NUMBER 043 | 1st SESSION | 38th PARLIAMENT
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
The Chair (Hon. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.)): We're going to reconvene.
I have just a few ground rules. Each presentation will be for five minutes. I will indicate when you're getting close to the time. That will be followed by an exchange of five minutes for questions from the members and the answers.
As you know, we're having hearings on citizenship, looking to a new citizenship act. We're also having hearings on the recognition of international credentials. The third issue we're hearing witnesses on across the country is family reunification.
We're going to start off with Ms. Odynsky.
Mrs. Olya Odynsky (As an Individual): Thank you.
I have been actively involved in the citizenship process for the past eight years. I regret that the efforts to revise the Citizenship Act through Bills C-63, C-16, and C-18 did not come to fruition, and I am disappointed that the current government has not tabled a new bill to date. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before this committee to address the section of the Citizenship Act dealing with the revocation of citizenship.
Revocation of citizenship is one of the most severe punishments that a state may impose upon a citizen. It is particularly harsh when invoked against an individual who has been naturalized and a citizen of Canada for over 50 years, and who has contributed to our society.
When does an immigrant finally become a permanent citizen? Are we creating two classes of citizens: those born here like me, and those who immigrated here like my parents? Are all immigrants, even those who think they are citizens by virtue of naturalization and their desire to become Canadians, actually not 100% Canadian?
I believe that once citizenship is granted to an individual, it should become permanently crystallized. The government has an opportunity to screen individuals upon their application and during the immigration and naturalization process. Once a person is granted citizenship, it should be irrevocable.
Subsection 10(1) of the current act deals with obtaining citizenship by fraud and misrepresentation. I believe this subsection needs greater clarification. We have a situation in Canada where many of our immigrants came to Canada in the post-World War II era, 1945 to 1955. The immigration documents of this era were destroyed by the government and no longer exist. We also have a modern-day situation where we must protect our borders from terrorists and other undesirables. We must not confuse these two situations.
As you know, it is this section of the Citizenship Act that is currently used by the government in its quest to rid Canada of alleged war criminals. I support ridding Canada of war criminals, no matter when or where the crimes were committed, and irrespective of the ethnicity, race, or creed of the alleged war criminal. However, I believe this should be done through the criminal courts, where the burden of proof is the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard and not the “balance of probability” standard.
To illustrate this point, please note that the Government of Canada announced in January of 1995 that it would not proceed with the revocation of citizenship of any person unless there was evidence of some personal criminality. Yet cases commenced in which the government admitted there was no evidence of personal participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity and yet proceeded to initiate hearings aimed at the revocation of citizenship of many persons whom I call Canadians by choice. These are men who came to Canada to build a better life for themselves and their families and who have done just that for over half a century.
Wasyl Odynsky, who was never charged with war crimes but was nevertheless, on a balance of probabilities, found to have misrepresented himself over half a century ago without a shred of documentary evidence, today might still have his citizenship revoked and be deported from Canada. Odynsky has been totally exonerated of collaborating with the Germans and of committing any acts of persecution against anybody, anywhere, and at any time. Yet, after eight years of litigation, his case remains unresolved. The financial cost to him, the loss of his life savings and home, and the loss to his family -- and, I might add, to his community -- have been overwhelming.
During the commission of inquiry on war criminals in Canada, the Deschênes commission, the late John Sopinka argued that:
It is, in my submission, cruel and inhumane to uproot an individual from his family and whatever life he has built in 35 or more years as a productive Canadian, on the suspicion that he might have been a war criminal. It is precisely because of the evidenciary advantage in deportation and denaturalization proceedings that I would submit to the commission that it should reject such proceedings as a means of bringing war criminals to justice. No punishment should be inflicted unless his or her guilt is fairly established by a criminal standard of justice. We must be vigilant to ensure we do not live in a society where we allow one individual or group to point a finger at someone else and suddenly that becomes enough evidence for revocation proceedings.
I wonder whether five years from now there will be investigations of the Polish people who left Poland during the Solidarnosc movement. What about the members of the Tamil community who fled Sri Lanka’s political upheaval? What if someone points a finger at some of those individuals and claims that they are actually war criminals? What about the hundreds of refugee claimants coming into Canada each year who have no identity documents, or have false ones?
Issues of war criminality belong in the Canadian criminal courts. Using the Citizenship Act tow in a case by lowering the standard to an administrative tribunal versus a fair trial at a higher standard in a criminal court is a perversion of Canadian justice. I believe that the current act, which was written before the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, should be revised to include the values and guidelines of the charter, particularly in the area of citizenship. Under the charter, all citizens are equal under the law. This means we must all have the same rights.
I am pleased to hear that there are members of Parliament and the courts who agree that the process of revocation of citizenship must be taken out of the hands of the politicians, since it appears likely that the investigation into the supposed presence of Nazi war criminals in Canada, and the investigations and hearings that have resulted, have been motivated less by a concern for bringing the guilty to justice -- assuming any such persons ever were in Canada -- than by a desire to appear to be doing something about a problem that I humbly submit is minor, perhaps non-existent.
I repeat that no one has yet been able to demonstrate in a Canadian criminal court of law that any of the Canadians said to have been Nazi war criminals or collaborators were anything of the kind. Yet that has not prevented these cases from going forward, perverting our judicial system, in effect, by making the accused prove his innocence instead of being considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law, and pitting the citizen, alone, against all of the resources of the state.
