Mr. Rick Dykstra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Madam Speaker, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, I am pleased to rise today to commence third reading of Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
This important piece of legislation would strengthen the rules governing those who charge a fee for immigration advice and representation. I hope at the end of the day that all hon. members will support the bill.
Over the past four years, this government has proposed and implemented initiatives and policies that clearly demonstrate a commitment to innovation and to improvement. Hon. members will recall that we modernized our immigration system by bringing flexibility to the way we select immigrants while tackling the backlog. We had to fix our immigration system or else the number of people waiting to come here would have swelled to over 1.5 million by 2012.
To improve Canada's asylum system, the minister introduced earlier this year the balanced refugee reform act. Its implementation will mean faster protection for those who genuinely need it and fast removals of bogus refugees who simply do not.
Now it is time to address the lack of public confidence in the regulation of immigration consultants. We all know that people anxious to immigrate to Canada can fall victim to unscrupulous immigration representatives who charge exorbitant fees and may promise would-be immigrants high-paying jobs or guaranteed, fast-tracked visas.
We have all heard or read about their unscrupulous and deceitful schemes such as encouraging prospective immigrants to lie on their applications, to concoct bogus stories about persecution while making refugee claims or to enter into sham marriages with Canadian citizens and permanent residents. In their quest for personal gain these unscrupulous representatives have displayed a wanton disregard for our immigration rules, bilked numerous people out of their hard-earned dollars and left countless lives in tatters along the way. These crooked immigration representatives are a menace, posing a costly threat not only to their victims but also to the integrity and fairness of our system.
Bill C-35 would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act so that only members in good standing of a law society of a province, the Chambre des notaires du Québec or a body designated by the minister may represent or advise for a fee, or offer to do so at any stage of a proceeding or application.
Under the current legislation, the involvement of representatives in the pre-application or pre-submission period is beyond the scope of the law. Well, I am happy to say that Bill C-35 fixes that. By our casting a wider net, unauthorized individuals who provide paid advice or representation at any stage would be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment. This includes undeclared ghost consultants who operate in the shadows and conceal their involvement in an application or proceeding.
Further, there are currently no mechanisms in law that give the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the authority to oversee the governing body regulating immigration consultants. The bill would provide the minister with the power by regulation to designate a body to govern immigration consultants and provide the Governor in Council the ability to establish measures to enhance the government's oversight of that designated body.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is currently limited in its ability to disclose to the relevant governing body information on individuals providing unethical or unprofessional representation or advice. The bill would allow CIC to disclose such information to those responsible for governing or investigating that conduct, so we can work together to crack down on crooked consultants. An investigation could be undertaken more readily by the appropriate governing body and, where appropriate, disciplinary action pursued.
As we all know, governing bodies are responsible for taking disciplinary action against their members in cases of misconduct. This includes the revocation of membership. The governing body for immigration consultants can, like other bodies, investigate the conduct of its members where there is a concern that a member has breached a term of his or her membership. Provincial law societies use a similar process to look into complaints concerning their own members.
This bill is a comprehensive proposal to provide protection for vulnerable would-be immigrants by imposing serious criminal sanctions on unscrupulous representatives, enhancing oversight of the governing body for immigration consultants and improving information-sharing tools.
Since its introduction, Bill C-35 has received positive feedback from stakeholders, the media and Canadians, all of whom believe that this change was long overdue.
Throughout the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration study of Bill C-35, the minister and government committee members listened to the concerns raised and, accordingly, have adjusted the bill in a way that we believe can only strengthen it. That is what I said. We adjusted the bill accordingly during our consultations at committee.
For example, the government proposed the recognition of paralegals regulated by a law society. By recognizing the ability of law societies to govern their members in the public interest, such recognition could help protect would-be immigrants.
In response to concerns raised in good faith by parliamentarians, we also agreed to a number of amendments that reflect their input, resulting in language that, I believe, has strengthened this bill.
These amendments create a package that would realize our goal of cracking down on unscrupulous immigration representatives who exploit prospective would-be immigrants.
The offence provision found in Bill C-35 has been amended to capture both direct and indirect representation and advice. Penalties have been toughened by increasing the maximum fine for the offence of providing unauthorized immigration advice from $50,000 to $100,000; and summary convictions from $10,000 to $20,000.
The statute of limitations for summary conviction has also been increased to 10 years, offering investigators ample time to properly and fully investigate various offences committed under the act and lay charges before the time period passes.
In addition, for greater clarity, the government proposed a compromise amendment, which would respect Quebec's jurisdiction while maintaining federal authority over the regulation of immigration consultants.
The intention of this provision is to recognize that the province's act respecting immigration to Quebec applies to immigration consultants who, for consideration, advise or represent a person who files an application with the Quebec minister or government.
This amendment is not intended to capture immigration consultants who are advising or representing a person with regard to processes or requirements only under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, where these processes or requirements do not relate to Quebec legislation.
