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SOCI - Standing Committee

Social Affairs, Science and Technology



OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met with videoconference this day at 4:05 p.m. [ET] for the election of the Deputy Chair; and for the consideration of the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 8, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 25, 27, 28, 29, 35 and 38 of Part 4 of Bill C-47, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 28, 2023; and, in camera, for the consideration of a draft agenda (future business).

Senator Ratna Omidvar (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: I would like to welcome members of the committee, our witnesses and members of the public watching the proceedings. My name is Ratna Omidvar. I am a senator from Ontario and the chair of this committee.

I would like to begin with a round table of brief introductions from my colleagues.

Senator Osler: Gigi Osler from Manitoba.

Senator Burey: Sharon Burey from Ontario.

Senator Kutcher: Stan Kutcher from Nova Scotia.

Senator Moodie: Rosemary Moodie from Ontario.


Senator Mégie: Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.


Senator Dasko: Donna Dasko, senator from Ontario.

Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec.

The Chair: Colleagues, our first item of business today is the election of a deputy chair. The vacancy in this position is the result of the retirement of our colleague Senator Bovey. Are there any nominations?

Senator Seidman: Yes, I’m pleased to nominate Senator Jane Cordy as the deputy chair of this committee.

The Chair: It is moved that the Honourable Senator Cordy be deputy chair of this committee.

Is it your pleasure, colleagues, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you. Today, our committee continues its study on the subject matter of various divisions of Bill C-47, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 28, 2023, that were referred to our committee on April 27, 2023.

Our first panel will be focusing on Divisions 27, 28 and 29. Divisions 27 and 28 deal with amendments to the Food and Drugs Act, and Division 29 deals with the proposed dental care measures act. On some of these divisions, we heard witness testimony last week.

I want to welcome the many public servants who are here with us today. In fact, our witness table cannot accommodate you all. Suffice it to say, we appreciate your presence because your time is special and precious. If, during the course of our question-and-answer session, a member of your team needs to answer a question, I would welcome them sitting at spot number 16; I hope that works.

We welcome, from Health Canada, Natalie Page, Director General, Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate, who will be delivering opening remarks on Division 27; Dennis Price, Director General, Consumer and Hazardous Products Safety Directorate, who will be delivering opening remarks on Division 28; and Lindy VanAmburg, Director General, Policy and Programs, Dental Care Task Force, Strategic Policy Branch, who will be delivering opening remarks on Division 29. They are accompanied by other officials from Health Canada, as well as officials from Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency, who may be called on to answer questions.

Before we begin, I would like to ask members and witnesses in the room with us to please refrain from leaning in too close to the microphone. If you choose to do so, I would request that you remove your earpiece because this will avoid any sound feedback that could negatively impact the committee staff in the room.

For this panel, officials from Health Canada have been allocated three minutes per division for opening statements. Ms. Page, perhaps we should start with you. The floor is yours.

Natalie Page, Director General, Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate, Health Canada: Good afternoon. My name is Natalie Page, and I’m the Director General of the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate at Health Canada. Today, I am accompanied by my colleagues to speak to the proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act in order to extend the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, also known as Vanessa’s Law, to natural health products, or NHPs.

These amendments, which have been in place for all other health products for nearly a decade, will help the department improve the health and safety of Canadians by enhancing oversight of products on the market, as well as transparency and consumer confidence.

NHPs, such as vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies, are used daily by Canadians to maintain and promote good health. While these products are often perceived as lower risk, they are not without risk. In fact, in some instances, especially where products become contaminated or aren’t manufactured properly, they can pose serious health risks.

The recent federal audit of the Natural Health Products Program reinforced this, as did a later study of the audit by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Vanessa’s Law will allow for swifter actions when serious health risks are identified, such as through recalls, label or package changes, and higher fines and penalties, among several other safety and transparency improvements. Enforcement authorities would be used in line with a broader compliance and enforcement framework, and only in instances where a company is refusing to use voluntary compliance measures.

Over the last few years, Health Canada has observed evidence of low regulatory compliance across the industry, resulting in health and safety risks to Canadians. For example, since 2016, there have been around 380 voluntary recalls and 3,500 consumer complaints with respect to quality, such as products contaminated with mould, mildew, lead and arsenic. Furthermore, from 2004 to 2021, over 8,000 adverse reactions were reported in which NHP use had a suspected role, of which 5,000 were serious.

As you can see, there is a clear need for these authorities. Some authorities, like stop-sale and seizures, are available to the department now, but they aren’t enough and take too much time in moments of serious or imminent concern.

Finally, the government has been engaging with industry, health professionals and patient groups since 2016 about its intention to seek these authorities. There is general acknowledgement that having these authorities available for NHPs would help protect Canadians from serious health and safety risks, and deter non-compliance. To this, I will add that some of the powers, such as mandatory reporting for health care institutions, require the department to make regulations before they come into force. Stakeholders will be consulted as we move forward with those regulations.

In the coming months, we look forward to Parliament’s consideration of this legislation to better protect health and safety at a time when more and more Canadians are using NHPs.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Page. Mr. Price, the floor is yours.

Dennis Price, Director General, Consumer and Hazardous Products Safety Directorate, Health Canada: Thank you, Madam Chair. My name is Dennis Price, and I’m the Director General of the Consumer and Hazardous Products Safety Directorate within Health Canada. I’m joined by two of my colleagues, Luisa Wang and Raouf Ali Ahmed, who work closely with the cosmetics industry and animal advocacy organizations to develop the proposed ban on cosmetic animal testing.

I would like to thank this committee for the invitation to appear today to discuss Division 28 of Part 4 of Bill C-47. Division 28 is focused on the Minister of Health’s proposal to ban the testing of cosmetics on animals in Canada while continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

The proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act would prohibit the testing of cosmetics on animals in Canada, false or misleading labelling pertaining to the testing of cosmetics on animals and the sale of cosmetics that rely on animal testing data to establish product safety — with certain exceptions. These exceptions would ensure that existing cosmetic products remain on the market, and that the proposed ban would not interfere with other legislative regimes in Canada where animal testing is still required to demonstrate safety.

This ban responds to Canadians’ concern for animal welfare, and it is supported by animal advocacy groups and industry.

With these amendments, Canada would join 43 other countries that have enacted measures to prohibit cosmetic animal testing, including all of the European Union countries, Australia, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have on this division.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Price. Ms. VanAmburg, you have the floor for Division 29.

Lindy VanAmburg, Director General, Policy and Programs, Dental Care Task Force, Strategic Policy Branch, Health Canada: Good afternoon. I’m Lindy VanAmburg, and I’m the Director General responsible for policy and program at the Dental Care Task Force at Health Canada. Today, I’m joined by colleagues — and I’m very pleased that they’re here — from the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada, who can help answer any questions you may have for us on Division 29, or the dental care measures act.

This act would recognize that the Canadian dental care plan, which was announced in Budget 2023, will be available to individuals who are uninsured, and it would recognize that employer-sponsored benefits are the largest source of dental coverage for Canadians. However, there is no current way to reliably determine who does and does not have employer-offered coverage.

This act would require employers who submit T4 and T4A slips for retirees for tax purposes to now report — starting in 2023 — whether they offer to the employee, retiree or their family members any access to dental insurance, or coverage of dental services of any kind, as of December 31 each year. “Family member,” in this case, means spouses or common-law partners and their children.

The act would also provide authority for the Canada Revenue Agency to share that information, once collected, for plan administration purposes, as well as for the Minister of Health to use the social insurance number of applicants for plan administration purposes.

Finally, the proposed act would allow for penalties should an employer not comply, or if they provide false or misleading information. The penalties outlined align with provisions for similar violations of income tax-related T4 and T4A reporting — they include a fine of up to $100 for each violation.

Thank you. We would be pleased to answer any questions.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. VanAmburg. We will now proceed to questions.

I’ll remind senators that you each have four minutes for both your question and the answer.

