NUMBER 048 | 1st SESSION | 38th PARLIAMENT
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
The Chair (Hon. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.)): We're going to resume, if everybody can come forward.
I'll indicate when you get close to your seven minutes so you can wrap it up. If you have a brief, you don't have to read the whole thing, because we've got it as well. You can summarize and highlight. A lot of times I find that when I make a speech for the House, it always goes faster when I do it in my office than when I give it in public. A really important point of this session is the exchange of questions back and forth.
Ms. HuaLin Wong (President, HuaLin Wong Immigration Consultant Limited, As an Individual): Thank you.
My name is HuaLin Wong. Just to give you a brief background of myself, I've been working and volunteering with refugees and immigrants for about two years now, and I'm a member of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. But I'm really here today as just a concerned citizen. Having worked in this field for a little while, I've seen some problems and things I think we could improve on.
If you notice on the first page, entitled “Introduction”, there is a picture of the human rights monument in Ottawa. I was in a conference in Ottawa in February for the United Nations Association in Canada, and as I was walking by I took a few pictures of it. The monument in Ottawa is dedicated to the fundamental concepts of personal freedom and respect for the dignity of each individual. It challenges us as Canadians to cherish and promote these enduring human values and ideals, and it symbolizes Canadians' commitment to live in harmony in a society based on fundamental rights. These fundamental rights are perhaps the reason we are all here today, to try to further promote these values and work toward a more inclusive society.
I will be giving this presentation today with my good friend and colleague, Remzi Cej. There are a few things that Remzi and I would like to concentrate on, and I don't think seven minutes will cover all of it, so we've selected certain topics to talk about.
The first thing I'd like to speak about would be the new citizenship act. On the back of my parents' citizenship card from the early 1980s there's a letter of Canadian citizenship, which in part says:
From this point forward, as a Canadian citizen, you will share fully in the rights and privileges enjoyed by all Canadians. At the same time, you assume the special responsibility of protecting and preserving the principles of democracy and human freedom which are the cornerstones of our nation.
The oath of citizenship, in conjunction with the changes that Bill C-18 has proposed, in essence contains the rights and responsibilities that come with Canadian citizenship: loyalty to country; allegiance to country; respect of our country's laws, rights, and freedoms; and upholding of our democratic values.
Most importantly, what should be added is what is written on the back of my parents' citizenship card: “preserving the principles of democracy and human freedom which are the cornerstones of our nation”. If we lose those cornerstones, then we lose the essence of being Canadian.
Mr. Remzi Cej (Student, As an Individual): Some of these guiding principles on citizenship, as recommended by the report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, include the equal treatment of Canadian-born and naturalized citizens; and no probationary citizenship status, which would be a certain time between the time when a citizen would become a permanent citizen, without any rights that come with...rights come with citizenship, but they also come with responsibilities that citizens should be aware of.
With this last statement, what should be mentioned as well is that not only do citizens have rights and responsibilities to their government, but also the government has that right and responsibility to care for its citizens, and with this comes a very topical issue that's been on the news and in the media, and unfortunately, not in a very bright view.
Since September 11, 2001, our nation seems to have been very much affected by the terrorist attacks, and in response has passed some laws that are contrary to the rights enshrined in the charter. I think most of us here in the room would know of the Arar case, a case where a Canadian citizen was deported illegally to Syria, where he was tortured. Following that, lately we have been hearing of Muayyed Nureddin, who is a Toronto geologist who was arrested in Syria as he was crossing from Iraq.
It's very disturbing news that these citizens, who are guaranteed freedom and guaranteed protection by their government, are not being protected. There should be a preamble on the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizens to protect its citizens, to ensure that these people don't simply become Canadians and contribute to society without society contributing back to them. So the government that has given them this privilege and this responsibility should in turn help them.
Continuing with this is the security certificate section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. As we all know, this is the 20th anniversary of section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 guarantees equality for every person in Canada, and this includes refugee claimants, refugees, immigrants, citizens of Canada -- anybody who is living here. So this would be a Canadian-born citizen or a naturalized citizen.
Since the September 11 attacks, the restrictions on national security have eroded this principle of equality, as highlighted in section 15 of the charter. Subsection 15(1) guarantees protection from discrimination, saying:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
These were seen to have been breached in the past few years, especially since the September 11 attacks.
To continue with breaches of the charter, paragraph 10(a) of the charter says that on arrest or detention, everyone has the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for their detention on arrest. The four men who were detained -- actually, there were five, the “secret five”, but one was freed on bail a few months ago -- were detained without any charges. On simple notions of national security, they were not told what their charges were, what they had committed, or why they were being held in prison.
We need to remind ourselves of the concepts of freedom and equality as Canadians. If the most valuable text in Canadian history guarantees equality for every single person in Canada, then why have we enacted laws and procedures that discriminate against certain groups of people, including male Arabs and Muslims, who are being detained and specifically focused on?
MPs Alexa McDonough and Joe Comartin have put forth a motion in Parliament that calls for Canada to comply with the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In it, they also call for a provision to:
provide leadership, in partnership with other levels of government and civil society, to end the racial profiling, attacks on civil liberties, targeting of Arab and Muslim individuals and communities, and other ethnic and religious minorities across Canada, through a plan of action and allocation of appropriate resources
There should be only one way to strip Canadian citizenship, and that should be as it is now contained in the Citizenship Act. That is, a person can be stripped of his or her citizenship only if he or she has obtained it in a fraudulent way. I believe this is how it should be, and it should be kept in the new Citizenship Act. This is what my colleague thinks as well.
Ms. HuaLin Wong: I'm going to speak about the refugee appeal division, or RAD. We know that the standing committee has already recommended that RAD be implemented, but we feel that this is much too important an issue not to mention here today.
The biggest problem with the refugee determination system, of course, is the absolute inability to correct mistakes and bad decisions. When the new IRPA came into effect in 2003, the act included an appeal division and reduced decision-makers from two IRB members to one. Now a refugee claim is decided by a single IRB member, and we still have no appeal division. The problem is that once an error has been made, there is nothing that can be done. A judicial review is sometimes granted if there has been a legal or procedural error.