The proposed reforms follow the launch in 2009 of a public information campaign with information on the web in Canada, at missions abroad and through the media, explaining to Canadians how our immigration system works.
At the same time that Bill C-35 moves through the legislative process, a public selection process has been undertaken, under current authority, to identify a governing body for recognition as the regulator of immigration consultants.
In 2008 and 2009, reports of the standing committee pointed to a lack of public confidence in the body currently governing immigration consultants. This lack of public confidence poses a significant and immediate threat to the immigration program and its process.
Public comments on the selection process were solicited in June. This was followed by a call for submissions, as published in the Canada Gazette on August 28.
This open and transparent process is being undertaken in order to ensure that the body governing immigration consultants can effectively regulate its members, thus ensuring public confidence in the integrity of our immigration program.
A selection committee, composed of officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, other federal government organizations and external experts, will examine all of the completed submissions against the criteria listed in the call for submissions that I spoke of earlier.
The selection committee will provide the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism with a recommendation as to which organizations, if any, has or have demonstrated the necessary organizational competencies.
Any and all potential and interested candidates are welcome to apply, including the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
This ongoing public selection process, together with the legislative changes proposed in Bill C-35, ensure the most efficient and the most effective approach to strengthening the regulation of immigration consultants, immediately and in the future. However, as we know all too well, there are large numbers of immigration consultants who operate beyond our borders.
The problem we are trying to address is large in scale and it is international in scope. The value of coming to Canada is so great in the minds of so many that they are often willing to pay their life savings in cash, and beyond, to unscrupulous representatives with the false promise of obtaining visas to visit or to move to Canada. That is why, when the minister met in September with some of our international partners, he underscored the need for combined action to thwart fraud and various forms of exploitation by unscrupulous immigration representatives.
The commission of fraud under Canada's immigration program is a crime that threatens the integrity of our immigration system, raises security concerns, wastes tax dollars, is unfair to those who do follow the rules and adds to the processing time for legitimate applications. We are fortunate that Canada's visa officers are extremely vigilant in preventing the exploitation of victims, but every fake document and false story we find slows down the entire system and diverts our resources away from legitimate applications. That is because our fraud deterrents and verification efforts, while effective, require much more time and resources than routine processing of applications.
Members can see why we are determined to crack down on immigration fraud or misrepresentation by unscrupulous immigration representatives. These unscrupulous representatives victimize people who dream of immigrating to this country. With no motive but greed, these profiteers take advantage of would-be immigrants and tempt them with a bogus bill of goods.
Needless to say, the underhanded schemes of unscrupulous representatives undermine the integrity and the fairness of Canada's immigration system. It is imperative that we tackle the threat they pose and this bill would allow us to do just that. The changes we propose would strengthen the rules governing those who provide immigration advice and representation for a fee, or offer to do so, and it would improve the way in which immigration consultants are regulated.
These changes are also in line with amendments we have proposed to the Citizenship Act to regulate citizenship consultants, which is Bill C-37 and will be coming to this House for second reading very shortly.
For far too long, unscrupulous immigration representatives have preyed upon the hopes and the dreams of would-be immigrants to our country. This disreputable conduct has brought shame to their profession and has abused our immigration system.
As was the case with Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the spirit of compromise and co-operation surrounding this bill has again been remarkable. I should speak to that briefly.
The fact is that one of the things Canadians have asked this government to do, and have asked all parties in this House to do, is to do our best to work together, to not be seen as always opposing the position of each other for political gain or to embarrass each other, because at the end of the day, legislation that passes through this House must be good for Canadians. It must be effective and efficient in terms of the new law that it sets, the new standard that it sets, in legislation.
I have to say, having been a member, as a parliamentary secretary, of the citizenship and immigration committee since the 40th general election, it is in fact a testament to the group of people who have sat on that committee and the group of people who sit on the committee now that indeed, while we do have our political flare-ups and we do have our disagreements, we have in fact, with Bill C-11 and Bill C-35, found a way to work together.
I certainly want to credit my critic who, while being on the job for a little less than a year, has in fact taken up the challenge that his predecessor put in front of him in terms of ensuring that, if we are going to work on issues of citizenship, on issues of immigration and on issues of multiculturalism and because the laws of the country sit before that committee, we must work together on behalf of Canadians to move that legislation forward.
The citizenship and immigration committee certainly has set an example of the spirit of compromise. It is a testament that legislation requires the support not just of the government but of a number of individuals in order to get it through the House.
Bill C-35 is a testament to the compromise the government is prepared to make without surrendering its values or the importance of the legislation the government puts before the House. The government recognizes that in the spirit of compromise, in some cases, the amendments actually strengthen the legislation. Bill C-35 is stronger now than it was before it went to committee. I compliment the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who understands the need to listen, respond and act when legislation is moving forward.