For people like Odynsky, whom a Canadian Federal Court judge, Justice Andrew MacKay, found had been a solid, contributing citizen of Canada for over 50 years, there must be the option of judicial discretion. I strongly recommend that this be included in the new act.
It has been my intention today to put a human face on the results of the revocation of someone’s citizenship. To conclude, let me place into evidence an opinion editorial I wrote in January 1998 in the Globe and Mail, titled “Canada Plans to Deport My Father Without a Fair Trial” and an editorial published in the same newspaper the following week. Both will, I trust, further inform you about the undermining of the very principles of our judicial system that has been taking place over the past decade and of the destructive impact this has on individual Canadians, their families, and communities, and about the divisiveness this unfair process has engendered, and about how a simple remedy is available: no revocation of any Canadian citizen’s citizenship once citizenship has been granted.
Canada should not become a haven for war criminals, we all agree. But Canada’s citizens by choice should also not become forever hostage to the prejudices of the places and pasts they left to come here, or to the disinformation spread by others, whether out of ignorance or malice. Once anyone becomes a Canadian following their application, screening, and naturalization, they should have the same privileges and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship --
The Chair: Ms. Odynsky, can you bring this to a conclusion?
Mrs. Olya Odynsky: Yes.
As well, they should have the right to face anyone who mightaccuse them of past wrongdoings in a Canadian criminal court of law and nowhere else.Canadian citizenship should not be so easily undone without just cause.
The Chair: Thank you very much. And we'll take your brief so we'll have that on file.
The next one is a real challenge for us when we look at her name. It has a lot of consonants. I'm going to try, and if I get it wrong, you correct me and then --
Ms. Alexandra Chyczij (Ukrainian Canadian Congress): Why don't I introduce myself? That will save everyone.
Good afternoon. My name is Alexandra Chyczij, and I am here today representing the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
In preparing for today's appearance I was reminded of the “good news/bad news” jokes. The good news, I hope, is that your committee is hearing a consistent message from Canadians across Canada. The bad news is that in your second week of hearings it's probably going to be a challenge to be fresh and interesting to you. Nonetheless, I will launch into my presentation.
As many of you know, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress represents over one million Ukrainian Canadians living in Canada. The congress has monitored and made submissions regarding previous bills seeking to amend the current citizenship legislation. As you undoubtedly know -- and are painfully aware -- these attempts proved unsuccessful. We congratulate this standing committee for undertaking such an important task.
It is our submission that in the almost three decades since the introduction of the current legislation the social and demographic makeup of Canadian society has changed so substantially that this legislation no longer serves the interests of Canada or its citizens.
The legislation is particularly problematic with respect to provisions dealing with revocation of citizenship. As you have heard many times over, by virtue of the provision that makes the citizenship of naturalized Canadians revocable for an indefinite period of time, the act creates two tiers of citizens: those who were born here and those who were not. Because of Canada's rapidly changing demographics, today almost six million Canadians -- or 20% of our population -- who were born outside of Canada are disproportionately affected by this discriminatory legislation.
To give true meaning to the words contained in section 6 of the current Citizenship Act, any new legislation should truly ensure that all Canadians, “whether born in Canada or not, have the same rights, powers and privileges, along with the same obligations, duties and liabilities” of citizenship. It is essential that any new legislation eliminate the current administrative process. In order to preserve the integrity of Canadian citizenship, the broad administrative, non-judicial and generally unappealable process for loss of citizenship must be changed.
New legislation should incorporate the following elements.
First, there must be some finality to the granting of citizenship. This can be accomplished either through a permanent grant of citizenship or, if this committee sees fit to do so, the imposition of a short limitation period. It is essential to provide naturalized Canadians with security of tenure, which will encourage the appropriate development of a civil society where citizens are encouraged to respect the rule of law because they see it being applied in their day-to-day lives. There is precedent for such a proposition in the citizenship legislation of other democratic nations.
Second, it is essential that the legislation allow anyone subject to it to provide full answer and defence. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress believes that after a reasonable period of time, naturalized Canadians should not be subjected to the possibility that their citizenship can be challenged by a minister or bureaucrat. The current process forces them to preserve forever the necessary evidence to be able to prove many decades later, even when they are elderly, infirm, and possibly not competent, when witnesses who can attest to the facts are gone, when the government may have destroyed the relevant documentation, that they properly acquired their citizenship.
By seeking to revoke citizenship after the passage of a significant period of time, it is not possible to guarantee that an individual will be able to give full answer and defence to any allegations of misrepresentation or wrongdoing. This is a fundamental tenet of procedural fairness.
The current legislation has given rise to cases where revocation proceedings seek to address events that took place over 60 years ago in circumstances where documents were in fact destroyed by the government and witnesses had died or their memories were seriously compromised. After the passage of a prolonged period of time, it is, in our submission, cruel and inhuman to uproot an individual from his family and whatever life he has built in Canada as a productive Canadian.
Next, any prosecution under the act should happen in Canadian courts. Instead of the current process, allegations of misrepresentation or wrongdoing should be determined before a Canadian court in accordance with Canadian law and standards of justice. In that way, Canada ensures there is a just and fair determination of guilt or innocence and that the punishment meted out is done in accordance with our principles of justice.
Most importantly, this legislation should incorporate long-accepted rules of evidence. Canadians should be able to examine and challenge the reliability and probity of the evidence thought to be used against them. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, in particular, decries any legislation that seeks to introduce arbitrariness, because, as many of you know, Ukrainian Canadians, many of whom were Canadian citizens, were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, and confiscation of personal property during Canada's first internment operations of 1914 to 1920.
