House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Miramichi, NB

moved that Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals), be read the first time.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to present to the House a bill that was recently approved by the Senate. It has been an ongoing issue in terms of Parliament and I am sure the members will want to deal with it as soon as possible.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I move that sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Monday, October 2, 2006, be concurred in.

I want to read the report, which consists of a motion passed at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. On Thursday, September 28, and pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee adopted the following motion regarding the remaining 140 stateless Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines. The motion reads:

WHEREAS, until recently, 2,000 forgotten Vietnamese refugees remained stateless in the Philippines for over a decade and half without being given any status;

WHEREAS, this group of Vietnamese refugees represents the last group of “boat people” from Vietnam, stranded in limbo since 1989;

WHEREAS, Australia, the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States have recognized these people as refugees and resettled the majority of them;

WHEREAS, Canada agreed to take up to 200 of these Vietnamese refugees;

WHEREAS, only 23 individuals from eight families qualified to come to Canada under the programme announced by the previous government;

WHEREAS, 140 individuals are left behind without a durable solution after 17 years of displacement and statelessness;

WHEREAS, Canada had a remarkable record for the resettlement of Vietnamese “boat people”;

WHEREAS, Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada as part of that important refugee movement have integrated well into Canada society and, as Canadian citizens, make important contributions to our communities;

WHEREAS, many Canadians including members of the Vietnamese Community in Canada are willing and able to be private sponsors for these 140 individuals;

WHEREAS, Canada accepts some 30,000 refugees annually and already has in place humanitarian and compassionate programs that would allow the resettlement of these individuals;

WHEREAS, the Vietnamese refugees remaining in the Philippines meet the criteria set under the ‘Country of Asylum’ class of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which requires that the applicant:

Be outside his/her country of citizenship;

Has been affected by civil war or armed conflict;

or Has suffered violations of human rights;

Has no possibility, within a reasonable period of time, of having a durable solution; and

Be privately sponsored.

WHEREAS, under Section 25(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration also has the power to grant permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds;

THEREFORE, The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration requests the following:

1. The Honourable Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to allow the urgent resettlement in Canada of the remaining 140 Vietnamese refugees stranded in the Philippines on humanitarian and compassionate grounds under the ‘Country of Asylum’ class or using Section 25(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or via some other mechanism;

2. During this process, these individuals be required to undergo normal procedures like all other refugees admitted into Canada;

3. The Honourable Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to respond, in writing, to members of this Committee, within a reasonable period of time, the overall result of Canada’s efforts in providing a durable solution to this last group of ”boat people” from Vietnam

That is the full text of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration regarding the situation of stateless Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines.

The committee looked into this very carefully over the course of two parliaments, both in the previous 38th Parliament and in this the 39th Parliament.

The situation of Vietnamese refugees stranded in the Philippines was first brought to the attention of the standing committee during the 38th Parliament. At that time, representatives of the Vietnamese Canadian community and Vietnamese communities in other countries, appeared before the committee to ask us to advocate for Canada's assistance to these people.

Representatives of these committees appeared before the standing committee again in this Parliament on May 31, 2006. When they first appeared, approximately 2,000 Vietnamese refugees were in the Philippines, people who had fled Vietnam at the end of the war. Many of these people had left Vietnam in exactly the same circumstances as Vietnamese boat people refugees, many of whom are resettled in Canada.

Unfortunately for these 2,000 people, they missed the provisions of the United Nations comprehensive plan of action, the United Nations sponsored resettlement program that saw over 500,000 Vietnamese refugees settled in 74 countries around the world. It was under the auspices of this program that Canada resettled 145,000 Vietnamese boat people refugees in this country, almost 25% of the total. These 2,000 people missed that opportunity. They remained in the Philippines without hope of returning to Vietnam and with no hope of gaining status in the Philippines.

The standing committee heard details of their situation. They had and have no legal status in the Philippines. They could not work legally in the Philippines. They had no rights to education. Even if they married a Filipino citizen, their situation did not change, and their children, even if one of the parents were Filipino, also remained stateless.

Thanks to the efforts of the Vietnamese communities in Australia, the United States, Norway and Canada, and the actions of those governments, most of the 2,000 people have now been resettled. However, in May the standing committee heard that approximately 140 stateless Vietnamese remained in the Philippines with no hope of a durable solution to their situation.