I think the vote on third reading of Bill C-35 will show the support throughout the House for this piece of legislation. This legislation stands for those people who come to this country to become Canadians because of the history and traditions that make Canada a great country. Many people want to become Canadian citizens.
It is important to note that this legislation is for prospective Canadians. It is not just for those who are already Canadian citizens. That speaks volumes to where we are going as a country in terms of the immigrants coming here to build better lives for themselves and to contribute to the Canadian way of life. This bill does a great job in terms of representing that direction.
It is my hope that the spirit of compromise and co-operation as seen during the committee's study of Bill C-35 will ensure the bill's passage in the House.
I want to note the tireless efforts of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Many in the House know of his hard work.
I also want to compliment all of the members of the committee, in particular my colleagues who sit on the government side. All five of them put in hours and hours of effort to ensure that this bill would move forward and carry.
I want to thank the chairman of the committee who at times had to rule with an iron fist. At times, he had to ensure that even the parliamentary secretary kept his cool during the hearings. In fact, I moved a motion to challenge the chair. I lost that vote as the opposition members actually sided with the chairman, but I certainly respected his decision in that regard.
Despite the workings of some of the issues that arose, the chairman did an excellent job in guiding the committee through some difficult negotiations and discussions on the bill. He ensured that witnesses, members of the public from across the country, who wanted the opportunity to participate and speak to the bill in terms of what was good or in need of change were allowed to do so.
At the end of the day, we have a piece of legislation before this House of which all of us regardless of political stripe can be proud. The government will do its best to ensure that Bill C-35 is implemented quickly once it receives royal assent.
To conclude, I wish to thank the people who work at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They did an amazing job in ensuring that this bill met all of the standards this government wanted it to meet.
Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-35 at third reading. Everyone knows that our country was built on immigration. People came from all over the world to try to build a new life. In some ways, it was easier to come to Canada in the past. There was certainly less paperwork 100 or even 50 years ago. Now, the process is complicated and strict. We want to ensure that the people we welcome into Canada are the best and that they have a lot to offer to help build a good, strong society.
That is why it is so disheartening to have seen that, for so many years, there have been immigration consultants who have been taking advantage of vulnerable people who want to improve their lives, who want to travel across the seas to start a new life and instead end up defrauded and taken advantage of by unscrupulous consultants.
That is why the bill and various projects around cracking down on unscrupulous consultants have come through various committee studies and we finally arrive at this point where we are bringing forward a framework for the minister to pick a new, and hopefully more effective, governing body around immigration consultants.
As my hon. colleague mentioned, this was a model of co-operation among all parliamentarians. There was a clear desire on behalf of Canadians to see Parliament work together to create a more robust structure that was going to care for these vulnerable people, people looking for help in a very big decision and process, that of coming to Canada.
We agreed in principle across the House that something needed to be done. On this side, we are still a little bit worried that the establishment of the recommendation from the immigration committee upon which Bill C-35 was built, which talked about creating a stand-alone regulator, was not entirely followed and is instead still just done through regulations.
However, I think the intent of the bill is clear and the effectiveness of what we have in place will move forward to protecting Canadians.
The essential part of the bill is that it gives more power to go after people who are consulting and offering advice at the earliest stages of an application process. The larger scope of the bill will allow us to protect people even before they have submitted a firm application, which was an important loophole to close.
On the other issues we brought forward as amendments, the Liberal Party was pleased to present the amendment that actually doubled the fines to $20,000 for a summary conviction, and up to $100,000 from $50,000 for anyone convicted of being an unregistered immigration consultant.
There was an excellent discussion in committee around the role and the responsibilities of immigration consultants in Quebec.
We concluded that, without taking anything away from the federal government's power, any immigration consultant working in the province of Quebec who wants to recommend an immigration opportunity in Quebec must be familiar with the immigration system in that province. The primacy of the federal government in this area in maintained, but we recognize that in Quebec, it is extremely important to be able to speak French to interact with the Quebec government. In addition, the consultant must be familiar with the particularities of the process in Quebec to be able to give good advice to those who would like to become citizens of this country.
We also managed to get rid of the short title. In consultations, it came back time and time again from consultants that they were actually offended and felt that naming the bill around the problem, which is the crooked consultants, actually demeaned and belittled the work of legitimate consultants. So we depoliticized the short title of the bill, which was a victory.
In general, the bill puts forward more powers of accountability for, and better relationships between, the minister's office and the eventual regulator. It provides for the sharing of information.
Unfortunately, one of the concerns we have, which is beyond the scope of this bill, is that in our mind there are still not enough resources for the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP to go after those who are not registered consultants and are still operating as, as we call them, ghost consultants, without being qualified or being able to guarantee that they are offering proper services to these vulnerable people who want to emigrate to Canada.
