March 23, 2000

REF

Howard Hilstrom

Reform

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, there were a couple of incidents in my riding concerning immigration which the hon. member might wish to comment on.

The first incident happened in the last two weeks. A medical doctor was returning to Canada. He was not yet a citizen. The immigration department, for some reason, was unable to quickly process his entry visa to allow him to continue working. He had been working in Canada for three years. As a result, the town went for over a week without the services of that doctor. It finally took the intervention of outside sources, including MPs like myself, to move it along.

I would like to know if the hon. member has a comment with respect to how the system is working when it comes to work visas.

The second thing is that in our riding we have quite a few dairy farms. It is difficult to find people who will work all day, from 5.30 in the morning, or who will work a broken shift. I know of one big dairy farm which requires labourers. The owner happens to know of people in Switzerland, persons experienced in dairy, who would come to Manitoba to work.

They are having many problems within the immigration department to get him moved along to allow him to immigrate and work. There does not seem to be anybody in our area to fill that particular job. Does the member have any comments with regard to how the immigration system is working?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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NDP

Gordon Earle

New Democratic Party

Mr. Gordon Earle

Mr. Speaker, I have found as well that there have been many bureaucratic problems with respect to assisting people to come to Canada. The example the member spoke of with the doctor is one example. I could cite many others as well. Part of the problem seems to be that we have a bit of a separation between the Canadian authorities and the visa officers in the country of origin. Far too often it is almost like never the two shall meet.

We allow a certain amount of independence to the party in the country of origin to make his or her decision and sometimes the accountability aspect of why the decision is made and how it is made is not always there. It is like “We have no control over that decision, that is made by this person here”. If that person gets up on a bad day and does not like the look of the person who is applying for the visa or whatever, the applicant may never get here. Those are issues that we have to work on.

With respect to getting people here to work in various jobs, as the member mentioned with regard to the farm industry, we have to be mindful of the cultural differences as well because it may be that a person coming from another country needs a cultural adjustment before working in a given type of operation. As I mentioned, quite often people coming from another country will have training for a certain profession and ideally it would be nice if work could be obtained in that profession. Those are areas we have to work on.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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LIB

Andrew Telegdi

Liberal

Mr. Andrew Telegdi (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, let me commend my colleagues from Halifax West and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. They both made very eloquent presentations on the issue of what it means to be a Canadian citizen.

I believe my friend from Halifax West identified a very important point when he talked about people not being recognized for the qualifications they have. In my community, the Waterloo region, we have a doctor shortage, yet we have enough doctors who were foreign trained who are not allowed to practice. One of the problems is that licensing of physicians is a provincial responsibility. As much as we talk about the brain drain in this country, we also very much have what is known as the brain waste in this country. It is very unfortunate. I agree, I have shared many of the same experiences. In Canada we probably have the most highly educated taxi drivers of any place in the world because of the barriers that are put in place for people trying to gain recognition for their training.

I ask the hon. member to maybe further expand on his experience and give us his suggestions for what we must do, recognizing for the most part this is under provincial jurisdiction. I ask the hon. member to try to address this very tragic situation for the people involved.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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NDP

Gordon Earle

New Democratic Party

Mr. Gordon Earle

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address that issue because it is a very real issue right across the country.

What we have to do is not what was recommended by a statement read earlier in the House by a member of the official opposition who was decrying affirmative action programs and saying that we ought not to have those kinds of programs. We do need programs that will facilitate people being able to fulfil their potential in a meaningful way and that sometimes means giving people a leg up, removing the barriers and enabling people to move into the system.

As long as we have a preconceived idea that being equal and having equal opportunity means everybody has to be treated the same, then we will never have people fulfilling their potential. The situation is such that people do have to be treated differently because of different backgrounds, different experiences and different situations where they have not had equal opportunity for advancement. We have to change our mindset if we want to see this happen and that comes from within for each individual.

As long as people in positions of power, people in positions of authority do not have that change of mindset then we will never, ever see the kind of thing happen that the member has indicated should happen, and which I would agree should happen, so that we would use the brain power that we have here. Canada is a beautiful country. There are all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of people to fulfil those opportunities.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Jim Hart

Reform

Mr. Jim Hart (Okanagan—Coquihalla, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

I am here to tell the House today that I am a proud Canadian, just like many other members of the House of Commons. I am a proud Canadian because I have had the experience of being able to travel throughout the world as early as when I was 17 years old and joined the Canadian Armed Forces. I was able to travel around the world and the Canadian flag was held with deep respect everywhere I travelled.