It should be noted that the previous Liberal government instituted a program to allow some of these people to come to Canada. It was a limited program. To be eligible, one had to have a close relative in Canada who was willing and financially able to sponsor the individual. At first it was hoped that upward of 500 people might be able to take advantage of this program. Sadly, only 23 people from eight families ultimately arrived here. This proved to be a completely inadequate response to the situation.

There had been some concern among Filipino lawmakers to address this situation of the stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. A change in Filipino law is required to address their situation. However, in the 17 years that they have been in the Philippines, no legal measure has had a full hearing, and none is likely in the near future. In fact, the Philippines Bureau of Immigration has made a very clear statement on the situation of the stateless Vietnamese. It states:

The consistent policy of the Philippine Government is to repatriate said RVNs (the returning Vietnamese) to Vietnam, or resettle them to a third country willing to accept them. The Philippines has never been, and is not, a resettlement country. It also has no intention of socially integrating persons whose applications for asylum/refugee status it denied in the first place.

The fact that a legal solution is unlikely to be found in the Philippines has been confirmed by a member of the House of Representatives of the Republic of the Philippines, Ms. Loretta Ann Rosales, who wrote to the parliamentary secretary to the minister of immigration and multicultural affairs of Australia, Mr. Andrew Robb, on September 10, 2006. I would like to read from that letter:

Dear Hon. Robb,

May I respectfully endorse the submission of the Vietnamese Community in Australia dated March 2006 concerning the remaining stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines that I understand has been transmitted to your office. I consider resettlement to a third country, as proposed by the submission, to be a vital element of a humane and durable solution for approximately 145 stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines.

You may be aware that two proposed measures were filed before the Justice Committee of the Philippines House of Representatives during the 12th Congress, House Bills Nos. 1272 and 5371.

Both bills sought the granting of permanent residency to the remaining stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. Similarly, a bill was introduced by Congressman Roilo Golez in 1998 concerning permanent residency for the stateless Vietnamese.

As you would no doubt appreciate, enactment of a law is not a simple process. Bills, such as the permanent residency bills, take on an average of nine years to pass through the various readings and procedures and then finally take effect as law in the Philippines. The bills granting permanent residency for the stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines were, sad to say, not passed into law.

For those Vietnamese who have been stateless for 17 years, this is a significant period of time to wait for a solution to their problem—a solution which may not be realized in the soonest possible time.

Therefore, Australia and other resettlement countries have a continuing role to play in contributing to a durable solution and a future for these people. I understand that Australia was the first to recognize the humanitarian needs of this stateless group by resettling 256 people under the Special Humanitarian Program. I also understand that other resettlement countries such as the UK, America, Norway and Canada have since followed suit and resettled almost all the remaining Vietnamese.

May I therefore respectfully recommend that you, as we urge all other resettlement countries, to give sympathetic consideration to the plight of the 145 remaining stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines.

Let us work together to finalize this 17 year old predicament.

That is the end of the quote from the letter of Representative Rosales of the Philippine Congress.

There is clearly no durable solution to the situation of these stateless Vietnamese available in the Philippines.

Sadly, Canada, through the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, has taken the position that these stateless Vietnamese are not refugees. Canadian officials believe they have “integrated” into Filipino society.

I dispute this analysis. These are clearly people who have fled Vietnam because of their very real fear of persecution at the conclusion of the war. They remain in the Philippines without status. They have no legal rights, even to earning a living or education. I will maintain that statelessness and integration are exclusive of each other. A stateless person can never be fully integrated into a community or a society.

Canada has also maintained that other countries, which have resettled some of the stateless Vietnamese, have done so without recognizing them as refugees. This position is also disputed by those who have worked on the resettlement campaign. Testimony was presented to the standing committee by Mr. Hoi Trinh, an Australian lawyer who has spearheaded this resettlement campaign, that Norway passed a special law to recognize these people as refugees: Australia used its “Special Humanitarian Programme” and issued visas which recognized them as refugees within the visas.

On May 31, when the Vietnamese community again appeared before the standing committee, I asked Hoi Trinh if there was anything that characterized the remaining stateless Vietnamese. Did they present particular problems? Was there reason to be concerned about them, given that they had not been selected for resettlement by other countries?

Mr. Trinh replied:

No, and that's the most unfortunate thing. They have never been considered, so they have never been denied. It's not as if they were interviewed by the U.S. or Australia or Norway and then rejected because of their medical condition or a criminal background. They've never been considered. They've never even been interviewed.