Ultimately, Bill C-35 is just an initial step in allowing the minister to create a new governing body for immigration consultants. It provides a very general framework. It provides a few important key issues. However, push is going to come to shove in the coming months when the government and the minister actually settle on who is going to be the next governing body for immigration consultants.
We have to make sure that we do not just end up with the same problems once again. We have to make sure that there is going to be a strong governance framework around this new consultant body. We have to make sure, if we stick with the same organization that will be articulated in a new way, that the same problems do not come back. We have to make sure that if we have a new and completely different governing body than the one existing right now, we do not fall into the same old traps and have the same ineffectiveness and problems that we have right now.
That is going to be where the opposition parties will watch closely what the government and the minister do and hopefully will engage and help shape the decision in such a way that people will truly be protected by this set of regulations governing immigration consultants.
The members of the committee worked together. We had differences and concerns that were hammered out. It was, as the parliamentary secretary has said, a model of co-operation and of trying to do right by Canadians on this important issue. It is something that I was very pleased to be able to be part of, and it is something that I know we can be proud of as parliamentarians, that on important issues, from time to time, we are able to work together.
I think the spirit of collegiality and co-operation is important and I certainly hope it extends to other bills and other issues on which we can find agreement in principle and not just tweak in committee but improve in committee, as my hon. colleague has said.
For all of these reasons, the Liberal Party is very happy to support Bill C-35 at third reading. We hope that it will be quickly passed by the other chamber so that Canadians will be protected when we have our new regulator for immigration consultants.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking about Bill C-35, which we are debating today. We have talked a lot about immigration consultants, which are the focus of this bill.
I want to begin by speaking about the bill's title. Those following the debate since speeches started in the House this morning at about 10:20 a.m. would initially have seen it indicated on their screen that we are talking about the “Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act”, or the “Loi sévissant contre les consultants véreux” in French.
If they are watching now, they will probably see that we are talking about An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This was changed because, likely, at the beginning of the debate the audiovisual team was using the former title of the bill.
In committee, it was decided that the title should be changed to make it more neutral and objective. There are a number of reasons for this decision. Even though we all agree that a bill title has no legal effect and is simply a secondary element in the debate about the substantive clauses and the actual provisions of the bill, the title is still important. On one hand, the title is important from a social point of view because it can affect how people perceive the bill. On the other hand, it is important from a political point of view because it is a tool used by the government to engage in political marketing and even to change the essence and intent of a bill for its own purposes. The government is using this technique more and more.
I will discuss both cases, beginning with the one before us, Bill C-35. It seems to me that the government was using the bill's original title for political purposes. They said they would attack crooked consultants. That sounds like an opinion to me. Opinions have no place in the law. The government should stick to a technical description of what the bill does, which in this case is amend the immigration act to require people who want to practise as immigration consultants and who are not already members of a provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires du Québec to be members of a body to be designated by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. That is what this bill would do.
In practice, will this actually improve the situation and crack down on crooked consultants? That is a matter of opinion. Every member of the House is entitled to an opinion on the subject. I suppose that if the bill receives unanimous support, as it seems to have, that means people pretty much agree. Of course, the 308 members of the House can make mistakes. In the end, history may confirm that we have not. I do not think there should be anything subjective in the title.
If we want voters and the public to respect us, we should be humble enough to resist using bill titles to promote any messages, claims or opinions whatsoever. We must also take into account the potential social impact of an inappropriate title. In this case, they were calling it the cracking down on crooked consultants act.
Imagine consultants telling their clients to trust them because they have been accredited under the cracking down on crooked consultants act. As if. Picture the certificate hanging behind a consultant's desk, stating that the consultant has been accredited under the cracking down on crooked consultants act. That is not what the bill is about. This bill is about consultants who are not crooked. That is why the title of the bill was changed. Personally, I hope that the government will put an end to this practice, which has been observed in several House committees.
It is a ridiculous practice, one that wastes a great deal of parliamentarians' energy. In many cases, the bills do not even accomplish what is stated in the title, and that skews the democratic debate.
Since there is unanimity in the House on Bill C-35, I would like to provide a few other examples. In fact, most of the disagreement in committee was about the title.
There was Bill C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. Once again, the title was a claim. There was also the Protecting Victims from Sex Offenders Act. That is a matter of opinion; we may or may not agree that Bill C-34 will actually protect people from sex offenders. Then there is the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. I gave examples from different Parliaments, and there are others from the current session. We have bills pertaining to security that are named in memory of a victim whose case has nothing to do with the bill in question.
Getting back to immigration, given that this is the subject of the bill before us today, there is Bill C-49, at second reading. The title, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, is an opinion. In fact, most observers, including the opposition members in the House, find that the bill does not in any way deal with smugglers, but rather targets refugees. The title also refers to people who abuse the immigration system. The bill does not refer to the immigration system but to the refugee protection system. The title is completely at odds with the reality and serves as a political marketing tool.