We should also eliminate the distinction between permanent residents and naturalized Canadians. It is incongruous that those who are still seeking permanent resident status have more rights than permanent Canadian citizens.
I will wrap up my comments. I understand that members of the committee may have questions with respect to the charter, which I would be prepared to deal with during the question period.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Our next presenter is going to be Mr. Letra, for the Undocumented Worker's Committee.
Mr. Tony Letra (Chair, Undocumented Worker's Committee): Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, and other members of this committee, it is an honour for the Undocumented Worker's Committee to address this House of Commons standing committee.
Our group fully supports the pilot project presented in our submissions. Today we would like to address several points and concerns about present and future policy issues.
First, our country's ultimate goal ought to be the training of our youth and unemployed to meet our trade, skilled and general labour needs. Past neglect of this necessity has created the current undocumented worker situation. This could be avoided if you focused on investing creatively in our high schools, colleges, and quality trade schools and centres. Today we have to fix the immediate undocumented worker problem, but our future should focus on our youth and the unemployed.
Second, it is clear that many employment sectors have serious labour shortages. We believe that a flexible immigration policy that considers the existing regional and local labour requirements of the day will help reduce the number of undocumented workers attracted to our country and the temptation of business to hire them.
Third, our government should take a strong position in enforcing the law against consultants and legal practitioners who abuse the immigration, refugee, and worker visa systems. Many undocumented workers, visitors, and employers are put in compromising situations, while fraudulent legal advisers make absurd amounts of money. False applications would be dramatically reduced if you had a system that worked and strong punitive measures against those who abused the system. Some sort of internal audit to assess the validity of applications, and external audits by the RCMP, will go a long way to discourage the abuse of a good working system.
Fourth, visa officers are not human resources experts. They do a great job and ensure that quality people enter our country for the right reasons. However, employers should choose who they want to contract and employ. Direct involvement of employers can create a better system of accountability and security to ensure that the right workers enter our country.
Mr. Chairman, our country prides itself in respecting human dignity. We want a system that focuses on our country's immigration and economic needs, without compromising our national security or our unique Canadian culture.
Fifth, we should consider a secure, low-cost temporary work visa program sponsored by employers and family members, with proof of a valid job offer. This system could help to identify quality people by allowing them to prove themselves while they are here on temporary worker visas. If they demonstrate they are quality people, then they can apply to stay, based on the existing rules of the day, which should reflect a modified point system factoring in family business and real, general, and semi-skilled labour needs.
Last, our committee and many other organizations and employers are concerned about several things.
First, why is the creation of worker visa policy such a secret? There is huge frustration on the streets today, because we have been told that our government has been working on this issue from before 1993, and we still haven't heard of any solution or program.
Second, the continued deportation and pursuit of undocumented workers by border services officers while tolerating employers who hire them and legal advisers who take advantage of them must stop. Our government has said they are working on a solution. We strongly ask that a moratorium on such deportations be officially announced immediately.
Third, it is unconscionable for our government to take millions of dollars in humanitarian and compassionate application fees from desperate long-term undocumented workers, when these applicants do not receive either an interview or a fair review of their files.
Mr. Chairman and committee members, thank you for your patience, wisdom, and efforts in tackling these serious issues, and for the privilege of addressing this body.
Thank you again.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Letra.
Now we're going to go to questions from the committee members. Mr. Mark is going to start off. He has sponsored a number of private member's bills—one to bring recognition to the Chinese head tax, another having to do with internments.
Mr. Inky Mark (Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, CPC): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome to our witnesses.
The message we're hearing across the country is consistent, as is the testimony we heard this morning on the issue of revocation.
Everyone understands that you can't have two classes of citizenship in this country. No country can afford to do that. Most people have said they need to take the courts away from the politics. As long as they're intertwined, politics will always win out in the end, for reasons good or bad.
The first question I have deals with revocation. If citizenship is permanent and has rights, should we throw revocation out altogether? There has been an argument that it should stay in the act but be very narrowly defined.
The second question is, should citizenship be separated from immigration, departmentally?
Ms. Alexandra Chyczij: With respect to whether the revocation process should be thrown out, I believe there are sufficient laws to deal with many of the cases currently initiated by the minister, and that these cases can be dealt with in the Canadian courts in accordance with our rules of evidence.
As to the administrative separation of the two departments, I haven't given this much thought. But if the revocation process is abandoned, then administrative separation could naturally follow.
Mrs. Olya Odynsky: I believe we currently have laws sufficient to deal with terrorism or war criminal issues. So I would say that the revocation provision should come right out of the Citizenship Act.
With regard to your second question, I think citizenship could be separated from the immigration.
Mr. Inky Mark: There is always a concern about fraud in the application process, whether it happened three years ago or twenty. We have to decide how to deal with people who commit fraud.
Another common and current concern has to do with crimes against humanity, war criminals, and terrorists. If we deal with them in criminal court, does that mean we keep it in-country and deal with them in our court system?
Mrs. Olya Odynsky: That's exactly the conclusion the Deschênes commission came to, that if they were going to deal with war criminals the issue should be dealt with in Canada.
The other piece is that today we grant citizenship after a three-year period, and there's a period prior to that of where you are reviewing the immigrant through the application process. Perhaps that needs to be extended to four years. Maybe it needs to be taken to five years. But at some point the investigation has to be of an adequate amount of time for the government to do its job and for the bureaucrats to do what they need to do.
Once they have made a determination, though, they should be confident of their determination, and if they're not, then they shouldn't grant the citizenship. But at some point you need to know that today is the day you've become a Canadian and today is the day you don't have to look over your shoulder anymore.
