The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard will have three minutes today.
Order. I ask all hon. members to keep their questions to under a minute.
The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on January 26, 2015, by the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard related to the government’s response to written question Q-393, which was given to the House on May 14, 2014.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the hon. opposition House leader for their comments.
In raising this matter, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard expressed concerns about the response she received to her question, Q-393. She argued that there was interference by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who, she claimed, ordered officials in the department to stop preparing a response and, instead, use the same answer that was given in response to written question Q-359 on May 12, 2014. She asserted that that answer constituted a non-answer to a question submitted by the member for Markham—Unionville. Having received the same non-answer, she contended that this impeded her in the performance of her parliamentary duties since she was not provided with a satisfactory response to her question. From this she argued that a breach of privilege had occurred.
In response, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration explained that it was the length and breadth of the member's very extensive question that was preventing departmental officials from being able to comply with the 45-day response deadline. Once advised of this, he provided the response that the member received.
Members will be familiar with the provisions of Standing Order 39(5)(a), which states:
A Member may request that the Ministry respond to a specific question within forty-five days by so indicating when filing his or her question.
In essence, the member is seeking redress with respect to perceived ministerial interference, which in her view, prevented departmental officials from responding to her question.
On previous occasions, the Chair has been asked to rule on issues related to the government’s responses to written questions. In each instance, the Chair has sought to remind members of the clear limitations of the role of the Speaker in this regard.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states, at page 522:
There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.
Speaker Milliken also noted on February 8, 2005, on page 3234 of Debates:
Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of this response is a matter of debate. It is not something upon which the Speaker is permitted to pass judgment.
This applies as well when the government indicates that it is unable to provide an answer. O'Brien and Bosc confirms this approach at page 522, where it states:
As with oral questions, it is acceptable for the government, in responding to a written question, to indicate to the House that it cannot supply an answer.
How or why the government chooses to provide such a reply, or non-reply as some see it, is not something to be questioned by the Chair. Nor is it for the Chair to question the decision of members to ask for a response to a written question within a 45-day limit, as per Standing Order 39(5)(a), even when the question is lengthy and complex.
Specifically, as Speaker, I must assess the role the government played in the preparation of responses within the limited scope that is granted to me by our practice and precedents. As I indicated in my ruling of April 3, 2014:
The Chair understands that the member is not asking for judgment on the accuracy of the answer provided. However, he is asking the Chair to judge the actions of the minister and the effect these have had on his ability to function as a member of Parliament. To do so would require the Chair to judge not only the content of answers provided, but also to delve into internal departmental processes past and present. Regardless of whether the department's internal processes on written questions have changed or not, it remains beyond the role of the Chair to undertake an investigation into any such matter or to render any judgment on it.
In view of the particular jurisprudence cited by the Chair with regard to written questions, I cannot conclude that the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard has been impeded in the performance of her parliamentary duties. Therefore, I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
That being said, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard does have one other avenue she could pursue. She could consider resubmitting her question without requesting an answer within the forty-five day deadline, particularly in light of the Minister’s comments regarding the question's length and complexity.
I thank honourable members for their attention.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard made her presentation this morning.
I would like to focus on three elements that the minister just mentioned. First, before receiving any information in response to her access to information request, the member was unaware of the extent to which the minister interfered with the work of his officials, who said that the work was perfectly feasible. Once she received that information, she decided to raise this question of privilege here in the House, so in terms of time, the documentation was already there.
Second—and this is the most important point—as the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard said this morning, officials had replied that the work was perfectly feasible. Then, on May 2, 2014, information was released following her access to information request.
I would like to quote what the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard said this morning.
An email dated the next day, May 2, 2014, then ordered the officials who worked on this issue to stop their work because “...[the] (minister’s office) has come back to advise...[the] (office of the assistant deputy minister for operations) that we will use the same response we provided to Q-359”.
It was therefore quite doable and the question was relevant. As the member pointed out this morning, this relates directly to parliamentary proceedings and her work as a parliamentarian. The minister said that it would take more time, while officials from the department said they could provide an answer. Furthermore, as the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard showed this morning, this directly relates to her work and she was deprived of standard information that she requested through this process.
Order. The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to express our opposition to the motion on behalf of the official opposition.
Violence against immigrant and refugee women in Canada is a real problem with systemic roots. Immigrant and refugee women are at higher risk, and the Conservative government is empowered to make critical changes. Sadly, this motion is not one.
Sponsorship laws must be changed so that women who experience domestic violence can safely leave their marriages without fear of deportation. Humanitarian and compassionate grounds for staying refugee deportations must include the threat of violence against women. Foreign embassies and consular officials must be trained to deal with instances of domestic violence and forced marriage. Legal aid must be increased to support divorce and custody cases that are brought forth by immigrant women. Culturally sensitive shelters, medical aid, police services, and counselling services must be increased, funded, and sustained. All this I have heard directly from women and service providers across the country as I have consulted for Motion No. 444, a motion to create a national action plan to end violence against women. As well, the issue of forced marriage has been raised in these consultations by those who are experts on the subject.
