House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to first say a few words about yesterday. The House was not sitting. Some provinces were celebrating a holiday that is their own. In Quebec it was National Patriots Day. In order to justify my absence from the House, I participated in the National Patriots Day to pay tribute to our Patriots, those of yesterday—and also those of today and tomorrow—because we owe it to them to remember. We also have a duty to pursue the Patriots' democratic ideal, which is the democratic ideal of a people. It is also the right to live free and independent in one's own country, namely Quebec. It was an action-packed and sunny day, filled with festivities and events.

Let us now deal with senators. It would probably be more interesting to talk about the Ottawa Senators hockey team, but we must address the bill and debate it. Senators are also people at the service of the Canadian government. That is why the government appoints them. There is nothing democratic in this process. The government looks for individuals who can best promote its causes, regardless of their area of expertise. I could talk about two senators specifically.

My Senate division—we might as well talk about a dukedom—includes Sherbrooke and is called Wellington. The word Sherbrooke does not appear in the Senate division of Wellington. Since 1867, there have been exactly 10 senators representing the Senate division of Wellington: seven Liberals and three Conservatives over a period of 143 years. I should add that, for one reason or another, the position was vacant for at least seven years.

In Sherbrooke, there is a senator who is not the senator for Sherbrooke, or Wellington, but who is the senator for the Senate division of La Salle. I am talking about Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu. That individual has gone through hardships and we have a great deal of sympathy for him, but today he embodies a specific cause. We can definitely see why the Conservative government approached him to defend this cause, without worrying too much about details.

Ironically, the senator representing the Senate division of Wellington, or Sherbrooke, is Leo Housakos. Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who lives in Sherbrooke, represents the Senate division of La Salle, while Mr. Housakos, who is the senator for Wellington—or Sherbrooke—does not live in that region. As we can see, this institution has no dynamic or democratic link with the population.

Since 1867, the government has been appointing senators and keeping them for as long as they want to remain in the Senate. As I was saying earlier, in 143 years, we have had only 10 senators.

I would like to come back to Leo Housakos, who is the senator for the Wellington division. I said earlier that the government approaches individuals it needs to render specific services. Senator Housakos, for example, has services he can render. People said of him that he could raise tens of thousands of dollars in just a few weeks, thanks to a highly developed network of business associates in Montreal.

He is the one who fills the coffers before an election campaign. He is a token senator who renders services for the Conservative government and who has almost nothing to do with advancing Quebec and Canadian society.

A Conservative source, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely, said that Senator Housakos was very effective. The source said that you are not appointed at 40 years of age if you do not keep your promises.

The source painted a certain picture of him and things that were happening in Quebec society. We hear about construction companies and the funding of political parties. We also know that Leo Housakos has close friends in engineering consulting firms and construction businesses.

He is also president of a company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the engineering firm BPR. That is another aspect that has been talked about.

People have also said that construction contractor Tony Accurso, who owns many companies and is involved in big business in Montreal and Laval, is an acquaintance of Leo Housakos.

We have also heard that Mr. Housakos and Mr. Soudas have been friends since childhood. These are people serving the government. More specifically, they are serving the Prime Minister directly.

Now we simply want to limit the length of term served by senators to eight years.

The Bloc Québécois is not terribly fond of the Senate. The Bloc is against the principle of Bill C-10 because for all intents and purposes, we could very well do without such an archaic institution given that senators are only there to help the government get re-elected. These individuals are, perhaps not manipulated, but at least directed to help the government win election after election and to ram bills through. Conservative senators toe the party line.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the Conservatives want to reform the Constitution by going over the heads of the provinces and Quebec. On November 22, 2006, the Conservative government moved a motion recognizing the nation of Quebec. Since then, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the nation of Quebec and have rejected every proposal to solidify the recognition of the nation of Quebec.

The changes proposed by the Conservatives serve only to undermine Quebec and to punish it for not voting Conservative. Just look at the democratic weight of Quebec, Senate reform and the fact that they have called political party financing into question.

The Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. Accordingly, there are reasons why changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally by Parliament and must instead be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces

In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the capacity of Parliament, on its own, to amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate.

According to the ruling it handed down in 1980 about Parliament's authority over the upper house, decisions pertaining to major changes affecting the Senate's essential characteristics cannot be made unilaterally.

This means that Quebec and the provinces must be consulted on all reforms that affect the powers of the Senate, the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled and the residency requirement of senators.

In 2007, Quebec's former intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier, reiterated Quebec's traditional position when he said:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

The same day, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

Quebec feels that the division of powers must be reformed before the government reforms central institutions such as the Senate. We need to remember the 1978-79 constitutional decisions by the Lévesque government.

