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

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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

Vote #118

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

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.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

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.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

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.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

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--

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

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.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

May 29th, 2008 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

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?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

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.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had not planned on doing so, but in light of the questions that have been asked and the quality of the parliamentary secretary's responses, I would like to ask the following question.

It seems we are talking about a lengthy process—one that takes time. Could the parliamentary secretary explain to us the measures that the government has taken and also tell us how many decision-makers are currently assigned to the immigration appeal division and refugee appeal division? Recent information indicates that more than one-third of the positions are not filled. Is the backlog that the appeal division is faced with not simply the result of poor management by the government?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, obviously there needs to be a decision maker to decide if a refugee is a true refugee, someone at risk of being tortured, at risk of losing his or her life, or at risk of receiving cruel and unusual treatment.

When we took office there were nearly 100 vacancies. Our government has appointed over 100 individuals to adjudicator positions. Those individuals are required to go through a new process that our government established to ensure appropriate qualifications. Due diligence is used. Those going through the process must now pass an objective examination to ensure that they meet a certain level before they go on to other steps. Those people going to those positions must go through that process.

Notwithstanding that process, we have made over 100 appointments to various positions. We will continue to make appointments to ensure those positions are filled.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are aware that I as well tabled a notice of motion to concur in the same committee report.

As I rise today to offer my thoughts and reflections on this very important issue, I am reminded of a speech delivered by the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, regarding Canada's decision not to take part in the war in Iraq. In 2003 the former prime minister said:

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today to support the motion before the House, a principled motion where we reaffirm our decision not to participate in the war in Iraq--

From the beginning, Canada took a stand against military intervention in Iraq. Canada's position was to work collectively through the United Nations to accomplish the objectives we shared with our allies, those of disarming Saddam Hussein and working toward enhanced human rights, the international rule of law, as well as peace in the region.

As an independent country, Canada decided not to send troops into battle. As the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien said in an address to the House of Commons:

The decision on whether or not to send troops into battle must always be a decision of principle, not a decision of economics, not even a decision of friendship, alone.

A decision not to engage in war was the right decision, a decision that Canadians strongly supported. It was a defining moment in our nation's history. In the fight against global terrorism and other exceptionally trying challenges, we have always supported a multilateral approach. As a nation, we must have confidence in our principles and trust that our sound values will guide our decisions and actions.

Although Canada did not support the war in Iraq, we share the same fundamental goals as our allies. We believe in international peace and security. As in 2003 our belief in peace, justice and freedom and the hope for a better tomorrow are no different today.

The matter before the House is one that inspires sympathy, concern and support among the vast majority of Canadians. It is important to listen to the voice of Canadians who have expressed support and understanding for this cause. Over the last few years a growing number of people have left the United States of America's military refusing to fight in the war in Iraq. Some of them are seeking sanctuary in Canada. Dozens of U.S. war resisters have sought refuge in Canada and more individuals continue to arrive every month.

Canada has a proud history of welcoming war resisters. In fact, during the Vietnam war, over 50,000 Americans came here. Unfortunately on May 21, 2008, war resister Corey Glass was told that his application to stay in Canada has been rejected and now faces deportation. Glass would be the first Iraq war resister to be deported from Canada.

Today I would like to discuss this matter as it affects individuals who have been living in Canada and contributing to the social and economic fibre of this country. I would also like to share with the House the views expressed by the witnesses who presented their case before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

In fact, it is important to note that after hearing from groups and individuals on the matter of U.S. war resisters seeking refuge in Canada, the committee adopted a motion on December 6 recommending that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their families to stay in Canada. It also calls for an immediate halt to the deportation proceedings in these cases.

The third report, adopted by the committee on December 11, 2007 and presented to the House on December 13, 2007, reads as follows:

In accordance with its mandate pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your Committee has considered the issue of Iraq war resisters.