The first question will go to the newly elected deputy chair of the committee, Senator Cordy. Congratulations and welcome, Senator Cordy.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much. It’s great to be back — officially — on the committee. It has been a while since I’ve been here. I have to tell you that it’s interesting because I remember when Terence Young appeared before the Social Affairs Committee, which tells you that I have been here for quite a while. To have a parent sitting as a witness while explaining about his daughter Vanessa was heart-wrenching, and he did Bill C-17, the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa’s Law) — now we’re continuing to make the bill better and better. Thank you very much for the work you’re doing.

My question is related to animal testing. How do we make sure that — I know you have put things in the bill — it will be monitored to ensure that it’s not mislabelled, or how can we be guaranteed that the testing of animals is not used?

Mr. Price: Thank you for your question, senator.

The cosmetics regulation regime in Canada is a post-market regime. However, we do require that for any products brought to market, the company must notify Health Canada within 10 days of sale. They have to provide a list of ingredients. Pursuant to these amendments, the manufacturer or seller can also indicate that the cosmetic has not been tested on animals.

We see more than 50,000 notifications every year; it’s quite a number. This is the way in which we manage that: When complaints are brought to our attention — as well as concerns about ingredients, or the accuracy of claims — we would then investigate. We have a dedicated part of our program that would do that.

If that answers your question, that’s how it would operate.

Senator Cordy: When I was reading my notes this morning, I was interested to read that the Canadian Health Food Association — the trade association representing all things natural, organic and wellness — has been advocating against the expansion of Vanessa’s Law, but the Canadian Pharmacists Association has been advocating for the expansion of this law, which is a contradiction. What is the problem? Why is the natural foods association against expansion, but the pharmacists association is for it?

Ms. Page: Perhaps I can answer this one, senator. We have been consulting throughout the years since 2016. You mentioned the 2014 bill. After that, we have been consulting with different stakeholders, so there is a series of them, including health care professionals, patient groups, the pharmacist association and industry.

Your witness last week was one member representing the industry. They consider this as being overregulation. However, the pharmacists association is supporting this bill, so to give you a quick answer, that’s where the difference is. We have heard that the majority — even other associations from the industry — are supporting this. They see the need. We’re going to use it, hopefully, to deter non-compliance and clean up the market. Compliant companies want to make sure that the Canadian market is safe.

Senator Cordy: Thank you.

The Chair: Ms. VanAmburg, my question is about Division 29. You’re the only witness on this division. Thank you for your testimony. I understand that Division 29 will gather some data around who is eligible and who is not, as well as who is covered by private insurance through verification of T4s and T4As. What are the data and verification methods? I will note that 10% to 12% of Canadians do not file tax returns.

Ms. VanAmburg: Thank you for the question. I will make just a small distinction, if I could, to preface my remarks. This division is only about reporting whether the employer offers coverage to the employee or the retiree. There will be other data that will be used from personal income tax filing, which is subject to an earlier division of the bill — I’m sorry; I don’t know the number of the division right off the top of my head. However, finance officials may have talked about that.

That information will include income. This will be an income‑tested program — residency, the age of children and those kinds of things are collected through the tax system. It will be an income-tested program that will rely on tax information. This dental care measures act won’t delve into whether that income is used or not, but the plan will be income tested, and only individuals who have taxes on file that can be assessed will be eligible for the plan.

The Chair: In regard to the 10% to 12% of Canadians, that’s possibly a broader question in the Senate. We have had this discussion before. I believe the division you’re referring to will likely go to another committee — and not to us. Anyway, let’s move forward.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for your testimony. I see Mr. David Lee sitting in the back, and I would like to say welcome and thank you for all the years of expertise you have brought to the Social Affairs Committee. Senator Cordy and I belie our long history on this committee over many years, and, in fact, I’m sure Senator Cordy would remember that I was the sponsor of Vanessa’s Law in the Senate. I’m overjoyed to see that we are updating this piece of legislation in this way.

Ms. Page, I would like to ask you specifically, if I might, about your reference to the 2021 independent auditor’s report. The Auditor General made five recommendations, and three of them were around the development of a risk-based monitoring and inspection program by Health Canada. In particular, the final recommendation was that Health Canada should — in cases of products being suspected of causing serious health risks — obtain the information it needs to verify and ensure that these products are not available for sale to consumers.

In your response to the Auditor General, you cited Vanessa’s Law as your potential remedy. In your presentation to us, you also cited that the mandatory reporting that is required will be done by a different department. I think that’s what I understood you to say; I could be wrong.

Could you please help us understand this particular asset — because that was the most important factor of Vanessa’s Law, right? You know that it was absolutely critical in the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act — that was the name of the law, or Vanessa’s Law. In order to do that, how are you going to verify and ensure that the products are not available for sale to consumers in Canada? What kind of reporting is going to be required?

Ms. Page: Thank you. I would ask my colleague Mr. David Lee to come and join.

David K. Lee, Chief Regulatory Officer, Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada: Thank you. Senator, yes, Vanessa’s Law is all about two real things: ensuring that we understand what is happening in the market, particularly obtaining reports about safety; and then intervening if we see something, including label changes, and putting discipline around anything that might be unsafe.

The hospital reporting has been very good on the drug side. It has given us a lot of information, and it’s quality information that we can take a look at. This would now bring NHPs in. We would have to make regulations, but that’s a really important source of verification because people go to the hospital when they have experienced a serious harm — that’s where we can figure things out.

Senator Seidman: Is it correct that you will be involved? I’m not sure what I heard from Ms. Page; I heard something about having to consult, or having to use a different process through a different department.

Mr. Lee: It would be the case, senator, that we would regulate in all instances. The information comes back to us. The obligation can be on the health care institutions — typically the hospitals — that would have to do the reporting, but they send that to us, and then we will take a look and interpret the signal.

Senator Seidman: Thank you.

Senator Osler: My question is for Ms. Page regarding Division 27. This committee has heard concerns about enforcement and accountability for current regulations of therapeutic products. Can you please tell the committee what new powers will be afforded to the minister through Bill C-47 to deter non-compliance and improve the safety of therapeutic products, including NHPs, and perhaps a second part would be, in particular, anything in regard to the enforcement and accountability?

Ms. Page: Perhaps I can start, but I’ll also invite my colleague Ms. Kim Godard who is responsible for enforcement and compliance. If you’re okay with that, I have reinforcements.

When — or if — the legislative part receives Royal Assent, these amendments, or Vanessa’s Law, would trigger the ability of the department to order a recall, compel a label and package change, require information and disclose confidential business information when required, seek a court injunction to make it a lot quicker, charge higher fines and penalties to non-compliant companies — right now, they are at $5,000, and it would be moved to $5 million — and add the incorporation by reference.

As my colleague Mr. David Lee mentioned, there will be a set of regulations that will be consulted, and then we will determine what would apply to NHPs — but this would be later.

Ms. Godard, in regard to the compliance and enforcement front, I don’t know if you want to add something specific to that part.

Kim Godard, Acting Director General, Health Product Compliance Directorate, Health Canada: Perhaps I can add why those tools are so important. Right now, we have tools to intervene in a case where there is risk to health from NHPs. We can show up, seize the product and order the stop-sale. What we can’t do is quickly reach the products that are already on the market. The authority to order a recall allows us to do that. We can negotiate with the company for a voluntary recall — that works well when the company agrees with the recall. However, when the company does not agree with the recall, it takes time. When there is a serious risk to health, time is of the essence. That is why these powers are so important.

Senator Kutcher: Thank you all for being here. It is nice to see so many people we’ve had multiple discussions with in the past, particularly Mr. Lee.

There have been concerns from many of the members of this committee — arising from testimony we heard recently — that the concept of low risk allows industry to argue that this concept is the most important consideration in the regulatory scrutiny of NHPs. A better framework might be appropriate risk which, at least, would take into consideration evidence of the effectiveness, drug-drug interactions, labelling veracity, purity of compound and false advertising. Some classics that I’ve seen are, for example, “this product boosts your immune system,” “this product boosts your vaginal health,” “this product will flip your stem cell switch on” and the ever-present “quantum healing.”

Is Health Canada in a position to revisit its existing approach to regulating NHPs, specifically critically looking at the concept of low-risk consideration?