The only thing that can remedy this situation is for the government to step up and implement the refugee appeal division that has been written into law. RAD is a method of review to recognize and correct wrong decisions that can be made by the single IRB decision-maker in refugee cases. RAD has been promised since 2001, but as of yet, close to four years later, it is still sitting somewhere in limbo.
A government based on democratic principles simply cannot pick and choose which parts of the law it wishes to put into practice. RAD has been written into the IRPA and it must be implemented. To not do so is to deny refugee claimants a fundamental justice, a chance to be heard. To make a decision on someone's life without a mechanism to correct errors is to say that IRB hearings are flawless. Without a second opinion, how can anyone be confident that a refused refugee claimant does not in fact need Canada's protection?
Canada has been criticized by the international community because of our failure to implement RAD. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights showed disappointment in Canada's failure to give refugee claimants an opportunity to appeal decisions that may have been flawed.
Where the facts of an individual's situation are in dispute, the effective procedural framework should provide their review. Given that even the best decision-makers may err in passing judgment and given the potential risk to life that may result from such an error, an appeal on the merits of a negative determination constitutes a necessary element of international protection.
To steal a line from someone whom I admire very much and who's been working in the refugee and immigration and the human rights field for a very long time, “We can appeal a $15 parking ticket here in St. John's, and yet a refugee claimant's life cannot be appealed”. This simple yet powerful line really shows where the government's priorities are on humanitarian issues. It is absolutely morally reprehensible that a $15 parking ticket can be appealed and a potential danger to life cannot. There cannot and never should be any avenues cut off when human lives are at stake, especially when an avenue like the Refugee Appeal Division is already written into law.
The Chair: You only have two minutes left, so if you want to summarize....
Ms. HuaLin Wong: Okay. I'll really quickly go through deportations perhaps.
On April 15, 2005, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning Canada for providing the use of security certificates to allow the Canadian government to detain and deport non-citizens based on secret evidence presented behind closed doors without the detainee even knowing what he's being charged with. These detainees, all Arab or Muslim and all men, if deemed to be an imminent danger to Canada's security, will be deported to countries where they would be at risk of torture or ill treatment. The five non-citizens currently detained under security certificates come from countries where torture is very real and is a distinct possibility. The secret five are originally from Syria, Algeria, Morocco, and two from Egypt -- all countries that have been known to practise torture.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that only exceptional circumstances can allow for an immigrant to be sent back to a country known to practise torture. This ruling is beyond unbelievable. It has absolutely no regard for human life, the charter, or for international law.
Canada has responsibility under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, conventions against torture, and the fundamental rights and freedoms in sections 7 through 15 of the charter that prohibit arbitrary detention or imprisonment. We are supposed to provide internationally recognized procedural guarantees upon arrest and detention, guaranteed freedom from torture and ill treatment, including deportation to risk of torture and abuse, and prohibit discrimination. We have not lived up to this responsibility.
The government is more than naive and relies upon diplomatic assurances that a person deported from our country will not be tortured. We are being wilfully negligent and unlawful in allowing this to happen. Countries that practise torture lie. Their assurances are meaningless. Federal officials have even asked for written assurances from countries not to torture deportees when negative PRRA decisions have been made. It does not matter what the person's status is or what they have done; the ban on torture is absolute. There are always other options.
Should I stop now?
The Chair: Thank you very much.
You have an excellent brief, and it is unfortunate they didn't have it translated in time, but thank you very much. The members will get it. It is a very, very good brief.
Our next presenter is Ms. Haire.
Ms. Lynn Haire (Newfoundland and Labrador Families Adopting Multiculturally): Good day. My name is Lynn Haire, and I represent 60 families in this province who have adopted or who are in the process of adopting internationally.
The name of our association is Newfoundland and Labrador Families Adopting Multiculturally, or NLFAM. Our members are families in this province who have adopted children from China, Romania, Russia, Kazakhstan, Guatemala, Thailand, Nunavut, and the United States. We have come together both as a support group and as a lobby group to ensure that best practices are used in all aspects of the international adoption experience.
It is in the latter regard that I speak to you today to express the group's views on the Canadian citizenship process. You will notice that there is a section in the written brief on the international adoption process in Newfoundland and Labrador. I refer you to this section for reference only, because of time constraints, and I will jump right to the reasons why NLFAM feels that Canadian citizenship should be conferred upon adopted children at the time their adoptions are finalized in the countries of origin.
These children should be able to skip the landed immigrant application and apply immediately for citizenship. The following points elaborate why we believe this to be a necessary change.
The first one would be the length of the process. The adopted child immigration process is time consuming for families and takes an unacceptable length of time to finalize. The current waiting period of 12 to 18 months to have a Canadian citizenship application processed adds an additional burden on families who have already experienced a very lengthy adoption process.
There are foreign travel difficulties for adoptive families. For families to travel without the child's citizenship in place, there can be requirements for special visas, which can be costly. Travelling with a child who does not share his or her parent's citizenship can also lead to many questions asked of adoptive families by authorities in foreign countries.
Awareness of child trafficking is very high these days, and rightfully so. However, adoptive parents are often subject to suspicion and undue questioning from foreign officials, a situation that could likely be circumvented if the child just had his or her parent's Canadian citizenship in place.
Cost effectiveness should be considered. Granting Canadian citizenship to newly adopted children would undoubtedly reduce both cost to the Canadian taxpayer and workload for Citizenship and Immigration employees. Finalization of citizenship is obviously a work-intensive process, evidenced by the current 12- to 18-month wait. Either there is a backlog of such files or, unimaginably, the investigative work on these children's files is taking over a year to complete.
There is a perceived discrimination against adopted children. If a Canadian family is resident outside Canada and gives birth to a child, the child is not required to go through the landed immigrant process. Rather, the family can just apply for the child's citizenship. We perceive the different citizenship process for biological and adopted children as discriminatory against the adopted child and the adopted family.