The government has said that people support their bill. It conducted a poll and asked whether people agreed with the law to prevent human smugglers from abusing our immigration system. Everyone is evidently in agreement. The problem is that the bill does not do what the title says.
Clearly, this is a ploy on the government's part. Basically, the government is admitting that it knows very well that it will not be able to sell the contents of its bill to the public. So it is using smoke and mirrors. It is using the title as an intermediary to try and suggest that one of its bills cracks down on crooked consultants and therefore must be a good bill. It has a bill that cracks down on human smugglers, so it is a good bill.
The most pathetic title we have seen in this House was the title of a bill that was something like: an act to stop the trafficking of minors, even though the word “trafficking” was not mentioned once in the entire bill. The bill had a title that referred to the trafficking of minors, even though the bill was not about that.
Clearly, this is a recurring ploy that must stop. I am very pleased that the members of the committee agreed to stop playing the government's game. I hope the government will have the wisdom and good sense to stop playing these ridiculous little games. The parliamentary secretary talked about it and so did my Liberal colleague, the hon. member for Papineau, and I imagine my NDP colleague will also talk about it, since we tend to work very well together on that committee; we respect one another, despite our political differences. If the government wanted to demonstrate its desire to co-operate and its respect for the opposition members, it could start by giving its bills legitimate titles, instead of making these inane attempts to manipulate public opinion.
I realize that was a long digression, but I had to do it. All that being said, I will now talk about the substance of the bill.
Those who want to immigrate to Quebec and Canada, whether we are talking about refugees, economic immigrants, immigrants in the family reunification category, or people who come on humanitarian or other grounds, are often overwhelmed and not sure what to do next. They are unfamiliar with our laws and are a bit distressed by the red tape. We can relate because we cannot keep up with all the bureaucracy, requirements and regulations either. It is hard for us to keep track of our rights. Imagine what it is like for an immigrant.
There is a real and legitimate concern and many of these people seek advice on the immigration application process. The advice they are given is extremely important because it can have a significant impact on the ruling to be made and on the rest of their lives. During this process, many decide to deal with lawyers or notaries. That is what I always recommend when people knock on the door of my riding office.
However, others seek advice and representation from an immigration consultant. The problem is that, unlike notaries or lawyers, immigration consultants are not really regulated. The regulatory body for these consultants, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, does not work at all; it is a colossal failure. This agency has serious governance problems and is run by people who commit flagrant abuses. They take liberties and do not administer the agency in the interest of its members or the general public. In my opinion, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants has to be abolished. It is beyond repair because it is fundamentally tainted by personal interests to the detriment of its members and the general public. I hope the minister will see it that way when he designates an agency.
A new organization must therefore be created that will better regulate the occupation. Let us hope that, with the new act, this organization will not encounter the same type of internal management problems and that it will have a much broader sphere of activity. Rather than controlling the relationship between the consultant and the government only from the day the application is filed to the day the application is ultimately accepted or rejected, the new act will cover the entire relationship between the consultant and the client or in other words, from the moment a client contacts a consultant or a consultant offers a potential client his or her services. This is a real improvement. However, the organization designated by the minister must do its work correctly and separate the wheat from the chaff.
We have to admit that there are some good immigration consultants; however, there are others who do not do their work properly at all. When touring the country, we were told that some consultants were abusing their ethnic proximity a little or even a lot. Someone immigrates to a new country where they do not know the system and do not know whom to trust, and then they meet someone from the same ethnic group who has successfully immigrated to Canada. Human nature being what it is, they might have a tendency to trust that person more than someone else.
Many crooked consultants—that is how the minister referred to them at the beginning—will abuse this trust. Sometimes these people do not know French or English, nor do they know the laws. People may pay a consultant thousands of dollars and that consultant will not even bother to submit their applications. They wonder why they have not heard anything, so they call the constituency office or the department only to be told that their application was never received and no one has ever heard of it. It can take years before they figure this out. There was a similar story on the news yesterday morning: a lady paid thousands of dollars but her application was likely never submitted.
We have taken a step forward. The House can pass laws, but it does not create the regulations. It is not the House that ultimately does the selection. The minister's role in that regard is very important. He must make wise choices and not usurp the will of Parliament, as has happened in the past, particularly in terms of immigration. He must comply with legislation and ensure that there is finally a real regulator that lives up to that title. Competent people are needed in order to ensure that the immigration consultants in Quebec and Canada are competent.
I have one last aside. Throughout this process, I have insisted that we must ensure that immigration consultants in Quebec are familiar with the requirements of the Quebec immigration system, which has its particularities. There is an agreement between Canada and Quebec. This must be recognized. If there are two categories of immigration consultants in Quebec, people who are submitting an application will not know whether their consultant is able to advise them on all of the possible options or just those that fall under either federal or Quebec jurisdiction. I maintain that, in dealing with immigration issues, we must always remember that the situation in Quebec is different and requires special treatment.