Just a few years ago I was fortunate enough to travel on the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war to Holland. That was the most exciting time of my life, seeing the Canadian flags up and down the streets of Holland in commemoration of Canada's liberation of Holland in the second world war. It was very moving. It was an experience that I do not think I will ever forget. As I said, I am a very proud Canadian.

It is important in this debate today to realize that Canada's most valuable asset is not our natural resources or many of the other things people would think. It is actually the people of Canada. It is the people who make this country what it is. It is a democracy and we should be very proud of that fact.

I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak on Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian citizenship. The purpose of Bill C-16 is to repeal and replace the current Citizenship Act which many Canadians know is severely flawed. While this is an important goal, I have two serious reservations with this proposed legislation. First, specific clauses in the bill need to be amended before Bill C-16 will function as intended. Second, the timing of this bill is all wrong. Changes to the Immigration Act need to be dealt with before this bill is passed and no bill dealing with immigration has been tabled in the House.

The Liberal government claims that Bill C-16 is the first major reform with respect to citizenship in 20 years. The intent of this bill is to provide more clearly defined guidelines, replace current procedures with a new administrative structure and increase the minister's power to deny citizenship. Unfortunately what the Liberals intend and what the Liberals actually do are two separate things. Bill C-16 is no exception. While the Liberals claim that Bill C-16 is a major modern reform of the Citizenship Act, those of us who look closely at the bill see a number of areas that have been totally neglected and others that have been actually impacted in a negative manner.

In 1994 the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration made a number of important recommendations with respect to citizenship which the government has totally ignored. Given that the government has had five years to develop this bill, it is inexcusable that it is full of serious omissions.

Like most Canadians, I attach a great deal of importance to my citizenship as a Canadian. Therefore, I would like to focus my comments on the conditions for granting citizenship.

The current legislation governing citizenship is lax in this regard. Currently individuals who are deemed to be permanent residents of Canada have been found to have nothing more than a bank account or property in Canada. It seems as though having a physical presence is not important. Canadians believe it is. Bill C-16 takes a half measure to deal with this issue. It correctly defines a permanent resident as an individual who must have a physical presence here in Canada for at least 1,095 days during a six year period preceding their application for citizenship.

While this makes good sense, Bill C-16 does not provide any mechanism for determining when applicants arrive in Canada or when they leave, nor does the Liberal government intend to develop one. This was a serious concern for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and the committee members recommended that measures be introduced to monitor periods of time permanent residents are out of the country. Without a viable means of determining time spent in Canada, requiring that a permanent resident spend 1,095 days in Canada is as meaningless as a judge sentencing a convicted murderer to life in prison. We all know the time will not be served.

There are a number of other problems with this bill. The bill specifies that an applicant must have an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages in Canada but no specific provisions are made for how this is to be judged or by whom.

Another serious problem is that the number one recommendation of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was that the declaration of Canadian citizenship express the vision Canadians share for their future and the importance they attach to their citizenship. This should have been an opportunity for all Canadians to express what they wanted to see in the Canadian citizenship oath. It would have been a great opportunity for a nation-wide patriotic debate. Instead, the minister hobbled together an oath on her own. We can almost picture the minister huddled together with her staff just before a question period briefing and trying to put together a citizenship oath.

Of course with all things Liberal, there is an issue of patronage. Despite the importance Canadians place on their citizenship the Liberals have maintained the tradition, Mr. Speaker, of patronage appointees. I know the Speaker is shocked by that.

Citizenship judges have been renamed citizenship commissioners in the proposed legislation but most of their duties will be taken over by departmental officials. It is just one more plum post for friends of the Prime Minister.

This legislation also discriminates against refugees. Current refugees get to count each full day of residency in Canada from the date of application as a half day toward the total needed for their citizenship application, but Bill C-16 removes this provision, penalizing applicants for all the bureaucratic delays that are already in the system. This is blatantly unfair for true refugees.

The real problem with Bill C-16 though is that the Liberals have their priorities all wrong. Last year the people of British Columbia watched as boatload after boatload of illegal immigrants entered this country with no action from the government at all. Our immigration system is in a desperate situation, pandering to people traffickers and others who abuse our immigration system and our compassion.

Canadians want to know why the Liberals have made citizenship a priority when the immigration system is in such dire straits. It is like putting new windows on a house when the roof is collapsing. It appears as though the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has no intention of fixing the multitude of problems facing Canada's immigration system.