Children already fulfill Canadian citizenship requirements. When an adult landed immigrant applies to become Canadian, he or she must meet many requirements in order to be considered for citizenship. For example, one cannot be in jail, on probation, a member of an organized gang, and so forth, and receive citizenship. Such requirements are, without exception, met by young children under a certain age. Most children adopted internationally in Canada are under the age of five.
Additionally, when adoptive applicants apply to sponsor a family class relative, they must swear that the child will not be a burden on the Canadian social safety net for at least ten years. As a result, there is no issue of financial dependency on the state. This is not a factor in determining suitability of adopted children for Canadian citizenship.
Adults who are landed immigrants must wait three years before they may apply for citizenship. Children are already allowed to apply immediately after becoming a landed immigrant. Given that there is no way that the child can fulfill any of the criteria to be turned down for citizenship as long as the adoption is legal, there is no reason why the landed immigrant step cannot be completely eliminated for internationally adopted children.
It is our overall assessment that because there are no further criteria for the adopted child to meet between the landed immigrant and the citizenship stage, the current process is redundant. The volume of files that is now being processed every year for adopted children can be considerably decreased, giving Citizenship and Immigration employees time to work on more pressing and complicated citizenship issues.
One final consideration is that currently the onus is on the adopting family to apply for citizenship for the child after finalization of the adoption and return to Canada. If the family does not apply for citizenship, then the child may not have a citizenship.
A documentary film recently aired on the CBC program The Passionate Eye told the story of the Romanian child, Alexandra Austin, who was returned to Romania by her adoptive family. At that time, she was nine years old. She went back without the knowledge of the provincial or federal authorities. She has lived her life in Romania without citizenship. Such cases are rare and completely unacceptable; however, such situations can be avoided if adopted children are granted citizenship immediately upon adoption by a Canadian family.
The United States of America and Australia are two countries that automatically confer citizenship upon internationally adopted children at the time of adoption. These processes have been in place for several years and are working well.
We are pleased that the federal government appears to have become more friendly towards adoption given the recent budget announcement of the income tax credit of up to $10,000 for incurred adoption expenses. Therefore, we are confident that the concerns presented here today will be addressed, as they have been for adoptive parents in other countries.
In closing, Newfoundland and Labrador families adopting multiculturally would respectfully suggest that in the new citizenship act the privilege of Canadian citizenship be conferred upon internationally adopted children when their adoptions are finalized. Then, upon entering Canada, the child will be a citizen and will therefore be welcomed wholeheartedly, not only by his or her adoptive family, but also by his or her adoptive country.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Next we have Mr. Summers.
Mr. Nick Summers: Thank you.
When I was preparing the presentation for the Canadian Council of Refugees, I have to admit I had some difficulty in thinking of what to say. This committee, especially the chair, is already expert in the field of citizenship. It's a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle. I know you share many of our concerns.
I'm not going to do a long presentation. We haven't prepared a written one for you. We will await the text of a new bill before we do one of those. But we did have a number of concerns I wanted to raise. Most of these are contained in the written comments we made on the last bill, C-18, when we appeared in front of you in November 2002. It's there if you wish to refer to it.
I want to touch on one of the concerns mentioned by Remzi Cej and HuaLin Wong: the equality of all citizens. It is extremely important that the citizenship act not distinguish between citizens who were born here and citizens who chose to become Canadian citizens, especially with regard to human rights and the issue of security certificates, or whatever they would be called under a new act. A citizen, no matter what sort of citizen, shouldn't be able to have their citizenship taken away depending on whether or not they were born here.
I agree with Remzi's comment when he talked about Mr. Arar. I disagree with one thing. He said that Mr. Arar was sent to Syria illegally. The tragedy of it is that he was sent there legally. Canadian officials who participated in this seemed to have known what they were doing and had the authority to do it.
That gets to the issue of due process. We want to make sure that the new act is clear on due process. Citizenship is an important right, and before it can be taken away there should be due process. We should not have a process in the act that gives the government the power to take away citizenship, or to deny it, without due process. Under Bill C-18, the minister could deny citizenship simply because he or she was satisfied that they would not be good Canadians. The criteria were very loose, and there was no way to appeal or object.
We also want to raise our concerns about statelessness. Canada is not a signatory to the convention against statelessness. That is a shame right there. We recognize it. Statelessness is an international problem. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees made it a very important issue. Yet Canada continues to refuse to sign a convention that would do something about it.
In a citizenship act, there should not be provisions that would create statelessness. In previous drafts of the bill, we have seen wording that would result in citizenship being taken away from people, leaving them without a country. Under the old act, a foreign-born child of a foreign-born Canadian would automatically lose citizenship at age 28. We seem to take no note of the fact that they may have no other citizenship.
Those are the main concerns. We didn't want to do a long, formal presentation today, because we thought it was more important for the committee to have a chance to ask questions about our concerns. So I am going to stop there.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We're going to go to our questions. They are five minutes, and we like to go back and forth. If we can get around twice, it would be really good.
Next is Mr. Jaffer.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks again to all the presenters this morning.
I just had a quick question. I appreciated the brief, Ms. Haire. I think you guys have done an excellent job in putting this together. You make a great case for allowing children who are being adopted to get citizenship immediately.
You cite the United States and Australia, where that is already in place, and you say it's working well. Have you identified any problems we should be aware of, so if we do adopt this, we can learn from their example?
Ms. Lynn Haire: I haven't. I guess you usually hear of problems, and that seems to be the way it is when I read things on the Internet. The problems are the things that are escalated, and you read them also, but I haven't read any problems, and I do make it my business to read everything I get my hands on.
There is the situation of children who grew up without citizenship and got in trouble with the law -- nothing more than the average child would do, I guess, when they become a teenager -- and got deported to a foreign country they didn't know anything about. The problems that would occur, administrative issues, are small in comparison to those bigger ones.
I haven't heard anything to date of any kind of complaint or issue encountered by families.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer: I appreciate that. That was my concern, that they have grown up as small children here and then all of a sudden they don't have status and they are deported back to these countries. That would a huge concern for them, so I appreciate that.