I just think it puts the onus on the government to do a thorough investigation, and we should feel confident that we can do that.
Mr. Inky Mark: So you're saying that it's wiser to put the limitation on prior to granting citizenship rather than after receiving citizenship?
Mrs. Olya Odynsky: I would think that makes more sense, because if you grant someone citizenship....
Quite honestly, Mr. Mark, I was of the opinion that perhaps we should have a statute of limitations. You know, you get your citizenship, and should there be compelling evidence against you that comes up, let's say, two years, three years, five years...cut it off at five years. But that doesn't seem to be sensible. Why should we be digging for compelling evidence five years later? That means we didn't do a good job up front. If we do the job up front properly, equitably, then it's closed, and the citizen gets on with their life and hopefully becomes a productive Canadian.
Ms. Alexandra Chyczij: I'd like to add to that.
I understand the concern of the committee to deal with queue jumpers or someone who makes a misrepresentation that facilitates their entry into the country. The current legislation already has penalities for that, which are monetary at the moment. Those can be beefed up to deal with those cases of... I'm going to call them innocent or less serious misrepresentation. Those misrepresentations that deal with criminal issues should be prosecuted, but under our Criminal Code.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier (Brampton West, Lib.): Actually, I think we're pretty well onside -- I'm certainly onside -- with your position on all of this.
To the undocumented workers, your group is an ad hoc group. You're self-funding. I'm not really sure where you're coming from. Are we talking about undocumented workers who are undercutting skilled labour workers here and taking their jobs? Or are we talking about skilled workers here who are being exploited by builders and such? What is the angle?
Mr. Tony Letra: Madam Beaumier, I think I can direct this question to my partners.
To start with, I could pretty well say that we don't like anybody to be exploited. We perceive that there is such a large number of individuals who have come to Canada and continue to produce to help keep the economy rolling. After ten years or seven years...as a matter of fact, this morning, to be more precise, I got a call from a family that has been working in Canada for seven years, and without a fair hearing, they're out. Pardon me, maybe they did wrong because they overstayed, but there is a very common saying, that “two mistakes don't make a right”. What is Canada doing now? Why don't they appreciate their contribution to the community? You know, financial.... There are so many people in this particular circumstance.
I am not here to point the finger at anybody, but I believe that our government is at fault. They have always been delaying a possible solution. In 1993, if I recall correctly, the Minister of Immigration at that time, Mr. Marchi, said they would be dealing with these kinds of matters, and we are still.... The past Minister of Immigration said something would be done to help...logically, be fair, be humanitarian with these individuals. What happened? We're still without a solution.
Mr. Manuel Alexander (Undocumented Worker's Committee): We do see that in the Portuguese-speaking community a lot. That is one of the main reasons we felt, together with the Ukrainians and the Polish, that this kind of abuse should not be allowed in this country, especially when our country, Canada, has been known all over the world as one of the safest countries. By exposing those problems to the government.... I think the government really should reconsider before they send people away, before they deport people who have been over here for many years.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: I'm totally, completely onside with you. I think tomorrow isn't soon enough to issue an amnesty for people who would qualify as skilled workers -- and not just in the construction business, but in our transport business, and mechanics. I mean, we're always giving points for doctors, lawyers, engineers, and Indian chiefs, but we're not really considering what we really need in this country. The language requirements sometimes are quite prohibitive, because people who learn to be wallers or framers aren't necessarily learning the language at the same time.
So I certainly don't have any argument with you on that. In fact, I'm totally in tune.
I've not had any of these individuals come to me with deportation orders in hand. Is this happening regularly?
Mr. Tony Letra: Yesterday another family called me and said, “Mr. Letra, why does my neighbour have to leave the country?” I think this must be stopped, Madam Beaumier.
These individuals are an asset to the economy of Canada. I am not in favour of individuals staying here who have been engaged in drugs and doing nothing, or they have been in trouble with the law. But if I have been working for seven years, ten years....
I was a separate school trustee for two terms. I've helped so many individuals. You cannot imagine how much stress this creates, not in the parents but in the kids. Some parents say, “I don't put my kid in school because they can deport me”. We are doing a wrong service to these innocent individuals. The children, they're young. It's a childhood right to be fed and to be educated. In Canada we preach good news. We give money overseas. Good, if we can afford it, but let's take care of our house.
These ad hoc committees -- and it is not just Portuguese -- are composed of Ukrainians, Polish people, and Indians.
As a matter of fact, I failed to introduce the president of the Polish Alliance and other individuals, the members of the committee. They forgive me.
Our mandate, our role, is for this committee to bring this message. They are asking, please, please, for a quick solution. The government can do that. We are not asking impossible things. Canada needs working people, orderly people. Canada needs them, but we are saying, after working for ten years with.... One told me recently, “I have $150,000 in the bank and I would like to invest in a house. How can I buy a house? Tomorrow they will kick me out and that would create more problems.”
Mr. Manuel Alexander: Madam Beaumier, I could add a little bit to that.
Last Sunday there was a program on the radio where people could dedicate a song. This is in Portuguese, and I'm sure it touched a lot of Portuguese people and other Canadians, or other people who speak the language and appreciate.... It was the crying of that young man who went back, who was deported to Portugal. He was not involved with anything. He has been away for a few years, and he left behind his wife and two kids. Is this a humanitarian thing that Canada is doing? We must stop.
