House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister has raised an important point. It reinforces my thoughts on the fact that when negotiations are difficult and when people give it their all, we end up with a very good product. When we look back at all the months that have passed and all the exchanges we have had, the bill itself was improved to make it the best possible bill.

Obviously, like any new law, it will have its challenges. I can guarantee the minister that there will be some days, which I hope is not the case, when people will ask if this was the right decision. I think the minister and Parliament has benefited from the forceful debates and strong ideas because the bill itself was tested. It was certainly tested by people on this side of the House, and I can vouch for that myself, and I know that other parties went through exactly the same type of dialogue, discussion and internal debate. That is what benefits the final product.

It would have been very easy, hypothetically, if it were a situation where the government could decide everything. I do not think, quite frankly, that the minister would have had this legislation, which is superior to the one we originally looked at. That is the benefit of engaging individuals who are quite responsible and knowledgeable on this issue.

Even if there are challenges to this bill, it is my wish that the government of the day will not give up on the principles of the bill because they are sound.

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Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear from my colleague from Vaughan about the prevailing tone during our discussions and deliberations, including during the clause-by-clause study last week. In this committee I have in the past sat through some rather stormy clause-by-clause studies, with series of amendments and subamendments that not always particularly well thought out or well placed, with bitter discussions and so forth. Last week, however, our debate was intelligent, orderly and thoughtful.

I know that the hon. member for Vaughan is himself a very level-headed person. As we saw in his speech today, he is very respectful of different opinions.

Does he think it a good thing that our committee be able to operate in this way, and can he continue to encourage all the members on this committee, including those from his caucus, to always conduct themselves with as much dignity and sobriety as he does?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, the way this entire bill was negotiated was quite different because we had a minister, as well as his staff, who were willing to sit down with people and we had opposition parties that were willing to work together.

I do not want to give the impression that the government got it right on everything. For example, on the issue of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which was a motion that I moved, as everyone will recall, it was the members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc who supported it, which was a good thing. The reality is, however, that the minister, although I am not sure, probably had to go an extra mile to ensure his cabinet would approve of that particular condition that we set.

Can this be duplicated everywhere? I do not know if these conditions will exist in other committees. Are these conditions that I wish could be duplicated? Of course I do because today my hon. colleague from the Bloc Québécois has a smile on his face, as does the member for Trinity—Spadina and the minister. The reason is that they feel within themselves that they have accomplished something positive and good for the country.

That is the reason for the smiles on their faces and I hope one day there will be more smiling faces in Parliament.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, since we are talking about smiles, I would like to start off on a lighter note. Over these past weeks and months, the most frequent method used to discredit adversaries was to accuse them of forming a coalition. This is the popular thing to do right now. Earlier, I calculated that there are 10 possible combinations. There is the possibility of a Liberal-Conservative coalition, a Bloc-Liberal coalition and so on. If we do the math, we can see that there are 10 possible coalitions. Based on what has been said during question period over the past few months, there is always one party that is not in the coalition and that will insult its adversary by saying that there is a new coalition. That is what has often happened and what is happening again today.

In fact, we have formed an 11th coalition, one that is perhaps surprising because it involves all four parties. This bill was passed unanimously. It is in front of us for a third and final reading. In all likelihood, it will be passed a bit later.

The people who are watching at home and who are seeing the minister and the critics from the other parties smile, laugh and converse might wonder what is happening in the House today. Anyone who watches question period expects the opposition to say that the government's actions make no sense and that it is not doing things the way it ought to. Then the government says that the opposition knows nothing. But this is different because, frankly, our committee work was infused with this same spirit of co-operation, which I believe is necessary and in line with the behaviour expected of us by the citizens who elect and choose us.

The committee worked very hard. We had long evenings of consultation. We had consultations during the day but also at night because we wanted the changes to be implemented quickly. However, we wanted to do our job properly and take the time to hear everyone's comments.

I believe we did everything we could. We did as much as humanly possible. I remember sessions on Thursday evenings when members were a bit tired and would start joking around a bit. I made a point of apologizing to certain witnesses who were wondering whether MPs took things seriously. With all due respect, I think we did good and necessary work.