In addition, the government of the Liberal Party of Quebec, a federalist party, took part in the Special Committee on Senate Reform in 2007. In its May 31, 2007 brief, it stated:

The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. But if the aim is to alter the essential features of that institution, the only avenue is the initiation of a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that fully associates the constitutional players, one of them being Quebec, in the exercise of constituent authority.

The Government of Quebec, with the unanimous support of the National Assembly, therefore requests the withdrawal of Bill C-43 [elected senators]. It also requests the suspension of proceedings on Bill S-4 [which became C-19, then C-10 on Senate term limits] so long as the federal government is planning to unilaterally transform the nature and role of the Senate.

This is a far cry from the position of Daniel Johnston Sr., who in Toronto in November 1967 called on the government to consider transforming the Senate into a true binational federal chamber.

Do I have any time left, Mr. Speaker?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Sherbrooke has six minutes left to finish his speech, but it being 6:13 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

moved that Bill C-440, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (war resisters) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to a bill that requires the Conservative government to take into account the opinion of Canadians regarding the war in Iraq.

It is a bill that is very basic in its presentation to require the government to take Canadians into account on a matter that, on the face of it, might seem to only affect a relatively small number of people, perhaps 200 Americans who came to Canada looking for refuge based on their conscientious objection to the war in Iraq. Worse perhaps for some people in the House is they are people who do not even vote. They do not have a consideration in terms of whether at the next election anybody is returned to this place.

Despite the behaviour of the government to date, and we hold out hope, the bill would give all members of Parliament a chance to examine not just their consciences but their role as parliamentarians in expressing a will for Canada on important issues.

Underlying a simple law amending two parts of the Immigration Act, which would very directly provide for conscientious objectors to become permanent residents of Canada, to be eligible for wars that were not authorized by the United Nations in particular, that this would give them an ability to be considered. They would still have to meet all kinds of other criteria, and I mentioned that as I will later on, to ensure there is no distortion of what we are dealing with today.

Beyond those simple clauses, protecting them, protecting their families, ensuring they can be heard from is a bigger requirement. That bigger requirement is for this generation of Canadians to address how we feel about Canada's ability to determine who should be part of our country and how we feel not just about our traditions but about a Canadian sensibility going forward.

The bill is meant to give life to a Canadian sensibility that so far has been resisted from the government benches, certainly on the part both the minister responsible and the Prime Minister in terms of the public comments they have made.

It is essential that all Canadians have some access to this debate. It is not because it should command their attention or it should be a worry for them, but it is those quiet noises, the ones we do not ordinarily see, that are the measure of the character of a country.

All Canadians should be alert to those kinds of questions. While the Iraq war resisters from the United States may be voiceless in a classic sense, it is how we treat those kinds of individuals and classes of people that determines who we are as Canadians.

We have answered these questions before. A previous generation had not just the temerity, not a particular courage but just a sense of themselves to say to the Vietnam War resisters, those people who were volunteers in the army and decided, based on what they were asked to do and saw in that war, that they could not prosecute that. Over 10,000 of the 50,000 Vietnam War resisters who came to Canada were people serving in the military service at the time and they were accepted by a previous generation to Canada.

That was done out of a fulsome sense of what Canada was, not better, not against in terms of who we thought Americans are or were at that time, but rather who we are. We are a country of some tolerance, a country of some patience, a country willing to provide for differences in how some of these moral questions are addressed and willing to acknowledge that we in our country will have the gumption to take on those questions without trying to defer or without trying to say it is somebody else's decision.

It is our decision when people from wherever in the world present themselves to us and ask for asylum. This would allow us to address that question.

It is also necessary to keep in mind that this is a remedy because we have already addressed this question in other ways before.

In June 2008 and March 2009, the House of Commons adopted motions that we should welcome Iraq war resisters.

The question has already been discussed and by vote decided in terms of whether Canada wishes to provide a welcome availability to those types of people who want to be brought into permanent residence in our country. The difference is the government chose not only not to accept it, but to act in a way that was adversarial to their chances of being considered.

But the Conservative government rejected all of the applications. It publicly criticized the resisters, thus limiting their chance of a fair hearing. There were serious penalties for those who were repatriated to the United States.

This is not only about whether people get to become Canadian, but what should happen to them next. For those who were deported even as the debate was taking place, a few days later this chamber decided that it wished to provide a home in Canada to American Iraq war resisters. A few days later the government deported someone who subsequently received a 15 month sentence, someone who had participated in good faith.

Like all questions of principle, this basically rides on a human dimension, a human dimension of being Canadian. This is not a question of just 200 people. It is a question of giving a fair hearing to any group of people who find themselves in difficulty. This debate today is about whether or not this chamber is capable of providing that fair hearing.

