Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, other than our colleagues, who are first nation members, you, I, and all of our colleagues in the House have something in common: we are the descendants of, and in fact some of us are, immigrants to Canada.
Yesterday in the House of Commons we heard speeches on Bill C-35 from two such members. The member for Newton—North Delta told his particular story of a young man arriving on Canada's shores as an immigrant from India and what an incredibly inspiring story that was. The immigrant from India, with virtually no money in his pocket, had a deep desire in his heart to build a new life in a new land. Who could have foretold that 25 years later he would be here, among us, in the House of Commons as one of the legislators of laws for this great land?
We also heard a speech yesterday from the member for Eglinton—Lawrence who also arrived as a new Canadian 55 years ago as part of a wave of Italian Canadians who arrived in Canada in the fifties, sixties and seventies. He mentioned that while he was speaking in the House, his grandson, a third generation Italian Canadian, was watching his immigrant grandfather address this august chamber, the House of Commons.
What incredible stories of Canada's potential, of Canada's promise. This has been the story of Canada right from the first days of Confederation. In Canada's first House of Commons there was a member elected by the name of Alexandre-Édouard Kierzkowski, a refugee from Russian imperialism, and a member of Canada's first House of Commons in 1867. That has been the story of Canada, wave after wave of people arriving on these shores.
The French, who settled and, along with the existing first nations, created something unique to Canada: a new first nation, the Métis. After the English, soon after Confederation there was a large wave of Bukovinians, Galicians, and Ukrainians who transformed the bush of the Northwest Territories into the golden wheat fields of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Chinese arrived to build our railroads, those ribbons of steel that bound our geographically vast land into a cohesive oneness.
More recently, as I have mentioned, the Italian Canadians and Portuguese Canadians arrived in the last half century and transformed our cities, cities such as my home town, Toronto. They transformed those cityscapes and created those jewels, the most liveable cities on the planet: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. What this speaks to is a system that is dynamic. Our multicultural mosaic is not static; it is a constantly evolving multicultural mosaic. That is Canada's promise and strength.
Unfortunately, over the last number of years our immigration system has been suffering from dysfunction. In fact, I would even say it has reached the point where the system pretty much does not work.
In the past there have been two types of newcomers to Canada. There have been the refugees, going as far back as the Loyalists, the underground railroad, and more recently, the Vietnam and Iraqi war resisters. Even my grandparents landed in Canada, on freedom's shores, as refugees from communism, from the horrors of Stalinism. There have been the refugees and there have been the economic immigrants who saw Canada not just as a free land but also as a land of opportunity, having departed from lands where at that point in time, unfortunately, opportunities were limited. In Canada the opportunities were limitless.
The waves of people that landed on Canada's shores landed here because Canada is a free country and, as a consequence of that freedom, it is a prosperous country. All of those people had something in common. They came here with a willingness to work hard so that they could build a future for themselves, for their families and for future generations. They succeeded and they contributed back into their communities and to the greatness of our country.
Unfortunately, we have a current refugee and immigration system that has ceased to function. It creates confusion. It creates a situation of shattered dreams for hopeful new Canadians, new immigrants to our country. In this confusion, and in desperation that is fed by the confused system that we currently have, the ones who step in are the charlatans, the ghost consultants, who prey on impossible dreams and make impossible promises. They prey on the most vulnerable.
As my colleagues have said, I also am supporting this bill which deals with crooked consultants. I am supporting sending the bill to committee to further refine it. But let us not lose sight of the bigger job at hand. That job is to fix our immigration system. We need a new act.
Let me mention specific cases to show how desperate the situation is for potential new Canadians and the circumstances the current system forces them into.
Marya Kunyk arrived on a work visa as a live-in caregiver. She had to work two years over a three-year period to be able to begin the process of becoming a Canadian. Just a year after arriving and working on fulfilling that obligation, she was crossing at a crosswalk and was hit by a car. It was a horrific accident. The driver was found guilty, but Marya today has a shattered body, literally. Parts of her body have been replaced with pieces of steel.
What is the system doing to Marya, who needs continuing health care and physiotherapy so that she can once again become a functioning productive member of society? The system is deporting Marya back to a country that cannot provide the health care she requires. The system is deporting her because she is not fulfilling the obligations of her contract that she work two full years. It is just common sense. She has not been able to fulfill the obligations of that contract. She was hit by a car through no fault of her own.
Is it any wonder that there is so much desperation among new Canadians that they turn to these crooked consultants, these charlatans who prey on that desperation.
In another case, Iryna Ivaniv is a young woman who has been trying for over six years to bring her husband to Canada from Ukraine. She has four young children, Canadian children. I will read from a letter that she wrote to the minister:
|| 1. We have four young children who are Canadian citizens: 6-year-old; 3-year-old; and 5-months-old twins. They have a right to have both their parents raise them....
|| 2. Our twins were born premature. They're under pediatric constant supervision and need medical care which I do not feel could be obtained in Ukraine in satisfactory manner.
|| 3. All our children are registered to start school and daycare from September 2010. I must stress that Canadian children 6-year of age must attend school under The Education Act.
What has happened in the case of Iryna Ivaniv? Just in the past two months, her husband has once again been denied the opportunity to come to Canada to unite this family.
How does this happen? Through an access to information request, I have been able to get the notes of the decision. It is astounding. The decision states that Iryna Ivaniv is still in possession of Ukrainian citizenship and can therefore freely access all health and social services in that country. She is not a Ukrainian citizen; she is a Canadian citizen. Ukraine does not allow dual citizenship. She is a citizen of one country.
How is it that decision-makers who do not even understand the rules are making the decisions?
Further on the decision states that the children would benefit from being sent from their country to Ukraine so they could be with their extended family, so there would not be disruption to the children's life separation from their grandparents, and it is significant disruption that we have caused because in Ukrainian culture, extended families are traditionally important.
My goodness. We would take Canadian children away from their mother, their Canadian grandparents, their Canadian uncle, deport them, and send them to a country half a world away.
These cases clearly illustrate how dysfunctional the system has become. Is it no wonder that people prey on the desperation of people such as Iryna, on the desperation of people such as Marya.
Let me also reference a statistic from the public database of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration regarding the processing time for skilled workers from Kiev, Ukraine. In 2009, 80% of the cases were finalized in 83 months, which is 6 years and 11 months.
What employer in Canada will wait seven years for an employee that has been hired from a foreign country to arrive? What about the people in those countries, under the skilled worker class of immigration, who are waiting not several months, but year after year after year? What has happened to Canada's promise?
As I said earlier, Canada's dynamism and greatness has been built by the waves of people who have arrived on Canada's shores. We often reference the incredible natural resources of this vast land. Yes, we have been blessed with natural resources unlike any other country in the world, but our greatest resource is our human resource, the deep reservoir of human capacity that we have.
Canada is unique to the planet in having people who have an intricate understanding of every culture of the world, who speak every language of every people on the planet. In a future global village, what an incredible advantage that gives us.
That promise has to be reinstated. Canada cannot become a land that is static, that loses its dynamism. Yes, this particular bill addresses one issue, one small part of the dysfunction, and that is why we are supporting it. However, I certainly hope it does not distract us from the job at hand, and the job at hand is to put in place a new system. Canada's future is at stake.
Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-35. I listened yesterday to some very good speeches regarding the bill and some very good ideas. I might say at the outset that this bill is long overdue. I hope this Parliament lasts long enough for us to get the bill to committee and see that it does find its way through the system and into law.
As the last speaker indicated, this is not an issue that just came up in the last seven years. It might have taken the Liberals up until the last seven years to recognize this as a problem, but I can tell members that this was a rampant problem back in the 1980s.
When I was elected provincially in Manitoba in 1986, one of the concerns we had at that time as a provincial government was how to regulate the immigration consultants. In order for us to come to grips with that issue and deal with it, we had to find out just how big the problem was because immigration consultants were everywhere.They were not just lawyers doing it. In fact, lawyers were probably in the minority in terms of participants. We had many travel agents doing immigration consulting on the side. We had all sorts of people from all walks of life involved in one way or another in the immigration consulting business and charging big fees. As a matter of fact, some of these people were so well connected that they knew people on the Immigration Board who, in those days, were political appointees and oftentimes local, well connected people. Of course the immigration consultants would develop a rapport with them and try to get special considerations. I realize that the government has gone beyond that stage and tried to take steps to make that process a little better than it was.
I see this as a work in progress. I do not feel that proceeding with the bill and passing the bill will solve the problem because whenever in society there are large monetary rewards available for people to access, they will find a way to do it. Therefore, no matter what rules we set here in Parliament, there will be unscrupulous people who will find a way around whatever rules we set.
However, while it is late in the game, it is good that we are coming to grips with it. I am very happy that we are concentrating on the problem, and whether this solves the problem or even part of the problem will be something we should applaud. We certainly need tough rules against people who take advantage of vulnerable people. We not only need tough rules but we also need tough enforcement.
For the last several hundred years we have had immigrants coming to our shores for a whole number of reasons. If we look back in history we find the early explorers, starting with Leif Eriksson, I believe, but certainly Christopher Columbus and other explorers who were out to find new resources and new lands for their kings. It became a policy of kings to expand their empires by looking for more resources, whether it was new trade routes, new products, furs or gold. There have been various stages of immigration over the years.
We know, for example, in parts of Australia, where I was a number of years ago, many of the original immigrants to the Tasmanian area were from penal colonies. People were taken from prisons in Europe and sent to those colonies.
We had stages in our history when people were involved in the gold rush. Just south of Manitoba is the Black Hills area. The gold rush in that area brought thousands of immigrants to our country. There was the California gold rush and the Yukon gold rush.
The member for Timmins—James Bay talked about how people came here for jobs and for a better life.
Many people came here because of religious persecution in their home countries. They came here during certain periods when their governments back home were treating them badly, and that was their way to escape. People came here because of political problems in their home countries. There are numerous reasons why people have come to our country over the years.
Many people from China came to Canada to help build the railway. Perhaps John A. Macdonald would never have been able to get the railway built had it not been for Chinese immigrants coming in by the thousands to do what was essentially a very dangerous job. Many of them died during the process.
People have observed that there were fewer rules for immigration in those days. Several hundred years ago, people could simply come to our country and essentially get in, but today we are dealing with many more rules that have been brought in by different governments.
The Liberals, by virtue of the fact that they have been the government for most of the last century, have, in fact, been making the rules. To their credit, they have certainly encouraged immigration over the years. People with another view have said that they created the problems with the present immigration system that we are now trying to solve.
Several members have indicated that MPs' offices are deluged with immigration questions and immigration problems. Generally speaking, if that is a problem, that is an indication of a systemic problem within the government. I can think of other problems, on a provincial basis, for example, that people in large numbers have complained about to their elected officials, and finally, the political system wised up to the fact that something needed to be done about the problem to move it away from elected officials, because it is not really our job as elected officials to be running government programs.
One of the things I was surprised about as a new MP was that many MPs' offices are spending inordinate amounts of time and effort on immigration problems. Immigrants will oftentimes tell me that when they had a problem, it was their MP who solved it. When we are using up so much of our time on one particular problem, we have to deal with the problem through new laws and new enforcement and major changes.
This is not a problem that has developed in the last half dozen years, or even in the last 10 years. This problem was very much alive 25 years ago, and probably long before that. Why all governments have taken so much time to come up with a solution is really a big question.
The member for Winnipeg Centre made a fabulous speech yesterday on this subject, and he dealt with a number of areas. His riding is in the core area of Winnipeg, and he sees a huge number of immigrants who come to Manitoba.
The Manitoba government had enough foresight about 10 years ago to come up with a provincial nominee program, which, by the way, has attracted about 15,000 immigrants in the last year or so. The program has been a winner since the NDP government of Manitoba actually set it up. As a matter of fact, it was so successful that the government of Nova Scotia looked at it, studied it, and I believe adopted, or copied, the program.
The same thing happens all over the country. When there is a good program in a province, in Quebec, for example, other provinces will take a look at it. This program developed in Manitoba got such immediate, positive results that the Nova Scotia premier at the time, John Hamm, a Conservative, took a special interest in this area and came to study the program.
The member for Winnipeg Centre points out that when many immigrants first come into the province, initially they settle in his riding, so he has had a first-hand view of the immigration problems. He also sees the consultants at work. He indicated that he uncovered a situation, and I am sure that there are many such examples, where consultants were telling people that for $3,000 they would get them a letter from the person's member of Parliament, as if that was going to be their ticket through the process. That was one of the examples he discovered. The question is how many more examples of people paying these huge fees for something that, in fact, would have been free have gone undiscovered.
Before the member for Winnipeg Centre was the terrific member that he is for that constituency, that seat, for a very brief period, was held by the Liberals under Mr. David Walker. I know that he too had a lot of time to spend on immigration problems. As a matter of fact, my wife tells me very often the story of when she was trying to get her father in from Peru. They went to Mr. Walker's office, and he did a terrific job of getting them through the paperwork and the problems they had getting her father into Canada.
The question is whether MPs' offices have now become the official funnel through which all immigration issues and problems have to pass. Perhaps it is better that they come to the MPs' offices than to the immigration consultants.
The fact of the matter is that the immigration consultants catch them at an earlier stage. The immigration consultants are sitting in positions as travel agents. They are the ones selling the tickets.
The previous member who spoke before me made some good points. Yesterday the member for Winnipeg Centre talked about issues with the temporary worker program and how that program is being abused and profited from by some consultants. CBC did a big exposé about 20 years ago about immigration consultants in Manitoba who were involved in the immigrant investor program. The members will know all about that program and how it works. It basically attracts richer immigrants to the country.
These immigration consultants were not just operating here in Canada; they were operating outside Canada. They were travelling over to, in this case, I believe, the Philippines and were operating out of there. They were running ads in the paper in the Philippines with pictures of the immigration consultant shaking hands with or standing by the mayor of Winnipeg at the time.
I guess, as a politician, you have to be careful who you get your picture taken with, because you never know how, when, or where it is going to be used. The mayor of Winnipeg at the time was a wonderful gentleman, and he was very surprised to find out that his picture was being used in another country by an immigration consultant who was attracting people by showing that he had credibility with the mayor. If the immigrant wanted easy access into Winnipeg, this was the consultant to deal with, because here he was in a picture with the mayor of Winnipeg.