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 report served as a sign of hope and an important step forward for conscientious objectors. It demonstrated a willingness on behalf of the opposition parties in Canada's Parliament to come together to ensure that none of these individuals would be returned to the U.S. where they would face potential court martials, incarceration and possible deployment to Iraq.

Let me tell the House the story of one of the witnesses who the committee heard from during a hearing on this issue. The committee had the opportunity of meeting with Mr. Phillip McDowell, a former sergeant in the United States army. Mr. McDowell had volunteered for the army shortly after the tragic events that occurred on September 11 because he felt that his country was under attack.

Mr. McDowell said:

I didn't join or volunteer to take part in an illegal war or a war of aggression....When I came back from Iraq, I was determined not to have any part in this at all. I determined that when my contract was up with the military, when my volunteer service was over, I was going to separate and not be in the military anymore. However, after I did that in June 2006, I was called back into service involuntarily under the army's Stop Loss policy. I was told that I was going to have a 15-month tour in Iraq. I told my chain of command that I disagreed with the war and that I didn't want to go....I tried to contact my elected officials to explain to them how I felt about that. They said, sorry, there were a lot of people in the same situation, that I didn't have a choice, and that I was going to Iraq.

There are many other resisters in Canada who have come to seek refuge. Among them are Patrick Hart, an army sergeant with nine years of service, Chuck Wylie who was chief petty officer with 17 years of service, Dean Walcott who was a field marine deployed in the initial invasion of Iraq, Kim Rivera, a mother of two who was told by her recruiter that women were rarely deployed to combat zones. Less than a year later, she was in Iraq, unable to cope with the abuse and indiscriminate violence she witnessed. Among others was Jeremy Hinzman who applied for conscientious objector status. He asked for non-combat duty and was denied.

People may ask what is the stop loss policy? Let me explain. In the United States military, stop loss, as Mr. McDowell explains, is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term service date.

The problem for individuals such as Mr. McDowell is the military service has in fact become involuntary. Many conscientious objectors, such as Phillip McDowell, come to Canada much like the soldiers who deserted during the Vietnam war in search of shelter and safety. In fact, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau welcomed such soldiers as he believed that Canada should be a refuge from military.

Another reason for individuals refusing to fight in a war in Iraq and seeking refuge in Canada is their knowledge that Canada did not participate in the Iraq war.

According to Mr. McDowell:

—knowing, myself, that the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in 2004, declared the war illegal, I felt it was right for me to move to Canada to take this decision.

Mr. McDowell further stated:

—many people say there are no deserters doing time. Many people say they receive less than honourable discharges. However, a quick search on the Internet will show you that Sergeant Kevin Benderman deserted and served 15 months, bad conduct discharge; Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was sentenced to one year, bad conduct discharge; Stephen Funk was sentenced to six months, bad conduct discharge; Ivan Brobeck was sentenced to eight months, bad conduct discharge; Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to seven months, bad conduct discharge.

The problem with such cases, as Mr. McDowell explained:

—bad conduct discharge is a felony conviction, on your record for the rest of your life because you didn't want to take part in a war that you believed was illegal.

During the same committee meeting, Gay Anne Broughton, an individual representing the organization Canadian Friends Service Committee, presented evidence in support of conscientious objectors. Ms. Broughton explained:

The right to conscientious objection to military service derives from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It can be based on religious, ethical, moral, philosophical, humanitarian, or related motives. These rights are captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also article 18. Canada is a signatory to both and includes these rights in its Constitution.

According to Ms. Broughton's testimony:

These instruments assert that these rights apply to everyone. Conscientious objection to military service is a legitimate exercise of this right, and a decision by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2006 in favour of two conscientious objectors from the Republic of Korea put to rest any question of that.

In addition, she noted:

Military personnel, whether volunteer or conscript, can develop a conscientious objection. Resolution 1998/77 of the UN human rights commission recognized this. That resolution puts no limits on whether the objection is to all war or to a particular war. Indeed, it is most often through experience itself that many basic human attributes, including conscience, are developed....Soldiers who are uninformed of their rights and do not have access to an independent assessment process are left with the choice to desert or to violate their conscience, which is perhaps the most sacred aspect of being human.