Ms. Page: Thank you, senator. The department is committed to continuing the implementation and the modernization. You will have heard about the self-care framework. We’ve talked about it since 2016, so we’re still committed to moving this forward. There are different phases and elements of self-care. Last year, we started with the labelling aspect of it. One of the tools for self-care to work is Vanessa’s Law. That is why we are suggesting these amendments at this time. Hopefully, this answers your question.

Senator Kutcher: Partly, and thank you for that; it’s much appreciated. Some of us are aware of the good work that you’re doing. However, my question is a little broader than that.

Ms. Page: Okay.

Senator Kutcher: Are you open to considering some of the issues I raised in my initial question, namely, addressing the concept of low risk and bringing into play some of the more important aspects for labelling products that are taken by people as therapy?

Is Health Canada open to looking at some of these things more vigorously? These are products taken as therapy by people who trust Health Canada to protect them. From my own work — and there are five physicians on this panel — when you take St. John’s wort and you are on Prozac, this is not a good combination. Is there interest?

Ms. Page: There is interest. Thank you.

Senator Burey: Thank you to our distinguished guests. I’m new to this committee, so I don’t have all the names down as of yet, but I’m very happy to be here.

My question is on Division 29. I believe Health Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency may have some comments — and others can please feel free to jump in. I’m going to start with the question first, and then tell you why.

Are there any provisions or mechanisms that the government can use to monitor and prevent the practice of clawing back coverage by insurance companies?

Now I’m going to bring in my role as a physician. Some of you may remember, or know of, the OHIP+ benefit program that covers medication for children. It covers over 5,000 medications in the Ontario Drug Benefit, or ODB, program. I’m not going to delve into the weeds, but what has happened on the ground is that now some insurance plans no longer cover the medications that they used to cover previously — citing the fact that this is now covered under the government plan. This means that parents need to pay out of pocket for these medications. I could go on and on.

To return to the question, are there any provisions or mechanisms that the government can use to monitor and prevent this practice of clawing back?

Ms. VanAmburg: Thank you for the question. It’s not related to the provision directly in front of you, which is about the reporting that employers would need to do on a T4 or T4A slip.

I’m happy to delve into the question more broadly. There will not be a legislative basis for the overall delivery of the plan, which is still being finalized by the government. The plan is intended to cover individuals earning under $90,000 a year who are uninsured. There is strong interest in making sure that number doesn’t grow much larger for the very reason you’re talking about. We are looking at ways to ensure that those who currently provide coverage will continue to do so.

However, we’ll need to be careful about the levers that are available — the levers that exist in provinces. We’ve seen them used in Quebec, and in other places, where they can legislate and regulate the coverage that employers need to provide. That includes provincial and territorial jurisdiction, so those levers won’t be available for a federally delivered plan, but it is something that we are concerned about, and looking at carefully as we finalize the design of the plan.

Senator Burey: In terms of monitoring this practice, you’re saying that this doesn’t apply to that — but is there any plan to monitor this practice in a systematic way?

Ms. VanAmburg: We are looking to see how we can track that. We have good data right now; I wish it were more detailed. We’re trying to work on that. On dental expenditures, for example, from the private sector, there will be ways for us to track that at a high level. However, over time, we would like to collect it at a more granular level. That is one of the things we’re working on.

Senator Burey: Given that people may change employers during a tax year, and employers may provide different levels of coverage, how will you manage that?

Ms. VanAmburg: Any T4 or T4A that is on file for that individual — that indicates they have coverage as of December 31 — would be used as part of the eligibility assessment. For individuals with multiple employers, if they have coverage through one employer and not through the other, they would still be deemed to have coverage. However, if they lost their coverage during the year — and they don’t have coverage as of December 31 — that’s why December 31 becomes the set date for inequity purposes.


Senator Mégie: Thank you to all the witness panels for being here today. I’ll continue with the question from my colleague Senator Burey.

You said that with T4s, the employer reports it and we know who’s getting benefits. However, sometimes, people who work and receive their T4 think the government knows how much they earn, so they don’t file a tax return. How are you going to keep track of them?

Ms. VanAmburg: Thank you for the question. That’s exactly why we want authority under the act to require that employers provide the information directly to the Canada Revenue Agency.

It wouldn’t be up to the individual to provide that information. The Canada Revenue Agency would have that information in its files and use it as a verification method.

Senator Mégie: After passing this bill, the government will be responsible for dental care. Employers will wonder why they should cover it through other benefits. Have you thought of something to prevent it?

Ms. VanAmburg: I’d say it’s something we’re very interested in. We’re looking for methods to avoid it and ways to avoid it, but we don’t yet have any measures. There’s nothing in here to prevent it. It’s a risk.

Senator Mégie: Thank you.


Senator McPhedran: I want to understand something better. I think Senator Cordy touched upon one aspect of this, but there is another aspect: I believe this question will likely go to you, Ms. Page. What powers do you have now, and how are those supplementary, or complementary, to the ones that are in this bill?

Also, under your current powers, how often do you employ the various tools that are available to you? I think it’s licence suspension, seizure and other measures. How are those inadequate? Help us understand that, please.

Ms. Page: Madam Chair, I would invite Ms. Kim Godard to answer these questions. Thank you.

Ms. Godard: Thank you for the questions, senator.

Currently, you’re correct; we have some tools to deal with non-compliant products that could pose a risk to health. We can suspend the licence, and we can do recalls. In fact, if you visit the Health Canada website, you will see that there are a lot of recalls for NHPs out there — essentially to warn Canadians about those products.

What we’re asking for in addition to that, under Vanessa’s Law, is the ability to order a recall. Currently, we have the opportunity to do recalls, but they’re voluntary recalls; that means the industry would have to cooperate with us. We’re seeing that some companies do cooperate and do agree there is a risk, but some companies do not agree there is a risk and do not cooperate. It takes a lot of time to reach a voluntary recall.

Under Vanessa’s Law, the power to order a recall will allow us to do that very efficiently.

We’re also asking for the authority to order a label change. The same principle applies here: to mitigate the risk very efficiently.

As Ms. Page explained earlier, we’re also looking to increase the fine as a way to disincentivize companies, if you will.

We are looking for powers, essentially, to ensure the NHPs on the Canadian market are safe and effective.

Senator McPhedran: To pursue that a little bit more, can you help us understand the process around recalls? For example, do you have an absolute power to recall, or does the company have a chance to look at the information on which you’re basing your decision to recall? Does the company have a chance to respond and, perhaps, provide additional information?

Ms. Godard: I’ll answer by comparing the recall powers we have under drugs, as well as how we operate, and what we do currently for NHPs.

For a drug where we already have the authority to order recalls, the first step is always to approach the company and explain how we’re perceiving the risk. We give them the opportunity to explain to us how they perceive the risk. There is often an exchange of information. Often, the company has a lot of expertise in that area.

If Health Canada feels that a recall is warranted, then there is a discussion with the company. Most of the time, under the drug framework, the companies do voluntary recalls — they agree with Health Canada that there is a risk, and they want to benefit the people of Canada and ensure the products are safe. Therefore, they recall them.

Under the NHP space, we take the same approach. We approach the company and explain our concerns, and we give the company the opportunity to provide their perspectives, data and additional information. Then, there is a dialogue.

Where it breaks down a bit is if there is no agreement between Health Canada and the company.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Godard. I apologize; we have to move on.

Senator Bernard: Thank you to our witnesses for being here.

My question relates to Division 27 as well. The Statement and Impacts Report on Gender, Diversity, and Quality of Life, accompanying Budget 2023, states that the measures proposed in Division 27 might have more of an impact on certain people who use NHPs more frequently, including women, Indigenous peoples, 2SLGBTQI+ people, and Black and racialized people.

What populations might use NHPs more often than the average Canadian, and why is that?

Ms. Page: I’ll answer this one.

In regard to the use of NHPs, we’ve seen — especially with the data surrounding the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the audit they did in 2021 — that a few subpopulation groups are using more NHPs, especially women. Women also generally buy NHPs and health products for the family, so there is that aspect.

We also have traditional and Indigenous medicines. People are also buying a lot of traditional medicine.

I would say that the use of Vanessa’s Law is allowing a safer market for the subpopulations using those products, specifically women, as I mentioned, as well as the different traditional medicine subpopulation.