He took a lot of people for a lot of money. They employed him to fast-track them into the country, but in addition to that, this guy was also a real estate guy. He was selling them businesses that they had not seen other than through pictures. In one case, he sold a bakery in a rundown building in a rundown part of town for probably double or triple its value. When the immigrant investor ended up in Canada, they found themselves in a very difficult situation, because not only had they paid this guy consulting fees, they had also overpaid for the bakery they were buying. This is just one example. There were other examples.
The member from the Conservatives who was just commenting now knows of what I speak, because he was around in those days. He knows that this immigration consultant had connections and friends in his own provincial party. They were working together as a group. There was a group of them. These people were not people that any political party would want to be involved with. However, you cannot stop people from joining your party, and in some cases, you do not know why they are joining your party. These guys were smart enough to know that if they could connect with local politicians, mayors, and provincial and federal politicians, it was good for their business. It was a good business practice.
Of course, CBC did its job in exposing this person, but by then the damage had already been done, and these investors had lost most of their money.
This is the kind of activity that gives the country a bad name, because these people have friends back home, and they will certainly relate their experiences of coming to the country. When we are trying to attract immigrants, this is not a selling point if you run the risk of dealing with these types of fraudsters.
The member for Winnipeg Centre pointed out yesterday that the goal was to have a certain percentage of immigrants come to Canada on an annual basis. In actual fact, I think in only a very few years have we actually met the target. I do not think we have ever met the target. We have come close to the target in only several years.
The fact is that the government is on the right track with this particular bill. I am not one to not give the government its due when I think it is on the right track. In this case, it is on the right track. I just hope that it stays around long enough to get this bill through the process and does not prorogue Parliament again or call a quick election because it sees some short-term, quick opportunity on the gun registry or any other idea that kind of hits the government's fancy as the days progress. I hope that we apply ourselves.
We saw what happened under Lester Pearson. For six years of minority government, a lot of things were accomplished. The Conservative government has been around for five years and what does it have to show?
I would suggest—
Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to discuss the bill. We are dealing with a very important problem and really we need to discuss so we can fix the problem as opposed to tinkering around the edges.
We understand the need to regulate and ensure that immigrants to our country do not have to deal with unscrupulous people. That is why the government put forward CSIC in 2003. It was meant to be reviewed, as it is now, to see whether it would work or not.
It turned out that there were some flaws in that process, and we know what those flaws are. First, while the group had the ability to prosecute, it did not have the ability to audit or subpoena and it did not have any legislative and legal abilities to do a whole lot of things. Second, it did not have enough resources to get the job done.
It is good that the government has recognized there needs to be something done and I think this is a first step. However, it does not address some of the problems. As we know, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration looked at this problem and it came up with some recommendations.
What the bill does not do is address the most fundamental problem identified by the committee and the recommendations made by it. It does not significantly fix the governance issues and problems that the committee identified, and we need to do that. Putting this within IRPA and tinkering with it around the edges does not really solve the problem. We need to look at a regulatory body that is arm's-length and has statutory powers.
If we look at it, this suggestion is not without precedent. In the provinces many professional bodies, for instance, under a separate legislation, were given the autonomous ability as statutory bodies, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of Nurses, the engineering professional group. They would then look at people who would undertake that professional work, in this case immigration consultants, who would therefore be screened to be properly trained, to have the right credentials, first and foremost, and be able to assess whether those credentials were valid or not.
What we see in the provincial legislation for professional bodies, which is a provincial jurisdiction, is that it was able to give them the powers to audit, to examine files and practices, to subpoena and to have the ability to punish and remove people directly from that profession if it was felt they were not working under the ethical guidelines, processes and procedures that the profession was set up to do.
There is a precedent for this and this is what the government should be thinking of looking at doing at a federal level, and that is devising a statutory regulatory body that would have the same autonomous ability. I am not faulting the government for deciding something has to be done, but the problem with what it is doing is that it does not give the body teeth. There needs to be teeth to punish and find out what is going on.
If provinces could do this with professional regulatory bodies, the federal government could do it with immigration consultants. There should be clear standards, ethical guidelines and ways in which they can decide whether the consultants actually have the credentials they need. It is pretty clear the precedent exists with the provinces.
One could argue that the professional regulatory bodies the provinces set up are there to ensure that Canadians are safe and protected, that they are not ripped off, harmed or hurt by professionals who do not have credentials and are not practising under guidelines. At the same time, I do not think we could ask immigrants to accept less than we expect Canadians to have. When immigrants want to come to our country to build a new life, we need to ensure they have the benefit of the law.
It is a complex issue, coming to a new country. Immigrants do not understand the culture. They do not understand the laws of the country. They are coming in blind. They come in and someone tells them that they can help, that they can walk them through it and get rid of the red tape. I know because we deal with a lot of immigration issues in my constituency office. There are people who have little money when they come here. Many of them are coming to make a better life for themselves. They spend thousands of dollars, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, getting bad advice, being sent down the wrong channels. These people are frustrated. They are upset. They are lost. They are confused. This is their introduction to Canada.
That cannot be the introduction to Canada for new immigrants. They have to be able to expect better of this country. They have to be able to expect that the rule of law prevails. They have to be able to expect that there are certain ethical practices and guidelines that are going to protect them, not only when they are striving to come here, but also when they are here.
It is very important that we look at this bill. One of the things about this that I think is important for us to look at is the committee report. There are some clear recommendations in the report.
Consider recommendation two: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada introduce stand-alone legislation to re-establish the Canadian Society of Immigrant Consultants as a non-share capital corporation”.
Organizations can now bid to take this over with no set statutory powers at all. We are allowing the same group that had been doing the work before to continue to do it. I do not want to blame them; they had not been given the appropriate powers or resources to do their job properly. But everybody can now go ahead and put their tender forward for this job.
So nothing is going to change. All we are doing is changing the manager. We are not changing the process. We are not ensuring that the process is rigorous and clear enough for everyone to understand.
This is a key thing that I wanted to suggest. Why reinvent the wheel? I do not understand this. Why is the government reinventing the wheel when we had a committee that studied the issue, that listened to a lot of witnesses. It heard what the witnesses said. In the second recommendation, the committee spoke to the issue of governance, the issue of powers, the issue of a need for a statutory body.
The third recommendation is: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada assist in re-establishing the new regulator and remain involved in its affairs until it is fully functioning”.
So the government is not walking away and allowing a body to have regulatory powers without due diligence. The government is going to be asked to ensure that this is happening, that all the bells and whistles are in place, that the structures are there, and that there is due diligence. Once it sees that this party is able to function on its own, then the government can say, “Fine, you go ahead and do it”, in the same way that we see provinces have done with their regulatory bodies.
We have all seen the problems people have had in coming to this country, but I want to say that there are many immigrant consultants who do excellent work, who are well qualified, and who have done a great deal to help new immigrants. However, the problem with having a few bad apples is that they spoil the whole bunch.
