take the appropriate steps to ensure that this new governing body is improving the industry and the conduct of those calling themselves professionals.
While I support Bill C-35 at this stage, I also want to make a note about the current state of the immigration system in our country because the blame for these unscrupulous practices must also fall on the government.
I want to cite a column written in the Toronto Star by Allan Thompson on July 17 of this year. Thompson correctly pointed out that in introducing this legislation, the minister:
||--comes across a bit like a doctor, cracking down on the symptoms of an illness, rather than treating the illness itself.
He went on to state that:
||--because many of those people are ill-served by the system itself. Because they lack information or the ability to access a confusing and opaque system, many of these anxious applicants turn to unscrupulous consultants--
This is a topic that I have been speaking about for many years. The immigration system as a whole is not user-friendly.
I can give perfect examples in my office or any other MP who has an immigration population in their riding. Our staff are working around the clock to deal with the system. There are no clear guidelines from the minister to the overseas officers that are deployed there. The people who want to come to Canada are on a point-based system. There are 29 new categories that the minister brought in. If they do not fall in the 20,000 applications then they have to receive a market labour opinion that says they have to raise employment in Canada via these consultants who are charging thousands and thousands of dollars to get them that letter and that approval.
Also there is a backlog that has only grown larger since the government has come to power. Severe funding shortfalls prevent adequate numbers of staff both here domestically and internationally.
Immigration applicants are treated as little more than numbers that can be picked, chosen, and often discarded because of the abundance of applications. Information is difficult to navigate both in terms of ease of access, linguistic diversity, and response time for inquiries.
Even on the temporary resident visas that people are applying for every day, we hear from the officers overseas that they have to give proof of relationships in one day. The second month they will see the information about all the siblings that are living in this country. Every day the list is growing and there is nowhere to find on the government website all this information that would be helpful for those individuals when they are filling out the application that could also help when these people are being ripped off by these consultants.
For many other reasons the system is failing and pushing anxious applicants and their families into the hands of those who are looking to abuse their trust and exploit their vulnerability.
To conclude, I want to endorse Bill C-35 as a vital step forward in ensuring that the people are treated fairly when it comes to receiving help for their immigration applications, but I also want to stress that if we empower those tasked with administering our system with support, resources and guidance, then the system would naturally provide the best defence against the kinds of individuals that Bill C-35 is looking to protect us from.