Fail Family reunification: Still waiting for mom and dad
The moment came just past the halfway point of the English-language leaders' debate, when Liberal Michael Ignatieff challenged Stephen Harper on the government's immigration policy.
After pointing out that his father and brothers immigrated to Canada with their mom, Ignatieff said he doubted that they'd be able to do the same today.
Why? Because of the length of time it takes landed immigrants to sponsor other family members, particularly their parents and grandparents, something many do once they've settled into a life in Canada.
"So you've got Canadian citizens saying 'I can't get my mom and dad over here,'" Ignatieff said. "And that's what you've been doing. You've been reducing family reunification and that's creating deep unfairness and deep resentment in all the new Canadians that I meet."
Harper, whose party has gone out of its way to court immigrant communities, shot back, accusing Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton of distorting the facts.
Harper said that his government has been increasing immigration targets across all categories, including the family class.
Then he added, "in terms of family class, there will be as many family class admitted this year as in the previous year. That's the government's plan. That's how we keep a strong system of immigration."
So here's the reality check. Ignatieff was referring to parents and grandparents, a subset of the family reunification class that is actually diminishing.
In February, CBC News reported that the government intends to reduce the number of visas for parents and grandparents to 11,200 in 2012. Last year, the number was 16,200. So the government is cutting the number of visas accepted at its overseas embassies and consulates by almost a third.
While the government has been making it easier for an increasing number of individuals to sponsor their spouses, the same isn't true for parents and grandparents, as we can see from the numbers.
So it's a stretch for Harper to claim that his government has been increasing levels across all categories. The numbers fail to support that argument.
Richard Kurland, a Vancouver lawyer, obtained the government's visa targets through an access-to-information request. In his view, the current policies mean that parents and grandparents will continue to endure long waits before being able to join their adult sons and daughters in Canada.
"It's going to take 13, 14, years," says Kurland, adding that he doesn't see this being good politics for the Conservatives as many of these new-immigrant families can be found in swing ridings they are counting on winning en route to that coveted majority.
Houssein Charmarkeh knows this problem all too well. He emigrated from Djbouti, in northeast Africa, in 2005.
The following year, he applied to sponsor his parents. So far he's been waiting four years and if Kurland's estimate is correct, he'll have to wait several more.
According to Charmarkeh, who teaches media studies at the University of Ottawa, Stephen Harper is "completely out of touch because he doesn't meet people like me or others who are waiting for their parents. It's not fair."
What the platforms say
The Conservative platform does not mention family reunification. When it comes to immigration, its main emphasis is cracking down on human smuggling and crooked immigration consultants.
It also promises to help immigrant professionals attain the appropriate Canadian credentials through an expanded loan program. But as a previous Reality Check showed, this promise is less than meets the eye.
The Bloc Quebecois gives the topic a brief mention. And the Green Party is silent on the issue.
For its part, the NDP does mention family reunification with a promise to "increase resources to reduce the huge and unacceptable backlogs in processing immigration applications, with an emphasis on speeding up family reunification."
And the Liberals go down the same path, but fail to add much detail. In their platform, the Liberals are promising that family reunification must remain a crucial part of Canada's immigration policy and that they will "restore balance" to the system by increasing family class visas.
However, it's unclear whether the NDP or Liberals promises will make it easier for people such as Houssein Charmarkeh to sponsor his parents.
In Vancouver, Richard Kurland puts the backlog of parents and grandparents waiting for visas at about 150,000 and growing.
David McKie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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