It's with the contribution of the present government that we must keep doing good for our community, for every community inside this country, which is a mosaic of multiculturalism. That's what this country is about.
Last week I had a Chinese fellow.... I'm an electrician, self-employed. It's so tempting sometimes to hire people who are illegal. He came to me and said, “Can you please hire me? You pay me $5 or $6 an hour. I don't get paid for two weeks. Can you please hire me?” I said, “How can you survive on that?” “Well, I'm not legal yet and I cannot, but I would like to gain Canadian experience.”
This is the reality on the streets. This is a very big point that must be addressed. The sooner we address that, the better our country is, the sooner the government gets more taxes, and everyone will stay happy, or will be happy contributing to the country they live in.
Ms. Theresa Rodrigues (Member, Undocumented Worker's Committee): To answer your direct question, yes, it's a daily event; yes, it's across the country; and yes, it's across ethnicities.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: And the solution seems so simple. Maybe it's too simple. Maybe that's why we can't get our hands around it.
Ms. Theresa Rodrigues: That is exactly it.
Mr. Tony Letra: Madam Beaumier, again, one thing that breaks my heart is when an individual pays $10,000 or $15,000 and their situation is still unresolved. I face these individuals. I don't know how much our government can do, but they should create some kind of regulation. You cannot exploit these individuals. They are forced.... Afterwards, they fail even to represent them when the year comes, if the year comes, because they don't have a chance....
First of all, the government, you people, should know these realities. If I am illegal and I go to one of these consultants and they say, “Why don't you claim refugee status?”.... If I want to come, and I know better...yes, claim refugee status. You know quite well that if I claim refugee status, it's a passport to leave the country, because countries like Portugal, Brazil, France, and Germany don't have grounds for real.... Why does this happen?
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: I think all of us on the committee understand your position and where you're coming from, because many of us go above and beyond the call of duty in fighting for these individuals. But we can only help one case at time. There definitely needs to be legislation. We agree with you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Next we have Mrs. Grewal.
Mrs. Nina Grewal (Fleetwood—Port Kells, CPC): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for your time and your presentations.
What is your opinion on dual citizenship? Are you in favour of it or not?
My other question is regarding the protection of Canadian citizens from torture when they're abroad, like the Maher Arar and Kazemi cases. What should be done to protect these Canadian citizens?
Ms. Olya Odynsky: On dual citizenship, I'm personally not opposed to it. I think there may be reasons why people may wish to have dual citizenship, depending on their family situation. I don't think it makes Canadian citizenship any less worthwhile.
I'm sorry, what was your second question?
Mrs. Nina Grewal: The second question was about protection of Canadian citizens when they are abroad.
Ms. Olya Odynsky: I think that is vital. I expect as a Canadian that my embassy abroad is there for me. The comfort and understanding that it's there at my back to protect me is very important. I think most Canadians feel that way.
Mr. Tony Letra: It's not my expertise, but I have an opinion on this. We are in the era of globalization, so I believe that on being Canadian and Portuguese, the actual mentality is very receptive to this kind of duality. As Olya has said, it makes sense. Because I am Portuguese-born, that doesn't mean I cannot be a good Canadian. I am proud of being a Canadian, and I try to defend the interests of this country as well. So I think there is nothing wrong with it. It's just a positive, a plus-plus, in my view.
Mr. Manuel Alexander: Dual citizenship has its advantages, especially if you have travel to Portugal. You need to have a Portuguese passport in order to document your accounting or do some other transactions. Having the Canadian... there is no problem with that either. A lot of people have that, and I don't find them less Canadian or less Portuguese than anybody else.
Ms. Alexandra Chyczij: I think Mr. Arar's case is symptomatic of the whole mindset behind revocation. There is an element of, “Let's export this problem”. Rather than bringing him home and dealing with any allegations against him, the tendency was to betray him and send him off to a third country. So I think we need to deal with our problems, whatever they may be, at home.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mrs. Grewal.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski (Oak Ridges—Markham, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks for your input.
I would like to ask Tony about the number of undocumented workers. Do you have any idea?
Mr. Tony Letra: Are you talking about locally or nationally?
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Give us both.
Mr. Tony Letra: I'll give you both, to be more complete.
There are no numbers, but I believe the government has the tools to get them. Fifty years ago there were no computers, or very few, and they knew, they could trace if you were legal or illegal. It's inconceivable that at this point Canada cannot trace how many people are illegal. There are no concrete statistics about the legal number. So I believe the government should work and put this new technology in order.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: So is that the regional answer or the national one?
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Tony Letra: It's both. I give you both. It's national and regional, in answer your question, to be more precise. A good guess estimates that there are 10,000 illegal individuals around the GTA, give or take. Nationally, they say from 150,000 to 200,000.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: When we're saying “illegal”, are we talking about people who have overstayed their work permits here? Who are we talking about?
Mr. Tony Letra: The people who overstayed. They can be called illegals or illegal immigrants or whatever. Most of the time that's why they came.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: You mentioned earlier that these people contribute by paying their fair share of taxes and so on.
Mr. Tony Letra: And they don't benefit, that's the worst of it. But yes, they do pay taxes.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: If they are illegal, how are they doing so?
Mr. Tony Letra: You know, when people are up against the wall, they are very creative. They look at your social insurance number, and they believe they can fake one, so they do. And after, they go to an employer. The employer says, “I can hire this individual for, let's say, $10, and if I get one from here who is legal, I'll have to pay $20”. So the employer says, “Why shouldn't I bet on this one? This problem needs to be rectified, sir.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Would you say that once they assume my social insurance number, they also assume somebody else's health card number to use?
