Government’s fears of devolution derails crooked consultant bill

Committee members are performing independent research today on the topic of immigration consultants in the province of Québec. Their meeting on Monday was derailed by an argument between Conservative MP Rick Dykstra and Bloc MP Thierry St-Cyr.

Bill C-35 is also known as the cracking down on crooked consultants act. It targets immigration consultants who reportedly trick immigrants into paying large sums of money in exchanges for promises of guaranteed entry to Canada, government connections and work.

The act contains wording that designates exactly who can act as an immigration consultant in Canada. A person must be either a lawyer or member of the professional regulatory body of immigration consultants. In Québec, notaries also qualify.

St-Cyr said he wanted to amend a clause of the bill to add measures ensuring consultants in Québec are fluent in French and have adequate knowledge of Québec immigration legislation. Dykstra said these changes would amount to a devolvement of federal powers.

St-Cyr stipulated the need to protect the client. “It could happen that a client comes to a Québec consultant and this person is authorized to only provide advice for everything concerning federal legislation but not under the provincial legislation,” he said.

The 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord stipulates that Québec can establish its own immigration requirements and select those immigrants who will adapt well to life in Québec. Before the worker’s permanent resident or work permit can be issued, they must first complete a separate selection process at the provincial level.

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau weighed in on the debate in favour of St-Cyr.

“In Québec, if you’re going to be an effective immigration consultant you need to know the Québec system and you need to be able to interact with the Québec government, which means speak French,” Trudeau said.

Elaine Ménard, acting as legal counsel for the committee proceedings, underlined that legal precedent in Canada’s Supreme Court favoured the federal jurisdiction.

St-Cyr, clearly frustrated, said he recognised the federal government can impose its policies on provinces, but that he would like this done “intelligently.” He worried that the clause of Bill C-35, as it is currently written, will allow for two tiers of immigration consultants in Québec: one group that deals with federal legislation, and another that deals with provincial rules.

“We’d be allowing consultants to work in Québec who can provide only half of the advice, as they can only work under federal legislation. That’s just not logical,” St-Cyr said.

Dykstra, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, countered that St-Cyr’s amendment deflates the ability of the federal government to control its own legislation.

“It actually passes on some federal responsibilities to the provincial government which is not acceptable when taking on accountability and responsibility for legislation,” Dykstra said.

Dykstra stressed that it would remove the immigration minister’s authority to designate a regulatory body.

“This amendment shoots a hole in our cooperative strategy that our parties have had up until now,” Dykstra said.

“At the end of the day we cannot have a process that devolves authority to the provincial government, regardless of which province it happens to be,” he added.

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau sought to mediate a possible agreement between the two parties during a half hour break.

“It’s not about jurisdiction, it’s about trying to solve the problems,” Trudeau said after the meeting. “In this case people are being taken advantage of by immigration consultants who either don’t know their subject matter or are choosing to profit from people.”