I know many immigrant consultants who are doing good work, who have all their licensing, who are following the rules, who have ethical guidelines and practise due diligence, and who yet feel that people do not trust them. For the sake of Canadians and newcomers alike, it is important for the government to ensure that the system it puts in place is one that everyone can believe in and can trust. Trust is important. If we do not trust the people who are there to help, if we do not trust their work because they have all been tarred with one broad brush, then we harm the whole process. It is important for the government to have a process in place that people can trust and that the government itself can trust, so that it knows that immigrants are led in the right direction and that the greed of some bad apples does not leave them floundering.
In one instance, I had a couple who were coming to Canada and had spent $20,000, which is a lot of money, and they were led in all different directions. Finally, they came to my office in tears. They had been turned away at every angle, at every door they opened.
The immigration department was not buying what they were saying, mainly because the consultant had not given them the right advice and had asked them to apply for immigrant status under the wrong criteria. They had spent all that time.
Then, once they had done it, and this is the real problem, they had now set this process in motion. The immigration bureaucrats all have this storyline that they were told they should bring forward. To walk away from that makes them sound like liars.
When they are given bad advice, the poor immigrants sound as if they are lying. They go to a puppet consultant who tells them that they have been doing it wrong, or they come to our office and we tell them they have been doing the wrong things. They now have to go back and change all the things that they were asked to do and all the information that they gave, and after that they are already suspect.
At the end of the day, it harms their ability to come in as immigrants, when they are regarded as dishonest because they were led down the wrong track.
If we are changing the way immigration works, we all agree that the system of immigration and the refugee system need to be fine-tuned, need to be fast-forwarded, so that people do not have to wait so long. We need to be clear on what we are doing.
I think the government has decided that it wants to go there. If the government is going to make the step to go there, it should do it properly. It should take that bold leap and make sure that once and for all we have changed the system so that it is one that people can trust, one that does not frustrate the immigrants or the families in Canada who are sponsoring people to come over.
That is really important, because we are going to be looking at immigrants in a different way now. We have been looking at immigrants according to different criteria that are not working anymore.
We do not need only highly educated immigrants with Ph.Ds and the expanded language requirements we require. We are looking for tool and die makers, electricians, and people who practice the kinds of trades that we do not have anymore. All of these things we have to think about.
Immigration is the key to how this country was built. People who come here bring skills, knowledge, and all sorts of things that help this country to grow.
I do not think there is anyone, except the aboriginal people in this country, who did not come as immigrants at some time, whether it was eight or ten generations ago or just yesterday. All have contributed to building this country through hard work, knowledge, and skills.
As a small country with only 32 million people, we are facing a huge crunch. We are going to have to be competitive in a global economy. We have to do so with only 32 million people. We are not going to have massive numbers of people like China and India. We are going to have to make sure that we are depending on the best, the brightest, and the most skilled people in this country. We need to look at immigration as a key means of achieving this goal.
The statistics coming out of Statistics Canada and the immigration department tell us that by 2011 we are going to be dependent on immigration for 100% of our net labour force. We need those skills. Take my own profession, physician. We have three million Canadians who do not have a family physician. Yet we have many people here who are trained physicians and who have been, in keeping with the old story, driving a cab and have not been working at their job for 10 years.
They need to be able to work and to help us to develop the kind of nurses, doctors, engineers, technicians, and technologists we require in this country. We need the construction workers, the electricians, the master craftsmen. We need more than just one group of people.
When people go to our missions abroad and apply to come here as immigrants, sometimes they are given information that they find not to be true. Sometimes they come here, believing that they had come to a country where they would be able to live, work, bring their families, and build a nation, just as all of us in the past have done, only to find that they were given false information.
An important part of the shift that the government is planning must be to ensure that foreign missions are given the same clear message. There is probably a list of licensed and properly trained consultants that they can be given so that people can know that that they are getting a list of bona fide people. This should be done in different languages, not merely in English and French. Many people who are coming to Canada speak other languages.
We have the ability to translate into every language in the world. We should use this ability when we are talking to people in their own country and giving them the advice that they need.
These are important issues for us to take care of. It is not a simple, one-shot deal. I think the bill falls far short. I would like to see the bill amended, strengthened. We have heard everyone say that. I want to congratulate the government for taking this first step, but it is not a good enough step. Let us do this right, once and for all. Everyone has been talking about changes to the immigration system, and we have all been tinkering at the edges.
Our former Liberal government can say the same thing. We tried, and we did what we thought was good. We now need to review it. If it is not working, let us fix it, but let us not tinker with it. Let us make sure we have this door open for skilled immigrants who will bring their families and stay here, who will start to build a nation, whose children will grow up and become Canadians and help us to be more productive and competitive in the new global economy.
Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill on behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada. I am also happy to say that our party supports this bill.
It is a very important part of any responsible opposition not only to constructively criticize a government when we think its policy direction is ill-advised or incorrect, but it is also very important, as a responsible opposition, to congratulate and support a government when it introduces legislation that is correct and addresses a very real problem.
I want to congratulate my colleagues on the government side of the House for bringing in Bill C-35. The bill goes a long way toward dealing with a problem that is very pressing in this country.
The short title of Bill C-35 is the cracking down on crooked consultants act, which shows the government's penchant for giving its legislation catchy titles, but the title captures what the bill is about. Bill C-35 prohibits unlicensed consultants in the immigration field from providing advice or submitting applications on behalf of potential immigrants. It gives the minister the power to establish a new body that would regulate immigration consultants through a tendering process.
New Democrats, in particular my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, have been pushing for legislative changes to eliminate unethical immigration consultant practices for a long time now. At present, one out of every two immigration consultants is not licensed. There are many horror stories of vulnerable immigrants being cheated out of substantial amounts of money, in some cases their life savings, and worse, having their chances for a new beginning in Canada destroyed in the process.
In the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, our party and the committee received two supporting reports with nine recommendations on this issue. These include legislative changes and, more importantly, enforcement and education efforts, which are vital to making this legislation workable in practice. Again my colleague from Trinity—Spadina moved a motion for concurrence in that report which, through the wisdom and efforts of members of this House, passed in the spring of this year.
As another member said very well, other than first nations people in this country, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Almost everybody in this House owes his or her place in Canada to the courage of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or ancestors even further back. In some cases, members of this House are direct immigrants themselves, so it is an obvious point to make that Canada is one of the most multicultural countries on earth and one whose entire societal fabric is based on immigrants.
My own riding of Vancouver Kingsway is one of the most multicultural ridings in the country. Forty per cent of the residents of Vancouver Kingsway are of Chinese descent, from the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau. Eleven per cent of the residents of Vancouver Kingsway are South Asian, hailing from India, Pakistan and the Punjab. Ten per cent of the residents of my riding are from the Philippines. Five per cent are from Vietnam, Korea and a host of other countries. Indeed 70% of the people in my riding are visible minorities and are now the visible majority in my riding.
There are over 100 languages spoken in Vancouver Kingsway. It is truly a cultural mosaic, one that is vibrant, strong and healthy. Many people in Vancouver Kingsway are first, second or third generation immigrants. I would venture to say that the majority of people in Vancouver Kingsway are within one of those three categories.