Mr. Tony Letra: I work in a hospital, and it's not unusual that an individual shows up there with a broken leg and sometimes exhibits a health card number from --
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Somebody else.
Mr. Tony Letra: Sometimes the doctor will say, “Tony, can you investigate that?” When I see a young chap, 17 years of age, and he gives the name of a relative or acquaintance who sometimes may be 36 or 37 years of age, I say, “Look, are you trying to fool me?”
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: I have two more questions. Would they be working at half the hourly rate or three-quarters of the hourly rate...?
Mr. Tony Letra: Look, this Chinese chap may say he'll work for you for $5 or $6. Some of them are more assertive, and they'll say, “No, if I do a bricklayer's job or a job where you have to pay me $25 or $30, that's what you have to pay”. But some of them are not as assertive. It's more, “I'm illegal, and I'll do everything you ask me to do”. Sometimes these people are in a tremendous crunch.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Here's my last question, and I'd like to finish with it. These are the people who take Colleen's social insurance number and my health card number. Are you asking that we have some kind of amnesty for them and have them live here?
Mr. Tony Letra: No. I would never ask for amnesty for them. It never works.
Ms. Theresa Rodrigues: Amnesty will not work. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis because of this, so that you actually analyze and scrutinize the person's entitlement to be here on a work permit.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: You are looking for a work permit.
Ms. Theresa Rodrigues: We need something to show that he has credentials in order to work; to show that he has a valid job; to show that he has maybe a family he needs to support; to show that he has actually done satisfactory work and has lived as a proper individual, a proper Canadian, even though he's not one.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: To show that he's been contributing.
Ms. Theresa Rodrigues: He needs to show that he has been contributing, and then, after that, we may grant him immigration status, if he's entitled to it.
Amnesty will just create a bigger problem for you than what you have at this moment.
Mr. Manuel Alexander: Mr. Temelkovski, if I can just intervene for one minute, we've held quite a few meetings since August, and of course we hit the centres in Toronto. In Brampton, unfortunately, we haven't held one. We tried to, but the time was so short we could not.
We've been holding those meetings, and every time we have a meeting, always, there are 500 to 600 people. It's unbelievable how many people there are. Our chair, Mr. Letra, has mentioned 10,000 in the GTA. We are almost positive that there would be way more than 10,000.
Mr. Tony Letra: That's a conservative number.
Mr. Manuel Alexander: You've got Portuguese, Brazilian....
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Mark.
Mr. Inky Mark: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
There's no doubt that the existence of undocumented workers is a phenomenon that this country wants to hide. We watch American TV, and we see lots of Mexican workers come across the border. As I said to one of the witnesses earlier, there are approximately 10 million undocumented in America. So if we take even 10% of that number, we're looking at a minimum of one million in this country. But I've always believed that we've probably had at least a couple hundred thousand.
This committee talked about it around five years ago, but that's about it. It didn't go much further than that. The problem is that if we don't know exact numbers, we always have to create a window of opportunity to give people that chance to come forward. We just can't do it specifically for one group of workers, because there are going to be a lot of members of families who are undocumented as well.
I've always thought amnesty -- and maybe that's not quite the right word, but there has to be a word similar to it and a process established. So I guess my question to you is, what process would you establish that would be a broad-based one so that people would have the....
Mr. Tony Letra: That really encompasses everything? I think Theresa touched on that.
Ms. Theresa Rodrigues: If I may just interject here, on page 2 of our Undocumented Worker's Coalition proposal, we actually describe something similar, a pilot project:
i. Immigration Canada will announce a three-month period during which undocumented workers who are eligible (as described below) may enter the pilot project.
ii. To be eligible for participation in the pilot project a person must:
a. have worked in the construction industry in the GTA for at least one year,
b. have been in Canada for at least two years,
c. at the time of entry into the project be currently working in construction in the GTA
d. not otherwise ineligible to make an application for landed immigrant status under secs. 34 to 40.
So we actually do give you a way to take on --
Mr. Manuel Alexander: I would also say we should set up a limited time to give people the opportunity to go and register, inside their community centres. I wouldn't mind taking the initiative in Brampton, taking on a Portuguese community centre.
We give Canadian citizenship classes there. We can also register people there. It's Portuguese, Italian, Korean, Ukrainian, Polish, whatever. We have a room in there. Everyone knows me. All we have to do is just announce it a few times in the paper. People, if they are illegal, come on those days and register. We give a period of a month and we will be there, and we'll accept.... We can also have supervision by the federal government.
Mr. Tony Letra: We do not trust amnesty to be the best solution. If you go for amnesty, you have to open your arms to everybody. We as a group don't want the people who come only to take advantage of the social system, who produce nothing for the well-being of the country.
The thing must be done with fairness, with justice. But I don't want to see a good worker treated the same as a law-breaker. That's not fair. The producers, the orderly people, should be able to get a fair hearing. There should be a mechanism for allowing them to stay.
Mr. Inky Mark: I appreciate your proposal. Perhaps we need to take the first step, to do it on a small scale. I'm sure there are plenty of Canadians who believe in amnesty and plenty who don't. Many don't believe in broad amnesty across the country.
Mr. Tony Letra: There is no perfect solution, no perfect system. If you find one that's better than the other, do it. Act, don't wait another 10 years, because this creates too much instability. There are kids who can't go to school, who will be disadvantaged. That's not fair. Yet Canada says we are an equal country for everybody. The people have a right to distrust this kind of statement. When my child cannot go to the same school as yours, or at least attend school, what happens?