In an advanced copy of her new immigration and refugee protection act, not yet tabled in the House, it is apparent that the Liberals will not close the door to bogus asylum seekers and people traffickers. Instead the Liberals are throwing the door wide open.

The definition of refugee is slated to be expanded and entrenched in the law with an entirely new category called “people in need of protection”. This definition goes well beyond that required by the United Nations' definition. The new immigration and refugee protection act does outline increased fines and penalties for the crime of people smuggling but these mean nothing without credible sentencing. Sentencing in Canada is anything but credible.

Recent statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics indicate that between 1995 and 1998 only 14 charges have ever been made under section 94.1 of the Immigration Act. Section 94.1 states:

—every person who knowingly organizes, includes, aids or abets...the coming into Canada of a person without valid documents required by the law is guilty of an offence and liable:

on conviction to a fine not over $100,000 or to imprisonment for not more than five years, or both

and

on summary conviction, to a fine not over $10,000 or to imprisonment of not more than one year.

During the last five years nobody charged under section 94.1 of the Immigration Act for people smuggling has served one day in jail. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the toughest penalty handed down for an individual convicted was a $4,000 fine and one year probation. No wonder our immigration system is the laughing stock of the world.

Canada needs to be recruiting the world's best and brightest while allowing legitimate refugees to enter Canada and acquire citizenship in a timely and fair manner. While the citizenship act is in need of review, our immigration system is in dire straits and needs immediate attention. The government must focus its attention on priority areas like immigration. Let us get our immigration system up and running effectively. Then we can deal with citizenship.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Philip Mayfield

Reform

Mr. Philip Mayfield (Cariboo—Chilcotin, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague and friend on his speech. I agree entirely that Canada should be seeking the best and the brightest and opening its doors to those refugees genuinely in need.

On that particular point I found this debate and some of the questions coming out of it rather frustrating and disappointing. We talked about the needs of Canadians. Canadian communities, such as many of those in my own constituency, have a need for doctors to replace those who have left because of the disastrous effects of the government's intervention in the medicare system. Replacing them with doctors who are qualified and willing to come is difficult because of the bureaucratic logjam in Immigration Canada and its unwillingness to do anything to move the process along at anything more than the slowest speed possible.

I have also listened to people talk about justifying the admission of illegal refugees on the basis that Canada does not have enough offices to process them overseas. I find that ridiculous. Legislation should once in a while be geared to the needs of Canadians.

Does my colleague have any comments on how this legislation might focus on the economic and social needs of Canadians and not simply pander to the needs, legitimate and otherwise, of those who are not Canadians and who only wish that they were?

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Jim Hart

Reform

Mr. Jim Hart

Mr. Speaker, Canadians in general as I said earlier, do believe that Canada's most valuable asset is its people. It is a legitimate requirement that Canada in its desire to grow and become the most competitive nation in the world seek out the brightest and best qualified people to come to Canada.

Having said that, there is a legitimate need to recognize that some people do come to Canada as legitimate refugees. The UN has a declaration on refugee status and it is very explicit. This bill has gone one step further in stating that Canada would also take in people who, I guess by some declaration, say that they are people in need.

As I have been able to travel around the world, there are many people in other countries who would love to live in Canada and have the opportunities that we have here. The fact is that those people are citizens of other countries and they cannot simply come to Canada just to improve their own economic status. There is a responsibility that goes along with being a Canadian citizen and Canadians understand that. The legislation should focus on dealing with the responsibility of being a Canadian, what it means and include in it the aspirations that people want to have down the road.

The first thing that should be done is we should deal with the immigration system itself. We should address the problems that we saw last year in British Columbia. We should deal with the boatloads of people who are not legitimate refugees. They just said, “Canada sounds like a nice place to go to, let us go to Canada”. They paid an exorbitant amount of money to come here. It was through illegal means that they arrived in Canada. Those people are still being held up by the process that this country has developed.

We have to deal with that. We have to deal with people smuggling. We have to deal with the real problems that Canadians are concerned about. We have to improve the immigration system.

Every single member in the House, no matter what political viewpoint, are all proud Canadians. We have a responsibility to the people of Canada to deal with the problems facing Canadians. Immigration is a disaster and everyone in the House knows it. That is what we should be focusing on.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Art Hanger

Reform

Mr. Art Hanger (Calgary Northeast, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, yes, the long suffering Immigration Act and Citizenship Act. Even though Bill C-16 is designated as the Citizenship Act and amendments to it, it reflects quite frequently on the Immigration Act itself. If we are intending on fixing the Citizenship Act, the matter that precedes it is the Immigration Act and all of its faults.

