Embassy, May 21st, 2008

Immigration Bill Under Dual Microscopes

By Lee Berthiaume

Polarization Over IRPA Changes

A week of hearings by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration included an appearance by Immigration Minister Diane Finley, who explained how provinces will benefit from proposed immigration system changes.

The minister also revealed that $1.1 million in taxpayer dollars has been spent on advertising bill C-50 in ethnic media outlets, despite the fact the bill has not passed in Parliament.

"I think that it's important to recognize that many of the immigrants in this country rely on ethnic media as their main source of news," Ms. Finley explained of the advertising to date.

"One thing I can tell you is that we made sure this information was available in over 20 languages because the reforms affect immigrants more than Canadian-born Canadians. We wanted to make sure they understood what is happening, what we are proposing, because they have the right to know."

Ms. Finley said a total of $2.4 million has been set aside for advertising bill C-50. CIC deputy minister Richard Fadden said he was unaware of the department advertising a bill before it was approved in the House.

Ms. Finley also said that the government will be coding new immigration applications, as well as those already in the backlog, to show applicants' occupation and destination province.

"The provinces can then access these files," she said. "It's called data mining. I guess that's the technical term. They can go in and identify people that they need and get them here sooner."

After Ms. Chow noted provinces are looking for cooks, babysitters and other such workers, the minister acknowledged provincial requirements vary.

But that, Ms. Finley added, is why changing the existing point system, as has been recommended by numerous witnesses, won't work to address provincial needs.

When asked what kind of resources the department will target to addressing the existing backlog if the proposed changes are approved, Mr. Fadden said "something like 70 per cent" of resources will go to that purpose. In addition, the department will write to applicants whose files have been in the system for a while to see if they still want to continue.

On May 14, the committee heard from Corinne Pohlmann, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents about 105,000 business owners across the country.

Ms. Pohlmann said the existing labour shortage is a major problem, with 309,000 jobs having remained vacant for more than four months, up from 251,000 in 2006.

Jon Garson, vice-president of the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the changes "go a long way to addressing many of these concerns that have been expressed by our members."

Mr. Garson noted that in B.C. last year, 14,000 people entered the province through the family reunification class, compared to 16,000 skilled workers.

"We believe that shift or that balance is not in the best interest of the economy and we hope that through this process we can actually get into the situation of fixing that," he said.

On May 12, however, Canadian Bar Association treasurer Stephen Green expressed his organization's concerns over the proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

"What are the dangers? What will this result in? In our respectful submission, perhaps one of the most dangerous things is the ability of people to lobby the government in power at the time with respect to the manner of developing and issuing instructions," he said.

Racial Profiling

The existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already includes numerous ways to bring in skilled immigrants quickly, the Standing Committee on Finance heard on May 12.

Immigration lawyer David Cohen said the point system could be adjusted to bring in the skilled workers the government wants.

"The minister may therefore simply raise the pass mark above the current level of 67 points, to curtail the number of fresh applications," he said. "People can count."

As well, the minister can designate as restricted certain occupations for which there is little demand in the Canadian labour market, and the government can work to help aspiring immigrants secure job offers before applying to speed processing.

"To summarize, IRPA currently provides the mechanisms that permit the government to achieve all of its goals," he said. "IRPA is fair, and it could work."

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman, meanwhile, warned that ministerial instructions set a dangerous precedent.

"Ultimately, we can give all the different ministers the powers to issue instructions, and then we don't need to have a Parliament, we just have ministers who issue instructions. It's an extremely dangerous precedent that is a further centralization of the power of government, and I think it's something that should be carefully considered before it's passed into law."

That same day, Mohamed Boudjenane, executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation, warned that the changes could lead to racial profiling.

"There are already clear enough trends and fairly marked to indicate that immigration from Arab and Muslim world today is subject to a process different from that of other communities."

On May 14, Tom Pang, acting president of the Chinese Canadian Community Alliance, praised the proposed changes.

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