Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney met with HuffPost Canada's editorial board on Wednesday and revealed that the government is planning to close the last remaining loopholes for so-called "Lost Canadians."
The term refers to people with a Canadian parent or spouse who, because of legal quirks, aren't citizens. Many of the most-publicized cases involve war brides and children born to Canadian soldiers who discovered, often after long periods of living in the country and paying taxes, that they were not actually citizens.
"We're looking for a legislative solution to that particular problem and hope to come forward with that later this year," Kenney said. "It's very sad. And it wasn't malice on the part of the government or anyone, it was just unforeseen consequences of legislation."
However, due to an anomaly in the law, some remain lost. HuffPost blogger Peter Worthington, co-founder of the Toronto Sun, has described the strange situation in detail.
Kenney described the situation as "bizarre" and apologized that the government failed to get it right on their first attempt. He said forthcoming legislation will ensure remaining Lost Canadians get their citizenship.
Kenney also took the time to answer questions submitted by HuffPost readers. Among many subjects, the minister touched on honour killings, Justin Trudeau's political correctness, biker gangs and illegal immigration schemes and what the government is doing to combat the phenomena of overqualified taxi drivers. Read all his answers below.
Q: Many of the programs you have recently announced seem aimed at attracting immigrants with the greatest potential to contribute to the economy. What, if anything, is the government doing to ensure immigrants integrate into Canada's culture and society, particularly with regards to women's rights?
A: Obviously in our legal framework, the Charter, we can't and don't discriminate on the grounds of country of origin, ethnicity, religion, cultural traits. So this then becomes a question I've puzzled over for three years: How do you make sure you don't end up with people coming to Canada who have no intention to integrate? Who want to bring into Canada cultural attitudes which we find abhorrent. There is no simple or easy answer to that.
Part of what we've done is to change the nature of the public discourse on this. I think for too long politicians in this country were so terrified of speaking bluntly about these issues that they adopted, perhaps unwittingly, a kind of caricature of a politically correct, culturally relativist iteration of multiculturalism -- where anything goes.
So how we responded to this: We published a new citizenship study guide. Every aspirant for Canadian citizenship has to read it, they're tested on it. It says, for example, that in a text called "Equality of Men and Women," that Canada's tradition of tolerance and diversity does not extend to certain barbaric cultural practices, such as so-called honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and other gender-based violence. Such practices are condemned in Canada and carry the full sanction of the law.
Similarly, another section we added called "On Becoming Canadian" says many new Canadians arrive having experienced warfare, violence or ethnic conflict. Such experiences do not justify bringing to Canada hateful, extreme or violent prejudices. In becoming Canadian you are expected to adopt respect for your fellow citizens and democratic values, such as the rule of law. So basically we called it our no ancient enmities section.
And when I came out with this, my friend and colleague Justin Trudeau responded in the voice of the old small l liberal, politically-correct consensus on this, saying we were being "insensitive" to use the word "barbaric."
I said we chose that word very deliberately to draw attention to the condemnation that we were trying to convey. One of the reason there is public support for multiculturalism in this country, is because it's not the multiculturalism, the extreme kind of Frankfurt school Marxism that has unfortunately characterized the European idea of multiculturalism. In this country, to most Canadians, it just means a kind of positive, relaxed, organic approach to the better aspects of cultural diversity. It doesn't mean any cultural practice can be accepted in this country. So we're saying that. And, by the way, people applaud that.
So, I think part of it is a pedagogical responsibility of government, through resources like the citizenship guide, to convey that.
Now, I've considered things like: Australia has a new declaration of national values that immigrants and citizens have to sign that incorporates, for example, the equality of men and women. The Netherlands requires that immigrants watch a video which included scenes, quite deliberately, of topless beaches and gay Pride. They are trying to throw a bit of a shock factor out there. I've come to the conclusion that people will watch what they need to watch, they'll sign what they need to sign. If they're determined on immigrating that's not going to deter them.
So really I guess that comes back to my earlier point. To the extent that we're selecting people who can succeed in our economy, I suspect not many employers are going to go out and offer positions to someone who has barbaric attitudes towards women. I think that'll be less likely than in a passive system.
Q: We received many reports that the wait time to process spousal immigration applications has increased in recent months, particularly for applicants currently residing in Syria and other Middle Eastern countires. What is driving this backlog and is the government doing anything to address it?
A: We had to shut down our embassy in Syria. There's a war going on there, a civil war. We had to close our embassy and our immigration office, which was our main hub for the Middle Eastern region and we've had to move most of those employees up to Ankara (Turkey), some to Beirut (Lebanon). So we'll try to get on top of that, but because of the closure of our office, that's one of those unforeseen circumstances you can't really plan for.
Typically, on a global basis we process spousal sponsorship applications in under 12 months. In some places it becomes more difficult, where there are higher rates of fraud. I'll give you an example, we have very long processing times in Pakistan, in part because the Pakistani government wouldn't give visas to our officers to go in and make decisions and, in part, because a lot of people there do Shariah marriages which are not registered in the civil courts and we can't verify them.