I had an email update from Hoi Trinh yesterday. He reported that the United States returned to Manila last month to interview some cases for which specific appeals had been made and accepted a few more. This means that there are now 125 stateless Vietnamese remaining and these folks have 27 half-Filipino dependants; 125 people remain from the 500,000 who fled the war in Vietnam and its aftermath. Surely after all these years living in limbo they deserve a chance to make a new life with security and a future for themselves and their families.

I want to address what I think is the most important feature of this situation. Here in Canada those organizing to press this issue are members of the Vietnamese Canadian community. Most are people who also fled Vietnam after the war, most as boat people refugees. Most were among the 145,000 people resettled in Canada as the result of that huge refugee movement. These are people who received Canada's welcome. They know the support of our communities.

Now they have adapted to life in Canada. They have integrated into our communities. They have made a significant contribution to the Canadian cultural mosaic. They now know themselves to be Canadians and they want to extend the welcome they received in a time of trouble and difficulty to others who continue to face the same situation they knew.

This is an amazing success story. It demonstrates the way newcomers to Canada become part of our society and share in our values. Members of the Vietnamese Canadian community want to extend the same welcome they received to these stateless Vietnamese. They want to act on the Canadian values they benefited from themselves. They want to act on Canadian values they have come to share.

The Vietnamese Canadian community has rallied around this issue and this cause. Canadians, who were involved in the resettlement of boat people, are ready to be involved. Others who know the importance of refugee resettlement, where repatriation and other durable solutions are not available, are ready to be involved. All these Canadians are prepared to organize the support necessary to ensure these remaining stateless Vietnamese get a chance for a new life, a chance for a future that is secure, but they need our government to make such an important project possible. Canadians are ready to help.

Back on November 7 of this year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration appeared before the standing committee. At that time I asked him about his response to the situation of Vietnamese boat people refugees who remained stranded in the Philippines. I would like to quote that exchange. I put the following to the minister:

I want to change topics, Minister, and ask about the stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. You know the committee has taken a strong position on that. It has called on you to institute measures, either under the country of asylum class or under special humanitarian and compassionate grounds, to deal with the 140 people who are still in the Philippines without a durable solution to their circumstances.

I'm wondering if you have been able to take any action on that situation.

The minister replied:

I know you have an interest in this. Canada has already weighed in to try to provide some help for people in this situation. We feel we have done our share. We'd like to see the rest of the world jump in and pull their weight on this as well. I know it's a troubling situation.

We feel we're doing our job in terms of accepting refugees. In fact, we're going above and beyond, which is why we've been singled out by the UNHCR time and again for showing leadership on refugee issues. We would always like to be more generous, but we can't do everything.

That's the entire exchange, word for word.

I do not share the minister's opinion. I do not believe, as he put it, that “we have done our share”. Canadians are ready to do their part to assist this group of refugees. They are organized and they are standing by. Canada has made a huge and outstanding commitment in the past on which to draw in this regard. The resettlement of 145,000 Vietnamese refugees in Canada offers us a blueprint and incredible experience to get this job done and accomplished.

I urge all members of the House to support concurrence in the standing committee report and call upon the government to act urgently to find a mechanism to resettle these remaining stateless Vietnamese here in Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, 2,000 Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines are unable to buy homes. They cannot own businesses, travel freely or work legally. They have to subsist through sales in the black market and other creative means to make their living.

I was also told that if children go to school, even if they graduate with whatever certificate, degree or diploma, they would not be accepted anywhere. For 16 years, they have drifted in uncertainty, not having a place to call home. Yet they have not given up hope.

What action can be taken to assist the refugees who are stuck in the Philippines if the House of Commons accepts the motion for concurrence by the immigration committee.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for highlighting the circumstances of the 125 stateless Vietnamese people who remain in the Philippines.

Luckily, governments around the world stepped in to do a major resettlement effort on the 2,000 people who were there two years ago. The United States, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom each took a significant number. Unfortunately, Canada only took 23.

The circumstances they face, as the member for Trinity—Spadina pointed out, are very dire. There is no way they can integrate into communities or even earn a living legally in the Philippines. Most of them survive by being street vendors, but are constantly harassed by the police because they do so illegally and outside of the law. It is the only way they can earn a living in the Philippines.

If their children are educated, their educations are not recognized in the Philippines. Even if a child is born in the Philippines to one Filipino parent, that child still does not have status and is considered a stateless person. This is a very dire circumstance.