Hopefully, that answers your question.

Senator Bernard: Do you have any disaggregated data under the category of “women”?

Ms. Page: I would need to see if I have that level of detail. I don’t have it right now.

Senator Bernard: How might the measures proposed in Division 27 impact those diverse populations of women and other people?

Ms. Page: Madam Chair, I would like to ask if Mr. David Lee could join us to answer this question.

The Chair: Yes.

Mr. Lee: Senator, there are a number of Vanessa’s Law powers that can be used to look at populations in a stratified way. One of the powers is to conduct further tests and monitoring of experiences, and so on. A lot of them are post‑market powers. We are looking at those policies in clinical trial and environment, and looking at other jurisdictions that disaggregate. That is something the department is doing.

Here, if we see a population at risk, or one we’re concerned about, we can use the Vanessa’s Law powers in an order to say that we want the company to follow this out.

Regarding terms and conditions, if we’re worried about a subgroup, we can have the company build experience and give us information on that.

Those are very important tools — transactionally — to understand populations, especially ones at risk. You really want to use the tools to identify those.

Senator Moodie: I would like to address my question to Ms. Page and probably to Mr. Lee; he might as well stay.

Anybody who knows me knows that I stay in the space for children, so I would like to ask my question regarding the implications for Canadian children. Specifically, are there any implications within Division 27 for health products intended for children?

Ms. Page: Mr. Lee, do you want to answer this one?

Mr. Lee: Yes. Thank you, senator. There are a few elements around which Vanessa’s Law can be very important. As you know, the department is working on the regulatory side on a number of plans —

Senator Moodie: I did ask that.

Mr. Lee: Yes, thank you, senator. But again, for the terms and conditions, if there are populations at risk — for example, if there is a dosing issue, or we’re not sure about the dosage form — then we can assign these very important commitments to have not only the monitoring, but also the appropriate labelling for that.

If there is a potential injury because of dosing, we can use the power to order a label change. We could use that when there is a prospective injury, and we know that dosing can be an important issue there.

There are a number of pieces — mechanically — that will help.

Senator Moodie: I know there is ongoing work regarding the implementation of a pediatric rule in Canada. What is the progress of the pediatric rule? It is a side issue but relevant.

Mr. Lee: My understanding, senator, is that there is a policy group working very hard on that policy. We have recently come out with putting in terms and conditions for all drugs in a recent regulatory package. My understanding is that we’re working toward a future expression where you would have pediatric plans like the kind you see internationally, for example.

We are working on it.

The Chair: Let us stay on Divisions 27, 28 and 29, but I appreciate that question.

Senator Moodie: I couldn’t miss the opportunity.


Senator Petitclerc: This is a bit of a supplementary question to the one asked by Senator McPhedran. You started to explain the whole process; I’m talking about Division 27. I’m trying to understand the process.

At what point does one decide to do a recall? Is it reactive or proactive? Is it a reaction after an accident, or an observation of what’s happening on the market, based on study and assessment? Do we act more reactively to impose a labelling change?

Ms. Page: It’s more reactive.

Senator Petitclerc: It’s rather reactive, isn’t it? I don’t know if you can give me the point of clarification I’m interested in.

Ms. Page: Madam Chair, I’d like to invite Ms. Kim Godard to the table.

Ms. Godard: Thank you for the question, senator. It’s a very good question. We do a little bit of everything. There is a reactive component. If there’s an accident or an event we have to look into, we quickly look at the context, conduct analyses and act swiftly.

There’s also part of our program that allows for proactive action. We undertake specific targeted projects for categories of products, to make sure there’s sampling and that we have a good overview of the market.

We also collaborate internationally. We have networks. If something happens internationally, in the United States, in Australia, and so on, those signals come to us and we research it.

Senator Petitclerc: I have a supplementary question. On this proactive aspect, if we add a category of products, do we have the means to deal with it? Do you have the tools and means to be as proactive as you would like?

I’m thinking of the quantity of products coming to us every year, especially in the natural category. Is it a challenge? Are you equipped to do all that?

Ms. Page: Yes, and it must be done. I think this sector is seeing more and more use, so we adjust priorities. We get organized. The act will let us move faster, to avoid waiting for months before pulling products from the market, because we will have the means. We will try a voluntary approach by asking the manufacturer if they are ready to do a recall. We will work with the company, and the day they decide the answer is no, but we want to act, we’ll be able to pull the product from the market. It will happen more quickly, more efficiently.

Senator Petitclerc: Do you apply a precautionary principle, meaning if you think there is a risk, do you wait to be sure?

Ms. Godard: No, we really do take a precautionary approach. If we think there are risks, we see it and act swiftly. What we do, because there’s a problem with resources, is triage. When something happens and there’s a signal, we triage quickly and, when the risk is high, we act immediately.

Senator Petitclerc: Thank you very much.


Senator Dasko: I’m the only one asking questions of Mr. Price, so here we go. This is regarding cosmetics. Is there any testing on animals that will continue after these regulations are put into place?

Mr. Price: Thank you for that question.

There could be certain scenarios — exemptions — that are provided for in the amendments that would allow that to occur. I’ll run through them, just to be clear. Where products have previously been tested, they can continue to be on the market. Where data has been made publicly available, and where testing data has not been done at the behest or direction of a manufacturer or seller of a cosmetic, that information can be used by a company. There is also the case of what we call mixed-use ingredients: Where an ingredient has been tested for another purpose — for example, under another part of the Food and Drugs Act to ensure the safety of a drug — that data can be used by a cosmetic manufacturer to demonstrate the safety.

Senator Dasko: And foreign imports that have been tested on animals will not be permitted?

Mr. Price: They would not be permitted to be sold in Canada if they do not satisfy any of those exemptions; that’s correct.

Senator Dasko: Okay.

It’s hard not to think laterally here because I’m listening to all of the questions with respect to NHPs. Are any of the provisions that are related to NHPs relevant for cosmetics?

Mr. Price: Sorry. Are you referring to the provisions under Vanessa’s Law?

Senator Dasko: Yes.

Mr. Price: I’m not as familiar with that proposal, so I’m not sure.

Senator Dasko: I’m looking for a general response or thoughts.

Ms. Page: If I may, I can provide an answer.

Right now, there are two sets of regulations. They are treated differently.

Senator Dasko: I understand that.

Ms. Page: The idea with the self-care framework I mentioned earlier is to bring the low-risk products under one set of regulations.

Senator Dasko: Right.

Ms. Page: At that point, when that is done, yes, Vanessa’s Law could apply, but we’re not there yet.

Senator Dasko: Do you envision cosmetics coming under the same regime as this?

Ms. Page: Yes, it’s under the self-care framework.

Senator Dasko: What about the labelling of constituents in the products? Are labelling requirements being considered with respect to cosmetics?

Mr. Price: Do you mean in terms of whether a product has been tested on animals?

Senator Dasko: No, I’m just referring to general ingredient labelling requirements.

Mr. Price: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we have a proposal right now in the Canada Gazette, Part I, to more clearly identify the ingredients in cosmetic products in order to align ourselves with other major jurisdictions, such as the European Union.

Senator Dasko: Thank you.

The Chair: Senator Moodie, I will give you back one minute because I took it from you, and I want to be fair.

Senator Moodie: This question is on Division 27. What financial impacts could expanding the definition of “therapeutic products” to include “natural health products” have on the Canadian consumer? What’s the cost of this?

Ms. Page: I would ask Mr. David Lee to return to the table, and perhaps complement my answer. There should not be any additional cost because we’re not changing the regulation to put a product on the market. What we’re doing is applying it to the post-market. For non-compliant companies, we would use the Vanessa’s Law tools, so it shouldn’t change the cost of the product.

Senator Moodie: What additional resources will be required to enforce an expanded definition of “therapeutic products”?

Mr. Lee: Senator, as my colleague just mentioned, the tools are, largely, going to make it more efficient to do something like a recall and to have the discipline. The fines and penalties are a much greater incentive for cooperation. It should expedite on the whole.

Senator Moodie: So you’re not expecting any —

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Moodie. I am sorry; we must bring this panel to an end.

