House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I would point out to the hon. member one difference between the Vietnam war and the current military in the United States. In the Vietnam war, it was not a voluntary military; it was drafted.

Currently it is an all-volunteer service just like the Canadian, British and German forces, which have some level of conscription. People do not join with their eyes closed. If they do, then they have their own problems.

As for volunteer soldiers in the United States who have difficulty with the mission they are on, first of all, soldiers do not get to vote for which missions they go on. They are assigned by their legal government, which is making legal decisions. If they have difficulty with that and want to fight the system, that is fine. That is their option. Why do they not fight it within their own country in their own legal system instead of being faux refugees in Canada?

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me say first that in the 1960s and 1970s during the war in Vietnam it was not just the people who were drafted who came to Canada. In fact, people who went to war voluntarily also came to Canada.

It is unfortunate that I do not have enough time, because I could give hon. members the history of how the decisions were made. Early in 1969, a memo was discussed in cabinet. There were all sorts of debates at that time. Originally the government of the day said no, but people in Canada rose up and said that it was really important to decide which side Canada was on. Were we on the side of the United States in the war in Vietnam or would we allow the draft dodgers and the war resisters to stay in Canada?

During that time, Canadians spoke out so loudly and clearly that the government, which initially said no throughout the early 1970s, then changed its mind. After two or three major decisions, it allowed all soldiers and their family members to stay in Canada. They were not just people who had been drafted. Some of them volunteered to go into the army.

That is the history of this in Canada. I hope the Conservative government listens to the stories of these families. They are facing jail terms when they return to the United States. That means they would have criminal records, which means they would not be able to get jobs. They would not be able to get a mortgage. Their entire lives would be destroyed.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to this concurrence motion on the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Just for the record, in that report the committee recommends:

--that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

This is a very important report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I am glad that the standing committee was able to finally make that clear statement about the need to offer a welcome to war resisters, war resisters to the war in Iraq, American war resisters here in Canada, and that it garnered the support of all the opposition parties on the committee.

The committee considered this for some time. Early attempts that I made to raise this issue were not as successful as recent ones, often spearheaded by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, so I am very glad that we are here today to discuss this majority report of the standing committee.

Canada needs people of conscience. We have been well served by such people who have taken a stand on an important issue of principle, a stand for peace, a stand for truth and accountability of government, and a stand against militarism. In the case of Iraqi war resisters who are currently coming to Canada, their conscientious objection has not been recognized in the United States. It has not been recognized through the conscientious objection process of the U.S. military.

I think we also want to say that wherever we have military forces we want soldiers who do not check their conscience at the recruiting office doors. We need people in the armed forces who act out of full conscience. That is what these American war resisters are doing. As such, as people of conscience, they should receive a welcome in Canada.

It is very clear that Canadians do not support the war in Iraq. That has been shown time and time again across this country. Many of us believe that it is an illegal war, and Canada rightly refused to participate in that war. Our government made the right decision to not participate in the war in Iraq.

It is now very clear that the United States and President Bush lied, I do not think it is too strong to say, about the situation in Iraq prior to the invasion. They lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They lied that this fight was against al-Qaeda or that it was a war on terrorism. Even as recently as yesterday, we saw that President Bush's own messengers, the people who were communications spokespeople in his office, are now admitting their role in promoting this misrepresentation and admitting that they helped promote a war for different reasons than those publicly stated by the U.S. administration.

There is no doubt that the Saddam Hussein regime was a problem, to say the least, but the invasion on false pretences and the ongoing war were and are wrong and have done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. In fact, the situation is much, much worse for ordinary Iraqis today. This war is a terrible mistake, something that Americans themselves are increasingly aware of, and the dramatic decline in support for the war in the United States is clear evidence of that.

Many patriotic Americans signed on with their armed forces because they believed what they were told by their leaders. After serving in Iraq, they came to know the truth and decided they could no longer in good conscience participate. We should listen to their stories. The member for Trinity—Spadina told some of those stories this morning. They speak clearly to the horror of war and the way these honourable people struggled with their personal responsibility for that war.

