More articles on proposed changes to Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

Posted by admin on Apr 3rd, 2008

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1) Businesses applaud immigration changes, while advocacy groups oppose bill
2) Questions and Answers on proposed changes from Globe and Mail
3) Liberals call Tory reforms anti-immigrant, but might let them pass
4)  Immigration reform plan worries bar association

Businesses applaud proposed immigration law. Opposition, lawyers, advocacy groups overwhelmingly oppose bill and the broad powers it grants to immigration minister.
From Friday’s Globe and Mail. March 28, 2008 at 4:46 AM EDT

OTTAWA, MONTREAL — With the Olympics coming to town and a massive building boom, British Columbia will have about one million job openings over the next five years. But during that same time period, only about 650,000 students will graduate from the province’s high schools, said Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia. And it takes about five years to process applications for the immigrants expected to fill the gap.

“We don’t have a need five years from now, we have a need right now,” Mr. Hochstein said. Immigration groups and lawyers may be overwhelmingly against proposed changes to Canada’s immigration laws, but Canadian businesses say fixes are needed, and soon. “I take heart in the fact that politicians have realized that the [immigration] system is just completely broken,” Mr. Hochstein said. “And using old ideas to solve the problem isn’t going to work any longer. It takes a more dramatic approach.”

Under a proposed new law, Canada’s immigration minister would have the power to issue instructions to immigration officers about the type and number of immigration applications to process. It is unclear what these instructions may contain, although Citizenship and Immigration Canada would no longer be required to process all applications. The government has said the changes are aimed at getting more skilled immigrants to Canada faster. Immigration groups and lawyers have largely condemned the proposed changes, saying they give the minister broad power and would create a fundamentally unfair system.

But Mr. Hochstein said the government is moving in the right direction by focusing on Canada’s economic needs. “We need strong, young, willing workers to come, much like the people who built this country,” he said. Last year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business issued a report on immigration and labour shortages in Canada that called for a reduction in immigration waiting times and more emphasis on skilled workers. Dan Kelly, the federation’s senior vice-president of legislative affairs, said his organization hasn’t taken a position for or against the changes proposed by the Harper government. However, he said serious changes are needed to fix the current system. “A lot of applications are caught in a massive backlog,” Mr. Kelly said. “A lot of more recent applications are stuck behind huge, huge glut.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada estimates a backlog of more than 600,000 in the “skilled worker” category. However, it is unclear how long it will take before the changes actually make a dent in that backlog – if implemented, the new law would apply to applications received after Feb. 27, 2008. Still, as another in a long line of issues that may yet trigger a federal election, the proposed change remains a political hot topic.

In Montreal yesterday, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said the growth of Canada’s work force depends on immigration, and that the Tory project is unpalatable. “It’s unacceptable in terms of procedure, and even more unacceptable in terms of content,” he said. “We’ll take all available means to ensure that it’s studied adequately at the [House of Commons] immigration committee.”  He refused to say how far the Liberals were willing to go, or whether they would force an election over the issue. The changes were part of a budget implementation bill, which means any vote on the bill would be considered one of confidence in the government. Mr. Dion’s immigration critic, Maurizio Bevilacqua, echoed his party’s desire to have the bill debated and changed when it is studied in committee. Mr. Bevilacqua said feedback to the bill has been overwhelmingly negative and offered a clear sign that the Liberals may defeat the government this spring over the proposal. “We’re obviously not supportive of the bill,” he said. “There’s a menu of issues for us to pull the government down and this is certainly one of them.”

NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said she shares the concerns of immigration agencies who fear the measures will block applicants from certain poor countries and encourage the use of labour exploitation through temporary work permits. “I have quite a large number of immigration community groups coming to my office,” she said yesterday from Toronto. “I didn’t get any positive comments from any of the groups.” Ms. Chow said existing laws already give the minister powers to make certain skills a priority. The fact that the change gives open-ended power to the immigration minister to determine criteria for processing applications is a major concern, she added. “[The criteria] could be racially based, it could be by country, it could be by religion. It can be anything.”


Q & A: THE NEW IMMIGRATION CHANGES from the Globe and Mail

– Why are MPs suddenly talking about immigration?

The Conservative government inserted immigration changes in its Budget Implementation Act. The bill is a confidence issue that could trigger a federal election.

– What are the new immigration changes?