Of course, we have to pause and examine the profound reasons that people immigrate to Canada. Everybody who came to Canada, I think, came here because they had a dream. Sometimes those dreams were to build a better life for their families. Sometimes they were seeking freedom to practise their religion. Sometimes their dream was to escape poverty and enter a land where they felt equal opportunity was available to them and their children. Sometimes that dream involved pursuing an education. Many students come to Canada hoping to obtain an education upon which they can build a better life.
We also have to remember that this country, Canada, has been built by immigrants. We have already heard mention of the fact that one of the most important nation-building projects this country has witnessed, the building of our national coast-to-coast railway, could not have been done without the contributions of Chinese Canadians. Those people came here and were subjected to horrendous racism, including legislated racism, but they persevered and helped build a strong cultural Chinese presence on the west coast of our country and, indeed, in every province across this land.
The story of my own relatives is a typical one.
In the 1920s my grandparents immigrated to Canada from Hungary. First my grandfather came with his brother. They landed in Halifax and ended up taking a train across Canada. They were dropped off in October on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan in a little place called Dewberry. He and his brother had to walk 21 miles from the train station to their end destination. They lived in a sod house for two winters. They cleared land under a government program whereby if one cleared a quarter section of land within two years, one would be allowed to homestead it and own it. My grandfather did that and three years later brought his wife over from Hungary. At that point they raised my mother who to this day still speaks Hungarian and has exposed me to that cultural history and tradition.
My father had a similar story. His grandparents came from Ireland, Wales, and Germany. I think I am a fairly typical Canadian who can reach back just a generation or two and touch countries across the world.
What all immigrants have in common is courage, trust and faith. Their stories also can be heart-rending because many immigrants experience the reality of separation from their families, loneliness, insecurity and indeed poverty when they arrive here. Statistics in this country are rife with the difficulties and specific challenges that particularly face first generation Canadians.
Bill C-35 is targeted at protecting those immigrants, and that is critically important. It protects immigrants from unscrupulous immigration consultants who would prey on those people whose dreams make them vulnerable. They prey on these people for the most unjustifiable reason: pure money.
I want to pause and say that there are many professional and ethical immigration consultants practising in this field across the country, particularly in British Columbia. There are many diligent immigration consultants who provide intelligent and well-earned advice and help people from all over the globe access Canada's immigration system. I think those consultants join with us in Parliament today in wanting to keep their profession one that is well regulated and full of integrity. Those immigration consultants realize they have an interest in doing so. I want to point that out in particular because when we talk about a profession, we must recognize there are many people of integrity as well as those whose professional standards leave a lot to be desired.
I have met many excellent consultants. I have met people like Rose White and Bob White who have come to my office several times and given me their opinion on all kinds of immigration issues. Rajesh Randev helps hundreds and hundreds of people come to this country but who otherwise would be completely mystified by the process.
Cecile Barbier, a person who lives in my own neighbourhood, a recent immigrant from France and a lawyer from that country has taken immigration courses, so that she can also put her knowledge to work, helping other people. These are the kinds of immigration consultants who want to have a law in this country that makes their profession a regulated, respected one.
There are important organizations in British Columbia that also do critical and pivotal work for immigrants: SUCCESS Immigrant Settlement Services and PICS provide absolutely essential services to immigrants from every corner of the globe.
I think we have heard from all MPs. I do not think there is a member in the House who cannot stand up and tell stories about Canadians and residents of their ridings who come to their offices with terrible problems with the immigration system that they face. Sometimes I joke that I do not have a constituency office; I feel like I have an immigration law practice.
I would like to give an example of an issue on which I dealt with the immigration minister just yesterday. A resident in my riding is a citizen here with her husband and daughter who is from Colombia. She has had her mother and her brother visit here on temporary resident visas, in other words, visitor visas. Her younger sister has applied to come here just to visit her sister for three weeks and she was turned down three times. This person in Colombia is a woman with a law degree. The first time she was turned down she was in university and she was turned down because she did not have the income. Then she got her law degree and she was turned down the second time because she did not have a travel history.
This is of course a vicious cycle in which many people find themselves. How do we get a travel history if we are turned down for a visa because we do not have a travel history? This is the third time this person has applied for a visa. She was turned down this time because a visa officer in Colombia misread her application and said that she did not have sufficient income from her employer when the figure and the employer were listed right on her paperwork.
These are the kinds of typical problems that MPs face every day. These are the kinds of problems that immigration consultants could help with if they are regulated, trained, and held to a standard of professionalism that they want and need.
In my constituency I deal with immigrants every day that I am in Vancouver. People from the Philippines tell me that the number one export of the Philippines is not a good; it is people. I deal with Filipinos every day who come into my office, trying to engage in family reunification, trying to bring aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and cousins to Canada so that they can build their families.
We must realize in this country that in many areas of the world family is not defined as one's parents and children; it is defined as one's aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and grandparents. That concept of extended family is critically important to many people.
People come into my office who hail from China, where the rate of refusal on spousal sponsorships from places like Beijing is approaching 50%. That means almost one out of every two people from China who are married and are making applications to bring their spouses over are rejected.
People come into my office from India who are consistently rejected when they try to bring relatives over to attend a wedding. This is particularly a problem in Chandigarh, which has about the highest rate of refusals of temporary resident visas, TRVs, in the world.
These are the problems my residents face every day and with which they come to their MP for assistance. Our offices processes hundreds and hundreds of these cases every year through the hard work of my constituency assistants, Theresa Ho and Christine Ackermann . They help these people. They go out of their way and do yeowomen's work to help these people with their problems. These are people who do not have money to pay an immigration consultant or a lawyer. So they come to us.
I have also had people come into my office who have been victims of unscrupulous immigration consultants. One of the most heart-rending situations is when people come to this country, work one, two or three jobs, undergo intense pain by being separated from their families, work for years, save up money working jobs for $8 and $9 an hour and after working two or three years, save $3,000 or $4,000, which they give to an immigration consultant because they think that person will help bring their relatives over, only to discover that person abused their trust.
They lose their money, do not get the results they want and, worse, in many cases the applicant's record is permanently marred so that their relatives can never come over. That is wrong and is something that cries out for immediate rectification by sound legislators. I want to congratulate the government for bringing in this legislation, which I think goes a long way to addressing this.
What we must ensure and be vigilant about as parliamentarians is that this legislation is sound and that it works. It does not do any good to bring in legislation that cannot be actuated in practice. We need to ensure that we establish a regulatory process that has teeth, one that licenses immigration consultants and establishes sound standards, so we can ensure that any people calling themselves immigration consultants in this country have the proficiency and professionalism required to carry out their duties in a proper manner.
We must ensure there are adequate enforcement measures because standards without enforcement are of no use. We must ensure the immigration consultants in this country know that if they try to practice without licences or provide services they are not entitled to provide, they will be caught and there will be consequences.
We must also ensure that the public knows about it. We need to ensure that every person wanting to access the immigration system in this country can go to a website and see at a glance, like is done in Australia, who are the licensed immigration consultants, who are not licensed, who has made application and failed, and those who have a black mark against them. These are all critical components of a sound piece of legislation that ensures it does not just amount to words on a paper but actually makes a tangible difference in people's lives.
I also want to comment briefly on the government's attempt to bring in legislation that the previous Liberal government failed to do. I hear members of the Liberal Party talk about this legislation, but, of course, when they were in power, they did not get it done. After numerous consultations and hearings, the former minister, the member now for Eglinton—Lawrence, set up a regulatory body that had no teeth.
