Madam Speaker, the NDP has always seen family reunification as a pivotal component of Canada's immigration system. All families want to do is be reunited with their loved ones, and they should not have to go through such hardship to be with their parents or grandparents, who are every bit a part of the family unit as what we have come to call immediate family.
In western culture, the nuclear family of two parents and their children has come to be seen as the basic unit to be protected. While this is the norm in many western countries, it is not so for different parts of the world. For them, extended family members are often viewed as immediate family members. Research has shown that when a family network includes parents and grandparents, it makes the settlement and integration process much easier on newcomers. It also confirms the essential role parents and grandparents play in supporting the healthy development of youth. Families are particularly important in the maintenance of the well-being of racialized communities, members of the disability community and women.
Prior to 2011, the parents and grandparents sponsorship program had the same process as spousal and dependent sponsorship streams of immigration. The application went through the system until it was ultimately approved or rejected. Unfortunately, successive Liberal and Conservative governments continually failed to provide sufficient immigration levels and staffing resources to process the applications in a timely manner. Consequently, too many families waited nearly a decade to be reunited with their loved ones. Instead of increasing resources to address the growing backlog, both the Liberals and the Conservatives chose to put a cap on the parents and grandparents sponsorship applications. The Harper administration even had a moratorium on new applications for two years. It was well known that the application cap would always be hit mere hours into the IRCC accepting them, leaving tens of thousands of Canadians unable to even apply.
The Liberals then went on to an arbitrary lottery system, which was a fiasco from the get-go. It is the only immigration stream that is based on the luck of the draw. This ill-conceived system fell flat on its face with multiple problems, and 500 of the 10,000 applications were lost to families in 2017. Forced to admit failure, the Liberals scrapped the lottery system and went back to the breakneck race to beat the application cap approach. In that instance, within seven minutes the application process was shut down because of the cap having reached its limit. This process also did not take into consideration the inherent disparities within the system, such as the lack of access to high-speed Internet in some communities and those with disabilities or impairments.
The media revealed that a number of individuals who were not able to submit an application to reunite with their loved ones under the parents and grandparents reunification process filed a lawsuit against the government. The government then quietly settled with the litigants by offering them 70 coveted spots in the parents and grandparents sponsorship program.
All of this is to say that the handling of the parents and grandparents sponsorship program has been disastrous. Too many families remain separated for years. That is why the NDP has been calling for the lifting of the quota, with increased staffing resources and increased levels numbers to address this ongoing issue. We are also calling for reasonable service standards to be set in the processing of the applications.
Until then, some families turn to the super visa program as an alternative. However, the program has numerous shortcomings. The super visa applicant is required to purchase a medical insurance plan with $100,000 in emergency medical coverage from a Canadian insurance company. This is prohibitively expensive.
This bill aims to partially address these issues, and while I support the bill, it must be recognized that it is only a stopgap measure.
In addition to the points that I have already made, it is essential that we bring back the appeals process for the parents and grandparents stream. I met a family that was rejected for the program in their third year of meeting the onerous financial requirements because they went on maternity leave for one month. As a result of that, the family's income dipped and their dream of reuniting with their parents vanished. This is wrong, and an appeals process with some ability to provide flexibility would have accommodated that temporary change in circumstances.
On the call around the onerous financial burden, it would be important to reduce the financial undertakings required of families to be eligible to ensure a system that genuinely recognizes the value of familial unity over financial interests. If we truly value parents and grandparents in our society, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that these so-called extended family members are somehow a burden on our society. It is often forgotten that many are able to work full time or part time, volunteer in our communities or provide child care to their families. It is time the government updated its views of the contributions of parents and grandparents in more than just words but actions through Canada’s immigration system.
The proposed bill aims to address these issues, and the NDP supports the bill going to committee so that we can invite witnesses to examine the bill and put forward amendments. Equally important is having the government look at the financial requirements and the onerous requirements put on the family sponsorship application process for parents and grandparents.
In fact, at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration we studied this issue and invited witnesses and experts to come forward. The vast majority, if not all of them, said that this needs to change, that the financial requirements are far too burdensome. Many called for the government to lift the cap to ensure more families are able to reunite with their loved ones. I know this is not part of this bill, but it is something the NDP supports wholeheartedly.
I heard over and over again in the last number of years sitting in this place all parties talk about how much they value the contributions of family members, yet repeatedly when given the chance, whether when Conservatives were in government or now that the Liberals are in government, they do not truly address the issue. They come in with stopgap measures and then we find ourselves here again. As a result, what is left is that too many families have their loved ones separated.
I want to take a moment to also talk about extended families. In this instance, we are talking about parents and grandparents, but I know a lot of communities view extended family such as adult siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins as part of their immediate family. We have seen that with the Syrian refugee initiative. Many of them want to be able to sponsor their extended family members to come to Canada, but they have been experiencing extreme difficulties as the immigration measures do not allow for that. We need to update our view of what immediate family is to be consistent with many of the newcomers who have come to Canada and made Canada their home.
I hope this bill will make it through second stage and be referred to committee so that we can look at how we can enhance the bill even further, for example, by bringing forward the appeal process.
I want to thank the member for Dufferin—Caledon for bringing this bill forward and highlighting the issues of parents and grandparents and the need for parliamentarians to put their minds to making the process better for Canadians to reunite with their loved ones.
Finally, on the piece around extending the period from two years to five years, that is a welcome change. Ultimately, I would like to see long-term change so that people can reunite with their loved ones permanently in Canada. In the meantime, these are the measures I can certainly support.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this important issue today.