The motion before us is particularly insidious, because it seeks to exploit the reality of forced marriage, which is violence against women, to mask something that, according to all experts, has nothing to do with it. The premise of the motion is entirely speculative, and no credible data exists to substantiate it. The language of violence against women is once again being used carelessly for political gain.
In my years on Parliament Hill, I have rarely come across a motion that is so misleading on the nature of a problem and that relates to such a serious issue as violence against women. That is why New Democrats will be voting against the motion, and I urge the government member to withdraw it and truly deal with the root issue, which is the violence and inequality women face.
My colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, explained to me that while the study of immigrant and refugee women was taking place in the standing committee, Conservative members of Parliament were inexplicably insisting that proxy marriage was a problem, while expert witnesses were testifying that in fact it was not. In fact, what we see in this motion is a veiled attempt to further hinder family reunification in Canada.
Proxy marriage is a legal marriage that takes place long distance over the telephone or even by Skype. Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and a global human rights issue. It takes place without consent, has nothing to do with immigration, and is already classified as a crime in Canada and in most countries around the world.
The fact is, forced marriage is the subject of several myths, and the rhetoric I have heard to justify this motion only exacerbates those myths.
The South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, SALCO, has been working since 2005 to create empirical data and research on the subject of forced marriage, and in its report published in 2013, it was able to dispel those myths.
Number one is that forced marriage is not an immigration issue. The report said that forced marriage “impacts Canadian citizens. It is not restricted to a particular geographic area or culture”.
Number two is that forced marriage is not a thing of the past. It “is very much an issue that continues to affect Canadians today”.
Number three is that forced marriage happens only in certain cultures. “The survey results reveal that forced marriage takes place across cultures and religions”.
Deepa Mattoo from SALCO said that this motion confirms that the current government lacks the tools for the proper identification and understanding of forced marriages. There has been no indication from the research done by the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario and the Department of Justice that forced marriage victims face victims face proxy marriages. She said that the proposed motion suggests once again that our lawmakers and government are focusing on potential fraud elements in spousal sponsorship situations but that the issue of forced marriages continues to be ignored and sidetracked.
Inventing a link between spousal sponsorship, immigration policy, and an egregious form of violence against women is not only irresponsible and fallacious, but it is also dangerous, as it fans the flames of the exact xenophobia and racism that makes the lives of immigrant women so vulnerable. I am gravely concerned that South Asian communities are targeted and persecuted by these myths in particular. Arranged marriages exist in South Asian communities as they do in many cultures, but these marriages are often consensual and loving and must not be confused with forced marriage or immigration fraud.
The immigration and refugee protection regulations already investigate sponsorship marriages for genuineness, and we have heard from lawyers, as well as community leaders, that South Asian marriages are targeted unduly for these investigations. This motion would only heighten those unjustified suspicions and create unnecessary delays in reuniting family members across borders.
We must diligently respect the rights of the South Asian community, as with all minority communities in our multicultural landscape. Chantal Desloges, another experienced immigration lawyer who strongly disagrees with this motion, said that marriage sponsorships for Pakistani couples now take close to three years for processing. As a result of this, due to cultural reasons, many couples choose to do an inexpensive and fast proxy marriage in order to get the sponsorship filed, then do a big public wedding once the couple is able to move to Canada together.
Chantal also speaks to the needs of another highly targeted community when she asks what is to be done about the situation of refugees—for example, Afghans or Syrians—where it is physically impossible for the intended spouses to marry in person.
In my role as critic for the status of women and as an elected representative, I am consistently in contact with women who are the victims of violence. I have dedicated a large part of my mandate to the eradication of this violence, and I am taken aback by how callously this motion pretends to help the victims of violence while, in fact, it is only an attempt to further close down our immigration regulations and will be used to further stigmatize members of ethnic groups that are already unduly scrutinized.
We must strive to create and implement an agenda that seeks to eradicate violence against women and, very importantly, seeks to achieve the equality all women deserve.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, who did incredible work on this file. She made sure that we on this side of the House understood just what a tangle we were getting into with this change to the Citizenship Act, and provided the background so we knew, absolutely, what we had to push back against, which is a bill that would not serve the people of Canada.
I would also like to thank my colleagues from Halifax and from Newton—North Delta for their arguments and for their very clear understanding of what this bill means.
I have some real concerns as does the entire NDP caucus. These concerns stem from the fact that all of the Conservative legislation we have seen, which purport to make positive change, actually do precisely the opposite.
This bill purports to improve the situation for those seeking help by becoming part of our Canadian community. It seems to me that it would actually, in many ways, hurt the very people and communities that governments are supposed to support. Governments that take their job seriously are supposed to protect them.
I will give a rundown of the process of the bill. As members know, in February of this year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tabled Bill C-24. The purpose, apparently, was to introduce sweeping changes to Canada's citizenship laws. At that time, the minister stated that the bill represented the first comprehensive reforms of the Citizenship Act since 1977. He said that it would protect the value of Canadian citizenship for those who have it, while creating a faster and more efficient process for those applying to get it.