The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants had no power to enforce regulations or to prevent unlicensed consultants from practising. To make matters worse, that organization was not required to behave in a democratic, efficient or transparent manner. I am glad to see that members of the Liberal Party standing up today are supporting this legislation after having the opportunity of 13 years in government and failing to do so.
In fact, in many respects what they did was even worse, which was to set up a process that did not work. That breeds disrespect and sets back policy development because people look to a regulatory framework that does not work as proof that a regulatory framework is not valid or needed, and that is not the case.
I want to, once again, indicate that New Democrats stand behind immigrants in this country. We want them to be able to unify their families, we want them to be able to have a fair, fast and efficient immigration system. We will join with the government and all members of the House in helping to ensure that immigration consultants in this country practise in a manner that is professional and helpful.
Hon. Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate today on Bill C-35.
We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of immigration to Canada, and rightly so. The difficulty, however, is that people almost have to be Philadelphia lawyers to figure out what the rules and procedures are in order to immigrate to Canada. There is no real consistency in terms of what we tell people at our embassies and high commissions, about what the job market is like in a particular field, how long it will take in terms of the process in general to come to Canada, or under what basis people can come to Canada. For many people here who want to sponsor relatives, it turns out that they think it is a right rather than a privilege.
Not understanding the process has led to people looking for consultants. In some cases a consultant is really not the appropriate term given the fact that many of these people have limited if any understanding. There are some very good consultants out there and there are obviously some bad apples.
The difficulty is that as members of Parliament we are charged with the responsibility of dealing with legislation. In 2008 the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration produced nine recommendations. Now the question I have for the government is, why were they not implemented?
One of the difficulties around this place is that when a standing committee deals with a particular issue, it deals with a stream of witnesses, debate, amendments and comes up with very concrete recommendations that are sent to the government, sometimes it is as if we have basically wasted our time.
Now I realize that in 2008 there was a federal election, but since then these recommendations have not been implemented. I think that is absolutely unacceptable when we look at the nature of the recommendations to fix part of the problem. This legislation before the House is not a panacea. It is not going to solve all of the problems. It is not going to solve all the backlogs. It is not going to deal with the financial issues in order to implement the kind of process that we need in place.
In my office alone, one person is dedicated solely to deal with immigration. Now I am not an immigration office. In theory I seem to be part of an extension of the department. In many cases the department is dealing with the applications that need to be dealt with. We have too many people applying and not enough resources to deal with those applicants. Fortunately, I am very blessed with a very committed, dedicated individual who really understands the process, after the last five years.
The difficulty is that people's expectations and understanding of what is involved is like night and day. Many of these people are victims of consultants and it all starts where they are applying. Do our embassies and high commissions have the kind of information readily available?
One of the recommendations in this report was recommendation no. 8. It clearly indicated in 2008 that we needed to have the most up-to-date information, that people really had to understand what was going to be awaiting them if in fact they came to Canada, in terms of language skill requirements, job opportunities, housing, et cetera.
The difficulty is that most people enter this process rather blindly. Because they think that there is sometimes a quick fix, they deal with consultants. Some of these consultants turn out to be more of a problem than a cure.
In 2008 the standing committee made nine recommendations. One of them which I think was extremely important was this whole issue of a stand-alone agency that would deal with this issue in terms of having the summary powers needed to do the job properly.
Rather than amend the Citizenship and Immigration Act, we need to have a body that has the power to deal with consultants both from a regulatory standpoint, and some colleagues have talked about the provincial process of many regulatory bodies, but also the power to investigate and the power to really come down on people who mislead, who in fact basically take money when no service is really rendered.
Immigration is supposed to be important to this country and yet we have a system that is broken, and I would defy anyone who would suggest otherwise. People just need to go to any constituency office of a member of Parliament in the greater Toronto area or the greater Vancouver area and they will certainly see the difficulties that members of Parliament deal with. That is because we do not have the necessary tools. We do not have a legion of staff that can deal with this. There often is a lot of burn-out because one person dealing with this in particular is very difficult. We hear the most tragic stories of people who want to come to this country for a new opportunity but, again, it is the issue of dealing with this.
The last Liberal government, our government in 2005, put $900 million toward trying to deal with the backlog, which really was not enough, as with the present government which was not enough.
I am sure many members of Parliament have been asked by people how to speed up the process or how they can be fast-tracked. Obviously we can fast-track when we can fast-track them all and we cannot fast-track anyone.
Will this legislation deal with the problem? It will only deal partly with the problem. We support it going to committee. A 2008 standing committee report has nine recommendations in it, part of which deal with the issue of consultants. If the government had implemented those recommendations, we would perhaps be onto something else today. The fact is that we continue to try to reinvent the wheel instead of asking what the major problem is here.
If in fact we had no immigration policy, how would we create one that would address the economic needs of this country and the kinds of issues that we as Canadians believe are important and be able to attract people to this country? Instead, we always deal around the edges. We do not deal with the problems per se.
A stand alone regulatory body, as recommended by the standing committee in 2008, is what is needed. It really needs those powers, as we have said. However, this proposed legislation only deals with part of that issue. It does not really deal with the significant governance issues that the standing committee looked at when it listened to the many witnesses who came forward. We need to deal with that.
We also need to be working with our international partners. We need to get better coordination in terms of everything from people smuggling to the fact that people set up shot overseas and say that they are a consultant. When they are asked what kind of regulations there are, they say that one can come to Canada and do this and that.
Many of the people who come to my office have been drained financially paying money to certain individuals who in the end tell them to go see their MP. In other words, let the MP now try to deal with the problem that they in many cases have created or clearly have not been able to deal with. We need to look at that. It is obviously part of the solution.
As we know, consultants are often not lawyers. They provide advice and the difficulty is that sometimes they are not up to speed on this.
I have held information sessions in my riding dealing with the process. One is absolutely dizzy by the time one listens to how this process works: how does one do this, can one appeal this and then there is another appeal, what happens if one comes under certain classifications. One has to be a Philadelphia lawyer to figure that out.
We have these ghost consultants. We have these people who say that they can solve one's problem. It goes back to the fact that people accept money to give advice which often turns out not to be very helpful.
When we have standing committee recommendations, the best thing the government can do today would be to embrace those nine recommendations and move forward so we can deal with other aspects of immigration. Again, within those nine recommendations we also deal with a stand alone body that would deal with this. I think that is part of the solution but it is not the total solution.
Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough—Rouge River, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, colleagues around the House have touched on almost all of the important aspects of this legislation by now but I want to highlight two or three areas that are of significance to me in my capacity as the member representing Scarborough—Rouge River.
Canada's immigration program has actually been a very successful public policy tool and it has served Canada extremely well over the decades. With all due respect extended to our first nations, we are a country of immigrants and this has always been the case. We have learned how to do it well but our immigration act and procedures have provided the infrastructure under which people have come to Canada from all around the world. It is a controlling mechanism for people movements from outside Canada to Canada and we are absolutely, without any reservation, a receiving country of many wonderful people throughout our history.