Thank you very much, witnesses, for your testimony and your time. You have enriched our discussion enormously.

We will now proceed to our second panel on Divisions 16, 17, 18 and 19, which deal with amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act and the Citizenship Act.

For our second panel, we welcome officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada: David Chan, Acting Director, Asylum Policy, Performance and Governance Division; Michelle Mascoll, Director General, Resettlement Policy Branch; Peter Christensen, Assistant Director, Social and Discretionary Policy and Programs; and Uyen Hoang, Senior Director, Legislation and Program Policy.

Thank you for being with us today, and for sharing your time and perspectives with us. I will now invite the officials to provide brief opening remarks on the divisions you are speaking to. Mr. Chan will be delivering opening remarks on Division 16; followed by Ms. Mascoll on Division 17; followed by Mr. Christensen on Division 18; and Ms. Hoang on Division 19. You will have three minutes each for your remarks.

David Chan, Acting Director, Asylum Policy, Performance and Governance Division, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada: Good afternoon. My name is David Chan, and I’m the Director of Asylum Policy at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC. My colleagues and I are here to discuss the measures our department has put forward in the budget implementation act.

We will each speak very briefly to outline the four immigration-related measures before you. On Division 16, I will start.

These proposed amendments will help create a statutory framework for online asylum claim applications that are made in Canada — affecting inland claims only, and not port of entry claims. Further use of IRCC’s online portal will reduce processing times compared to paper forms; contribute to timely decision making; and provide claimants with simplified, 24‑7 case tracking.

The goal is to regularize online asylum claim applications in a way that preserves program integrity, while allowing for a more nimble asylum intake process in the post-pandemic environment. Amendments will allow IRCC to make permanent measures — that had been adopted during the pandemic related to online applications — by ensuring that authorities are in place for the minister to specify the documents and information that must be provided as part of a claimant’s online application.

Amendments will also reinforce the requirement that claims for refugee protection in Canada are only considered to be made after the claimant appears in person before an officer. This will ensure that the legal framework reflects both the requirement for online submissions, as well as the requirement for claimants to meet with an officer in person as part of the process.

The in-person requirement provides individuals with an opportunity to formalize their claim following an online submission. It ensures that the requirements and implications of making a claim are well understood, including through the use of an interpreter if necessary. It also helps safeguard program integrity by ensuring that the claimant is in Canada, that required biometrics are collected and that conditional removal orders can be issued and explained to the claimant.

Together, these changes will ensure clear requirements for claimants making online asylum applications, allow asylum system delivery partners to specify what is required — as well as when it is required and through what means — and lead to a more straightforward approach to intake for inland claims.

The Chair: Thank you. Ms. Mascoll, the floor is yours.

Michelle N. Mascoll, Director General, Resettlement Policy Branch, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada: Good afternoon. My name is Michelle Mascoll, and I’m the Director General of Resettlement Policy at IRCC.

With regard to Division 17, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program allows groups of Canadians and permanent residents to identify eligible refugees for resettlement to Canada. Once they arrive, sponsor groups provide settlement and income support to their sponsored refugee family.

Section 87.3 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act currently allows the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to issue special instructions regarding the processing of certain permanent resident applications and requests. Through Division 17 of the budget implementation act, we are seeking to clarify that these authorities also apply to applications under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program.

This would provide the minister with the ability to manage inventory; address large and growing backlogs; and reduce processing times. It would also, in the longer term, bring the number of applications in line with the admission targets outlined in the Immigration Levels Plan.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you. Mr. Christensen, the floor is yours.

Peter Christensen, Assistant Director, Social and Discretionary Policy and Programs, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada: Good afternoon. My name is Peter Christensen, and I’m the Assistant Director in the Social and Humanitarian Immigration Policy and Programs Branch at IRCC.

For Division 18, we are proposing amendments to the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act to further strengthen the regime governing the provision of immigration and citizenship advice and representation for consideration.

The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act establishes a statutory framework for the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants to regulate the immigration and citizenship consultants profession in Canada. The act took effect in 2019, with the college opening as a regulator in November 2021.

Both IRCC and the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants have noted areas where the legislation could be strengthened, such as the college’s complaints and discipline processes; immunity against proceedings for damages for directors, employees, agents and mandataries of the college; the college’s ability to enter into information-sharing agreements or arrangements; and the college’s ability to make bylaws in areas pertaining to its operations. These changes will enable the college to more effectively govern its licensees to the highest professional standards.


In Division 18, we propose amendments to the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act to strengthen the system governing the provision of immigration and citizenship advice and representation.

The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act establishes a legislative framework for the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants to regulate the profession of immigration and citizenship consultant in Canada. The act came into force in 2019, and the college opened its doors as a regulator in November 2021.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants both identified areas where legislation could be reinforced, specifically the college’s complaint and disciplinary process; the scope of immunity granted to the college’s directors, employees and mandataries in terms of liability for damages; the power of the college to conclude agreements or arrangements to share information; and the college’s power to pass by-laws in the areas related to its activities.

These changes will allow the college to govern its licensees more effectively, according to the highest professional standards.

Thank you.


Uyen Hoang, Senior Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada: Good afternoon. My name is Uyen Hoang, and I’m the Senior Director for Citizenship Legislation and Program Policy at IRCC. I am here today to summarize the proposed legislative changes to the Citizenship Act to modernize the Citizenship program.

Unlike immigration programs, the Citizenship program has limited authorities to operate electronically, leaving us reliant on paper-based and manual processing. The Citizenship program is also the only federal program that screens clients for criminality using name-based searches instead of biometrics.

The proposed legislative amendments will address these gaps so that we can build a world-class program that delivers a vastly improved client service.

The amendments to the Citizenship Act would enable electronic administration of the Citizenship program; automated and machine-assisted processing; and collection and use of biometric information.

The proposed amendments are intended to enable the Citizenship program to make faster decisions on applications, better meet the needs of clients and respond to the growing demand for citizenship.

Thank you. I would be pleased to answer your questions now.

The Chair: Thank you very much. You were remarkably efficient in your time. That’s a lot for this committee. I am sure there will be many questions. Colleagues, I’m going to have to monitor the time very carefully. Our first question goes to Deputy Chair Cordy.

Senator Cordy: I think you all get a gold star from the chair today. I would like to ask my questions about the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, Ms. Mascoll.

In relation to the Syrian refugees who came over a few years ago, I thought it was very successful in Nova Scotia. There were church groups, service groups and individuals involved. When you have agencies or groups of people coming together, you tend to raise money within the community. More importantly, you can follow up with the family to see if they need anything, or if they have questions.

How successful was it? I’ll speak specifically about the Syrian refugees, but perhaps you could include other programs similar to this that have taken place, as well as the success or concerns that we should be looking at so that it continues.

Ms. Mascoll: Operation Syrian Refugees, from a private sponsorship angle, was incredibly successful. It was amazing to see communities and Canadians rally together to support it through private sponsorship.

This program is one of our successful programs. Through Division 17, we’re looking to manage applications and take in a few so that the wait times are a lot shorter for refugee applicants.

Right now, because there is no intake cap, it does contribute to the growing backlog. With the ability to control and limit the applications that we receive, we’ll bring it in line with the levels planned. That will help create more stability and more predictability for sponsors and refugees alike in terms of processing timelines.

Senator Cordy: How will you do that?

Ms. Mascoll: The first step — through the budget implementation act — is to receive the authority to do so. Once we have that authority, we’re going to work closely with stakeholders to develop strategies that will allow us to manage the application intake. The first step is receiving the authority. Then, we will work closely to determine the best approach for it; that is to come.

Senator Cordy: You’re absolutely right; the frustrations were due to the wait times — waiting in another country to come over. That’s really good news to hear.

My next question is related to the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants. With the change in the law, it says that a report will be submitted to the minister on the college’s activities. Who will read these reports when they are submitted? If you’re writing a report, you want follow-up — whether it’s good or bad. What do you see the follow-up being?

Mr. Christensen: Thank you for the questions, senator. The college is required to submit a report on an annual basis covering the preceding fiscal year. That report is submitted to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who then tables that report in Parliament. There will be that level of oversight through the report being tabled in Parliament.