The changes would give the Immigration Minister broad powers to issue instructions to her department. Currently, the department must process every application in the order received. Processing takes time. Under the proposed new law, the minister could spell out which applications should be processed quickly. She would also have new powers to give instructions as to what type of applications should be rejected outright. The changes also remove an obligation on the minister to examine applications from people otherwise inadmissible on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

– Why is the government doing this?

The backlog of immigration applications is now more than 900,000, of which about 600,000 are in the skilled-worker category. Skilled workers currently wait up to six years to get to Canada, which is frustrating for them and the Canadian firms who need workers. The government says the changes would allow the minister to issue instructions so that applicants whose skills match the needs of Canadian employers would be processed more quickly.

– So, what are people upset about?

The main concern is that the changes give open-ended powers to the Immigration Minister to give instructions to the department. The legislation does not say what those instructions would look like. They would be made public only after the bill is passed by Parliament through a notice in the Canada Gazette. Departmental officials say the instructions would be solely focused on fast-tracking skilled workers to meet demand, but critics say the law as worded could allow instructions that block the processing of applications based on country of origin, race or religion. There are also objections to the changes relating to mandatory review of humanitarian applications.

– Why do critics say the government is trying to “sneak through” these measures?

Immigration changes of this sort would usually be presented in standalone legislation from the Immigration Minister, which would then be debated by MPs on the House of Commons immigration committee. Instead, the measures were included in the Finance Minister’s budget bill without any major announcement by the government. The budget bill was tabled in the House of Commons on the afternoon of March 14, just after the daily Question Period and hours before MPs went home to their ridings for a two-week Easter break. Rather than going to the immigration committee, the legislation will be studied by MPs on the Commons finance committee, where the immigration section will be just one part of the entire budget package that they will be tasked to review.

– The government says immigration is up and the opposition says it’s down. What’s going on?

The government has changed the way it communicates immigration figures. The minister issued a news release this month declaring, “Government of Canada admits highest number of newcomers in Canada’s history” at 429,649. But that number includes temporary foreign workers and students. If those are removed, the number of permanent residents allowed into Canada in 2007 was 236,689, which is down from 251,649 in 2006 and 262,236 in 2005. Labour unions have expressed concern that the numbers signal an increase in the use of temporary workers. They warn that temporary work visas are sometimes used by employers to bring in low-skilled foreign labour to work in conditions that Canadians would not accept.

– Does this affect applications related to family reunification?

The government says the changes are focused on skilled workers and are not meant to affect family reunification. Concern has been expressed, however, that the removal of the ministerial requirement to examine applications from abroad on humanitarian grounds could have a negative effect on family reunification.


Liberals call Tory reforms anti-immigrant, but might let them pass
THE CANADIAN PRESS March 31, 2008 at 6:37 PM EDT

OTTAWA — To hear Liberals tell it, the Conservative government’s immigration reforms are a shocking, sneaky, anti-immigrant insult to the ideals that make Canada great. But are they offensive enough to warrant an election? Maybe not. After spending a great deal of Monday’s question period in the House of Commons heaving epithets at the new immigration legislation, the Liberals indicated they might still let it pass. Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion declared that there is no way his party would ever support the changes – but then swiftly added a caveat.

As Quebec support freefalls, Dion faces new challenge on changes to immigration laws  “The decision to go in an election or not belongs to me … and I will use this power that I have to decide when we’ll go in an election,” Mr. Dion said outside the House. It’s an election issue because the Conservatives have included the immigration measures in a larger budget-implementation bill – which must pass or the government will fall. The Liberals have habitually abstained from voting on potential election triggers like the Throne Speech, the federal budget, a confidence motion on crime, and an NDP non-confidence motion. The immigration changes could be the next example.

Mr. Dion explained that when the Liberals boycott confidence votes to avoid an election, they’re signalling which Tory policies they would like to overturn when they become the government. “Each time that we vote against something without triggering an election it’s a marker,” Mr. Dion told reporters. “That means that when we will be the government with the help of Canadians, we’ll change this bad policies by much better policies.” The reforms would give the immigration minister the authority to fast-track some types of applications from highly coveted immigrants such as skilled workers. They would also give the minister the authority to put a cap on the number of applications from less-skilled immigrants that the government would even agree to look at. Such a move could allow the government to trim some of the 800,000-person backlog in cases, which create long waiting times that make Canada a less attractive destination for highly skilled workers.