I would like to repeat that there is a good deal of collaboration in this committee. If there are interesting bills, we will study them. I do want to share a little frustration that is not the fault of the committee members or our chair, but it is a result of parliamentary procedure, which seriously limits us with respect to amendment possibilities. We could have developed a better bill if we had had more latitude, as parliamentarians, to make amendments that would change the bill's scope and give it a better direction. That is a problem for all parliamentarians. I hope that we will be able to have a look at this issue in the near future.
In the meantime, overall, I think that the bill before us deserves the support of Parliament.
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Madam Speaker, all government services should be fast, fair and efficient. That should always include immigration services. People who use the service often do not necessarily know immigration laws very well and sometimes have language difficulties. That is why, ultimately, immigration regulations and laws should be transparent. They should be easy to understand. The decision-making process should be very clear and not appear to be arbitrary. Until then, a lot of immigrants will require some assistance. Some will have to go to immigration consultants or lawyers. We hope most will find they do not have the need to do so.
For the past many years, immigration consultants have not been regulated. The former Liberal government brought forward a bill a few years ago and set up a regulatory body. However, the regulatory body was not given the power to regulate properly. As a result, people could set up shop and call themselves immigration consultants without much knowledge of immigration laws or regulations. They could practise, but they did not need to be regulated and they were not breaking any law.
There are 2,000 immigration consultants who are licensed through one body and then there are another 2,000 immigration consultants practising who are not licensed. No one could really tell whether one group was better than the other group, or that any immigration consultants were breaking the laws.
In the last five years, only two or three people have been charged by the government for fraudulent behaviour. However, most people who have dealt with immigrants, whether at immigration offices or constituency offices of members of Parliament, have heard many horrifying experiences, where potential immigrants have been told that their applications have been submitted, but they have not. As a result, their brothers or sisters have grown too old to be considered under family class, or applications are completed in a way that is wrong. Many thousands of dollars later, because their applications have not been completed correctly, the potential immigrants have lost the opportunity to come to Canada or Canadians have been unable to bring their relatives to be united with them in Canada.
There are also other even more extreme cases where immigration consultants have taught people how lie and pretend to be refugees, clogging up the refugee system so genuine refugees have to wait for a long time before their cases are heard.
There are also cases where genuine refugees complete their application forms incorrectly. Some of them experienced torture overseas, but they were unable to describe it in a way that was satisfactory because of the wrong advice they received from consultants. As a result, some faced deportation, while others lost a lot of money.
This terrible experience suffered by potential immigrants is not new. In the early eighties, I was an assistant to a member of Parliament, New Democrat Dan Heap. At that time, I worked with the Globe and Mail with Victor Malarek, an investigative journalist. We visited a few unscrupulous immigration consultants and were able to document all types of behaviour that was fraudulent.
In the eighties and nineties there was a huge uproar in the communities. People were saying that these consultants had to be regulated, yet through these years, it was never done properly.
I hope, with Bill C-35, we will finally get it done properly. I hope the minister will ensure that there is speedy implementation of the bill, that the regulator will be picked and that it will operate in a democratic, fair and open manner. I also hope the regulator will have the power to legislate and regulate all immigration consultants. If people choose to practise as immigration consultants, they will be unable to do so, if they proceed without the licensing of this body. It will be a criminal offence to do so.
Beyond that, legislation is just one piece of the puzzle. The other piece includes education of both Canadians and potential immigrants overseas. The third piece is enforcement of the law. Even after a regulator has been established and licensed, we need to ensure that the Canadian Border Services Agency, the RCMP, sometimes CSIS and immigration officers work together to go after people who act in a fraudulent manner. The regulator needs the power to do this.
The Canadian government also needs to provide the kind of human resources needed in order to ensure those who commit a criminal act will be brought to justice. If not, the legislation will unfortunately not be enforced.
As well, after the regulator has been established, there needs to be regular evaluation. There have to be audits and regular reporting so it is clear for Canadian taxpayers, immigrants, members of Parliament and the general public that this new regulatory body functions in a way that is open, transparent and fair.
I want to spend some time on the detail of the proposed legislation. I have made quite a few amendments to the bill, one of which deals with smugglers, traffickers and immigration consultants who give bad advice. Through this amendment, if people, be they smugglers or consultants, violate the immigration act, enforcement officers will now have 10 years to go after them. In the past, it was only six months. Therefore, it is much tougher and there will be more fines if convictions take place. Smugglers will face life sentences and/or $1 million in fines if they are convicted. The punishment to those who give bad advice, cheat or victimize refugees and immigrants is very steep, and that is a good change.
Another change is the minister will have the power to revoke a regulator's licence. If a regulator is not performing the duty it is supposed to perform, the minister will have the power to take its licence away, especially if it is not delivering good service.