At the same time, following lengthy consultations, there were exchanges between people from the different parties. Contrary to what people often think, we talk to our Liberal, New Democratic and Conservative colleagues. We had discussions that led to a rather interesting and effective situation in which we could proceed with a clause-by-clause review, in other words, that time in committee when we vote on the clauses of the bill and make amendments.

We managed it in just a few hours without any drama. I believe that the majority of the votes were unanimous and a few were on division. There was no animosity in the discussions. We finished relatively early that evening and we would have finished earlier still if we did not have to go back and forth between Parliament Hill and downtown Ottawa three times to vote in the House. Maybe the fact that we got some air and walked around a bit got our minds in gear and allowed us to come up with this solution.

As those who spoke before me have pointed out, there is a general sense of satisfaction with the result of the committee report.

This is not the sort of compromise where you go home saying you had to give up this, you got that, you had no choice and you have to live with the end result. We are pleased with what we accomplished. Of course, it is not the bill that I would have written or that the members for Trinity—Spadina or Vaughan would have written, and it is not the bill the minister had drafted. It is something else, the result of everyone's contributions, but it is not an awkward compromise, an agreement we are forced to accept with resignation because we have no choice. It is good work.

We want to thank everyone who had a hand in amending the bill. Needless to say, we want to thank the minister, who was open and wise enough to come and talk with the critics from the various parties and who was open to new ideas. He did not reject them out of hand, just because they came from party x or y or a separatist party, which unfortunately sometimes happens in the House. We had good discussions. In some cases, the minister also convinced us that some amendments might not be appropriate. We worked hard, and as the member for Vaughan said, I hope many other ministers will take a page from this minister's book.

We would obviously also like to thank the parliamentary secretary, who worked hard as well. He was always very respectful and very open to the proposals made by the other committee members and the witnesses who appeared. I want to thank the Liberal and NDP critics, with whom I worked closely in many ways. Together, we achieved something very worthwhile.

We also want to thank the people who were our raw material, the people who appeared before the committee to tell us what they knew about the reality of refugees. We heard from lawyers, representatives of the Quebec and Canadian bars, refugee advocacy groups, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Fédération des femmes du Québec and all sorts of groups that work with these people every day and have an intimate knowledge of what they go through. We even heard from refugees who had gone through the process and who came to testify.

These people provided the material that helped us achieve this result. I honestly do not think we can simply say that we did a good job as parliamentarians. It is true that we did, but it was only possible because of those who got involved, participated in these consultations and provided us with the material we needed to get results.

I find it interesting that, although the public is unfortunately too often cynical and disillusioned, this refugee protection reform will perhaps be a positive example for all those who hesitate to get involved in politics or to appear before this type of committee, who hesitate to take the time to draft briefs, thinking that nothing will change, since everything is already decided in advance. These people will perhaps realize that they can contribute and help make changes to legislation.

Personally, I would also like to thank all those within my party who worked to help me, particularly my researcher, Marie-Eve Therriault, as well as Annie Desnoyers, from the office of the House leader, who is a formidable resource on House procedure. I am sure that many parties in the House would love to have her work for them, but her heart is obviously with the Bloc Québécois; she is already taken.

Let us talk about the bill, because that is what we are discussing today.

First of all, I would like to point out the major improvements that appear in the version before us today, things that were not present at first reading or second reading. The Bloc Québécois will support this bill, albeit with some reservations, because we still have some concerns. We want to ensure that it will be implemented. It is a good bill and it is far better than the status quo. No one will be surprised to hear that I am especially pleased that there is now a refugee appeal division that is accessible to everyone.

I thank the minister for pointing out that the Bloc Québécois has been fighting for this for quite some time. I personally took up this fight and brought it to this Parliament with my private member's Bill C-291, which was introduced in the House in my name. It reached second reading and report stage in committee, but it was unfortunately defeated in the House by a single vote.

I could certainly make some sort of political statement, but in the spirit of co-operation that abounds today, I will refrain from doing so, for I am very pleased that we now have an appeal division. It is very important to have such an appeal division in order to be fair. All justice systems that are administered by human beings, who are not perfect and can be wrong and make mistakes, must have a mechanism to correct those mistakes. This is quite obvious, since all of our natural justice systems—our tribunals and courts—always provide the opportunity to appeal, even in matters that are far less serious. People go to court for a squabble between neighbours over a fence and if they are not satisfied with the verdict, they can appeal it to a higher court, explaining why they feel the decision was wrong.