Mr. Summers, you mentioned the issue of statelessness and how Canada, to date, has refused to sign UN conventions addressing this. I was curious as to why that is. What is your experience of why we have resisted that?
Mr. Nick Summers: Well, I can certainly tell you that I've asked many times. I've had different answers, depending on which official I talked to. The argument I mostly get is a bit circular. They say if we sign the convention against statelessness, it then entails a commitment to accept anyone who was stateless into Canada, and therefore the floodgates would be open. Well, first off, there aren't that many stateless people in the world who could get here, but let that be as it may.
The second argument you get is that we already deal with statelessness through our convention refugee process. A person who is stateless is generally mistreated in the country they are in. They don't get the right to citizenship or residence. They are second class citizens, that sort of thing, and they are caught by our refugee system.
You can then point out to them that the one argument is contradictory to the other, because on the one hand they're saying we'll throw open the floodgates, and on the other they're saying that in any event we are dealing with it. Well, if we are dealing with it, then why don't we have these floods of people coming? It doesn't make sense.
The fact of the matter is that the numbers are not an issue. Other countries have signed this. They are not inundated by huge crowds of people seeking status in that country. It's a matter of basic human rights. The UN has recognized stateless people are a special group of people who need international humanitarian assistance. Canada simply doesn't want to do it. It doesn't want to take on one more obligation.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer: I appreciate that clarification. I'm surprised at that myself.
My last question, and there might be a couple of witnesses who want to address it, is the issue of a security certificate, the process in being able to detain, and the sweeping powers the police have after 9/11. We're getting closer, not only on the citizenship cycle -- we are expecting, hopefully, some sort of legislation coming forward at some point addressing the citizenship act -- but we also have the review coming up on the anti-terrorist legislation in the not-too-distant future. Obviously, that component was added -- a lot of the extra powers given to police in the case of detention.
I'm just curious. How would you say we should approach issues of security and the ability of people to have the freedom and equality that many of you mentioned? It's obviously a big challenge for legislators, because while trying to take security seriously, at the same time we want to do our best to protect Canadians, especially in their civil liberties. What would your advice be in approaching it? It seems almost as if we've gone too far. I would agree with your assessment of that, but how should we proceed in going forward here in addressing those issues, both within the citizenship act and in this anti-terrorist legislation?
Mr. Nick Summers: I will respond briefly, but I think my friends here would probably like a shot at it as well.
Briefly, I don't think we do ourselves a service by taking the short answer of responding to terrorism by saying, “We've got to clamp down. Rights are not as important as security; therefore, we're going to ignore or reduce rights in order to solve the security problem.” The fact is we do our own society a disservice by going down to that level. If what we have is worth fighting for, then we should respect our own rights in fighting for it.
Terrorism is a problem; criminality is a problem. In the long term, we are not going to solve that problem by denying basic human rights, and certainly in the terrorism legislation and in the citizenship act we have to respect due process. We have to respect our own values, or we hurt ourselves.
Mr. Remzi Cej: I would add that when we were writing this brief, Lynn and I were looking at the charter, which just seems to be one of the holiest documents produced by Canadian politics or Canadian history. It is just amazing to see that all of our freedoms and rights are enshrined in this document, but it is very sad to see that in the last few years this document has been overlooked and hasn't been respected. In light of that, I think it is only a logical explanation that every Canadian, every single resident of Canada, should be treated in the same equal way, without any systematic discrimination or marginalization. In that sense, they should be provided justice, and just as Nick mentioned, we should respect those basic rights enshrined in our charter.
The Chair: I think that is it. We have run over by quite a bit.
Ms. Meili Faille: I just want to say that I identify closely with what you are saying. In our society, that is in Quebec, we also have a charter of rights. In fact, it's been around for 30 years, if not a little longer. Therefore, equal rights are values very near to the hearts of Quebeckers. You mentioned the preservation of democratic rights. As you can appreciate, that's extremely important to us.
We are categorically opposed to citizenship revocation. We believe that persons who have obtained citizenship must be considered regular citizens who have lawfully secured that citizenship. To our way of thinking, it's totally ludicrous to create two classes of citizens. What Nick said is worth restating: What we have is worth fighting for. We're working very hard to see that this happens.
We are very concerned about the issue of security certificates, in light of the fact that the majority of members of the Arab community are francophones. Quebec is home to a large Arab community the members of which necessarily share our values. When one of our members is affected, we are all affected as well. We believe civil society is firmly behind Mr. Charkaoui and we support him.
As far as the right of appeal is concerned, consider the series of questions that we have put to the minister. I for one have moved a motion calling for the urgent need to establish the appeal section. I'm disheartened by the fact that Canada is waiting for some damning reports before it takes any kind of action. We're more proactive, or more progressive, than that. At least I believe we are. We've been working for years now to address problems that are just now coming to light.
Let me give you an example involving persons with disabilities. I have defended several such cases. One provision that is always invoked is the question of an unreasonable burden. The most disheartening fact is that these families have been selected by Quebec. We face roadblocks, when the truth is that our society would welcome these persons with open arms. It's important to mention that we take a different approach.
Quebec has a special arrangement under the Canada-Quebec immigration accord. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that we can select potential immigrants based on our own value systems. The downside is that some persons whom we would have welcomed with open arms are rejected as potential Canadian immigrants.
The Chair: That was very good commentary, Madame.
Does anybody want to make any comments on it?
Ms. Meili Faille: Maybe Nick would.
Mr. Nick Summers: Very quickly, with regard to the issue you raised in mentioning the disadvantaged or the excessive burden, on a positive note, there has been somewhat of a change in the government's attitude towards government-assisted refugees, as they have made an effort in the last couple of years to bring people to Canada who were not always the best and the brightest or those who we always used to go for. We call it cherry-picking.
On a negative note, I might note that the government has used that as an excuse for reducing the number of government-assisted refugees, because they say those people cost more to settle and therefore they don't have as much money to bring in other people.
That's the only addition I would make to your comments, which I otherwise agree with.