Let me use as an example Chuck Wiley, one of the Iraq war resisters, who served 17 years in the American military. There may be some members of this House who believe they can speak of devotion to duty and we have some serving members who have exhibited that. I want people to consider what it was like for Mr. Wiley, who served in the navy for 17 years, and who arrived at a conscientious objection that did not permit him to serve in Iraq. I want people to consider what they know about American military sensibility and how difficult it was for him having served all those years, two years away from a pension, to walk away from his service as a matter of conscience and appeal to this country instead.

Words have been used by some of the members and ministers opposite and they invoke things like cowardice. They walk in the easy shoes of judging people without really giving full consideration to what happened in terms of an individual situation. The situation is tied to a larger perspective, the Iraq war itself.

Canadians had a perspective on the Iraq war. All we are being asked to do today with this bill is to confirm a perspective where 82% of the people of Canada oppose the war in Iraq, a perspective where the Government of Canada decided that this country did not support the war in Iraq. With all due respect to others who decided to participate and to sanction that war, we did not and neither did the United Nations Security Council. The facts about the famous weapons of mass destruction that informed that debate are available to members of this House.

Canada has spoken in that regard. It was a difficult debate. A decision was made after due consideration, and it is a decision that needs to be upheld not out of any sense of superiority but simply because we have the right to be sovereign in terms of how we look at developments in the world that engage us both ethically and morally and with the resources of this country. We made that decision.

The question for this House now is: Why in the face of that decision do we not extend some understanding to the people who appeal to us? Why does the government instead wish to impose its minority view, a view at one time that supported the war in Iraq, but a view that has changed? The Prime Minister has now said it was a mistake and he shares the same view as that held by the current President of the United States, that the Iraq war was a dumb war, that the United States should not have been involved in the first place. The Iraq war has a strong resonance for Canadians. It is something that they understand was a distinction Canada decided to make.

Some people might ask why we would entertain service personnel from another country. Would that not somehow affect us? It would not.

Different rules prevail and much of that is now recognized in the United States itself. Various hearings have been held in the U.S. which indicated that people were subject to irregularities, to conduct in terms of some of the incidents involving civilians, the Abu Ghraib prison, things that I believe this House, this country would wish the discretion for our service personnel faced with certain decisions of conscience. I believe there is faith in this House and faith in this country that Canadian soldiers would take those kinds of decisions if they were faced with them.

People who are asking for our consideration through this bill today faced a number of situations, but again many of them, like Mr. Wiley, are people who served not just a tremendous amount of time but served under a tremendous amount of difficulty. Some of them were subject to provisions that do not exist for service personnel in our country.

For example, there is the question of stop-loss. People like Phil McDowell served his time in Iraq. He served his contract. The Iraq war was being prosecuted at the time and there was a dearth of personnel. People may not realize it, but the Americans have fewer people under arms than at any time in their history. To conduct a war in Iraq required taking people and bringing them back again and again. That form of compulsion that exists is not to be found in how we deploy our service today.

The contract provisions for stop-loss have been found to be extremely difficult. The current President of the United States has asked that they be eliminated, but they were enforced particularly at the peak of the war. Phil McDowell, who served in Iraq under difficult circumstances, came back to the United States to find that the fine print in his contract required him to go back. After what he had seen, in good conscience, he could not.

That is what the House is being asked to uphold. This is how we respect some of those decisions that were made, a sensibility that in this country is every bit about endorsing a view of how we see our military operating, which is with some extreme level of decision making for individuals based on their conscience.

Those provisions exist and are available in the Canadian armed services. They were not available to many of the people like Jeremy Hinzman, who sought to be seen as conscientious objectors. Because of the difficulties and the challenges in terms of having enough personnel, for months stretching into years in terms of deployments, those provisions were not available to American service personnel.

There are distinctions that are made in how the National Guard was used and how other things were done in this war that meant there were some extraordinary circumstances faced by these personnel. That relates back to the war itself. People like Robin Long, who got 15 months in military jail, faced a very harsh outcome as a result of the government not listening to the House.

We understand there is a characteristic that some members opposite feel very comfortable with of a government that puts itself above Parliament and that is accountable to no one and to nothing. I would like to believe it will not find its way expressed in this bill. However, there is also something just as serious and that is the government putting itself above the Canadian people.

According to an Angus Reid poll conducted in 2008, nearly one-third of Canadians wanted Americans who opposed to the war in Iraq to be allowed to stay in the country.

Two-thirds, or 65%, of Canadians would like to give American resisters a chance to be citizens in this country, just as a previous generation gave to those from the Vietnam War. That may sit uncomfortably with members opposite, but it is something to be listened to. How Canadians feel on a question of conscience is something to have regard for. It needs to find expression and I am hoping that is the spirit in which this debate will be considered.

Canadians have that point of view and they look to the House to give it respect. I submit the only way for that to be given respect is to give this its expression in law.