My particular constituency happens to be about 75% immigrant, which is a relatively high percentage. Three-quarters or more of the people in Scarborough—Rouge River are, or were, immigrants. That means that in my work as a member of Parliament, and this includes my staff in the riding and in Ottawa, we see a lot of immigration issues on behalf of constituents. Those constituents are connected to other places around the world. We see immigration issues from all around the world of every type and description.
I know there are many millions of happy customers of immigration consultants as well as immigration lawyers. Many immigrants, depending on what type of immigration they follow, which procedural line they follow when they come to Canada, rely on professional advice, and that serves them and it serves Canada. They pay for it. It is quite a well working and positive system. However, that is not to say that it is perfect. What we are dealing with here today is a component of the immigration infrastructure that is not working well.
I want to recognize here on the floor, because I am not so sure we have done it, all of the good work of all of the immigration lawyers and consultants who are out there. There are thousands of them out there all doing good, professional work and we should recognize that. I say that because that comment lies in stark contrast to the name that the government has given to the bill. The short title is “Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act”.
This is somewhat Orwellian. The government has decided to put colourful, descriptive advertising into the title of its bill. The government has not quite gone so far as to put neon signs up on the Peace Tower yet, but contorting the title of a bill in this way is inappropriate. However, it has chosen to do it. I have been here for over 20 years and it is the first time I have seen this kind of Orwellian manipulation of the short title of a bill to broadcast something. If the name of the bill were totally descriptive, I would not object, but in this case the bill describes itself as a bill to crack down on crooked immigration consultants.
The bill is much more than that. It purports to regulate the whole class of immigration consultants, most of whom are good guys. The name of the bill stigmatizes a whole class of people. Would the government do the same thing if it were further regulating architects? Would it write a bill that cracked down on stupid architects or write a bill to crack down on stupid, incompetent ships' captains? I do not think that is the right way to do things. It stigmatizes a whole class of people.
What we are doing here with this bill is facilitating the further regulation of immigration consultants, which is a good profession, whether they are professional consultants or whether they are lawyers.
I wanted to get that straight. I say shame on the government for manipulating the short titles of bills in this way.
We want to try to fix or allow consultants themselves, by self-regulation, to fix some of the problems we have seen, and they have been described here today. One of the areas that I do not think we will be able to fix is the problem of a consultant in another country. We can deal with consultants here but we have never successfully found a way to deal with the enforcement of someone who acts as a consultant in Damascus, Shanghai, Colombo or New York City, someone who just says, “I'm an immigration consultant. If you pay me 10,000 bucks, I will deliver your documents and get you into Canada. All you have to do is pay me the 10,000 or 20,000 bucks and I guarantee a great result”.
That consultant is out there in another country and our laws cannot apply extraterritorially into another country. So it is tough for us to regulate this in a way that would regulate that person in that other country, which we all regret. Sometimes we call them ghost consultants. Immigration officials, as I understand it, will refuse to accept an immigration application of some sort if it appears there is an immigration consultant behind it and the immigration consultant is not properly registered or not in good standing. That is a partial address to the problem but I hope the committee will look at this and look at ways to isolate and identify consultants who are not properly registered and not properly trained in the foreign country.
Most of us as MPs have people come to us only when the file is broken. If the file is going all right through the immigration department, they do not need the MP. It is really quite shocking when a member of Parliament or a staffer of a member of Parliament has people coming in saying that they have a problem with immigration after paying a guy $15,000 and that the file is all messed up. My staff are saying, “My goodness, $15,000 and we have to fix it. If you had come to us in the first place, it wouldn't have cost you anything and we would have done it correctly for you”. It is not that we do immigration work directly out of the office but we certainly do advise our constituents and we try to fix situations that have gone sideways.
I know my party will be supporting the bill at second reading, in principle, for the purposes of getting it to committee where I hope the committee will redouble its efforts. I know the committee has looked at this stuff before. Half measures will not work. If there was ever an area subject to loopholes, this is one of them. I encourage the committee to consult with the industry, with the professionals, to look for a consensus and to be bold, to hammer down and make any amendments to this bill that will make it effective. Do not be shy. Let us do it and do it right.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Every member of Parliament is probably in a position to bring to this place his or her experience with some of the difficulties people have had with regard to these matters, whether it be sponsoring immigration, visas, or in fact, refugee files. Canadians probably are not aware that members of Parliament's offices probably do more work on immigration than they do on any other aspect of being a member of Parliament. There is a tremendous volume of activity. Some offices, in fact, have several staff members who are permanently dedicated to citizenship and immigration matters.
It is also probably pretty evident that Canadians at large often do not understand the difference between immigrants and refugees. We saw that with regard to the latest situation with the ship that arrived carrying Tamil refugee claimants.
The point I would like to make, first of all, is that we need to educate everyone who has a responsibility, interest, or stake in our system of immigration.
As I mentioned in the question to the previous speaker, the issue of providing resources from the department is critical. This bill does not propose additional resources for addressing the issues that have been raised.
I share the concern of other members about the title. If it is a bill to make improvements in terms of the regulations guiding those who provide consulting information and assistance, that is fine, but I note that in the speech of the minister himself, when he moved the bill, he made the broad statement that people do not have to go to consultants. I do not know where exactly they would go, other than maybe to an MP's office, but I do know that there is not a spot they can go to in the department to have their questions answered in a way that is helpful to them.
I note that in the report from the committee in 2008, three of the recommendations popped out. One of them is recommendation number eight. Keep in mind that this is a standing committee of members of Parliament. It recommends that the government revise all of its websites at Canadian embassies and missions abroad so that they include consistent, clear, and prominent information about immigration consultants.
One would think that our missions abroad would have all the boilerplate information necessary to guide people. One would think that the departmental website would have all the information to guide people through the processes, whether it be for immigration, sponsorship, applying for permanent residency, or visas. Also, from our experience, some files are very quick and could take maybe a couple of years, but most of them take three or four years. I have files that are seven years old. I do not think Canadians understand that the system is such that there are people in the hopper who have waited for a determination, waited for answers, for several years. It is tough to get into this country, but it does not have to be.
I also note that in the minister's speech, he spent a lot of time talking about these terrible consultants and the forged documents, forged marriage certificates, and forged bank statements and all of these things. He never once mentioned the applicants themselves and the role they play in terms of making application with documents that they know, or ought to know, are not proper.
It is a tough country to get into, very tough. A lot of people have talked about the dream of getting into this country. The dream of getting into this country is self-evident. There is an understanding that one has to be true, full, and plain in terms of the representations made. Members will assure those who come to their offices after they have problems that if they have filed documents that are inaccurate, contradictory, or forged or that contain untruths or omissions, it is very likely that they are going to fail in their efforts to get into Canada.
In our offices abroad and in our embassies, those providing information could tell people, “Here is our experience. These are the characteristics of applications that are in good shape, are accepted, and are handled within a reasonable period of time. The ones that are not accepted, the ones that have the problems, have these typical problems. Here are the reasons you will not get in”.
Then what happens? Most members will tell you that people who run afoul of the process all of a sudden start going to members of Parliament thinking that for some odd reason, the member of Parliament will have some pull and will be able to fix a problem that has to do with providing incorrect, inaccurate, and fraudulent information. It is not just the consultants. The applicants have to take some responsibility for that as well.