I asked some of them how long they'd been in the country. They come to me because people told them I might be able to place the kids in school. Some of them had been here for five years. Why didn't the kids attend school? The parents were scared that the cops might come and take the kids away and they would be found out.
I told them no, the board of education, Metro Separate School Board, which I have proudly served for two terms, is very receptive to these individuals. I put hundreds of kids in school. Even a bishop asked me to help him out with the kids, and I was able to do it.
Mr. Inky Mark: You took a huge step by coming here, and we appreciate it. This story needs to be told. You need to put pressure on your politicians to make sure the changes happen.
Mr. Tony Letra: We have had meetings of 600 people, 300 people. We invite members of Parliament. Of course not all can go. Some of them at least have the courtesy to say,“I'm very sorry, I cannot go.” Others say nothing. They don't care, if it is not election time.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Let me just say, if you could get rid of all undocumented workers tomorrow it would really hurt the economy, and I think we recognize that. One of the problems we have, of course, is we don't know the number of illegals in this country. I think you mentioned that in the U.S. there are ten million, but I think it's much higher than that. They get something like two million a year, and their economy very much depends on it. It's something they're trying to regulate now because of security concerns.
This committee has raised this as one of the issues in our work plan, because we recognize we have that problem and we somehow have to come to grips with it. I agree with you that undocumented workers expose themselves to blackmail, exploitation, lack of safety, what have you. So it's something we will be very much working on.
I'm going to switch over to citizenship, because every Canadian not born in this country has a stake in this, and I dare say all Canadians have a stake in it because it relates to citizenship.
What is so very compelling about your presentation, Ms. Odynsky, is we see a personal face. I think it's important for us on the committee to realize what essentially happened was they accused your father of being a war criminal, of being a collaborator on the one hand -- and that is what all the headlines were -- whereas the story the way I understand it is that he was conscripted by the Germans. He escaped with a number of other people, he was captured, he was forced to be a perimeter guard, and he was told that if he escaped again, they would hunt him down and kill him, and if they didn't get him, they were going to get his family.
Those are the facts of the case as I understand them from having read the transcript. What we did in terms of the court, and this is how our act works -- the decision was not made on the basis of “Were you involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity? Were you a collaborator?” That issue was adjudicated. As a matter of fact, the courts came out and said that didn't exist; there was no evidence. If you read the judgment, you would think it was exoneration. The case rested on the simple question, “When you came into this country 50 years ago and you saw a visa officer, did you or did you not tell the truth on a question that might or might not have been asked...and the question was your involvement in the war?”
This is done on a balance of probabilities, with no appeal rights, which is a total abuse of the judicial process. It wreaks havoc on the life of the person involved.
I wonder, Ms. Odynsky, if you could tell the committee what this has cost your father, and what this has cost your family personally. From what I understand, there's been a horrendous cost.
Ms. Olya Odynsky: It's a huge cost emotionally. My father has just come through a triple bypass. He's never had any heart ailments in his life. As I recall, it was far more difficult to listen to the press screaming that he was a Nazi war criminal than when my father told me had cancer. That is a physiological thing. What the courts are doing is not normal and is much harder to accept.
From a cost perspective, my parents have forfeited their house. I look after them. The legal bills for his case are in excess of $1 million, which will take a lifetime and more and more to pay. And for what, when you really look at the big picture?
There are a couple of things that really bother me. We're fighting about things that happened 60 years ago for which there is no evidence. That's the key point. In the case of Odynsky, there was no charge of any criminality, so there never should have been a case. When we went to court, it was to say, “This man has not been charged with any criminal action, and you're not saying he did anything wrong other than being with the Germans”, whatever that means to a young boy who's 17 years old when the Germans came through. My mother was a slave labourer. She was 16 years old when the Germans took her away. She could also be a collaborator, if you wanted to use that terminology.
It also affects the generation of Ukrainian Canadians who do not want to be painted as Nazi collaborators. That's not what they were. The Ukrainians were one nation that did not have a government during the Second World War. The borders moved. Today, we deal with young, bright lawyers who are 30 years old, who have been to Cancun, but who have never been to war-torn Europe. What was it like to live in a DP camp for three years?
I had no idea my parents were in a DP camp for three years. I always thought it was three months in Germany after the war. They waited three years for a country to take them. During that three-year period there was an opportunity -- and no doubt there were many checks made. My father's recollection of his procedure is that they went to a medical officer who said, “Raise your arm”. If you did not have a Nazi blood tattoo, there was probably no reason to ask further questions as to your history.
He has his recollection of events, which are corroborated by many people within much of the European émigré community. Many people would not come forward to assist and testify on his behalf, to talk about how they emigrated, because they were afraid. For us today in Canada to know that in 1998, when this court case was going on, someone who had been in Canada for 50 years was afraid to come forward I think is a terrible state of affairs. I think it also sends out a very bad message to other immigrants, very similar to the situation of the gentleman speaking here today. We have people who are afraid. They will not come forward because of the repercussions. So there isn't a trust factor. I think it is a very sorry state of affairs.
For my family to have gone through this.... I've championed this cause for my father. Obviously, his English is not that great. He came here not only as someone who lost his youth but as someone who lost his future. These people came here without language, but they came with skills, which they then put to use. But they didn't get an education in Canada. They had to work hard, and that's what they did. And they don't regret that. It gave the opportunities for people like myself. That's why I've championed the cause for that particular generation, not just for my father but for all of those immigrants who have this horrible stain upon them as potentially hiding Nazi war criminals.