Other changes that I have been assured will be implemented are as follows.
There is the provision that would require immigrants seeking immigration status of any kind or renewing status in Canada to disclose the use of a representative. This would enable immigration officers to check whether a representative was licensed or not.
An administrative change would be a published list of people who had been convicted or removed from the list of approved immigration consultants. This list would be published on the Citizenship and Immigration website. Potential overseas immigrants would be able to see which consultants were licensed, which ones had their licences revoked or had been fined or convicted.
There would be a one-stop shop kind of hotline for the public to report fraud with a lead team to investigate the tips from complaints on unscrupulous immigration consultants. Often it is very confusing for immigrants, especially if their language capacity is not perfect. They may not know whether they should go to the local police, the RCMP, the immigration officer, or CBSA and they may get bounced around. At the end of the day, an immigrant may get frustrated and not file a complaint. Then the immigration consultant would continue to exploit other people. With the hotline and information published on the website of CIC, the public will know how to report fraud.
Another area where there is agreement is on some companies operating in Beijing or New Delhi. A company in India will be advised that it cannot provide substantive immigration advice. It is assisting immigrants to process claims, but it should not act as consultants or lawyers. It is not its task and really should not be its function.
At the end of day, after these agreements, there were still a few changes I would have made, but they were never included in Bill C-35.
I would have preferred to have seen overseas employment recruiters included in the bill so they could be licensed as well. If they ended up behaving in a way that was unacceptable, then they could be charged.
I hoped that if potential immigrants were given terrible advice, they would have a chance to reapply if the immigration consultant was convicted. Also, the immigrant's removal from Canada would be stayed until the immigration consultant went to court and was convicted.
Sometimes, whether they are smugglers, traffickers or crooked consultants, they give bad advice and the victims end up being deported from Canada and are not given the chance to either report the fraud or testify in court. The smugglers, traffickers or crooked consultants end up getting away without being convicted in court and they end up preying on other people.
A stay of removal until the criminals are convicted is really important so the victims are protected. If not, others, unfortunately, will be victimized by these criminals.
Unfortunately, that did not get into Bill C-35. This bill also deals with the same section of the law that deals with traffickers and smugglers. I would prefer it if we could reverse the onus so that the smugglers would have to prove that they are innocent. However, that was not acceptable.
All in all, at the end of the day, Bill C-35 is a bill that I and the New Democratic Party of Canada support because it would provide a legislative framework to ensure that all immigration consultants practising in Canada must be licensed and it would tighten up the law so that hopefully there will be fewer immigrants being cheated and having their life destroyed by these crooks.
I hope there will be sufficient resources to ensure the enforcement of this bill so that in a few years from now we will not be coming back to the House yet one more time to try to fix this issue.
Ultimately, maybe five or ten years from now, if the industry has matured in a way to be able to set up an independent non-share corporation so that the body can be self-regulating and the minister or the Government of Canada would no longer have to regulate, that would be the way to go. Just like the Canadian Bar Association, the Law Society or other professional bodies of engineers or accountants, this immigration consultant industry would be able to independently regulate itself.
I have been persuaded that the time is not right yet. Eventually that would be the goal for this industry to practice, as an independent non-share corporation. In the meantime, I hope the minister will be wise and will pick the right kind of regulator that will be able to deliver the service in a most efficient, open and transparent manner.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I want to speak to Bill C-35 because it affects all hon. members in the conduct of their work. It is probably one of the more sensitive and the more difficult areas. It deals with constituents who have matters dealing with immigration and even refugee issues.
Recently I have had a number of cases where people received bad information. They either did not provide true, full, plain and accurate information on a form or in representations, or there were some contradictions, and it was basically because of these so-called experts or advisers, many of whom are just people who are part of a particular community and say they have been through this before and know how to do it. It is a real tragedy when that happens, while someone with all the details on the table will be able to successfully complete an application, be considered and in fact be able to proceed with whatever proceeding is going on, or even with regard to things such as appeals.
This problem has been going on for so long that we have finally come to a bill that says, in proposed subsection 91(1):
|| Subject to this section, no person shall knowingly, directly or indirectly, represent or advise a person, for direct or indirect consideration — or offer to do so — in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act.
It is interesting that the words “directly or indirectly” were put in there, I assume for greater certainty, but even the reference in this subsection, “or offer to do so”. Even to offer to provide advice for money is an offence unless it is persons who are designated as not contravening because they are either lawyers, members of a law society, including paralegals, or members in good standing of a body designated under subsection 91(5).
I previously asked the question of the member for Trinity—Spadina with regard to subsection 91(5) and said I would like an example of someone who might be designated by the minister. She gave the example of a paralegal, which actually is already in subsection 91(2). So I still do not have that. I hope someone is going to be able to expand on that, because when it gives the minister, under regulations, the authority to designate a body whose members in good standing may represent or advise a person for consideration, or offer to do so, in connection with the act, that means that notwithstanding anything else that is in the bill, the regulation is going to provide presumably a list of others who may be designated.
