Cowichan has long been a destination: for Finnish people who moved to the Island to be part of the fishing industry, for war brides who came home with their new husbands after the war, for the many Hindi and Punjabi foresters who came to work as loggers.
So it is no surprise that immigration issues loom large in the casework that my constituency office helps residents with each month.
One issue that is growing is how Service Canada deals with Old Age Security (OAS) applications especially for people who immigrated to Canada a long time ago, or as children, so they do not have landing documents.
Many naturalized Canadians, after years of interaction with government for paying taxes, voting in elections, getting married or getting a student loan, thought their landing documents no longer mattered. But that has changed. Now Service Canada is asking for proof or date of entry into Canada to determine eligibility for the full OAS pension. For those residents whose documents were lost over the years, they must apply to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for replacements, before they apply for their OAS.
That’s where the real problem begins. Recent decisions by the Conservative government to cut the number of government employees and front-line service centres means there are fewer options for Canadians to reach a CIC representative for help. There is no CIC office left on Vancouver Island — the final one closed last year. My office has seen many residents coming in for help because they cannot reach anyone on the phone at CIC and looking for information on the Internet is an unfamiliar or unavailable option.
New Democrats believe that the government does not need extra documentation to determine how long someone has lived in Canada. Especially for naturalized Canadians who have lived here for decades. Like the changes the Conservatives have announced to delay eligibility for OAS until age 67, this is a cynical attempt to deny Canadians the benefits they have worked hard for.
While we have been told that the two departments, CIC and Service Canada, are working on a protocol to ensure they can access information to determine eligibility, that doesn’t help residents who are being denied OAS right now.