Ms. Meili Faille: Can I say something on the government nominees? On the government nominees that Quebec has had, the numbers are going down, but we had 2,000 convention that were ready to be implemented. These were people coming with families. These people came with money and were willing to invest.
There have been constant delays that discourage people from coming to Quebec. Right now, of course, what we are seeing in terms of higher provincial nominees is a result of encouraging other provinces to do the same as us. As well, people who are willing to come here are being encouraged to go elsewhere. This is not right.
In terms of encouraging refugees, government-sponsored refugees, we've been working hard to keep these numbers up, but other initiatives are competing and putting a lot of pressure on the system we want to have. This is something I would say is worth fighting for.
The Chair: Thank you.
We're now going to go to Mr. Siksay.
Mr. Bill Siksay: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for your presentations this morning. They've been very helpful.
I want to come back to the issue Mr. Summers mentioned about the change in policy for refugees with disabilities or other health issues, who for so long weren't allowed to be considered to come to Canada. I notice that the Council of Canadians with Disabilities mentioned that they started working on this back in 1984. It took a while to get that change in policy, because my understanding was that it happened in recent years as well.
Could you talk to us a little bit about your experience, if you know anything about how that program has worked out and about the problems?
When I met with the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia a little while ago, they explained that they've often found it very frustrating because they don't get good information on the needs of the people who are arriving. It causes a lot of confusion and disruption when they arrive, when they could have been ready had they had better information. It's one of the problems they're seeing. In terms of the expense, it causes more expense and unnecessary confusion at that point too. They could have been better prepared if they'd had better information from the government.
Do you have any experience of that program? Could you talk about the needs of those folks who are coming for resettlement now?
Mr. Nick Summers: Well, I don't personally know, but I've heard the stories about problems of misinformation, etc., as you have. It's not only physical disabilities that we're talking about. We also get people who are traumatized and in need of psychological help. I know that the towns and cities that have had these people resettled have been scrambling to find the services.
This goes back to something we talked about at the last session. Family unification is settling people and having them stay where they're put. Often the services and the infrastructure aren't in a location and people aren't always sent to the place that has what they need.
But for all of that, it's great to see the government finally starting to select people and not rule them out simply because they have a disabilities.
Ms. Leslie MacLeod: I think that as time goes by the systems that respond to individuals will simply have to do better in knowing the information and having it available. If somebody arrived today, because I happen to work in a disability resource centre, I would be able to hand over an array of services. It's a matter of learning the systems and being able to have that information, as opposed to at any point using that as an excuse not to assist individuals because they happen to come with some type of disability.
Most areas of the country certainly have services and things in place. It's an information gap and that can be filled.
Mr. Bill Siksay: I think it's probably a little broader than an information gap, though. I think one of the needs of folks who are arriving as refugees in Canada is housing. Often if there's a disability issue, the kinds of housing that traditionally have been available to newcomers are also probably the kinds of housing that are least appropriate for people with some physical disabilities. I think some of those issues need to be dealt with as well.
Ms. Leslie MacLeod: That's an ongoing issue in every community. I have been in communication with folks here, so I'm hoping to be able to have some preparation to have appropriate housing for someone who is due to be arriving at some point soon.
This is another issue that we as an organization are fighting for: universally accessible housing and a universally accessible society. It's not a huge piece of work we do. The more we are open within our communities to all of us, the more we will be open and welcoming to everyone. So there are many layers of organizations with many fights.
Mr. Bill Siksay: And the whole need generally for affordable housing across the country for all of our citizens is one where we have been failing dramatically as well.
I wonder if anyone wanted to comment on the issue of dual citizenship and if there are particular concerns around dual citizenship. You mentioned that difficulties Canadians get into overseas sometimes are related to the fact that they have dual citizenship, or it might be related to that. I wonder if anyone cares to comment on this issue.
Mr. Nick Summers: I don't have anything particular to say about it. You are quite correct. The particular situations that have come to the fore have been at least partly due to the dual citizenship, but it seems to me that they were more of an excuse the authorities used to justify their actions. CCR certainly doesn't have a position for or against dual citizenship. I could give you a personal one, but that's not what I'm here for today.
Mr. Remzi Cej: I think the dual citizenship issue shows its face when problems like the Maher Arar case come up, where the Canadian government fails to work together with the other country and actually assists in the discrimination against a citizen, even if the citizen has no will to return to that place or no will to disclose personal information to that other place.
I came to Canada as a stateless refugee. I came from Kosovo in 2000 and I became Canadian. If I were to receive my citizenship in Yugoslavia now, or Serbia and Montenegro, as it is called now, I would be a dual citizen. But I don't think I would have an issue as to where I belong now. I belong to Canada and this is where my home is.
I think that's how Canadians should see their citizens. They should see them as belonging to the country and providing them protection no matter where they are. After all, even if they have dual citizenship, they still belong to this place, and they should take advantage of all of the responsibilities the Canadian government has for them.
Ms. HuaLin Wong: I want to add something very quickly to that. Under dual citizenship, if you are in the country outside of Canada for which you have citizenship, you are subject to their rules and their laws. That in itself may become problematic, especially in the case of Zahra Kazemi. If we didn't have dual citizenship and we were all just Canadians, it might be easier to show equality for everybody, Canadian born or naturalized, and if you leave the country and go to the country where you originated from, you would be considered Canadian, and not, for example, Iranian.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Siksay.
Next we have Ms. Beaumier.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: Thank you. This has all been very interesting. I'm going to do my questions first.
For Leslie and Mary, when the Vietnamese were coming from the refugee camps, Switzerland and Denmark took the lion's share of those with disabilities. I was wondering if there have been any studies -- I'm sure they'd be positive -- on how they have contributed to Switzerland.
Nick, you're wrong. Just because the RCMP was involved doesn't necessarily make it legal -- any more than the invasion of Iraq was legal because you have an army and a big country.
I did not realize until today that we had not signed the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Maybe that's why we have been deporting stateless Palestinians back to refugee camps in Lebanon and Algiers. That is something I'm glad you brought to our attention.