The Philippine government, while it was very generous at the time of the refugee movement from Vietnam and had significant refugee numbers to deal with, does not see itself as a refugee resettlement country. Canada, Australia and the United States have traditionally been the refugee resettlement countries around the world. That is why I believe Canada should be taking its place and doing its share.

To say that 23 out of 2,000 of this group is Canada's share really sells us short in our commitment to refugee resettlement. It also sells short the Canadians who are ready to do this important work. We know the Vietnamese Canadian community and other Canadians, who are involved in refugee resettlement work, are ready and willing to take on this project.

I hope the government moves immediately, either under the country of asylum class, or a special humanitarian compassionate program or some other mechanism that may not be apparent to me but is apparent to the minister and the department, to get this job done without further delay.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his intervention on the motion before us.

We know other countries have intervened, as he has mentioned. How many people does the member believe Canada can accept? Their lives have been left hanging in the balance, sadly because of perhaps a lack of understanding on how to deal with what is a terrible situation. We know these people are, by any other description, refugees, but somehow our system has not recognized them as such.

Does the member know how many people Canada could accept? Does he know of a creative way of doing this?

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, 125 stateless Vietnamese people remain in the Philippines. Canada should try and resettle all 125 of them. There is no excuse for not making that attempt. There is no excuse for not interviewing these people and determining if there is any way they can resettle in Canada. There are also 27 half-Filipino dependants and they should also be part of that resettlement program.

There is no reason why Canada cannot do this. We need to let the usual criteria of a refugee resettlement program apply, such as health and criminality conditions. When we interview those folks and make decisions about their ability to come to Canada, we must take into consideration their situation and the circumstances in which they have been living.

We should stretch our program to the very limit to allow these 125 people to resettle in Canada. There is no excuse for letting them continue a life that has no future in the Philippines when Canada can easily accommodate them and when Canadians are ready to do the work.

We could get on this immediately and end this sad tale, this sad part of our human history, the war in Vietnam and the huge refugee movement that resulted from it. We can finally close the door on that chapter of human history in a positive way. Canada should step up to the plate and do its job immediately.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to address the motion put forward by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas. I would like to share a slightly different version of what could be called the same story.

Many in this House will remember the fall of Saigon in 1975 when over half a million Vietnamese refugees fled persecution. Over half a million refugees came out of that humanitarian crisis. Canada was very generous in accepting over 140,000 Vietnamese between the late 1970s and the early 1990s. In other words, we accepted almost a quarter of all the refugees of that period while the remaining Vietnamese settled in 70 other countries.

Canada has responded generously to refugees, but the situation in which the Vietnamese in the Philippines find themselves today is vastly different. The Vietnamese we are talking about today are not refugees and they are not in any danger. Statelessness does not make someone a refugee. A refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution and who continues to have a valid fear of persecution.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is aware of this population and has determined that they are not refugees, are not persecuted and do not need protection. I think that is an important point to make, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is aware of this group in the Philippines; he has determined that they are not refugees, that they are not persecuted and that they do not need protection.

The choices and the prospects for this population make them quite different from the plight of true refugees. Those Vietnamese living in the Philippines have opportunities that no other refugee population enjoys. They do have access to education like the rest of the local population. There are no restrictions on their freedom of movement. They are not restricted to refugee camps. They are not refugees and they have never been considered to be refugees. Those who married Filipino nationals and their children from these marriages are eligible for residence and citizenship in the Philippines. Most of the Vietnamese population in the Philippines we are talking about maintain a standard of living similar to that of the Filipino population.

The Government of Canada is committed to providing a safe haven for victims of persecution for genuine refugees.

Refugees are the over 100,000 who have been registered in seven camps in eastern Nepal for over a decade now. Nearly a quarter of them are children born in the camps. Another 10,000 unregistered Bhutanese refugees are living outside the camps. These genuine refugees have been warehoused in camps for more than a decade. The monotony of camp life has amplified their depression, substance abuse, domestic and sexual violence, teenage pregnancies and crime.

Refugees like these face life where up to eight people share one hut. They receive basic food rations available for short term emergencies but inadequate for long term living. The only informal work they can find pays low wages, barely enough to supplement their diet or buy extra clothes. If they are lucky, they may be able to eke out something for education. They have no options of integrating into the local Nepalese community and no hope of returning to Bhutan.

Being stuck in these overcrowded refugee camps with little hope for any solution has taken its toll. Suicide in refugee camps is four times higher than the local Nepalese population.