It is obvious to me that in a matter that, quite frankly, is much more serious—whether or not a person will be sent back to a country where they risk persecution, torture, or even death—we must be absolutely sure that we do not make a mistake. In fence disputes, even a judge may be mistaken five or six times out of all the cases in a year, which is not very serious. However, in an application for refugee status, a mistake has serious consequences.

By establishing a refugee appeal division, we are assured that a mistake made at the first level can be corrected at the second level. I believe that the system will be more efficient with the appeal division. It will ensure that real jurisprudence, a body of jurisprudence, is established, and that decisions will be much more consistent.

For example, two brothers from the same country and with the same experiences were brought before two different board members. One application was accepted by one board member whereas the other was refused. I do not know which board member made a mistake but one thing is certain: one of the two board members made a mistake. The same case was presented but the outcome was different. I have often pointed this out. Lawyers have told me that they cannot tell their clients whether or not they will be accepted because it depends on which board member hears their case.

With an appeal division to which rejected claimants will be able to apply, or if the minister finds a decision maker to have been too lax in his decision, it will be possible to validate the decisions and to determine, after a period of time, which cases are accepted or not according to case law.

I also commend the fact that the committee has decided to maintain the possibility for refugee claimants to apply on humanitarian grounds. This is the safety net of our process.

In many cases, a person may be in situations of extreme difficulty and grave concern, and yet not meet the strict definition of refugee and be inadmissible. The definition of a Convention refugee is quite narrow. A person must not simply be seeking refuge and require assistance, but be truly persecuted and unable to find a place in the country where he would be protected. The hope is that, with a claim on humanitarian grounds, persons in this situation would be accepted.

There remain certain concerns, such as country designation. At first, I was not convinced. I was always concerned about whether diplomatic or political issues would interfere in the process.

I am relatively satisfied with the final text and the way it is drafted. Unlike some, I did not want the word “safe” to appear in the enactment, because in my opinion it would have introduced a value judgment. Countries could have brought diplomatic pressure to bear to obtain this label of safe country, whereas the more neutral term “designated country” does not pose this problem. I think that the two tools are balanced.

We also considered whether an interview is better or not as good as the previous form. Each method has its advantages and its disadvantages; time will tell. I think it is reasonable to trust in the professionalism of our public servants to conduct interviews properly in the best interest of the system.

Finally, I remain concerned by the complete absence of any possibility of reopening a case between the time someone receives a final decision from the refugee appeal division and the time he or she is actually deported. There might be personal events in his country: for example, his family might be massacred, with the result that when the final decision was made he was not a refugee, but he subsequently became one.

I hope that the system will be able to deal with this sort of case and that the Immigration minister of the day will take the proper action if such cases should arise.

I will close on what is perhaps a lighter note. In the end we decided to keep the title of the bill, since it can now be said to be truly balanced. However I can assure the minister that the committee will return to the charge on these next two bills, whose titles are frankly ridiculous. We will see to it that the titles contain objective criteria only, and not political opinions.

Personally, I emerge from this experience very satisfied: it is very rewarding. There are often difficult moments in our work as members. Sometimes, I stop at my desk, listen to question period, and ask myself what I am doing here, what is going on. But a moment like today is a good moment, and whatever happens to me in the years ahead, the day I leave politics I will be able to say that at least I did something important which had an impact on people’s lives, and possibly for many decades.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the most important part of the statement by the member opposite was his conclusion, and that is one that I certainly echo. We come here, we do a lot of work, but when we look back on what we have done in the future, there will be points, certainly, that are highlighted in one's own career. I think the member has done a very elegant job of explaining that this will be a signature to which he can be very proud.

He did indeed spend a little bit of time speaking about the issue that faced all of us at committee, which was that the original bill had the safe country of origin. Based on a recommendation that he brought forward, the word “safe” was removed, but the designated country remained. He did briefly touch on why that was a preference for him, but I would like to give the member the opportunity to speak to the importance of this designation within the bill itself and why it needs to be supported by the House.