Senator Cordy: It will be public, which is really good, but will anybody within the department say, “This has to be changed and that has to be changed” or “Could you tweak this or that?”

Mr. Christensen: Having been involved in receiving — both under the college and, prior to the college, under the previous regulator which was the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, or ICCRC — they were submitting annual reports to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. I can confirm that within the department, those reports are read, looked at and analyzed — and, depending on the nature of what is in the report, conclusions are potentially drawn. I can confirm that they are looked at.

Senator Cordy: Who initially develops the programs? Is it the college or the department?

Mr. Christensen: Sorry, which programs are you referring to?

Senator Cordy: The programs for the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants.

Mr. Christensen: The college has the authority to regulate immigration and citizenship consultants under both the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Citizenship Act. The college acts as an arm’s-length regulator, so the college regulates its members, and the members provide immigration and citizenship advice and representation for both the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Citizenship Act. IRCC also has a degree of oversight over the college through things like receiving the annual report, but IRCC has additional oversight powers under the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act.

Senator Cordy: Thank you.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for your presentations. My questions are about Division 19, so perhaps you can answer my questions, Ms. Hoang.

The briefing note that we’ve received from the department talks about the ability to electronically administer and enforce the Citizenship program, including the use of automation and machine-assisted decision making. My understanding is that these new authorities indicate that the program can leverage technology and artificial intelligence, or AI, to improve client service, specifically around applications that are low risk and routine.

How would you define “low risk” and “routine,” and what kind of automation tools are used? What are the potential unintended consequences? We all know that there can be serious unintended consequences when using automation or AI.

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the questions, senator. To answer your question about how we define “low risk,” the Citizenship program has a high approval rate. It is a program where it’s very facilitative. Most applicants who apply meet the requirements to become new citizens.

We are trying to give ourselves the authority to leverage technology in order to facilitate the processing of those applications much faster than we do today. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, unlike the immigration programs, we are the only program within IRCC that doesn’t have the ability to leverage technology the same way that other programs do.

With the new technology, we will be able to leverage automation for the electronic administration of the program. In regard to what it means and to provide you with an example, one of the key capabilities that we will look to use is the tools that enable us to triage applications better.

Right now, this is a very manual and paper-based process. We would like to apply tools that will help us sort the applications into different categories, and send them to the appropriate officers with the specific areas of expertise required to process those applications based on the level of scrutiny that is required.

As with all automation, there are concerns with respect to privacy, bias and accuracy in terms of how we do things. The department has a long-standing reputation of being able to collect personal information, including biometrics, and to safeguard those appropriately.

Once we have the authorities, we will proceed very cautiously and incrementally to ensure that we identify any bias in the system as we move along, and address any issues that come forward. It is not new in terms of what we are trying to do. The other immigration programs have been doing this for a long time now, so we will have a lot of experience and lessons learned from those programs that we can apply in our case.

Senator Seidman: Thank you.

Senator Osler: I’m going to follow up on the technology question asked by Senator Seidman.

Ms. Hoang, could you please clarify the biometric information that will be collected, such as fingerprints, digital photos and any other biometrics? And what steps, processes and procedures will be put into place to ensure the privacy, security and protection of the information that is collected?

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the questions.

Currently, we screen applicants using a name-based approach; we send names and dates of birth — biodata more or less — to the RCMP to do their criminal screening. Moving forward, we are seeking the authorities to collect fingerprints to allow us to conduct identity management in a more efficient and effective manner, and to do our criminal screening.

In terms of the process that would be put in place, again, we will very much leverage the lessons learned and the experiences of our immigration programs. They have been doing this for a while now. It’s not something new that we’re going to be undertaking as a department.

We will follow all policy and privacy directions that have been put forward in terms of how we safeguard the program. We don’t expect to encounter major challenges in terms of how we can implement this program.

Senator Osler: I would like a quick clarification: Am I to understand that there will be no digital photos — the information that will be submitted includes text and fingerprints, but not photos?

Ms. Hoang: Sorry, yes, it includes photos as well. Digital photos will be collected, but we also collect photos right now. Moving forward, we will be collecting digital photos.

Senator Osler: Thank you.

Senator Kutcher: Thank you very much to you all for being with us. My question will be for Mr. Christensen. It’s a slight tangent on the issue of the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants.

My office has had numerous concerns brought to us recently by students from abroad regarding fraudulent acceptance into Canadian post-secondary institutions — where they were issued student visas, and then they arrived to find out that the institution into which they were accepted had not accepted them. They are left trying to find another institution or find other work, or they disappear.

This is all done by educational consultants. The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants is a really good idea. Is IRCC aware of this problem with the students, student visas and educational consultants? Have you looked into it? Do you have any plans to regulate educational consultants?

Mr. Christensen: Thanks very much for your questions, senator.

The specific issue you’re speaking about is certainly something that I am aware of. It’s not something that I have direct interaction with, so I can’t speak about what is exactly happening within IRCC more broadly. I can definitely indicate it’s something that people are well aware of.

With regard to the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants, the college’s mandate extends to the activities of immigration and citizenship consultants which arise from the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and from the Citizenship Act. They regulate the provision of advice and representation, including for study permit applications.

The college also does the following: In situations where an immigration consultant is also involved in, let’s say, providing education or labour recruitment services, they require — in their code of conduct — the licensee of the college to disclose to the client that they are providing those services. They require that they obey all applicable laws that pertain to recruitment, and they require that they don’t take a fee from the client for those recruitment services.

At this point, we’re not contemplating having the college expand into regulating areas like education recruitment because it’s provincial jurisdiction, and the college’s authority is limited to what is directly linked to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Citizenship Act.

Senator Kutcher: Thank you.

Senator McPhedran: My question is directed to Ms. Mascoll, please — it’s good to see you again — and my question is regarding Division 17.

I’m interested in better understanding why and how giving the minister this additional authority will help people who need to come to Canada.

I can see how it helps civil servants; I can see how it makes it easier for a minister. I’m having a really hard time seeing how it helps people in desperate need who are trying to leave humanitarian crises — such as what we saw with Afghanistan, what we’re seeing right now with Sudan and what we’ll undoubtedly see more of in the future.

Ms. Mascoll: Thank you for the question. I think the first thing to clarify is that the number of privately sponsored refugees that we bring to Canada is established separately through the Immigration Levels Plan. The targets we have for the year are set through that process.

This is what we’re trying to achieve: bring in the number of applications that we receive to make it consistent with the levels planned. For the number that we’re bringing in for a year, that would allow us to match applications to that — and they would have more predictability in terms of how long they have to wait to come to Canada. One of the friction points that we hear often is that the wait times are very long, and that it is very challenging to be abroad and waiting.

We’re trying to manage the application process, and manage the processing element only.

The number that we bring in will always be a separate process through the Immigration Levels Plan. In regard to the intake, this will, sort of, cap the number of applications that are received so that we can offer more predictability in terms of how long processing will take.

Senator McPhedran: If I’m understanding that correctly, there may be an improvement in the system, but it also has the potential to exclude many people who still need to come here. The cap stops the process, and, to be frank, I find that very troubling. If I’m understanding your answer, we’re looking at a situation where there is a modest increase in private sponsorships at the same time as there is a fairly substantial decrease in the plan for accepting refugees.

Overall, how does this help desperate people who need to come to this country and meet our criteria?

Ms. Mascoll: Thank you for the question. Keeping it separate from the levels planned, effectively what we’re trying to offer — in terms of help — is the predictability of how long it will take. It involves fully understanding that the number, or volume, which is managed separately through the Immigration Levels Plan, is a separate process — but, specifically for the ministerial instructions, we’re just looking to manage the intake of applications.

It’s a twofold process. However, it’s very separate and distinct from the number of refugees that are brought in — that is determined through the Immigration Levels Plan. Through this, we’re not looking at the Immigration Levels Plan at all. We’re just trying to manage how many applications we receive.

And to note, there are three categories of private sponsors that already exist.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Mascoll. If I may, with your permission Senator Moodie, let me ask a quick question springing off what Senator McPhedran has said.