Refugees are the Muslims from northern Rakhine State in Myanmar who have been in limbo for the past 14 years. Some 28,000 of these refugees, known as Rohingyas, are stuck in two temporary camps in Bangladesh, which were set up in the first place to respond to the emergency back in 1992. The government of Bangladesh will not improve these facilities or allow construction of semi-permanent structures.

Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland and Concern have left these camps and the absence of NGOs has made conditions worse. The protection and security in these camps have steadily deteriorated. Refugees are not allowed to hold meetings among themselves or voice their fears. Corruption is rampant.

Staff from Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently visited the camps and confirmed UNHCR reports that these genuine refugees suffer from malnutrition and poor water and sanitary systems. They are not allowed to leave the camps. They are not allowed to work and they lack education.

Bribery, corruption and sexual violence are common. We hear reports of trafficking of women and children. Refugees are intimidated and occasionally pressured to go home. When they refuse, they are arrested and beaten at random.

Refugees are the Muslim population that has been in limbo for over 15 years in Malaysia. Their children are denied access to public education. Underage marriages are common. Girls are married off to collect a dowry that would reduce the financial burden on families.

Refugees are also the 140,000 Karens in Thailand who face restrictions on education, employment and the right to move out of the camps. Canadian government staff have worked in this camp and have seen the effects of the rampant violence and human rights abuses. We are talking about the rape of young children, the recruitment of child soldiers and the murder of refugees by other refugees.

Refugees are also the 10,000 Eritreans in the Ethiopian Shimelba camp, a camp our immigration officers visit on a regular basis doing resettlement work. Women in this camp routinely face sexual harassment and assault from other ethnic groups.

Refugees are also the 200,000 people in two different camps in Kenya, one in the northern desert on the edge of the Sudan and the other in eastern Kenya where recent floods have forced the evacuation of refugees.

The camp in Dadaab is a warehouse of mostly Somali refugees. In Kakuma, where the average summer temperature is plus 40, the Sudanese have been stuck in camps for over 15 years, and it is home to many thousands of Ethiopians, Congolese, Rwandans and others.

Today's motion calls the Vietnamese community in the Philippines refugees. In the face of true refugees and what they suffer, the government cannot support the motion. Canadians want a refugee system that is humanitarian and there for those desperately in need. This motion does not deliver.

Canadians would be proud to see the compassion that citizenship and immigration officials bring to their work with refugees overseas. Canadians are proud of their government's efforts to maintain our legacy of resettling genuine refugee populations here in Canada.

What would Canadians say about a motion that would delay our vital work with the Rohingyas, the Chin, the Karens, the Sudanese, the Ethiopians and the Congolese, all genuine refugees for whom Canada and Canadians are working to help, to help the Vietnamese population in the Philippines emigrate? This motion would have us take resources away from assisting these refugees in order to benefit a community that enjoys choices, education and has hope beyond theirs.

Canada is a compassionate country. In June we announced we were welcoming a group of 810 refugees predominantly of the Karen ethnic group. Since then they have been arriving and settling in towns and cities across Canada from Vancouver to Charlottetown.

The Vietnamese community living in the Philippines simply does not meet any Canadian refugee definition as described in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In fact, the UNHCR has repeatedly advised the governments of Canada and other countries that the Vietnamese community is quite well settled in the Philippines. They are not seriously or personally affected by civil war. They are not suffering gross violations of human rights. While they might not have legal status, they do not face deportation. They have been locally integrated through marriage to local nationals, through employment and through long term residence. We do not consider these individuals to be in need of protection as refugees.

Furthermore, the Government of Canada does not recognize the Philippines as a nation from which people need to seek refuge. There is no compelling reason that Canada should treat this request differently from other requests for special consideration.

When it comes to refugee determination, I would remind all hon. members that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly praised the integrity of Canada's refugee determination system, calling it the best in the world.

The Government of Canada is proud of its record. It will not relax standards for refugee determination based on claims that have more to do with economic aspirations than with the claim of legitimate protection.

This is a difficult issue. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I was at that meeting in May when we met the representatives of this group.

As someone who is relatively new to this file both to issues surrounding immigration and refugees, I can say that it tugs at the heart of anyone who listens to people who would like to move from one place in the world to another place where they can forge a better life for themselves. I think one of the important distinctions that I needed to make very clear in my mind when I started with the committee was the distinction between what is a refugee and what is an immigrant.