As to the mysterious five, they're not Canadian citizens. The certificates were issued under provision in 1993. I am in close contact with one of them and have offered to post bail for him.
One of the horrific parts of what's happened is that they've been abused in jail in Canada. The fellow I know has been there for five years. His children have seen him only through a glass, plate glass, and have talked to him only on a telephone. He hasn't touched any of his children, who were very young when he first went in, for five years. His mail is intercepted, and his children's mail is intercepted.
On the other hand, the Americans stand up left, right, and centre, every single day, and say that Canada is a haven for terrorists, that our immigration policy is a threat to their security. We know it is not true, but how do we respond?
The trucking hub of Canada is in my constituency, and many of my constituents depend on free access across the border. It is their livelihood; it's how they feed their families. Increasingly they are being stopped in longer and longer delays on the pretence that Canada is a haven for terrorists. How do we deal with this?
Mr. Remzi Cej: I think the issue is being transparent. What Canadian governments need right now is to be transparent with its citizens and with all of the people of Canada. No one in Canada right now, except for the privileged few in the courts dealing with these cases, knows why these men are being charged.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: The judges have said there's not enough evidence to hold them, but there is nothing they can do.
Mr. Remzi Cej: So we are using these people as scapegoats—to respond to U.S. pressure. I don't think human rights should depend on relations with another country. We are an independent country, and we can take care of ourselves. If this means providing freedom to all of our peoples, then that's what it should be. I don't think we should sacrifice our human rights, our freedom, and our liberties for the price of trade.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: I agree with you. My livelihood, my children's education, and food on the table should not depend on open access across the border.
Mr. Remzi Cej: So does this mean we are accepting that these men are being kept --
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: No, I don't. I offered to post bond for one of them. But what about the thousands and thousands of people who care about feeding their families? How are we going to feed them?
Mr. Remzi Cej: The problem lies in educating the foreign policy of the United States to accept the privilege of human rights. They must accept that freedom is the ultimate and that they cannot place a fellow country at risk because they are threatened by terrorism.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: However, they have exonerated themselves. It's all our fault, you know, 9/11.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Beaumier.
You might now read over the press release, the media release we got, and then you can announce it at the end of this session, because that is when the minister will be making the announcement as well. That's why they sent you down here instead of being up in Brampton. They wanted to make sure you got to mention the announcement.
I know it comes as a surprise.
Anyway, we have Ms. Guergis next.
Ms. Helena Guergis: Thanks very much.
Basically, I just have a couple of comments, and they're probably directed more toward the disability association, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
Considering that here in Canada we really expect our disabled to live a paltry lifestyle, sometimes next to poverty -- I find a lot of the disabled in my riding are living day by day, not having a lot of the things they need on a regular basis -- there's no doubt that some of the immigrants and even refugees coming into Canada would be better off.
I was hoping you could tell me, what is the relationship when they come into the country? Do they go onto a provincial disability, or do we help them federally? What is the relationship there?
Ms. Leslie MacLeod: There would be an array of potential programs available, some federal some provincial. What disability-related support you will receive depends on where you live in this country. Where you live in this country will decide what income you have, what additional benefits you may or may not qualify for.
But that's the reality for all of us living in this country who have disabilities. And yes, while some folks with disabilities do live in the same kind of poverty that people living on social assistance have or senior women without pensions, etc., other people with disabilities in fact have very good lifestyles and very good incomes. There is no one stereotypical person who has a disability; we come in all sizes, shapes, abilities, and income statuses.
We do have difficulties in the disability-related supports of this country, but that's another issue that we fight on another level, the provision of those things. But fundamentally, we're all people, and I know you agree with that. It's just a last little kick at the fact that we all have the right to have an existence and to live where we choose and how we choose.
I would like to just go back to... Ms. Beaumier talked about what had happened to the people who went to other countries. The simple answer I would give is that they would have been like anybody else. People with disabilities are no different from anyone else. They would have created lives of their choosing and would have moved on from past experiences.
So, yes, there are difficulties, and it's not straightforward, but it's the same for any one of us in this country.
Ms. Helena Guergis: Yes. Thank you very much for that.
My experience comes provincially, working as political staff in a constituency office, hearing a lot of the concerns from those who are disabled, and I've found, often, that in the way we conduct our disabled programs here, we seem to treat them like they're on welfare and not.... I'm just wondering what kind of contributions you make to...I'm sure you do; you lobby regularly.
This is mostly a comment, so that you're aware of what my position is here.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Next, we're going to go to Mr. Temelkovski.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I have just a couple of issues. I would like to ask Lynn, in regard to the adoptions, should there be any age limit when we grant citizenship?
Ms. Lynn Haire: Well, I can't pretend to be an expert on citizenship right now as it pertains to a regular family immigrating to Canada, but we might look at having the same kinds of age limitations.
I know when a child reaches a certain age they have to go through a process of learning about Canada and writing the test and all that. We might look at something similar to that.
But you'll find that unless it's a family member adopting another family member -- and that does happen occasionally, we see that -- for the most part, the children are very young. Some provincial jurisdictions have a limit on how old the child can be. They won't let you adopt over three years old. That's provincial. I think it's the rule in Ontario now. So it would be very minuscule, the number of children who would come in over...five would be maximum.
So you might look at something like that, some kind of equivalent to a family immigrating and what would be expected of a child who is of advanced age.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: HuaLin, you mentioned that it would be much easier if we had only one citizenship at a time as opposed to multiple.
Ms. HuaLin Wong: Yes, I felt that in terms of security for our citizens abroad, it would be. And maybe not one citizenship at a time; perhaps on our passports, instead of place of birth, that could be omitted...or I don't know how that would work diplomatically. Perhaps you could have just one Canadian passport when going to a foreign country. If you're a citizen of that foreign country, you are going to be subject to their laws. So if you have a Canadian passport only, and Canadian citizenship only, then perhaps that government and that country would be more willing to respect your rights in terms of our rights here in Canada.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: So would you be in support of somebody renouncing the citizenship of the country they were born in? Because you can do that. Otherwise, you have the birthrights of that country.