There are many people in this room, including myself, who have had the experience of being a private sponsor. It was the most empowering and uplifting experience in my life. I still say it’s the best thing I have ever done.

I sponsored government-assisted refugees. They are hard to sponsor — it was a family of 12, including 8 children and 2 sisters. They are doing brilliantly. They have their citizenships. They have a house. They have work. They are the best thing that happened in my life on an individual level.

And I note from your remarks that government-assisted refugees are going to experience a drop in their numbers — dropping from 23,550 to 15,250 in 2025. These are the hardest to resettle. This is where the government and citizens say, “We’re going to work together.” It’s a public-private partnership in the most impactful and effective way. Can you explain this to me?

Ms. Mascoll: Speaking of the targets for the government-assisted refugees, those were established through the levels planned. That is determined by looking at a number of factors. With that particular one, it has been established. That’s done every year annually, and the targets are set by taking a number of factors into consideration. These ministerial instructions are separate and distinct from the Government-Assisted Refugees program.

The Chair: It says in my notes that the numbers will decrease, and I think I am right in reading the immigration plan appropriately. Perhaps you can get back to us in writing about the policy rationale behind the reduction of government-assisted refugees.

Ms. Mascoll: Yes, absolutely.

Senator Moodie: I’m going to focus on you again, Ms. Mascoll; my apologies. It is lovely to see you here today. What other methods of addressing long processing times have been attempted by IRCC, and why have these methods failed? Since refugees are coming from incredibly difficult circumstances, limiting applications seems to be a fairly harsh option. Why are you resorting to capping — limiting the numbers — and how can you ensure that, even if you do this, your processing time is going to meet service standards?

Ms. Mascoll: Thank you for the questions. In terms of the processing of privately sponsored refugee applications, we’ve already begun leveraging digital solutions. As of December 2022, we’ve started using automated tools and processes to intake, manage and process sponsorship applications. We will soon be starting a digital intake mechanism for the Private Sponsorship of Refugees applications. Our hope is that both of these tools will be more efficient and timely in application processing. We’re also working on processing capacity. We are increasing the number of decision makers in the program and, again, using new technology to take advantage of excess capacity in the system. For example, in the past, if there was somebody residing in Kenya who was privately sponsored, their entire application would be processed in Nairobi, but now we are leveraging the entire network to process that application and make it move a little bit faster. That could be processed by an officer in London or in Manila; it depends on the capacity of those offices. We’re trying to take the entire system and put them to work in order to speed up the processing. We’ve tried that, and it’s improving.

I will also note that for privately sponsored refugee applications through memoranda of understanding, we currently limit the number of applications that sponsorship agreement holders can submit. There are two other categories of private sponsors: groups of five and community sponsors. At the moment, there is no way to limit that. We’re trying to have the same consistency across the board for all potential private sponsors. Thank you.

Senator Bernard: Ms. Hoang, the question I have for you is around the issue of bias using AI. If you consider the history of using AI and other digital technologies in industry — for example, in the recruitment industry — there have been lots of examples where particular racial groups, or groups of individuals, have been excluded as potential candidates for jobs because inherent bias is built into the digital process. How are you going to avoid that? You’re going to be using the exact same technology at some point. What monitoring are you going to put in place that ensures racialized people, as well as people of certain minorities and groups, are not going to be excluded in your digital program?

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question, senator. The authorities that we are seeking will allow us to use machine-assisted decision making. What that means is it will facilitate the decision-making process for officers, but it will not make the decision for the officers. In terms of the application process, we’re looking to make sure that we roll this out in a very gradual, phased approach in order to ensure that safeguards are put in place along the way to identify any type of bias — and for us to address those biases when they’re identified.

Senator Moodie: I don’t mean to interrupt you, but triage suggests, to me, that you’re going to start weeding people out along the way.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Moodie, but we’ll have to hold that question.

Senator Burey: Thank you so much for coming and for being here today. I know that you’re in the hot spot under the lights, but we just want to ensure that we understand what is happening.

I’m going to return to Division 17, Ms. Mascoll, because I’m having difficulty understanding how setting a cap is going to make you more efficient. Is it due to resource allocation? You said that the actual number is already decided by the Immigration Levels Plan. How is capping or setting a number going to reduce wait times? That’s what I would like to know.

Ms. Mascoll: Right now, because there is no cap, there is no limit on the number of applications that could be received. In a given year, we have a target of landings, and if the number of applications exceeds that, it carries on into the following year — that backlog grows. We’re trying to have a bit of predictability: The applications we receive should enable us to meet the targets of the number of landings and the levels planned so that the backlog doesn’t continue to grow year after year, as well as delay their ability to land in Canada.

Senator Burey: Thank you. Is there a scenario where you could reduce the number of applicants? Right now, the minister has the authority to set the number. Is there a scenario where you could reduce the level lower than the immigration levels planned? No — it sounded something like that, but I’m just asking.

Ms. Mascoll: We haven’t designed what that could look like as of yet. Could a scenario potentially exist? We’d have to explore if that could be done, and what the conditions for that would be — and do the full assessment before implementing it. For now, we’re still working through strategies. Since we work very closely with stakeholders, they hold us accountable for our decision on what we put forward.

Senator Burey: So that’s a “no.” Okay. Thank you.

Senator Bernard: Two of my questions have been asked and answered, but I’m also very interested in the issue of bias. I’m going to give my time to Senator Moodie so that she can continue the line of questioning around bias.

The Chair: That’s very gracious.

Senator Moodie: You described it as a triage process. That implies, to me, that the technology will conduct some of the triage, and what is presented to the officer will be a reduced number. Am I correct in that understanding?

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question, senator. I apologize if I had misled you in terms of explaining what triaging will do.

What I was trying to explain was that we would leverage technology to allow us to triage applications electronically, but not reduce the number of applications. They would essentially be able to sort the applications into different bins, if you will, or categories, and divert them to officers with certain types of expertise depending on the level of scrutiny that is required. There will be no negative decisions made by a machine. The triage process is simply sorting and directing the applications to the appropriate officers.

Currently, it is a manual process. An officer would manually look at an application to determine whether or not it is complete. We are hoping that a machine will help us go through the application and be able to determine that it is complete. In terms of where it goes next, again, it is currently a manual process — with technology, we will be able to move that along a lot faster.

Senator Moodie: This is my follow-up question: How are you going to ensure that your officers don’t have biases? That would be the issue that many recruitment officers in industry have when they see a certain type of person — when they recognize it by name, or a candidate appears and they are of a certain minority background, unconscious bias takes place.

How are you going to ensure that your officers don’t — even when they are triaged out, and then receive a bin of individuals or women who are best perceived as a problem group?

Ms. Hoang: As I mentioned earlier, the program is a highly facilitative program. It has a high approval rate. Leveraging technology is not expected to change the way officers would assess an application; it is to facilitate the movement of the application through the process much faster and more efficiently in order to arrive at a decision faster for clients.

It’s not expected that it would change how an officer would assess the application.


Senator Mégie: I think most of my questions have been answered, except maybe one last one on citizenship ceremonies and their impact on our citizens’ future.

What changed in the way we do things now compared to the past? What changes were made to the exam they have to pass before the ceremony and taking the oath?


Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question, senator.

The authorities that we are seeking today are not intended to change the way we process applications. The key elements will remain, including taking the Oath of Citizenship. It is not intended to impact the ceremony. It is very focused on allowing us to leverage technology in order to apply automation in electronic administration of the Citizenship program, as well as the collection and use of biometrics, which we currently do not have right now, unlike our immigration programs.

With the technology, over time, it is meant to be facilitative with a goal to expedite how we process applications and make it more accessible to citizens, essentially giving them a better client experience.


Senator Mégie: If I understood correctly, once they’ve received everything electronically, it’s done and that cuts down on wait times?


Ms. Hoang: The details in terms of how we will leverage technology will be worked out following the passing of this set of legislative amendments. Once the legislative amendments are passed, we will turn our attention to developing the regulatory proposals that are required to set up the framework regarding how we will implement the automation and the electronic administration of the program, as well as the collection and use of biometrics.

