May 29, 2008

NDP

Bill Siksay

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Siksay

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his intervention in this important debate because I know it is something that is very important to him.

Indeed, when I was on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and trying to raise this issue, it was often very lonely, but the member for Kitchener--Waterloo was always supportive of the efforts. In fact, at one point he and I were the only ones on that committee who were willing to support this kind of measure. I want to thank him for being willing to be outspoken and take that important stand, as he often does in this place.

The member raises important points about Canada needing to walk the walk and not just talk the talk on important issues; to walk the walk and not just talk the talk on our commitment to multilateralism and on our commitment to the United Nations.

We need to be very clear to do what Canadians expect of us. When they so resoundingly supported the decision not to enter the war in Iraq, when in fact we may easily say that they led that decision not to enter the war in Iraq. It was very clear that Canadian public opinion was not supportive even before the government announced its decision not to participate. Therefore, I think it is very important.

This report today and a concurrence vote in the House of Commons supporting this report would be a very dramatic, clear and important way that the House of Commons could show that Canadians are prepared to look at the full implications of that appropriate stand against the war in Iraq, and make sure that our domestic policies around who gets into Canada and gets to stay here reflect that commitment against the illegal war in Iraq that so many people around the world now know was a tragic mistake. So many Americans now agree that it was a tragic mistake and a decision taken under false pretenses by the American president and the American government.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
LIB

Sue Barnes

Liberal

Hon. Sue Barnes (London West, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, this motion refers to conscientious objectors and I will tell the member up front I am prepared to support this motion. I think it is one that many of us will be prepared to support.

I wish to question the member because the term “war resister” is used in the media and it is used by many people. The definition of “war resister” and what the motion says about a conscientious objector, to me, and particularly the latter term, is more constrained. It has a legal meaning.

Would the member like to elaborate on whether he sees any difference or whether these two terms are interchangeable? I think this is important to the discussion in order not to mislead people.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
NDP

Bill Siksay

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Siksay

Mr. Speaker, the concern has arisen and the reason we are discussing this report today is specifically because of American citizens who were in the American armed forces and made a decision of conscience not to participate further in the war in Iraq. They have refused redeployment to Iraq and, as such, are resisters of that particular war.

However, they are at the same time conscientious objectors and many of them have actually engaged the conscientious objection process in the American military, unsuccessfully unfortunately. When we listen to the stories of how that process unfolded for many of them, it is hard to believe that the articulate and deeply held convictions that they brought to those commissions and the requests for conscientious objector status were not heard by the American authorities making those decisions.

These are people who are incredibly surprised at the position they find themselves in. These are not unpatriotic Americans in that sense. These are not people who held a low opinion of the American armed forces. They are people who, through a long period of struggle, came to a very important decision in their own lives and are now seeking our support to honour that very difficult decision they came to and to protect their lives.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
CPC

Ed Komarnicki

Conservative

Mr. Ed Komarnicki (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the first question I posed was whether the persons contemplated in the motion are the types who would have applied under our refugee protection legislation and the answer was yes, they would have gone through that process. As the hon. member mentioned in his speech, there is a process of course in the United States, a due process for conscientious objectors.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in the handbook, calls for consideration of whether a resister was drafted or joined the army voluntarily and those coming to Canada now have volunteered for military service, just as the member for Edmonton Centre has indicated.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has indicated that Canada is really a model to the rest of the world in terms of the refugee protection system that it has. Of course, it is intended to protect refugees who genuinely fear persecution, the threat of torture and, in certain cases, death. It is for that purpose that we have the system.

We have a board that hears the refugee application and all of the circumstances related to it. In the event of a negative decision, the decision of the board can be appealed with leave to the Federal Court of Appeal and, if leave is granted, can be heard at the Federal Court of Appeal. In fact, if that process is gone through and there is a negative decision in the Federal Court, an appeal can be made to the Supreme Court of Canada for a decision on that as well.

We know that many have gone through that process and have received negative decisions. Then our refugee protection due process allows for applications to be made under humanitarian and compassionate grounds. In many cases, applications have been made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and on more than one occasion all of the factors that may apply to the case or have an issue of compassion to it are presented and heard. In the event of a negative decision in that case, there is also an opportunity to apply for a pre-removal risk assessment before the person is returned to his or her country after all of that due process.

Indeed, legislation has been proposed and is going through the Senate with respect to a refugee appeal division, which is another layer of process. This does not happen at the same time but at various times, to such a point that some cases take years to complete and the confidence of the system starts to be called into question.

Through this report, the opposition would have the government allow a small and discrete group of people to completely bypass both the refugee determination process and our system of judicial review, both of which have uniformly rejected their claims of being in need of protection. Not only does the opposition want us to allow a shortcut around the refugee system, it would have the government create a special queue jumping loophole in our immigration process to allow these people to stay here legally while they flout the laws of their own country and renege on their voluntary commitments.

Right now, Canada has a fair, internationally recognized system for providing refuge to those fleeing persecution. We are committed to protecting refugees. However, Canadians want a refugee system that helps true refugees. This means we must ensure the system is there for those who genuinely need it.

There is no compelling reason to undermine the integrity, the fairness, and the consistency of our immigration and refugee protection programs in order to provide a special and unique benefit to the claimants that are referred to in the motion.