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start with the first bit, on the satisfaction we derive, as members of the committee, from having done our job properly. This just goes to show that the members in this House, first and foremost, have a desire to make changes and improve things. We all know that, in terms of winning over voters, few of our constituents are watching today or will be rushing out to congratulate us on the changes to clause 17 of Bill C-11. We know that we are doing this because we believe it must be done. People put their trust in us and sent us to Ottawa. They do not follow our deliberations daily, but they ask that we act professionally and that we do our jobs properly, and when we succeed at that, we can obviously be proud.

Now, as for the designated countries, I am adamant that we must not use the term safe. There could be countries that are on the line, but would not want not to be considered a safe country by Canada because that would hurt their image. My concern is that these countries would push to get on the list, and that we would end up needlessly expediting files of people from those countries, when in fact we should be looking at them more closely.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments made by my colleague. I want to perhaps look forward, as we begin to look at the post-refugee reform package. We were able to come up with some major amendments on humanitarian and compassionate applications, designated countries of origin, time lines expedited for designated countries, regions and groups. The list is lengthy and meaningful.

I would like to ask the member this question. If there was one particular issue or one particular point that the hon. member could add to this reform package, what would it be?

I have had numerous conversations with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration throughout this process, always seeking what would enhance the bill. I wonder whether the hon. member's satisfaction for this present bill overrides any desire to add to it.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Of course not, Mr. Speaker. It is common knowledge that the Bloc members are never satisfied and that we always want more for Quebec. Of course we will not stop today.

More seriously, I mentioned this briefly and I am happy to have been asked the question so that I can come back to it in more detail. I believe that we should have found a way to include a provision about reopening files in cases where a person's situation has changed drastically after the final decision had been made. And this option should be available until the person has been deported.

I know that in terms of numbers, it does not represent many people. I am conscious of the fact that the system put forward in Bill C-11 is robust and will allow fewer cases to slip through the cracks. There will not be many errors of this type.

I also know that there are other voluntary mechanisms in place that allow the ministers to act in extremely specific cases. We know that in the past, immigration ministers were hesitant to use this type of mechanism. I would have liked to see something in writing—and not just another step that anyone could access—something that would have allowed a person in an unforeseen and unprecedented situation to ask, at the very least, to have their file reopened. Then, after a cursory study, we could tell them if there was a major change or if there was an extraordinary element that would result in reopening the file.

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, for years the member has really pushed to see the refugee appeal division established. Parliament has long said that it is important that an appeal division based in law and facts be established.

Initially the refugee board had three panel members and it was changed to two panel members and now one panel member. Perhaps the member could describe why having a refugee appeal division plus the support staff that comes as a result of this bill would repair the flaws in the present system which does not allow for an appeal. Why would this bill which establishes the RAD fix that problem?

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right in pointing out that the idea of an appeal division is not new here in Parliament. In fact, when the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was passed under the Liberal government, an appeal division was planned for. Two board members evaluated each case at the same time, and each made a decision. If one of the two members supported the claim, it was granted. Some said that was very costly and 95% of the time, the board members' decisions were the same.

So instead of having two board members evaluate each case, Parliament decided to have a first evaluation and a follow-up. It was decided that a single board member would rule in each case. If the member made the right decision, the case was closed and there was no need to get a second member involved. However, if there was an error, a second member could reconsider the matter. Unfortunately, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives ever set up the appeal division. I introduced a bill to force them to set up the appeal division, but unfortunately, it was defeated at the final stage by a single vote in the House.

So the bill includes the appeal division, and I must say that it is even better than what was originally contemplated in the IRPA. This appeal allows for a new hearing if necessary and allows individuals to introduce new evidence if, according to certain criteria, things have changed since the first claim or it was not reasonable to introduce the evidence during the first hearing. We finally have the long-awaited appeal division, and it is even better than before. We must salute the minister and the committee for their work on this and for finally implementing the appeal division.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, the Conservative Government; the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the Canadian Council on Learning; the hon. member for Yukon, the Food Mail Program.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, refugee laws have the ability to define a nation and sometimes it is not obvious until decades later.

Had the former prime minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, eased up on the refugee laws at the time, several hundred thousand Jews might have been saved from the Nazis.