And we have a huge problem with fraudulent immigration marriages around the world. In fact, a couple of years ago we identified that 50 per cent of the spousal sponsorship applications coming out of China to our Hong Kong office were fake. Apparently being organized by Triads (Chinese Mafia) who were establishing relationships with biker gangs in Canada. So we had this weird situation where all these Canadian biker gang members were sponsoring these Chinese girls who they had never met to come to Canada. Apparently, the Chinese girls were promising up to $60,000 to the Triads to facilitate the bogus marriage. We caught on to this when our officers started to see ... to support their application they submitted photos of their honeymoon, but all of the honeymoon photos were taken in the same apartment, the same furniture. Bad Triads, they're not very sophisticated. Ans so we started calling them for interviews and their stories would just fall apart right away.
The better example is in Pubjab, we hired a network of fraud detection experts, a lot of former cops who are good at documentary fraud, and we started to see pictures that were being submitted in immigration marriage applications where the face of the bride and groom were being crudely Photoshopped on top of a real wedding picture. So then we changed the rules, that's not working, we want a full shot of the wedding reception so we can see context, see it's real. And then the Punjabi wedding palaces started offering special discount fake wedding reception packages. Welcome to everyone in the village, you're going to get a free meal, wear your wedding finery and the couple that was arranging the fake marriage would show up and they'd submit the pictures. It goes on and on. It's a constant cat and mouse game.
My apologies to the folks from Syria that are waiting, we'll try to get to those applications.
Q: We received several complaints from immigrants who came to Canada as part of the Skilled Workers Program, but who have been unable to get their credentials recognized since arriving. What is your government doing to improve the disconnect between the Skilled Workers Program and professional associations, particularly for immigrants who are already in Canada?
A: That's the number one frustration that registers. We just did a bunch of focus groups with new Canadians and in every language group, every cultural group that was the number one issue.
This is a really difficult problem. In part because labour market regulation and the licenced professionals are a provincial responsibility, but we the federal government are primarily responsible for selecting the newcomers who arrive. So it's true that some of the licencing bodies have been involved in a certain degree of protectionism, of gatekeeping. And some of them, wittingly or otherwise, created very complicated and slow priocedures to get foreign credentials recognized and to get those immigrants licenced.
So this is why the prime minister, in 2009 at the first minister's meeting, got all 10 premiers to agree to a streamlined, accelerated national approach to credential assessment and recognition. It has a Byzantine federal name, it's the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, in which we're investing $50 million in real money to bring around a common national table each of the 40 regulated professions. The objective of which is to speed up the assessment process so that applicants get an answer within a year.
We don't want to dictate that they should lower the Canadian standard. We don't want foreign engineers who aren't at our engineering standard building bridges or foreign docs working on Canadian patients if they are not really at our standard. So it's not about lowering standards, it's about streamlining the process, removing unnecessary, redundant red tape. So that that Iranian radiologist I met can get an answer within a year. If the answer is no, fine. At least she can go to plan B. Plan B might be going back to school in Canada, it might be choosing a different vocation, it might in some cases be going back to their country. But at least they should know, within a reasonable amount of time, that they've got to go to plan B. To keep them going on like that Syrian gynecologist I mentioned, for five years trying to work through the system, doesn't work. So that's the main thing we're doing, this national framework for credential recognition with a one year timeline for an answer.
Second thing is, we've just launched a bunch of programs through non-profit agencies to provide micro-credit loans to foreign-trained professionals who need to pay for tuition to upgrade their skills at colleges or universities. Many of them are just shy of what is required to get their licence, but they can't pay for tuition because they've depleted their savings, they're working a survival job to put food on the table for their family and they can't get credit because they haven't lived in Canada long enough. So often what's needed is just a few thousands dollars in financing to get them the additional courses or to help them pay for their certification exams and fees.
The third thing we're doing is a lot of support to help train up those folks to the Canadian standard. That gynecologist I mentioned, I met her in the context of a program my department finances to train international physicians to become paramedics in Canada. So at least they can work in the medical domain, keep their skills fresh, while they wait for their certification.
And finally, when we came to office we created something called the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, which basically oversees orientation for immigrants before they get to Canada, helping to walk them through the complicated certification process. So the idea is we send them a letter saying "Congratulations, you've been accepted. You're going to come to Canada. Before you leave, please come in for a two day free seminar and presonalized counselling where we will sit down and walk you through how to apply for you licence for the professional body online, from your country of origin." You'll be able to assess whether you need additional education, what paperwork you'll need and help them find a job before they come here. So to get them a bit of a headstart before they arrive in Canada.
That's about all I think the federal government can do. At the end of the day, it's up to provinces to put their foot down with the licencing bodies to say, "get with the program, speed up the process and make it fair."
If you could ask Canada’s Immigration Minister one question, what would it be?
- Will skilled foreign workers replace temporary foreign ones?
What do you want to know?
Jason Kenney will join The Huffington Post Canada for an editorial board meeting on Wednesday, April 18, where we will present him with a handful of your best questions, as chosen by HuffPost editors. Leave them now in the comments section on this page, then check back to read the answers.
Kenney was first elected to the House of Commons in 1997 as a Reform Party MP -- he was just 29. He has since served as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and secretary of state for multiculturalism. Since 2008, he has been Minister of Immigration. Kenney is also the Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Operations, which co-ordinates the government’s agenda.
Kenney was born in Ontario, but grew up in Saskatchewan. Prior to entering politics, he was president and CEO of the Canadian Taxpayer's federation.
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