That said, I would therefore move:

That the House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

The motion is in order. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Yea.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Nay.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Citizenship and Immigration
Permalink

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:) Vote #118


NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

The House will now resume debate on the concurrence motion and we find ourselves in questions and comments following the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
NDP

Bill Siksay

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the parliamentary secretary because I do find his remarks to be of great concern.

The parliamentary secretary went on about the various processes that he says are available to people like the war resisters. He talked about the conscientious objection process that is available in the American military. He talked about our refugee process here. It is the failure of those processes that led us to this very motion today. It is the fact that they do not work, and they have not worked, to protect people of conscience. That clearly has been the experience of people who came to Canada.

He also made an incredible statement, that the proposed legislation on the refugee appeal division was now before the Senate. The parliamentary secretary knows that is part of the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and what is before the Senate is a bill calling on the government to implement legislation that has already been passed by the House of Commons and the Senate, which is an outrageous statement in itself.

If this process has the integrity that the parliamentary secretary says it does, why did the government move to disallow any consideration of the legality of the war in Iraq from the process? Why do thousands and thousands of Canadians want to see a particular process that would allow war resisters to remain in Canada because they are people of conscience?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

Before I recognize the hon. parliamentary secretary, I would ask those who are standing having a conversation very close to him and who will be in the range of the camera to get out of the way. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
CPC

Ed Komarnicki

Conservative

Mr. Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Speaker, I would pose a question to the member in return. If there is a process in the country of origin that has not been used, should it not first be used to ensure that the due process that exists is applied for and followed?

It is not so much an issue of a failure of process. We have a number of processes and I have outlined them: a hearing before a board and potentially an appeal from the board; leave to appeal to the Federal Court; an appeal to the Federal Court; an application to the Supreme Court; a humanitarian and compassionate grounds application, more than once; a pre-removal risk assessment. If a person receives a negative decision, at some point the person has to respect that. What the member is saying is that if they do not like a decision, they would like a program developed to add yet another layer to ensure that they could succeed, if that is what they want. It is not a failure of process. Adding another layer to the process certainly is not what is necessary.

The court has ruled on this issue saying that someone who, during his or her time in the military, develops an objection after he or she has volunteered is not entitled to refugee protection as we know it. There is a process that should be followed.

Does the member not agree that the process should be followed? At some point, when a negative decision is received, one would expect the person to respect the negative decision and leave the country.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
NDP

Olivia Chow

New Democratic Party

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status” states in paragraph 171:

--the type of military action, with which an individual does not wish to be associated, is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct, punishment for desertion or draft-evasion could, in light of all other requirements of the definition, in itself be regarded as persecution.

That is the definition used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Why is Canada, under the Conservative government, refusing to follow the guidelines of the UNHCR, where it says very clearly that by this kind of definition it is seen as a persecution? That is why these conscientious objectors or war resisters should be allowed to stay. Obviously our refugee system does not--

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
CPC

Ed Komarnicki

Conservative

Mr. Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Speaker, the definition of what a refugee is or is not is well defined in our law and it has been interpreted by a variety of courts. The definition is well settled in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR has stated that our system is a model system for the rest of the world in terms of its generosity, its fairness, and the broadness of its extent.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees handbook calls for the consideration of whether a resister was drafted or joined the army voluntarily. Those now coming to Canada volunteered for military service. When one volunteers and then later develops some objection, that in and of itself would not allow the person to qualify as a refugee in the true sense as it is meant to mean and as it is defined. In fact, a number of individuals had the benefit of the interpretation not only by a board, but the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Canada also commented on these issues. The handbook makes a distinction and for good reason.

At some point, as I have said, when a person goes through the process, he or she either fits the category or does not. If the person fails and receives a negative decision, our generous system has other options. There are other processes that can be used to determine, notwithstanding that, could an application still be made on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. A full hearing is entitled and on some occasions more than once.

At some point with all of these existing processes, due process must prevail. When a negative decision is received, at some point it needs to be respected. That is primarily the point we are making. It is a point that not only is well made but it is an important point if we want to ensure the continued integrity of our system and if we want to have the support of Canadians who want to see a system that is not only respected but is followed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
LIB

Andrew Telegdi

Liberal

Hon. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary did not answer the question posed to him by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, which related to the refugee appeal division. The refugee appeal division is in legislation. What it takes now is enactment.

Will the parliamentary secretary please acknowledge that being the reality?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink
CPC

Ed Komarnicki

Conservative

Mr. Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the refugee appeal division is provided for and is something that would require enactment. That essentially is what the bill allows. It is another layer put forward by members that would extend the whole process by an additional five months. Presently it sometimes takes five, six or seven years to determine the outcome of a specific case. By adding another layer and not fixing the rest, all we would be doing is simply adding more time to a process that is already not proceeding as efficiently as it should. That process will be there.

In addition to all the existing processes and that process, this motion is asking for yet another process. If a negative decision is received, it could be appealed with leave to the Federal Court of Appeal and perhaps the Supreme Court of Canada. This would be yet another layer in a due process system that already takes years, not months. That simply is not appropriate.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Permalink

May 29, 2008