When Reform first came to the House in 1994, immigration was on the plate. It was an issue that was debated at length by the Reform Party. We dared to bring up this topic. We dared to introduce some different ideas in spite of all the criticism that was hurled our way. Much of that criticism was an attempt not only by the government side but by special interests in the community that had a direct ear to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at that time and still do—

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Philip Mayfield

Reform

Mr. Philip Mayfield

Immigration lawyers and consultants.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Art Hanger

Reform

Mr. Art Hanger

Yes, the lawyers and consultants had a vested interest in keeping the situation the way it was. It was a moneymaker for so many. Unfortunately things have not improved all that much. The consultants still exist and are making piles of money from it. The lawyers are still making piles of money from it. For what and to whose advantage? Is it for the advantage of the Canadian people? No, it has never been to their advantage.

The people in this country have never had input into any discussion on the Immigration Act. They have never had any input into any provision or amendment. Why? Because there has been a vested interest on the part of the Liberal government since 1993, the time that we have been in the House, to lean toward those who have that very special consideration: the consultants, the lawyers and anyone else who is part of that industry.

Things have not changed. The amendments in Bill C-16 do not deal with that problem. The changes that are coming up in the new Immigration Act do not deal with the problem of interference.

When I took office as a member of parliament in 1993 I was somewhat shocked to find that 70% to 80% of my work related to immigration matters. Immigration has become a political football. If we oppose it, we are criticized severely and called every name in the book. If we say there is something wrong with the act, our opponents say we are criticizing immigrants or that we are being discriminatory. That is the accusation made. Unfortunately that is a smokescreen. It is an abuse of a position to hurl those kinds of insults at someone who is just trying to straighten out a problem that most people in the country know exists but are not quite sure how it all comes together.

When dealing with issues on immigration, the quickest way to come up with an act that is suitable for people is to include them. New immigrants, those who have been here for 20 years and those who were born here should be included. The government would be very surprised in what it found out.

One of the biggest complaints about the Immigration Act, even relating to the Citizenship Act and certainly dealing with the refugee system, is that many immigrants who do come here would like to bring their relatives over to visit from time to time. That is a fair request. They would like to bring their relatives over but time and time again they have been denied that privilege.

Why would they be denied bringing their relatives to visit them here in Canada? It is because of an interpretation in one court case by a supreme court justice which has never been challenged. If a person comes here and claims refugee status, no one can send him back. That is a fact. No one can send him back. Even though he may have come on a visitors visa and decided to stay, he cannot be turned back or refused if he says, “I am a refugee”.

Unfortunately that very specific court ruling has never been challenged. It is high time that it was because the immigrants in my riding, and I have many, would like their friends and relatives to visit them even if it is in the case of sickness. But because of that very foolish interpretation many of them are denied that very special privilege.

When talking about a family, that is a provision that could change to allow a stronger family and certainly a much better position on strengthening the family.

What else is wrong which this act does not address? We could cross-reference this act to the Immigration Act because they go hand in glove.

It is high time that we changed the visitors visas and introduced a system where cash bonds could be placed. Anyone who refused to return would have to forfeit the bond. It would pay for any court case that came along. This would address a major concern in my riding at least and would make a lot of people much more comfortable.

I am going to go back to the refugee system. I think it is the most flawed area in immigration. There are so many queue jumpers who use the refugee system to enter this country. The issue is not being addressed in a very effective way.

This was a battle in 1993, in 1994, and in fact it has even existed much longer than that. It was one that we took up when we came into office in 1994. We fought diligently to have some reasonable changes made to the Immigration Act to deal with the refugee determination system.

Lo and behold very little has changed. Bill C-16 talks about patronage appointments through the citizenship process. That permeates the whole immigration system. Not only does it deal with the citizenship process, the judges and those doing the evaluations, but it also deals with the Immigration and Refugee Board. Nothing has changed. I believe it has even gotten worse and and has been pushed down out of sight because no one wants to talk about it much any more. Needless to say, when we do not talk about it on this side, the government refuses to clean up any of the problems that exist.

Let us look at the immigration and refugee act. If that hole is plugged, I believe that a lot of immigrants who are in the process of trying to immigrate to this country through the normal legal channels will feel a lot better about the process. They look at others who have jumped the queue, who have come in through the back door via the refugee system. They become very irritated and as a result they too begin to look for other ways of entering the country.