If I understand your question correctly, senator, you’re asking the following: Once all of the information is collected, will that then be processed much faster? Through technology, we will be able to, for example, validate right away that we have a complete package of information right off the bat instead of going back and forth with the applicants, which is what we currently do now, in order to ensure that we have all the information available for us to assess their application.

There will be opportunities throughout the application process — with technology — where we will be able to facilitate the decision-making process much faster.


Senator Mégie: Thank you.


The Chair: I will ask a clarifying question. Proposed section 28.2(2) will allow for citizenship judges and the Registrar of Canadian Citizenship to conduct their duties by electronic means. In other words, that includes online citizenship ceremonies as well — not just the applications that you’re talking about. That might be in consultation, but that is the plan, I understand.

Could you clarify for me whether I’m correct in understanding these two parts: One is the administration and facilitation of applications through online means, and the other is obtaining citizenship online because the citizenship judge can choose to do so.

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question, Madam Chair.

That proposed section does not apply to citizenship ceremonies. It’s essentially allowing judges and the registrar to leverage technology in the same way officers had to use technology to process the applications.

The Chair: Sorry, but it says in the bill that it will enable them to conduct their duties using electronic means specified by the minister. Help me out here. What does that mean?

Ms. Hoang: I can return to the specific proposed section, senator, and I can confirm that it is not related to the implementation of virtual ceremonies. We currently have the authority to implement virtual ceremonies. As you know, it is currently happening as we speak. This specific legislative change is not related to that.

The Chair: Okay. We’ll explore it further tomorrow with stakeholders.


Senator Petitclerc: My question is for Ms. Hoang. Have you quantified the required resources and cost of the change due to adding technology?

On the one hand, we’re talking about collection, use and verification, but do we know how much it’s all going to cost? On the other hand, can you assure us that if this change leads to additional costs, they won’t be passed on to applicants?


Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question, senator.

In terms of the cost with respect to the automation and the electronic administration components of the legislative authorities that we are seeking, we will be leveraging the departmental digital platform to implement that. That is already built into the work of the department.

With respect to the collection and use of biometrics, we did receive funding through the budget — for both IRCC and the RCMP — for the IT build. Since it is a new component to the program, they will have to build the IT that’s required to implement this aspect of the program.

In terms of the cost, there will be a cost incurred for the applicants. Biometrics will be collected for those 12 years old or older, and there is a cost, as there is right now, in the immigration stream of $85 per person up to $170 per family.

However, the intention is for us to use the biometrics that have already been submitted in the last 10 years. We expect that most applicants who are coming for citizenship would have already enrolled their biometrics with IRCC through one of the immigration programs. If that is the case, they will not have to resubmit again.


Senator Petitclerc: Thank you.


Senator Dasko: My first question is for Ms. Mascoll.

I’m interested in the Ukrainians who have been displaced by the war. I know that we sometimes refer to them as refugees when, in fact, technically speaking, they’re not actually in the refugee program. Can you tell me if those numbers are included in the Immigration Levels Plan — the number of Ukrainians that we’re taking in? Can you describe how that works?

Ms. Mascoll: In regard to that one, I think I’ll have to come back. I don’t have the specifics as to whether they were captured in the Immigration Levels Plan, so perhaps we can come back with that one.

Senator Dasko: You’re not sure whether they’re included — is that what you’re saying?

Ms. Mascoll: Yes.

Senator Dasko: Thank you. I look forward to hearing back from you on that.

My next question is for Ms. Hoang. It’s the same question that Senator Seidman had with respect to who the low-risk applicants are that you are interested in regarding this program. Can you describe who they are?

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question. I wouldn’t be able to give you a general description of who these individuals are, but, as I mentioned earlier, this is a highly facilitative program with a very high approval rate. Generally speaking, we are seeing that most applications are considered low risk and very routine. That is why we would very much like the authority to leverage technology to process the applications much faster than we are today.

Senator Dasko: You’re saying that almost all of the applicants are already low risk. Is that what I’m understanding?

Ms. Hoang: I wouldn’t say it’s almost all of them, but I would say there is a very high rate. About 90% or more of applications, generally speaking, are considered to be low risk.

Senator Dasko: You have variables that you measure that would trigger the low-risk category, and then other data points that would trigger a higher risk. What would those variables and data points be?

Ms. Hoang: That would be within the responsibility of my operations colleagues in terms of how they categorize and consider low risk and high risk. The percentage I’m sharing with you is the result of the applications — specifically, which applications are accepted and, therefore, become new citizens. Generally speaking, we’re seeing a very high acceptance rate, as this is a very facilitative program. The end result is that most applications we process are considered low risk and routine.

Senator Dasko: Okay, I think, but some aren’t. Do you have any information that you could share with us right now as to who might not be low risk? Are they people from particular countries, age groups, gender or any other demographics?

The Chair: I believe, Senator Dasko, that we must ask Ms. Hoang to respond to us in writing if possible.

Ms. Hoang: Yes, I can endeavour to follow up in writing. This is very much something that would be in the purview of my operations colleagues in terms of what they consider to be higher risk.

Senator Dasko: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

Let me follow up with a few brief questions. My colleagues know that I occupy this space, so they will forgive me. My first question is for Ms. Hoang. There have been moments in our history where citizenship has been sold on the streets as a commodity. I think we all know what I’m referring to. The integrity of the system must be protected.

What measures are you putting in place to prevent online fraud?

Ms. Hoang: Thank you for the question, Madam Chair. As we move forward with the implementation of this program by leveraging technology, we will be leveraging the department’s digital platform. There is an entire team that oversees the work of this modernization. It’s a Government of Canada effort, as a matter of fact, that has oversight from the Treasury Board. It’s not only our program that would be impacted. If you’re looking at fraud, it would be fraud writ large for all types of immigration programs. My expectation is that colleagues who are experts in this field will ensure that they follow the proper protocols and procedures as they relate to policy, legal and privacy to ensure that fraud is detected and addressed in an appropriate manner.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Christensen, I want to return to Division 18 on immigration consultants. We will hear testimony tomorrow from the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association. We’ve heard from them on this before, so it will be, somewhat, a position that we have heard before, but there is no doubt that the complaints from permanent residents, non-permanent residents, asylum seekers, et cetera, against immigration consultants are there.

My first question is as follows: Do you know if the complaint trend line is going up, going down or steady now that we have a second iteration of the immigration consultants?

My second question to you is this: Could you please describe to us not what this regulation will do to strengthen the capacity of the immigration consultants, but what will it do to protect immigration and citizenship clients?

Mr. Christensen: Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for your questions.

With regard to the first question, I don’t have information specific to the trend line with regard to complaints. I will note that the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants has implemented processes and procedures: One is to separate the complaints that they inherited from the previous regulator — of which there were many, and many of which were very complex — from the more recent complaints, and to handle those two sets of complaints separately to ensure that individuals who filed a recent complaint under the college are also able to have their complaints dealt with.

I’ll also note some of the additional powers that the college has with regard to the complaints process and, more specifically, with regard to the proposed amendments: The college will be able to file a decision of its discipline committee in federal court. That means if a licensee of the college were to not respect a decision of the discipline committee that was filed in federal court, for example, a monetary penalty could result in a finding of contempt of court, which has serious implications, and so will giving added weight to the decisions of the college’s discipline committee, which is the final step of the complaints process. The intent of that particular amendment is to reinforce the complaints process, and to serve as a deterrent to professional misconduct and to the nonpayment of penalties.

With regard to your second question — what it will mean and how it will protect clients — as I just described, the proposed amendment for the college to file decisions of its discipline committee in federal court is an example of something that will benefit clients in that it will serve as a deterrent to professional misconduct among licensees of the college.

The Chair: Sadly, that will have to do, Mr. Christensen.

Thank you very much for attending our committee meeting today.

Senator McPhedran and Senator Osler, I know that you have second-round questions.

Senator McPhedran: How many minutes are left?

The Chair: We have an in camera session that we need to do now. I welcome written questions to the clerk, and we can send them and then receive their answers.

Thank you very much for attending our committee today. Your perspectives and knowledge have helped us better understand these new regulations and these new divisions.

We will continue our meeting in camera for a brief discussion on future business related to this study. Thank you.

(The committee continued in camera.)

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