The Deschênes commission investigated the huge allegations that there were 2,000 or 4,000 here. At one time I think the newspaper said there were 6,000 Nazi war criminals in Canada. We know the Deschênes commission investigated 800 cases; of those, more than 600 cases were closed immediately; and of the remaining 200, there were four criminal prosecutions.
So at the end of the day, what are we really looking at? It doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigilant or that we should close our eyes to things, but we need to look at things in a realistic light.
We spent millions of dollars on the Deschênes commission, which told us certain things. Yet we decided in 1995 to revisit the process and made a statement that we would only proceed in criminal cases. We ended up in court thinking it was going to be thrown out because it was not a criminal case, only to find out that one ends up on a balance of probabilities. Your life is never stable again, because we do not know, to this day, what the government may choose to do.
Monsieur Coderre decided he was going to revoke citizenship. It did not come to that. Also, Judy Sgro recently decided she was going to revoke my father's citizenship. Thank God it didn't come to that. Do we just wait? Every year there's a new minister. Do we go through this forever? What does it do to the fabric of Canada? What does it do to a young generation of people growing up in this country with an immigrant background?
I think it's a very serious question.
The Chair: I think I faced that question back in May 2000, when I had to put through the new legislation as parliamentary secretary. I said I couldn't do something like that, if it would render me a second-class Canadian.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: I'm interested in finding out a little bit more about your thoughts and opinions on the next generation. Where would that have put you and your brothers and sisters, if your father was exported—or the next step?
Ms. Olya Odynsky: I'm first generation, Canadian-born. When you talk about deporting someone who's been here, at this point, for almost 55 or 60 years, it's a terrible stigma on a personal level. It's a terrible stigma on a community level for the Ukrainian Canadian community. It's a terrible stigma for other communities --
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: For every community.
Ms. Olya Odynsky: For every community that's an immigrant community.
We talk about assimilation. This gets into the whole multicultural thing and what kind of a Canada we want; it's a big picture. We want to live here in a free society, in a comfortable society, where we're not looking over our shoulders, and where we can be confident that Canada accepts us for who we are.
I think it's very important that we don't fight old turf wars. The things that happened during World War II were horrible; many, many people suffered, including Ukrainians, and including everybody. I don't think that any one hurt should be bigger than anybody else's hurt. It's like a family: you have children; you love them all equally; and you treat them equally. We need to recognize the past and to deal with the past if there are things that are bad, but I don't think we should be bringing turf wars into Canada. I think that's very, very important.
I was absolutely stunned when I saw a front headline on the National Post two weeks ago, talking about Mr. Zuroff coming across Canada, asking for a bounty to be put on the heads of Nazi war criminals. It absolutely chills my blood that we could have that kind of language on the front page of the National Post in Canada today.
If there is compelling evidence that someone is a war criminal, go get him. You have my full support; go to criminal court and lay out the evidence. Go for it. But to do through a back door what you can't do properly through the front door is evil.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: But it's the generational stuff that I'm interested in.
Ms. Olya Odynsky: On what the impact is?
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Not the impact, but we've heard discussions from some people to ask, where does it stop?
The Chair: You're actually referring to Bill C-63, where they were going to extend it to the kids.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Yes.
Ms. Olya Odynsky: Not only that, but there was a comment made on a talk show or in a newspaper article saying not only deport those Nazi war criminals, but also go get their children and deport them.
Well, first of all, I'm not the daughter of a Nazi war criminal; I'm the daughter of someone who is in the horrible situation of being misrepresented to have been what he wasn't. The judge clearly talks about what Odynsky was and what Odynsky wasn't. Thank God for that decision, because it totally exonerated his name. However, it does not resolve the situation. So it's very much a huge stigma for my family, for my generation, for my friends, and for everybody who is involved in any way. It's very painful.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: For Canadians born here.
Ms. Olya Odynsky: Absolutely.
And what is it like for my children? I think that probably sitting my children down and telling them what was coming in The Toronto Star tomorrow... because we received an anonymous phone call saying “Your father will be published in all the newspapers tomorrow”, etc. It started on CBC at 6 a.m. They came to my parent's house with Shaw cable television. They videoed my mother and they played it every hour on the hour, saying “At this address lives a Nazi war criminal”, and they gave their address on public television.
Therefore, knowing this and sitting down with two funky teenagers and saying, “Hey girls....” How do you explain it to them? How can this be rational in Canada today? It's not. And how do they explain it to their friends, who actually all rallied around and were wonderful? I's a heartbreaking dilemma.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Thank you.
Ms. Alexandra Chyczij: I think we also have to remember that Canada and perhaps the United States are unique in the world in never having experienced armed conflict on our territories. Only those people who emigrate from war-torn countries can begin to understand the complexity of a war. And for anyone looking at the history of the Second World War certainly, it would take a logistical chess master to understand where the fronts moved, who was advancing when, who was in charge this year, who was in charge that year, and this was coupled with an academic environment that was very left-leaning and not open to an open discussion of what happened during the war. The crowning problem, of course, is the selectivity of this government's own process. It's not dealing with all war criminals. It chooses, for political reasons, to deal with only one tiny period and one tiny region of that war.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I would like to thank you for coming forward and making your presentations. We're going to be producing reports on what took place in our cross-country tour and your testimony will be a part of that report. We'll make sure we send you all copies. So let me thank you once more for taking the time. We appreciate your input.
Mr. Tony Letra: Thank you.
The Chair: We'll suspend for 20 minutes.