Many of us in this House, and in fact many Canadians, do not have to go too far back in their own family trees to find people who came to Canada from other countries to try to make a better life for themselves and their children. My family for the most part came from the British Isles, but even in this House there are people who can trace their ancestry back to countries all over the world.

There is nothing wrong with being an immigrant. There is nothing wrong with trying to go to a country where people can make a better life for themselves. There is nothing wrong with being an immigrant. Immigrants want to go somewhere where they can make a better life for themselves.

Refugees are quite a different category. Refugees are people who must flee the country where they live because they fear death or persecution. It is very unfortunate that in the world today there are so many people who cannot stay in their homeland, who are forced to leave and who know that they cannot return because they would likely be killed if they returned or certainly they would be tortured if they went back to those places.

I think the distinction between a refugee, who is someone who has left his or her country because he or she must, and an immigrant, who is someone who would like to leave his or her country to seek a better opportunity, is important.

A few moments ago I made it quite clear that according to any generally accepted definition of refugee, the population we are talking about today does not meet that standard. They are not refugees. That does not mean that everything is great in their lives, that there are no problems and there are not things they would like to address. That does not mean they would not like to move to a country like Canada. I expect that around the world there are literally millions of people who, if given the choice, would enjoy coming to live in a country like Canada.

As we often hear in this place, those of us who get to serve in Parliament are very aware of the good fortune we have to be Canadians and to be in Canada. The standard of living we enjoy, the democracy, the freedoms we enjoy are things that people all over the world would love to have for themselves and their families.

I certainly bear no issue with this group of Vietnamese in the Philippines who would like to go to another country, who would like to come to Canada, the United States or somewhere else. That is perfectly understandable. When we heard the group before the committee, as I said, the stories they told were very compelling in terms of why they would like to leave the Philippines. However, there are compelling stories and there are horrifying stories.

Another thing that I have learned in my time in the committee is the truly unbelievable circumstances that some people find themselves in around the world. In my speech I referenced three or four places where people live in truly horrible conditions. They have no options. They cannot even leave the camps and many of them have been in those places for 10 or more years. That is something I think most Canadians could not even imagine for themselves.

I am proud to be a citizen of a country and I am proud to be a member of Parliament in a country where we are trying to do something about that. Canada has done an exemplary job over the years in terms of helping those who need help, in terms of bringing refugees into Canada and resettling them.

The some 140,000 who came to Canada at the time of the Vietnam war are proof of that. As a boy growing up in a small town in central Ontario, which was very rural and not very diverse, I can still remember when the Vietnamese people showed up in town. I was probably 10 years old at the time. Churches in our community had sponsored Vietnamese refugees and they came and made their home in Haliburton. I remember that because it was probably my first exposure to the role Canada plays in terms of placing refugees in Canada and taking our share of the load.

As I said before, I think the United Nations recognizes the role that Canada plays around the world in terms of refugees. More broadly in terms of immigration, Canada is seen as a world leader. Other countries actually look at what we do. Other countries come to Canada to learn about the way we deal with these different groups of people including refugees.

It is a fair case to make that Canada has been there when refugees are in need, that Canada has done more than its fair share over the years and continues to do more than its fair share. When we are talking about refugees, I think Canada will be there in the future to make sure that as many of these people as possible can be resettled somewhere so they will have a future for themselves.

It is equally important that we draw the distinction clearly in terms of what is a refugee. A compelling case does not a refugee make.

There has been much evidence presented in different places that these people that we are discussing today do not meet the criteria of what are refugees. My colleague from Burnaby—Douglas pointed out that there may be other mechanisms available to the minister.

Canada accepted 36,000 refugees last year. We are active on that file. Over the past few years Canada did make an exception for this group. The government tried to work the immigration criteria to figure out a way to give more of these people a way to get out of their situation. In fact, 23 people from that group did come to Canada.

It is fair to say that Canada has not only met its obligations but has gone beyond its obligations in terms of refugees. I think we have tried under our immigration laws to figure out a way to make that process accessible to as many as possible.

That is why the position of the government today is that these Vietnamese people in the Philippines do not meet the refugee standard. On that basis they cannot be admitted to Canada as refugees.

I think that is the right decision, as difficult as it is. I look forward to the government continuing to work with genuine refugees around the world to ensure that we give as many of them as possible an opportunity to start a new life in Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am really bothered by the crocodile tears being shed by my colleague opposite. With all due respect, in his speech he described the suffering of those people he calls genuine refugees, and he listed them. First, since individuals from Eritrea, Nepal, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and Congo are genuine refugees, I will ask him what his party, presently in power, intends to do to accept more refugees from these countries.