Ms. Broughton also pointed out that under the UN High Commission for Refugees handbook, paragraph 170, conscientious objectors qualified as refugees. The paragraph states as follows:

There are, however, also cases where the necessity to perform military service may be the sole ground for a claim to refugee status, i.e. when a person can show that the performance of military service would have required his participation in military action contrary to his genuine political, religious or moral convictions, or to valid reasons of conscience.

Ms. Broughton explained that the published record and testimony given in hearings in courts showed that these young men and women met this requirement and according to paragraph 171 of the handbook, their right to asylum hinged on the military action they were objecting to being condemned by the international community.

As I mentioned earlier, the witness, Phillip McDowell, explained how in this case the Iraq war was indeed condemned by the international community.

On the same issue, it is important to remember that following the second world war, the Nuremberg tribunal set out important principles of international law. Those principles established that soldiers had a moral duty, not a choice, to refuse to carry out illegal orders.

The United Nations formulated the elements of morality and conscience, as set out in the Nuremberg principle, into international law.

The government has a very important choice. It is really not compelled to force these individuals to go back to a country where they may face prosecution under military law, or may be permanently branded for making a principled decision.

Five years ago I believe the Liberal government made a principled decision not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations. I personally feel we should not punish individuals and their families for making the same decision based on their personal principles. Fairness and justice is all about that.

Perhaps this is an uncomfortable position for the government to be in. Observers of Canada's political scene and Canadians would remember the present Prime Minister's position on the war in Iraq. Therefore, I can understand why there would be some concern about the position on war resisters, and I can appreciate that.

I can appreciate that it would create division within government if, by any chance, some members of the Conservative Party were to get on their feet and stand up for what I believe is fairness and justice to individuals seeking fairness and justice. I understand all that, but there comes a time when parliamentarians must stand up for what we believe, where fundamental rights are being challenged, and say to these individuals that, yes, they can stay.

As I said, we should not punish individuals and their families for making the same decisions based on their personal principles.

I ask the members of the House to support our endeavour as a committee of Parliament. We took the time to listen to individuals in need. They want help from us. Above all, we want to bring hope, fairness and, most of all, justice to them. This motion is all about that. The committee stands for justice for people in need of justice.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I would ask this hon. member three questions, and I will make a comment as well.

First, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees handbook calls for a consideration or determination whether a resister was drafted or joined voluntarily. I want to know if he thinks there should be a distinction between the two or not.

Second, reference was made to the fact that persons who applied had not taken advantage of the procedural options available to them in their country, in this particular case, the United States. Would the member agree that before a process is instituted due process should be followed and procedural options taken advantage of?

Third, the motion calls for a new program and I think the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party are always open to more new programs. However, if he were to suggest that a new program should be undertaken, would he prevent applications from being made under the basis of a refugee or would he still want to have the same processes that are available to make an application as a refugee and, alongside that, if there was a failure in a positive decision, that the program should also be implemented, or is one exclusive to the other, knowing that presently if a negative decision is received with respect to the determination of refugee, the person can apply by leave and with leave to the Federal Court, the Supreme Court of Canada, and if that fails and the person gets a negative decision, the person can apply under humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and that would be notwithstanding a negative decision? Is he saying that this new program should take the place of that or is he saying in addition to that?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, I am a bit suspicious about the positioning of the Conservative Party on this particular issue because I think it is really related to the Prime Minister's position on the war in Iraq, which, I believe, makes members, even of the Conservative Party, a little uncomfortable.

I will read the motion for clarification. It states:

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.

If the hon. member had read it, which I am sure he has because we have debated this particular issue and the opposition party actually joined forces to address this issue, then he would have the answer to his own question.

However, I understand that for the hon. member this may be a technical issue, but it is not for us in the sense that we understand that these individuals we are dealing with, war resisters and conscientious objectors, are driven by values like honour, respect and dignity--