Many of those folks signed on to the military because that was their only way of getting an education and their only way out of poverty and difficult financial circumstances. After serving a tour of duty, many are being forced back to Iraq against their conscience by the stop loss program, which extends their deployment beyond anything contemplated when they enlisted. This is another serious problem that these people face with the process in the American military. None of this is acceptable.

These war resisters are people who can make a huge contribution to Canada and who share key values with Canadians, values that have taught them to struggle to do what is right and resist what is wrong, values that lead them to want to support a path of peace rather than war, values that value life over death, and values that seek the best for their country and hold it to high ideals.

Canada has benefited often from such refugees and immigrants many times in our history. Mennonites, Doukhobors, Vietnam war resisters have all made significant contributions to our country and our communities. I do not think anyone would deny this.

Canada made it possible for over 100,000 Vietnam war resisters to find a haven from militarism here in Canada. New Democrats were early supporters of extending that welcome. Former Prime Minister Trudeau actively sought that solution eventually and stated that Canada should be a haven from militarism during the Vietnam war. Over 50,000 of those folks remained in Canada. I am constantly amazed and impressed at where I meet them and the kind of contribution they are making to this country.

Canada did well by that migration. Canada did well by our decision to welcome those young men and women of conscience.

This is one way Canada can be an agent for peace in the world. We can make a statement by extending a welcome to Iraq war resisters, and indeed resisters of war in other situations and other conflicts.

I believe Canadians strongly support such an action. There must be a special immigration program for conscientious objectors. We must allow them a safe haven. We must ensure that people from countries that are unwilling to recognize conscientious objection find a welcome here.

I have said that Canadians support this. I have tabled petitions here in the House from 15,000 Canadians back in June 2005 who called for exactly this kind of welcome for U.S. war resisters. I know other MPs have tabled petitions with many more signatures.

The war resister support campaign is working across Canada in many different communities to support war resisters and to extend support to the broader community for them. Thousands of people in Canada have endorsed their declaration. Many have contributed financially to the ongoing support of war resisters. They have also lobbied many of us here in the House of Commons.

Back on May 15 it was International Conscientious Objection Day. This day is important to many people who are conscientious objectors to war and militarism here in Canada. Along with some of those people that I have worked with, we have developed a bill called the conscientious objection act or more commonly known as the peace tax bill, where people of conscience would have the opportunity to divert some of their income tax away from military purposes and place it in a peace tax fund.

This bill was developed in cooperation with people from Conscience Canada, Quakers, Mennonites, the Mennonite Central Committee and Nos impôts pour la paix.

I think there is also a very important statement from the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Canadian Friends Service Committee and the yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. It is an aspect that is regularly raised by the war resister support campaign as a major principle of that campaign. The churches say in this letter:

The majority of Canadians and the Government of Canada did not support the Iraq war. The Nuremberg principles established that soldiers have a duty not a choice to refuse to carry out immoral orders. The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18) and the UN Handbook for Refugees (Chapter 5, Section B) makes clear that conscientious objectors to war have rights and can require protection from states.

I think it is good for us here in this place to be reminded of those obligations given the debate here today before us.

I believe that it is time to take a stand, that Canadians want us in this place to take a stand on this important issue. We have to offer a welcome to people of conscience, people who share the values of Canadians.

I would urge the government to take heed of these concerns, to immediately stop all removal action against American war resisters and introduce a program such as that contemplated in this motion and in this report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to allow them to remain here in Canada as permanent residents.

I believe that Canada will benefit strongly from their contribution, and that Canada will benefit strongly from taking this important ethical and moral stand against the war in Iraq.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

May 29th, 2008 / 10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me thank my colleague from the New Democratic Party for his comments on this issue.

It really seems to be that we in Canada are in strong support of the United Nations and in strong support in making sure that we discourage unilateral type elections outside of world organizations, such as the UN.

What we should be doing and what the motion talks about is putting our values that we stand on by supporting the United Nations. As well, we should be trying to work toward peace and supporting those individuals who find themselves caught in a terrible dilemma, such as the war resisters that we are talking about.

If one looks at the leadership that we have taken on the whole issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and if we believe in these ideas, it would really seem to me that we must, with those same thoughts, extend and support those people who are standing up as a matter of conscience and who are standing up and saying, “this war is not the war that I believed it was when I got into it being a just war--

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

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.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

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.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

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

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

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

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.