Next, a definition should not prevent us from helping human beings who have no status in a country and who cannot work, as my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas just stated. We are talking about one hundred people, maybe less.

What I notice is that my colleague is using a definition that is useful but that shows, nonetheless, that this minority Conservative government once again does not wish to address the humanitarian aspect of this matter. It does not wish to look at how it could help a small group of individuals who have been waiting for over 20 years to be reunited with their families in Canada, a country that is so vast and rich and that could, God only knows, take this type of humanitarian, community action.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of what the government intends to do, I think that the Government of Canada intends to continue with the programs that we have in place in Canada. The government continues to welcome refugees into this country at a rate similar to previous years.

Further, as my colleague knows, because she is also a member of the standing committee, we have been hearing witnesses and testimony this fall on the issue of refugees. I know that the minister and the government await the report that will come from the committee with suggestions in terms of what can be done to improve our refugee process in Canada and what can be done to improve the prospects of success for those refugees that do arrive in Canada.

When I spoke earlier, I referenced the member for Burnaby—Douglas who brought this motion forward. I stated the reasons on which the government has based its decision.

In contrast to that member, and in reference to my colleague from the Liberal Party, I suspect that the facts in this case are essentially the same as they were a year ago. It is disingenuous for members of the previous Liberal government to suggest that this is a problem that ought to be fixed, that somehow the solution is obvious, and that the Conservative government should quickly and expeditiously deal with an issue that sat on the docket of their government for some 13 years.

I guess I am less willing to take that suggestion in the spirit of “if we were in charge, this is what we would do”, given the track record of the previous government.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 1979 when Flora MacDonald was Canada's foreign affairs minister and Joe Clark was prime minister, it was one of Canada's proudest moments. Under a lot of urging from the NDP, from the community, and from churches and synagogues, Canada started the Vietnamese boat people program. It was a proud moment of leadership. I think those Progressive Conservatives would be embarrassed today to listen to what I just heard.

We are talking about 125 refugees. Their lives have been in limbo. They have been forgotten by the world and the Conservative member was just talking about technicalities. How can we become so small that we cannot even accept them as refugees? We have to find a way to accept them. We are talking about 125 refugees. How could we pit one group of refugees living in a refugee camp to another group of refugees? How could we possibly get to that kind of level in this House?

We have lost our way in both the Liberal and Conservative governments. I recall that this House, under the former Liberal government with the support of the NDP and the Conservatives at the time, agreed to accept these few boat people, but instead of accepting 500, we have accepted 23. The Liberals did not do anything at that time and the Conservatives now are not doing anything. Why are we failing our international obligations? Why are we abdicating our leadership and why are we letting these legitimate refugees flounder?

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I made it fairly clear that under the acceptable definitions of what refugees are, this group did not qualify. I am not an immigration lawyer, but it is fairly well accepted that this group of people does not meet the United Nations definition of a refugee. In the preamble to the question which states “these bona fide refugees ought to”, I need to take umbrage with that point.

The second point in terms of what the government should or could do, I said in my speech that Canada has demonstrated over the years a spirit of generosity with many different groups, including refugees. We have done a great deal, possibly more than other country in terms of the size of our population. We have limited resources in this area.

I identified several groups of people around the world who are living in truly deplorable circumstances, so to suggest that by not addressing this group directly that the government has no compassion or that the government does not care about people is unfair. We have demonstrated that. I say to my colleagues in the Liberal Party that the facts of this case have not changed in the last nine months. A series of Liberal ministers reached the same conclusion that the current minister has reached.

This is my second Parliament. I have not been here many years. However, I have had the opportunity to serve both as an opposition member and as a government member. At committee, it is quite evident to me that there are often initiatives brought forward that suggest actions which are not consistent with the policies of Canada or with things we have done in the past. The government is taking its role responsibly to deal with this situation.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that in a previous Parliament members in his party voted in favour of this action. It is important to put that on the record.

In 1979, when my mother was the mayor of Ottawa, she started Project 4000 and challenged the then Conservative government to accept more than 8,000 refugees. She challenged the citizens of Ottawa to accept 4,000 refugees, which at the time was half of what the quotient was. It went from 8,000 to 50,000. We are talking about 125 people who are stranded. We can--

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order. The hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.