We hear from some of the members opposite the idea that they cannot even give it consideration. Somebody said, “Not a chance”. People need a chance because this is a test.

As John F. Kennedy said, war will be less available when conscientious objectors have the same status as warriors in our society. Canada is not afraid to be a refuge against a militarism that is unthinking and that does not trade off against the rights and needs of individuals. This law will do exactly that.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the member for Parkdale—High Park. I find it astonishing that he would actually try to present a bill to the House that would cause us to have to pick and choose between the conflicts of our neighbour to the south. It is our best trading partner. It is the longest undefended border in the world and we have great relationship. We would have to pick and choose which conflict we would allow the deserters to come here as a safe haven or not. That is what he is suggesting.

He is also suggesting something regarding a volunteer force and giving them safe haven. We have a very clear understanding with our own military personnel when they sign up. In fact, many of those in the military have said to me that they understand when they sign up and the government says go, they go.

How can the member possibly do this to President Barack Obama, who has actually sustained the troops in Iraq? How could the member possibly say that we would give them safe haven when they are shirking the duty and responsibility they volunteered for in the United States military?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is exactly the idea. This is an actual chance to look at the idea of when there are limits for people to say no, for our troops, for other troops. There is a common human principle of how much we expect and in what conditions people can have a conscientious objection. It is recognized in international law. It is recognized at the United Nations. It is recognized in much of what we in Canada have available so far, and this simply clarifies it.

In the matter of the Iraq war, in the matter of these particular individuals, yes, I would say we can be both friends to the United States and still ask these fundamental questions and answer them somewhat differently. That is exactly the choice we have. It is out of respect for the United States that we can do this in open debate and come to a different conclusion.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the majority of members of Parliament in the 39th Parliament on June 3, 2008 supported the New Democrats' call to end the deportation of war resisters and allow them to stay in Canada permanently as residents and landed immigrants. Then in the 40th Parliament, on March 30, 2009, this Parliament did it again. This is a minority Parliament and it is hoped that this private member's bill eventually will pass third reading.

Perhaps the hon. member could comment on the state of democracy where in Canada the House of Commons keeps passing motions and laws to stop deportation of war resisters, yet this summer, no doubt some of these war resisters again will face deportation.

Perhaps the member could comment on the state of democracy where the Prime Minister and his Conservative government refuse to follow the lead of the House of Commons.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, we want the Conservative government to assure us that there will be no more deportations until Parliament has voted on this bill.

It is a simple request. There should be no deportations. There should be respect for the fact that there were two motions. Canadians have expressed themselves when asked. In fact there is no reason to thwart this little bit of democracy.

I am not saying that this trumps all of their issues, but there are some fundamental principles at work here. I would say the capacity of the government in its minority position to listen, whether it is the majority or whether it is a significant point of view, I think is very much in doubt in terms of the character it presents to Canadians.

I am hoping that this debate will be different. I believe it deserves that, even if people hold other different, distinct and opposing views. Let the debate happen. Let us have no deportations until that is done.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member for Parkdale—High Park could address the fiction that the American armed forces is a voluntary force. We know about the stop loss program that has involuntarily re-enlisted 185,000 American soldiers, and despite promises to reduce the dependence on involuntary re-enlistment, it has actually gone up by 43%.

It is not a volunteer army we are talking about in the United States. I wonder if he could put to rest that fiction that is being promoted in the House this afternoon.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I addressed in my speech, there are four or five different ways that compulsion was being used, at least at the depth of the Iraq war, on U.S. personnel in ways that are different from the Canadian armed forces and in a way that is a de facto draft for many of the people who are affected. That is why those kinds of compulsions are addressed in this bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:35 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, implicit in any debate on U.S. military deserters is whether or not they are refugees, whether they face persecution.

The Liberals have said that U.S. military deserters, or as they call them, war resisters, should be granted refugee status even though the independent Immigration and Refugee Board has rejected all deserter claims as bogus.

A further question is raised as to why the Liberals are accusing the government of our friend President Barack Obama of persecuting U.S. citizens.

We feel that this bill, if enacted, would pose risks to the safety of Canadian citizens and to the laws governing our military.

Bill C-440 proposes that individuals who meet the criteria could become permanent residents by asking for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Section (1.1) of the bill also says that military deserters:

--shall be exempted by the Minister from any legal obligation applicable to that foreign national—or his or her immediate family—that would prevent them from being allowed to remain in Canada, [for] that foreign national--

Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials have determined that, as a result of this provision, immigration officers would be powerless to refuse military deserters or a member of their family, even if they would otherwise be inadmissible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, security or--

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private members business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The ministry has never tabled such an opinion. There are independent opinions that have been put forward that all protections for inadmissibility are in place. I am sure the hon. members want--