That sounds absolutely wonderful, and we agree that Canadian citizenship has enormous value. The world recognizes the citizenship of Canada. I am sure that you go to citizenship court on a regular basis. Mr. Speaker. I certainly do. The pride, the joy and the incredible sense of happiness that we see among those new citizens tells everyone in that court just how important Canadian citizenship is. It has enormous value. This is why it is very troubling that the government would play politics with such an important issue.
Some of the changes to the Citizenship Act are quite good and they are long overdue. They address the deficiencies in the current system, and we need to applaud that. It is important to say that, because we are not just naysayers. We are very diligent, and we recognize and are willing to say that some changes are good.
For example, the implementation of stricter rules for fraudulent immigration consultants is good. There is a provision that would authorize the government to designate, by regulation, a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants and make it an offence for any person who had not been duly recognized by the regulatory body to offer immigration consultant services for a fee.
I have seen in my riding of London—Fanshawe the terrible harm that these fraudsters can cause. It is very expensive. I have had people come into my office who have said that they have been waiting two or three years and have given this person all the money they have, which might be tens of thousands of dollars. When they go to find out where they are in the process, they find out nothing has been done.
This kind of fraudulent behaviour leaves people desperate. They are people who came with great hopes and aspirations, who are left without any hope and very often without recourse. They feel very vulnerable. They are not Canadians in a country where maybe they will not believed. Maybe they will not be able to speak out against this fraudster.
I am glad that immigration fraud will no longer be condoned. We actually pushed the government to crack down on these crooked immigration consultants, so we are very supportive of the anti-fraud measures.
The provisions of expediting citizenship for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces is, again, very good. Bill C-24 would shorten the residency requirement from four years to three for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces during this period. That is a very important change to the Immigration Act. We need to understand that it applies to only a very few people.
However, it is important to show gratitude. I just wish that same level of gratitude also applied to our veterans, the veterans who gave their service and their absolute dedication to our country. They seem to have been forgotten by the government.
The provision for extending citizenship to lost Canadians is also good. The NDP was involved in this issue as far back as 2007. Therefore, in response to NDP pressure, the government introduced measures in 2009 to extend citizenship to most of these lost Canadians. Unfortunately, in the first go-around, the amendments did not apply to people born before 1947. Bill C-24 would close that loop. Unfortunately, it has taken five years. The government dragged its feet. However, at this point in time, I would say better late than never.
Bill C-24 would also significantly increase fines for fraud from the current level of $1,000 to a maximum of $100,000. Under the bill, a maximum prison sentence would also be extended from 5 years to 14 years, depending on circumstances.
As I said, I have had many people come to my office who have lost all that they had. Again, if the government is to address this kind of fraud, because it is extremely lucrative, to make it onerous on those who would commit fraud, that is very good.
It would also increase the requirement from three out of four years, to four of six, and would clarify the requirement of physical residence in Canada prior to citizenship. One of the benefits of the bill is that it specifies how long individuals must physically be present in Canada before applying for citizenship.
While I have outlined some of the things we think are very good and very positive, there is the other side. I mentioned that at the beginning of my remarks.
Bill C-24 would give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration many new powers, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship of dual citizens. Unfortunately, the government has a strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates power in the hands of ministers.
As I said the last time I spoke to this bill, governments come and governments go, and there has to be a respect for the fact that no one individual will be in a position of power forever. To grant that individual this kind of power, even for a short period of time, frightens me.
This is a very punitive government, as members will know. It lashes out against those who criticize it. We saw that at the beginning of its mandate. Women lost equality rights because the Status of Women department lost funding. First nations and first nations women have not been given the kind of supports they deserve. We have seen the deaths of far too many first nations women being swept away and not considered.
KAIROS was an organization that criticized the government for its failure in terms of the environment and housing. Well, KAIROS was punished and was told that the funding it was expecting would not be forthcoming.
The National Association of Women and the Law is an organization that reports on women's equality to the UN and on Canada's progress. When it reported that there had not been any progress for the last 30 years, NAWL had to be disposed of.
I hope members would agree that the very idea of giving the minister the power to revoke or to allow citizenship is putting too much power in the hands of one person. We have courts of law. It is very important that we in this House and those in the government respect the authority of the courts and leave that determination to them.
There seems to be great interest in the question that is before the House this afternoon, so in the time that is allowed for questions and comments I would certainly like to allow members some latitude, but if they could keep their interventions short, more members will be able to participate in this important part of debate.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
I thank the hon. member.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
Order. The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
We are moving on to resuming debate.
The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
Mr. Speaker, obviously we are going to be debating the bill today and possibly agreeing to send it to committee. Along the lines of the questions from the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, I want to make sure government is going to be open to amendments. Based on the past history of the government, being a parliamentary secretary, the member knows very well that there have not been any amendments and the government has not been open to any amendments on bills. I am not saying there are going to be any amendments, but we are going to be listening to witnesses at committee because this is going to be a very delicate type of bill to pass, making sure all parties are happy with the bill we would be passing.
The electoral district of Pierrefonds--Dollard (Quebec) has a population of 105,504 with 79,630 registered voters and 208 polling divisions.
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