I will now talk about the issue of sovereignty. We on the west coast of this country have experienced boatloads of people arriving on our shores. These people are not refugees but illegals who have come in through this whole process of smuggling people, which has severely tarnished the immigration process in Canada.

People smugglers have not been dealt with in a severe manner in any way, shape or form. They should be taught that this is not acceptable. Unfortunately, the government of the day refuses to tighten up the laws in this area. Enforcement and court action are the keys to this problem. I can only call on the government to examine those processes before it deals in any substantive way with the citizenship issue.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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LIB

Bob Kilger

Liberal

Mr. Bob Kilger

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

In the spirit of co-operation, I have consulted with members of all parties and wonder if there might be unanimous consent, if you were to seek it, Mr. Speaker, that we would extend, by no more than five minutes, to complete the question and comment period for the member for Calgary Northeast. It is my understanding that we would then put the question and the matter would be deferred.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

The Deputy Speaker

Is there agreement to proceed for another five minutes, at the end of which we will put the question on the bill?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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NDP

Pat Martin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Calgary Northeast as he was talking about the Chinese migrant boat people. I also dealt with that in my remarks. As a member of the citizenship and immigration committee, we certainly heard about it over and over again, mostly from the members of the Reform Party.

It is true that when the first boatload of people landed on the shores of the west coast, the Reform Party members had a press conference demanding that the boat be turned around and sent back in its present state. They did not even want to give them a new boat. They just wanted to send them back where they came from, obviously not recognizing the 1985 supreme court ruling that once people have laid their feet on this soil they do have a right to a hearing.

Obviously the Reform Party members wanted to be judge and jury both. They wanted to take one look at these people and claim they were not refugees because they did not deem them to be refugees as they did not look like us and send them back to where they came from without even a hearing. This is absolutely absurd because everybody has a right to due process and a hearing, and that is exactly what is going on right now.

I do not expect the member for Calgary Northeast, who has not sat on that committee for a long time, to be fully up to speed on what people are doing to deal with this issue. However, for the member for Calgary Northeast to say that nothing is being done about people smuggling and nothing is being done to deal with the backlog of these desperate migrants who have washed up on the west coast, is absolute baloney.

These people have been locked up and are awaiting hearings. They are being dealt with one by one. In the hearings so far it has been found that most of them do not fit the category of refugee and they are being sent back to where they came from, to the Fujian province. Five or six have been found to be genuine refugees and they are being welcomed into our country.

For the hon. member to stand up and help fan the flames of hatred in this country with misinformation like that is inexcusable. I personally will not sit here and listen to it. I hear it too much on the immigration committee as it is. These members are the architects of the misinformation that is actually turning into an anti-immigration movement in this country built around 500 or 600 desperate people who are seeking a better life on our shores.

I notice there is an organization now called the Canada First Immigration Reform Committee. I am just wondering if there is any connection with the Reform Party because these hate-mongers are saying exactly the same thing as this political party, and there is also the commonality with the names. I am just wondering if they are not more constitutionally connected or associated.

That will be my question. Is there a direct connection between the Reform Party and the Canada First Immigration Reform Committee, which is the purveyor of hate in this country when it comes to anti-immigration?

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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REF

Art Hanger

Reform

Mr. Art Hanger

Mr. Speaker, I do not know of any specific comment that I made during my presentation that involved hate.

I and members of my party do not belong to any organization, nor do we have any ties to any other organization that espouses hate. I am surprised at the member's comments. I feel ashamed for him as a member of parliament trying to impugn that kind of response to this party. None has been placed on his party over any other issue such as this. I do not think it deserves the dignity of an answer when he puts it in that form.

I will put it in a way that all in the House will recognize. The Reform Party wants to see a good, honest, fair immigration process. That is what we are asking for. We have never said anything about not having a good, honest, fair immigration process or a refugee process. We want to see refugees come from those areas in the world where they are truly refugees as defined by the U.N., not gate-crashers.

If that is what this member from the NDP party is trying to portray, I say “absolutely not”. We have set ourselves apart. Sure, we have dared to talk about the immigration policy in this country because it needed to be talked about. It should involve the people in this country and not just fan the flames of anger. There is a party that just did.

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Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

The Deputy Speaker

The time for questions and comments has now expired. I understand the disposition of the House is to proceed with the question on this bill. Is the House ready for the question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

Some hon. members

Question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Citizenship Of Canada Act
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?

An hon. member

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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March 23, 2000