Mr. Dion said one of the things that makes Canada great is that everyone has an equal right to apply to live here, and the Conservative bill sends a bleak message to prospective immigrants. “Why is the government telling the world: ‘Immigrants need not apply?’ ” he asked. The NDP, which has said it will vote against the legislation, has also called the immigration reforms discriminatory. The New Democrats are also angry that the immigration measures are included in the budget-implementation bill. “The Conservatives have once again stolen a page from the American playbook – hiding major legislation in a budget bill is not part of Canada’s parliamentary tradition,” MP Tom Mulcair said. “There are dozens of members of this House of Commons who were born in other countries. The next generation of leaders might well be barred at the door. “Why not deport the American tactics instead and fix the system?”

Immigration Minister Diane Finley has declined to answer two questions: Would she use her power to block certain applications? And if so, what types of foreigners would the measure be aimed at? Finley has urged the opposition to pass the legislation, and says any future policy instructions would be transparent and announced before Parliament. Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed little patience for opposition insinuations that his government dislikes immigrants. Mr. Harper said the bill is aimed at getting foreigners in faster, by curbing a backlog that leaves people on waiting lists for years while Canadian jobs are going unfilled. “That [status quo] is unacceptable to Canada. It is unfair to immigrants,” Mr. Harper said. “We are getting the system reformed so that immigrants are treated fairly and get to this country as quickly as they do in our competing countries that are letting in immigrants a lot more quickly than we are. We need them. That is what we are doing.” He said his government has slashed in half the $975 immigration landing fee introduced by the Liberals.  The Tories have also noted that a record number of foreigners – including temporary workers and students, as well as landed immigrants – were allowed into Canada last year.

But the Liberals asked why, if Conservatives like immigration so much, have fewer immigrants been coming to Canada since they took office? In 2005, the last year before they took office, 262,236 new permanent residents arrived in Canada. That number fell in 2006 to 251,649, and it fell again to 236,689 in 2007. “Over the past two years 36,000 fewer landed immigrants have been allowed into Canada,” Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua said.  “We cannot afford to shut the door on immigrants.”


Immigration reform plan worries bar association
Toronto Star. April 03, 2008

OTTAWA–Canada’s immigration system risks being dictated by “ministerial fiat” rather than transparent regulations under a sweeping new law proposed by the federal government, a legal group warns. While the Tory goal of reducing the backlog of would-be-immigrants is “laudable,” Immigration Minister Diane Finley hasn’t made the case why her dramatic reforms of the immigration system are the right solution, said Alex Stojicevic, chair of the immigration section of the Canadian Bar Association. “We fail to see why these are necessary to achieve the government’s aims,” he said, calling the existing system relatively transparent and objective.

Under the proposal, Finley would have the power to issue “instructions” to her department to give priority to immigrants whose job skills are in demand in Canada. At the same time, she would have the power to refuse applications in other categories. But Stojicevic suggested the reforms risk putting too much power in the hands of department officials. “She wants to bring some sanity to these processing backlogs. She wants to try to address, where she can, economic priorities. We just don’t see this change as necessary to accomplish that goal,” he said. “That really should be the job of regulation. The system should be transparent. It shouldn’t operate by ministerial fiat. And that’s what we’re talking about here, a kind of decree system,” he said.

Stojicevic also questioned why the changes were tucked into the government’s budget bill, rather than proposed in separate legislation. “Why is this in the budget bill? … It shouldn’t be there. It should be debated in the public forum,” he said. The proposals have drawn flak from opposition parties who accused Finley of “cherry-picking” the queue of would-be immigrants.  “We cannot fix the immigration backlog by giving the minister powers to pick her favourite immigrants. We should not fix the backlog by capping immigration levels. This is not a solution to the problem,” deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said in question period.

But Conservatives are daring election-shy Liberals to do more than criticize proposed immigration reforms and actually vote down the measures in the Commons, even if it means defeating the minority government. “They can debate it as long as they want. They can do what they like on the bill. They can even stand in their place and vote against it if they do not like it,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said.

Today, the New Democrats will introduce a motion urging MPs to oppose the government’s budget implementation bill – and the immigration proposals in it. “The principle of this bill is anti-democratic. … It gives all the power to the minister to help people jump the queue. It’s not accountable, it’s not transparent,” said NDP MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina). However, Finley warned that if “significant” action isn’t taken now, the backlog will stretch to 10 years. “What we are trying to do is make it possible for more immigrants to come to this country and for them to get here sooner. … We need families to be reunited. Employers need these people now,” she said.

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