Hiding behind the argument of the national self-interest of Canada, then immigration minister Thomas Crerar, with his official Fred Blair, barred Jews from entering Canada. Mr. Blair said it was “for the reason that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks”--he was talking about refugees--“and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives”.

Between 1933 and 1945 the United States under Roosevelt accepted 200,000 Jewish refugees. England accepted 70,000. Bolivia, a relatively poor country, accepted 14,000. Sadly and shamefully, Canada, a rich and vast country, accepted only 5,000 Jewish refugees.

Even the young Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in an election rally in November 1942, stated that he feared “the peaceful invasion of immigrants more than the armed invasion of the enemy”, an obvious reference to Jews.

It was only when the Jewish community through the People's Committee Against Anti-Semitism protest action that Canada began to ease its refugee policies. The people's committee sent a delegation to Ottawa representing 10,000 Canadian Jews and met with minister Crerar. Because of the huge and sustained outcry, finally in 1944, 450 Jewish refugees were allowed into Canada.

By 1945, the 972 very highly skilled, professional male refugees who had been in jail since 1940 were finally released from jail and became a professional pool of musicians, teachers, artists, writers, theologians and scientists.

Why do I bring up the history? Because establishing a fair and humane refugee policy is very difficult. Oftentimes doing the right thing is not necessarily the most popular thing to do and any mistakes made can result in beatings, torture, jail, and sometimes death.

There is an important lesson to be learned from that dark chapter of our history. We have to work with the people who are most affected, people who work with refugees, and then the government laws and policy will be perfected.

Today, in these difficult times, many refugees have to leave their countries because they suffer persecution. Last year, 43.3 million people faced persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They were forcibly displaced worldwide. This is the highest number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution since the mid-1990s and represents more than our country's population. If Canada makes a mistake and we end up turning away some of these people, it could be a matter of life and death.

That is why we must learn from that dark history and provide fast and safe entry for genuine refugee claimants and turn away those who are trying to exploit Canada's system.

New Democrats have always supported the creation of a fast, fair and effective refugee system. When this bill was first presented, we said we feared that no country is truly free from any form of persecution, whether it is hate crimes directed toward gays and lesbians, and transsexual people, or a woman fleeing domestic violence, genital mutilation, or an honour killing. Those countries may be democratic but they are not safe.

We are very pleased that people from those countries will now have the same rights of appeal. They will have the rights for humanitarian and compassionate consideration and the right to counsel.

That is why we are extremely glad that we are fast-tracking Bill C-11. We are compressing the timeline for report stage and third reading into one afternoon to give the bill fast passage so that the bill can become law, hopefully by the end of this month, or maybe even before the end of this month.

Allowing people to have humanitarian and compassionate consideration is critically important. Sometimes refugees may not know whether they belong in the refugee stream or the humanitarian stream. This is now built in and it is protected.

There are also extremely important regulations coming with the bill. We look forward to seeing them come into force. We are looking forward to the hiring of close to 100 refugee protection officers to clear the backlog. I believe there are over 60,000 claimants who have been waiting in limbo for close to four years for a decision. The Canada Border Services Agency's computer system will be upgraded. Those who are ordered to leave the country will be tracked by CBSA so they could be asked to leave Canada without Canada losing track of them.

New Democrats presented over 20 recommendations during the discussion at the citizenship and immigration committee. We would have preferred to see some other changes. For example, in the beginning we were quite uncomfortable with the interview process because the personal interview forms would no longer be used. We were worried about the cost of the humanitarian and compassionate application fees of over $500. We were worried that new information may not be able to be submitted to the refugee appeal division.

We were also worried that if countries had a last minute change and if refugees were deported to those countries, without the pre-removal assessment review, the refugees could face real problems when they returned home.

We also wanted all the clauses to come into force at the same time and that there be a built-in evaluation process. However, in the spirit of working together and of making compromises to make a better bill, I withdrew my recommendations in support of the humanitarian and compassionate grounds consideration, and allowing appeals for all refugee claimants and making sure that all claimants have a right to counsel. Those are things that we believe are extremely important.

Did we get everything that we wanted? No, however, it is a bill that is far more balanced. We believe when it becomes law, it will be worthy of celebration because at long last we will see the implementation of the refugee appeal division.