As I have often said in this place, bills that come before us are tabled and at first reading they get a bill number, we have second reading debate on the document, and if it is passed, it goes to committee where we have witnesses and amendments can be proposed. Once it passes through committee, it will come back to this place, where we can amend the bill with report stage motions, particularly from members who are not otherwise engaged in the process of the committee work, and also where the committee had not considered any such suggestions already. Now we are at third reading, and after all of this and we are going to vote on the bill in a very short time, we still do not know what the regulations will say. That is always my question.
If we look at legislation and ask when does it come into force and it says it comes into force on a date fixed by Governor in Council, that basically means that even though we may pass it and it goes through the Senate and all the legislative steps, it does not come into force until the regulations are drafted and promulgated and in fact are gazetted. That basically means nobody knows when it will happen, and there are other areas in which regulations have to be made.
My concern is that we have been having a debate on a bill that would do something and we have provided within the bill those who will not be committing an offence, but we have this regulation that would also exempt others at the discretion of the minister. I do not know whether that includes the YMCA or other social service agencies, something such as that, that may deal with the public.
The wording here is kind of interesting. Even to offer to provide service for direct or indirect compensation or benefit would constitute an offence under this.
I used to do the audit of a number of agencies, such as the Malton Community Council and immigration consulting services of Peel. These are organizations that do not fall under the legal ambit. I assume that the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants itself may in fact be providing services to people. I do not know whether they are going to be included as well.
It leaves us in the situation, which we have been in so many other cases, where the legislation in its intent is clear, but the details with regard to the principal persons who would be authorized or who have been, as put here, committing an offence or a contravention of the section are still unknown. We still do not know who these others are.
That little hole means that until this bill becomes law and the regulations are there, people are going to continue to do this. This is a problem in terms of people providing bad advice, which has very serious consequences on the lives of people who may very well find themselves taken out of Canada and sent back to the country from which they came, for any proceeding under this act, for people who are giving information.
I think every member of Parliament in this place could give an example of where individuals had relied on bad advice from people who represented themselves as knowing how the system worked. Once a person's file gets that little black mark on the top corner, the flag, that means that not only is that person's situation jaundiced and possibly dead, but it may also mean that other family members would be involved. People desperately want to do it right. They want to become Canadians. They want to be in Canada, and they rely on someone who unscrupulously provides them with information that is not correct, either because they are not properly trained or up to date on the law, or in fact maybe they simply want to get money from people who trust them. This happens far too often.
I am not sure whether bills such as this ought not to be also accompanied by a commitment by the government to educate the public. We can pass laws here every day, but if people do not realize that there is a serious concern about unscrupulous people out there who are giving bad advice and charging a lot of money for it, I wonder when the government is going to tell people that they can go to their members of Parliament first.
There are experienced people in the constituency offices of members of Parliament, who have been through the process many times. They have seen some of the ugly stories where people have blown it because they relied on those who were not properly informed about the law or the processes, the number of people who have been told not to disclose the fact that they have a child who is staying with somebody back home somewhere, and they are told that will be taken care of later. Something such as that would be a terrible blow to anybody's chances of being successful in an appeal or whatever it might be.
We get these situations. It was probably the first critical issue that I dealt with when I became a member of Parliament some 17 years ago, to have people come and see me who already find themselves with some problem and not understanding why they have to provide this, that or the other thing, or they are being questioned why something was not done and they do not know what to do now. Sometimes, at that point, it is too late.
It goes also to the fact that when members of Parliament get elected and come to this place, most members do not realize that their offices are going to become, for all intents and purposes, consultancies for immigration, refugee, citizenship and visa issues. It is a very complicated area, yet the House provides absolutely no orientation on it. Basically we have to survive and just struggle as much as we can. But experienced members have experienced staff and they can do very helpful work. If people are not confident there, they still certainly can go and get other advice, but even something as simple as making a mistake on an application can in fact jeopardize the success of any action that might be taken by a person covered under this act .
We need to spend some time, because most members will know that even if our offices were to contact citizenship and immigration, often there are difficulties even getting quick answers on certain things. There are often long delays in getting responses to requests for the status of certain things. The saddest day in a constituency office is undoubtedly when we have bad news for people because mistakes were made when they relied on others.
I hope that this is a good step and that the regulations will in fact be appropriate and not leave a little window open for those who may want to take advantage of it, because there are several regulations here. We will have to wait until they are promulgated to see what the government has in mind, but I would caution people and encourage the government, once this bill is passed, to publicly announce this bill and what it does and to encourage people not to be too quick to rely on the advice of those who are not properly trained or knowledgeable about the laws of Canada. They do change, and it can make a difference to a person's entire life.