Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 75

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Immigration Policy

Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Callbeck calling the attention of the Senate to the importance of Canadian immigration policy to the economic, social and cultural development of Canada’s regions.—(Honourable Senator Tardif)

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, today I rise to speak on this important issue of citizenship and immigration in Canada.

Canada is the land I am proud to call my home. As you all know, I was welcomed into this great country as a refugee myself when I was fleeing from Uganda. Millions have taken similar actions and continue to come to our great country.

Our immigration system must be good enough to keep up with that demand and to deal with each person in a dignified and respectful manner.

Honourable senators, today I share with you some of the cases that have come to my attention since I have come to this august chamber. The one issue that continually comes to my attention is the issue of skilled workers class applications.

The parents of a woman from the United Kingdom were living here in Canada when her father died suddenly. Her sick mother was alone and had no one to care for her. The mother had chronic kidney problems, a heart functioning at only 20 per cent, high blood pressure, and had had a previous heart attack. This woman from the United Kingdom applied for permanent residence as a skilled worker eight months prior to her father’s death.

Desperately, after the death of her father, she wrote to immigration asking that her application be expedited so her mother could receive the assistance she needed. She was told that it would take 54 months before immigration would even look at her file. In the meantime, her mother was left to the care of people here in Canada.

I put this question to honourable senators: Should allowances be made for people who, in the end, will come to our country?

Challenges with sponsorship applications many. Well-educated immigrants want to come to Canada to open their own business. They are also coming to care for their aging parents and their parents’ needs here in Canada.

In June 2004, they sent in their application. Upon arrival at the immigration office, their application is processed with a “received” date and enters our system. The application sits there collecting dust for another 28 months. These people want to improve our economy. Within those 28 months, their father dies. They are stricken with grief about their father’s death and worry about their mother, who is now in India.

They ask me how I can help them. There is little I can do for them. Their mother’s file is first reviewed in New Delhi in six months. The final average processing time is another 36 months. These people, who have now set up a business in Canada, are told that it will take three years to bring their aging mother to join them here.

As of today, sponsorship applications for parents that were submitted in November 2004 are being processed in 2007. Honourable senators, I respectfully ask you to examine what is wrong with our system.

On humanitarian and compassionate applications, a well-educated Jordanian woman is a principal at a local school. Her children see her as a modern, educated woman and they strive to be like her. She has two beautiful daughters. In her community, she is a wealthy and respected woman. For all intents and purposes she seems to have the perfect life, living in Jordan. However, behind the closed doors of her house, she endures beatings and threats to her life at the hands of her husband.

Jordan is a country known routinely to practice honour killings. Honour killing is the killing of a woman supposedly for showing disrespect or dishonour to a man or his family. This dishonour could come from simply speaking up to the man about what a woman’s rights should be.

This woman escaped to Canada, and she came to see me when I first became a senator. She was absolutely traumatized. She could not cope with everyday life because of the years of torture she had undergone. She needed help to pick up the pieces. She needed help just to tell the story of what had happened to her. She thought people would not believe her.

Let me share her story with you. Her husband routinely beat her and tried to kill her several times, almost succeeding. She had four children. All four children saw their father beat their mother, leaving them with deep scars.

After her husband’s repeated attempts at killing her, she found the strength to leave. She left her children, her career and family for one thing: her security, her safety.

We, in Canada, know that honour killings happen in many parts of the world, but our immigration system does not cope well with this practice. This woman applied as a refugee and was denied. She applied under the then Post-Determination Refugee Claimant of Canada class and was denied. She applied under the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment and her application was denied. Thankfully, she received a positive decision under humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Honourable senators, she filed her first application in 1997. On January 12, 2006, many years later, she finally received her permanent resident status. It took her nine years to find safety. Why?

Honourable senators, imagine you are a woman in Iran, a country that treats women as property and not as human beings. Each day of your life, you are told how to dress, how to walk, how to look and what to do. Each day you are reminded of the horror that lies around the corner if you do not follow the rules. Your brother, cousin, and the boy next door have all spoken out, and they carry the physical and mental scars of torture. When you return home, you enter into your own torture. Your husband sexually assaults you and beats you to make you believe you are worth nothing, that you are “just a worthless woman.” While this is happening to you, you worry about your children. You repeat to yourself over and over, “Please don’t hurt my children. Just keep quiet and maybe the assaults will stop.”

For years this woman put up with this torture. Her children were taken away from her and she was forced to be the second wife in her husband’s family. Somehow she managed to find the courage to seek asylum in Canada. When she came to Canada to find relief, she was nurtured by a Christian family. She changed religions, which is a crime punishable by death in Iran. For five years she went painfully through our immigration system. Thoughts of her children alone without their mother made her cry many times. Some days she wanted to return to Iran, yet somehow she kept on going, thinking that Canadians would not let her down. Sadly, the immigration system failed her. She was days away from deportation, days away from her impending death if she returned to Iran as a Christian, when she approached my office.

I am very happy to say that this woman was given humanitarian and compassionate class status and now is a permanent resident. However, her challenges continue. She is still fighting to bring her daughters to Canada.

Another example I would like to share with you is that of a woman who stood for the human rights of all people in Iran, despite living in a country that only sees human rights for people of one religion. For her belief, she was tortured for two months and suffered severe traumas that have left evidence of torture on her body. I would not be able to describe her injuries such that you could understand the severity of them. She now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Immigration officers questioned her credibility, even though they saw the marks on her. She was denied status in our great country through all levels. Finally, at the last stage of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, she was granted status to remain here. This woman began being processed by the immigration system in 2001. Her file for permanent resident status will now process for another year. She is still waiting for status in our great country.

We hear much about refugee applications. We all know what recently happened in Lebanon. A Lebanese man endured tragic circumstances in his life and sought refugee status in our peaceful country. He was found to be a refugee in 1999. In 2006, when all eyes were on Lebanon after the earthquake there, my thoughts turned to this man. His wife and five children were living in Lebanon when the earthquake hit. As our country was welcoming refugees devastated by that earthquake, we told this man that he had to wait longer to have his family come to Canada. Eight years after he was accepted here as a refugee, he is still waiting for his family to join him. That is why we need to do this study on how to make our process more dignified and respectful.

I would like to share another example with you. A woman living in China was desperate to care for her husband and mother. They lived in a very poor part of the country, having just enough food for their family. She felt that the only opportunity she had was to respond to an advertisement to be a waitress in Vancouver. She was told that she would make much more money in one month in Canada than she could in five years in China.

Upon her arrival in Vancouver, she was told she would not be working in a restaurant, but instead she would be working in a bawdy house. A steep debt was imposed on her. She was told that once she had worked off her debt, she would be set free. Her identification papers were taken from her. I have seen many who have been tricked into coming to my province, and they are in a desperate situation.

Honourable senators, we need to look into the situation of women trafficked into our country under our immigration system and then made to work in bawdy houses. There is much work that we must do to fix our immigration system. I join with Senator Callbeck in urging colleagues to study the immigration and refugee system and to make recommendations to eliminate these problems.

Finally, if I may share with you a personal story, in 1975 I was very warmly welcomed into this country. I was given permanent resident status before I arrived here, for which I have always been very grateful. If I had had to go through our refugee system, I would not have made it. When one has been tortured and threatened, it is very difficult to sound credible when you come to a new country because you do not trust the people who are asking the questions, which makes it difficult to get through the system. I would not have been accepted as a permanent resident.

On motion of Senator Andreychuk, debate adjourned.