One has to understand that people wanting the opportunity to come to Canada will probably take whatever advice they can get from whomever, especially if somebody is charging an exorbitant fee. That is why I agree with the second recommendation in the committee's report from 2008, which is that there be an independent body established, arm's length from the department, to regulate immigration consultants. Give it the tools, the authorization, and the statutory power to control a very important resource and address the problem of people getting bad, wrong, or illegal advice. The government did not take heed of that recommendation.
When our committees make these kinds of recommendations, one would expect that the government's response, whether it be a written response to a committee report or legislation brought forward, would respond to the situation it is trying to address and would provide the best possible solution that makes sense, given all the facts.
What we have in Bill C-35 is an effort to provide penalties for people who are found to have caused problems and who have acted unethically as immigration consultants. However, the tool that is being established is going to be established by regulation. Basically, the government is going to provide the mechanism to police immigration consultants, and it will be regulation.
The problem is that we are debating a bill and will vote at second reading on whether we want it to go to committee. It will go to committee, where there will be witnesses. They will discuss all the possibilities. They will make some recommendations and possibly propose some amendments to the bill. It will then come back to the chamber at report stage. Possibly there may be further amendments by members who were not involved at committee, and then it will go to third reading.
We have this process, but what the process does not have, in terms of House activities, are the regulations. If we do not know the regulations specifically proposed, how can we trust or have confidence that the establishment of some regulatory regime is going to, in fact, do the job? That is the problem.
One recommendation I would have for the committee would be that it ask the government to table and file with the committee the proposed regulations prior to their being gazetted and promulgated.
Ms. Ruby Dhalla (Brampton—Springdale, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and honour to speak to a very important issue and to follow up some of the points that my colleague has raised.
The issue of fraudulent consultants is a very important issue that impacts constituencies like mine, not only in the area of Brampton—Springdale but in many constituencies. It impacts many new Canadians and many individuals who have a desire to come to Canada.
We have all heard and read about the many horror stories where vulnerable people have been taken advantage of. I know there have been reports of a Mexican family that has been taken advantage of by a fraudulent immigration consultant who created a fake refugee claim only for the family to arrive in Toronto and be given the name and number of a stranger and instructions to a hotel. This phony immigration consultant had apparently collected thousands of dollars. The family had sold off all of their assets, such as their home and their cars.
There was another report of a Korean truck driver who was told, again by a crooked immigration consultant, to use his life savings to help him come to Canada in the hope of getting a guaranteed job. Once again, he emptied his pockets. He was given all of these false promises and upon arrival here in Canada, he was left in limbo.
The stories are many, and we have all heard them. That is why I want to take the opportunity to commend the minister. It is very encouraging to see the government take action to ensure that we can provide a sense of hope to these vulnerable people, that they can go through the protocols we have established within the Canadian government and have those procedures followed to ensure crooked immigration consultants are pushed to the wayside and their businesses stopped.
It is encouraging to see the government is taking action. I know there has been urging from all parties. The start of a new fall session is a great opportunity for all parties in the House to co-operate and collaborate to send the bill to committee so it can hear, first-hand, witnesses and stakeholders.
We have all agreed that the report on regulating immigration consultants in June 2008 made some great recommendations. One of the major recommendations was that there needed to be the establishment of a regulatory body and that it be given statutory powers. In talking to individuals and stakeholders about the legislation the minister and the government has brought forward this continues to remain a major concern.
We must ensure that the regulatory body has the power to investigate any of these types of crooked immigration consultants and that the watchdog has the statutory powers to do its job to enable it to persecute any individuals who operate underhandedly.
The bill is a step in that direction. However, we must ensure that we do more. As I said previously, during the G20 a number of prime ministers and leaders throughout the world were present. Upon their arrival, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with the prime minister from India and discuss some of the concerns of the Indo-Canadian community. One of the issues I raised was the issue of fraudulent immigration consultants.
The minister must have seen this in his travels as well. I believe he has just come back from both New Delhi and Chandigarh. Countries like India have a great source of these unscrupulous immigration consultants who provide false hope to vulnerable people.
In my meeting, and also in a subsequent letter to him, I asked the prime minister to encourage foreign governments, like the government of India, to put in place legislation which would provide the creation of licensing bodies, or regulatory bodies, regulations and statutory powers for these immigration consultants.
It is a great opportunity for countries like Canada to co-operate and collaborate with some of these foreign governments to ensure that not only in Canada but in countries in other parts of the world also put in place mechanisms which will put a stop to these unscrupulous immigration consultants.
Many individuals operate as ghost consultants. They promise people high-paying jobs and fast-tracked visas. It is often too late when these unfortunate individuals find out they have been scammed.
If passed, the bill will be an opportunity to make it a crime for a person who is not a lawyer, a notary, or a member of a recognized association of immigration consultants to accept any sort of fee.
Recently an individual was charged by the RCMP in Montreal for providing unscrupulous services and making false promises. The individual had issued fraudulent IDs. With the hope of coming to Canada, a number of individuals provide fraudulent documentation and false information on their applications. I agree with my colleague who spoke earlier that we must ensure that Canada puts in place a zero tolerance policy for people who provide falsifies documents, whether it be false birth certificates or false school records, and that they not be allowed to re-apply to the Canadian system.
Another issue I hear about, not only as a female parliamentarian, but from the many events that I attend in my constituency is the issue of fraud marriages. Many individuals marry Canadians simply for the hope of coming to Canada. This exists in many countries in the world. I believe the minister held a forum in my adjacent riding a few weeks back on this issue. He mentioned that Hong Kong had one of the highest rates right now of individuals wanting to come to Canada on the basis of fraud marriages. He mentioned the statistic which was approximately 60% of the applications in Hong Kong right now were being denied for spousal applications because they were based on these networks and rings. Some of the information, even for fraud marriages, is coming from immigration consultants who are providing false advice in the hopes of taking money and trying to get people into Canada as soon as possible without following appropriate timelines, procedures and protocols.
This legislation will be a step in the right direction. I hope when it goes to committee, it will be a great opportunity to hear from stakeholders, witnesses and individuals who have been impacted.
I have a story that happened last month in my riding. A young who was born and raised in Canada entered into a marriage. She is a polio victim in a wheelchair. The person she married in India was fully aware of this. The case, upon going into the embassy, was denied. The woman spent all of her and her family's savings to bring her spouse to Canada. When he received the visa to come to Canada, he did not even bother to call her. There are many of those type of stories when individuals get their visas and do not even call upon arrival at the airport. If they do come, I have seen many instances of the spouses being abused. These stories are heart-rending. There are no words to really describe the pain that these families and individuals go through.
Whether it is on the issue of fraud marriages or whether it is on the issue of unscrupulous immigration consultants, the bill is a step in the right direction. It is a great opportunity for all parties to work together in collaboration and co-operation to come up with solutions that will help put a stop to these crooked consultants and to the issue of fraud marriages.
I look forward to working with the stakeholders involved to develop solutions that will work, so, once and for all, we can ensure that these unscrupulous and crooked immigration consultants are put out of work and that all people operate above board, following the proper policies and procedures for people to come to Canada in hope for a better future and a better life.