Ms. HuaLin Wong: I am not really sure, to be honest. It's a very difficult issue to speak about, because many people would like to keep the dual citizenship. I guess it would be your choice to renounce or not.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: I'm not sure you lose it just by not being in the country you were born in, even if you left it 80 years ago when you were three months old.
Ms. HuaLin Wong: In some places you can. I know in Kazakhstan, if you're out of the country for five years and you don't register with the consulate, you will lose your citizenship.
So citizenship laws across the world are very different, I guess, and are subject to that country. I can't really give you a definitive answer on that topic.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Anybody else?
The Chair: Mr. Temelkovski, you did well this time. You stayed below the limit. Thank you.
Mr. Cej, I hope you're submitting to your school the submission you made to the committee.
Mr. Remzi Cej: Yes.
The Chair: Good. It's for your master's?
Mr. Remzi Cej: No, my undergraduate degree.
The Chair: That's very good. You can flesh that out and end up with a PhD eventually.
I'll touch on one part of your presentation that I think you should probably expand on. It's the revocation of citizenship. Later on you make a point related to another topic that you can appeal a $15 ticket. Well, with citizenship revocation, the way it is now, you cannot. As a matter of fact, if you do some background research on it -- and I think that will get you to the PhD level -- and go back to Bill C-63, which was one of the first recent attempts to change the act back in 1997-98, it had a provision for revocation. They weren't satisfied with the present draconian way of stripping citizenship. They were going to draft phraseology such as “knowingly misinformed”, but I'd say if you just misinformed that would be good enough.
Another one really caught me when I was parliamentary secretary and was responsible for trying to deal with this legislation through the House. They said that if they found something on people who were parents and revoked their citizenship, then at the discretion of cabinet, essentially, they could revoke the citizenship of the kids. I said in the House, this means that if you found something on my parents, coming from where they came from, even though I came here as a kid, 50 years later you could come after my citizenship. So the whole revocation thing is a very dangerous process.
We've had a lot of discussion across the country. Actually, probably the most dramatic testimony I heard was from a university professor from Simon Fraser University who was making a presentation on credentials. All of a sudden, she said, “When do I become a Canadian if my citizenship can be revoked?” She said this is bad public policy.
I suggest to you that you might check this out some more, because it certainly very much falls in line with the rest of the issues you raised. That was a very good piece of work.
Ms. Haire, I saw the same documentary on The Passionate Eye as you, and I'm hoping we can get that young woman to come before the committee to testify. But what really bothered me was related to adoptions. Here was a young woman who had a family -- I think she had seven siblings -- and because the family was poor, the mother agreed to allow a rich Canadian doctor to adopt her. A younger son got adopted out to somebody in Montreal, and those two kids were split.
I was disturbed by the young lady's statement that Canadians shouldn't have been coming over and adopting these children, because they were already in a family. The only problem these children had was being poor. I started wondering about the whole morality of doing international adoptions. I know after the tsunami there was a movement to go and adopt the kids. On one of the programs on it I saw where a doctor living next door to a young boy adopted him after he was orphaned.
I wonder if we are not better off in terms of helping the families -- you know, the way we do with the foster parent program, where we actually help the whole family -- and what kind of obligations we have, so that we don't go into a country and seize one of its most important assets. It's just an issue that kind of troubled me. I haven't come to any conclusions, but it does trouble me.
Ms. Lynn Haire: I think I would share that feeling of being troubled by that, because, as you mentioned, with the tsunami victims, luckily, somebody came to their senses and realized that the Hague Convention prevents children from being moved in times of disaster, such as war or this kind of situation, since family can come back at some point and say, hey, where is that child? So that is in place, thank God, to protect those children from being just scooped up.
There are legitimate situations where children are orphans, like in China, where their social system results in children being abandoned in bus stations and little girls are by the thousands available for adoption. Then there is the situation in Romania, where the children are in some cases placed in orphanages just because their families can't feed them. Guatemala is closed to Canada right now because of the serious problems with children being stolen from parents or being purchased. The difficulty we have is to sort out a legitimate orphan from a not-so-legitimate orphan, and that's quite a task to undertake.
I agree that giving money to help with foster care is a great option when there is that. Unfortunately, there are enough orphans in this world that we don't need to steal children from parents or buy them from people who have no money and see that as an option.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Before I go over to Ms. Beaumier, I just want to say to you that this committee is pretty non-partisan, and if you look at our reports, that becomes fairly obvious.
I also know that the minister is listening to our deliberations, if you will, and Grant is down here sending him the word, back to the ministry, as to what we have been hearing about the country. Actually, that's reinforced when I look over the media releases we have received.
I'm going to call on Ms. Beaumier from whose riding one of the releases is being put forward to announce to the delegation and others -- we haven't got a copy of the release -- the substance of the release.
Ms. Colleen Beaumier: I will read this with enthusiasm, and with the full knowledge that there won't be any glitches once it's been implemented.
The Honourable Joe Volpe, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, today announced measures to speed up the processing of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents coming to Canada as family class immigrants. With these new measures in place, it is expected that in both 2005 and 2006, the number of parents and grandparents immigrating to Canada will increase by an additional 12,000 each year. This triples the original 6,000 forecasted for 2005.
Minister Volpe is also announcing that Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will be more flexible in issuing multiple-entry visitor visas to parents and grandparents. This will allow them to visit their families in Canada while their sponsorship applications are in process, as long as they are able to prove that they are visiting temporarily. Regular security and health screening will still apply and some parents and grandparents may require health coverage to be admissible to Canada.
“Today's announcement will help CIC case inventory pressures in the short term while working with the provinces, territories and communities on finding longer term solutions,” said Minister Volpe. “I would like to thank stakeholders and the members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for their support of our efforts to improve processing time for the reunification of family members.”
CIC has welcomed over one million permanent residents since 2000 and has consistently met its annual immigration targets since that time. However, the number of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents is growing and more applications are received each day than CIC can process. To address this concern, the Government of Canada is investing $36 million a year over two years to increase processing of parent and grandparent applications and to cover integration costs once they arrive in Canada.