I want to thank people for the hundreds and hundreds of submissions that we received at committee. People took the time to write about the kind of changes they wanted to see. We heard from refugees themselves. It was extremely brave for them to describe their experiences and how happy and safe they feel now that they are in Canada.

We also heard from passionate refugee advocates who described their work with refugees and urged the committee members to we pass a bill that was balanced, fair and fast. They organized public meetings in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and many other parts of Canada and allowed people to speak out.

Our committee could not travel because we did not have the time, but we were able to hear from quite a large number of people through the Internet and video conferencing. Because of their wisdom, their persistence and their insistence that democracy means calling their member of Parliament when a bill needs to be improved, they did call us. I understand that a lot of members of Parliament received submissions, calls and visitations from people who have worked with refugees or refugees themselves.

That, in itself, was extremely precious because at the end of the day, when we come together collectively, whether we are refugees, refugee advocates, immigrants, organizations, members of Parliament, critics, the minister and his staff or public officials, the key component is that we must listen to each other and work together because we do want, collectively, the same thing, which is a fair and fast refugee determination process.

I hope that passing this law will mean that we will not repeat the tragic past of many years ago when we saw 907 refugees on board the St. Louis being sent away which resulted in half of them perishing. That is a lesson that we need to remind ourselves of over and over again as we talk about refugees and immigration issues because we do not want that terrible history to repeat itself. Canada is really a safe haven for many people seeking to make their homes in Canada and today, because we are passing a balanced, fair and fast refugee process, we have a lot to celebrate together.

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4:50 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for her diligence and good faith. I know that for a member of the NDP to work constructively with a minister in the dastardly Conservative government is an occupational hazard, so the fact that she was willing to put ideology and her own party's politics to the side to get something positive done for refugees and Canadians is to her great credit.

I thank her for reminding us about the era of officially sanctioned anti-Semitism that barred access to Canada for European Jewish refugees before and during the second world war. That history is detailed in the devastating book None Is Too Many: Canada And The Jews Of Europe 1933-1948, which I actually reread over Christmastime, and it struck me deeply with a moral responsibility. It really caused me to think through many of these issues, that while we must be a place of refuge for those in need of our protection, we also need to maintain a legal system, and I think we have struck that balance.

Speaking of balance, it is important in these issues that we have balanced public discourse. I just want to raise something with the member for her comment.

One of the public meetings she talked about was in Toronto a couple of months ago at which a representative of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Francisco Rico-Martinez, said that I was the worst anti-immigrant minister ever and essentially called me a racist. This past weekend I was at a community event for the Filipino community in Vancouver where members of an anarchist organization called No One is Illegal, apparently good friends of the NDP House leader, as she seemed to be very familiar with them, were screaming at me at a family event that I was a racist and a bigot.

We may have differences of opinion across the political spectrum on some of these issues but I would like to give the member an opportunity to agree with me perhaps that certain kinds of charges and certain kinds of rhetoric are actually terribly counterproductive and go beyond the pale of what constitutes civil discourse on these issues.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we could mire ourselves in hate and fear or we could rise above it: name-calling of any kind, calling people anti-Semite, hateful, bigot or racist.

It is easy to throw names around, to put people into straitjackets, to provide them with a label and then move on, but what does that accomplish? It does not raise any hope and no action comes out of it. It is just a blame game.

We can ask ourselves why we are members of Parliament. We have different points of view and different ideologies but at the end of day we are here to work together to make laws that are fair and good for every Canadian and for those who want to become Canadians.

If we persist in that kind of negative behaviour, we will repeat what I saw in the House of Commons during question period when no intelligent answers were given. It was just a lot of hateful name-calling. Or, we could work together at committees or on the side to ensure that the laws we pass are fair and balanced.

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4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina did significant work in committee on the process that led to Bill C-11 being adopted. Certain themes are very dear to her. She was instrumental in helping me convince other committee members of the importance of an appeal division for everyone. She even put a bit of pressure on our Liberal friends to ensure that they support our position. She was also quite concerned about the issue of allowing permanent residence applications on humanitarian grounds for refugee status claimants.

Could the hon. member explain to this House the importance of this mechanism as a safety net for those who do not exactly fit into the definition of refugee status?