“We are taking action now to address one of the most pressing issues for CIC and to make our processing system as efficient as possible. Reuniting families is a commitment of the Government of Canada as well as a key priority of Canada's immigration program,” added the Minister.
Additional processing will begin immediately. In the coming weeks, CIC will add temporary duty officers and support staff at visa offices with the largest number of applications.
That's it in a nutshell. There's a longer one here --
The Chair: Very good. You've pre-empted the minister by five minutes.
I wonder if any of the delegation wants to comment about the numbers -- if these 12,000 should be in addition to the numbers we already take in.
Mr. Nick Summers: That's what I was going to ask.
The Chair: Overall number.
Mr. Nick Summers: The press doesn't make it clear if that 12,000 is on top of the 250,000 or not. I think it's important to note that while 6,000 is the figure for the parents and grandparents who came in this year, the number used to be quite a bit higher. It used to be up around 12,000 or 13,000 a year. That number came down because of the pressure to find room for everybody else under that 250,000.
Unless the numbers have gone up, then saying we're going to bring in 12,000 more parents and grandparents means there's going to be 12,000 in some other category who won't get in.
So I think that needs to be clarified.
The Chair: So what you're saying is you would like to see the 12,000 be in addition.
Mr. Nick Summers: Yes.
The Chair: Does everybody agree?
I think it's only proper that we let Mr. Jaffer, Madame Faille, and Mr. Siksay make comments and address whether they want to see these 12,000 come out of the current numbers or be in addition to the numbers.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer: I support it being in addition to the current numbers.
The Chair: Madame Faille.
Ms. Meili Faille: That's it? That short?
I'm working in translation, so let it go to Bill.
Mr. Bill Siksay: You're always working in translation, Madame Faille; I don't understand the delay in your response.
Ms. Meili Faille: I've been quicker this time -- shorter.
Mr. Bill Siksay: So you should be quicker and shorter maybe.
I'm pleased that the minister is taking the situation seriously, but I share the concern that this may be at the expense of some other category of immigration. We haven't been meeting the Liberals' own 1% immigration target they've had in their policy for so many years, so I think that is a very important question.
I'm always concerned about money announcements. Often governments like to re-announce the same money over and over again. So I'm curious to know if this is new money that is being proposed or just some old recycled money that has already been announced in some other way in a previous time. I don't want to sound too cynical about the process, because it is a serious issue we have been hearing a lot about as we've travelled across the country. People have been very frustrated that their parents and grandparents haven't been able to join them. I know they are anxious to hear this kind of announcement.
I want to take some credit for this committee having pressed the minister. Minority parliaments are a wonder. Standing committees seem to have much more influence in a minority parliament, and I want us to take some credit for having given this issue some prominence across the country in our hearings recently.
I also want to pay tribute to the work of groups like Sponsor Your Parents that have been lobbying hard across the country to have all of us consider the situation of parents and grandparents. They found out, for instance, that no new applications had been processed in Mississauga for the last two years, and that some parents and grandparents might have to wait 18 years to be reunited with family. When you're talking about the category of parents and grandparents, a lot of them don't have 18 years to wait. So I think this was a really crucial issue that needed to be addressed. While I welcome the announcement, I want those other questions answered.
I just want to say that the minister also announced an expansion of the ability of international students to work off campus --
The Chair: That announcement will come two hours down the road, so we don't want to pre-empt it.
Mr. Bill Siksay: It doesn't say that on the paper that was given to me, Mr. Chair.
I just want to say I'm also a little concerned that that's not going to apply to students in the major centres like Vancouver, where I come from. Students at Simon Fraser University in my riding are also facing significant pressures about their ability to work off campus and to work in Canada after graduation. I know the international students at Simon Fraser University will be disappointed in that announcement as well. But it is good that we've expanded the ability of students to work off campus and have made that consistent across the country, whereas there was a difference between the big centres and the smaller centres in the previous policy.
I hope the ability to work after graduation will be a consistent policy across the country and we won't have students with differing opportunities, depending on where they're living in Canada right now.
The Chair: Now Mr. Jaffer is asking for more time.
Ms. Meili Faille: Now I'm ready -- already translated.
I'm always cautious when there are announcements like that. I will believe it when it works. For example, when we had spouses in the last announcement aiming at family reunification, we went through the process once and it worked fine. It was laborious and complex, but we still managed to get one of my constituents back. But on the second one, the file is similar, but it's very complicated. It seems there's no simple process, although the files have exactly the same characteristics. We just went through another person.
So I'm always cautious when there are announcements and when money is being announced. I just read the translated version a few minutes ago, and I think it's very encouraging. But we'll analyze it and consult, and then the process takes a long....
Last Friday, it was a no-no for one of my constituents. So I find it very troubling to see this announcement, but at the same time it's encouraging. So I will take the file that was a no-no, put it back in the yes-yes, and process it.
I always look at it from a human perspective, and there are people we are refusing. It's a burden through the system. If the minister announces that today, I'll believe it when it works. So I'll take my no-no file, bring it to the yes-yes file, process it through, and see the results. Maybe two or three months down the road I'll be able to tell you it's working. I don't want to be too enthusiastic until I've gone through it.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Again I will underline the fact that we have been able to work as a committee in as non-partisan a way as possible. We have arrived at a consensus and have been sending strong messages. The minister has been listening on that basis, so that's one of the payouts we have. We seem to have consensus that we want to see these numbers, in addition to the numbers we now have.
We also want to make sure this is new money. I think it is new money. It looks like new money, but we'd be very disappointed and upset if it were not new money. That seems to be the consensus of the committee. Grant, you can send on that message.
I want to thank you all for your input and just mention that we're looking for a citizenship oath, so write it out and send it to us. We're looking for the preamble.
Mr. Cej, I agree with you in total that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is our secular holy book. When you have people from every nationality, creed, and race living in a country, you really need that. We collectively subscribe to something to make sure we preserve a country that is very much a model for the world.
Thank you very much for your participation.
We are now adjourned.