- His favourite word was country.
Last in Parliament September 2010, as Liberal MP for Vaughan (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2008, with 49.18% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Balanced Refugee Reform Act June 15th, 2010
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.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act June 15th, 2010
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 June 15th, 2010
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.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act June 15th, 2010
Mr. Speaker, first, I begin by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration for the leadership he has demonstrated throughout this process of turning our commitment to refugee reform into reality. His openness to change, his ability to seize the one in a generation opportunity to deal with a sensitive and often difficult area of public policy is to be commended. It is proof that in our vocation, when we answer the call of public service, we can achieve great objectives for the sole purpose of demonstrating the fact that we are not in this place for some vanity trip or the power of self-indulgence. Rather we are here to bring about positive change to the lives of people and a great willingness to do good for society and show respect for our democratic institute and indeed the democracy within which we live in our country.
Throughout this process the minister has demonstrated a great capacity and work ethic as well as political know-how and leadership. It is not always easy to negotiate. Sometimes it can be quite difficult. People have certain views on issues and they express them openly and sometimes forcefully, because that is part and parcel of what democracy is truly all about.
I want to underline the fact that the minister's willingness to share the credit with his fellow members of Parliament on both sides of the House of all political stripes really speaks to his generosity of spirit and dignity as a parliamentarian. For that, I want to express my gratitude for all he has done.
This issue really began over a year ago, in March of last year, when I asked the question of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration in relationship to some of the major challenges that the refugee system in Canada was facing and had faced for a while. The issue of backlogs, for example, and many others were brought to light by an Auditor General's report that had some major concerns about Canada's refugee system and we needed to do something very quickly to rectify this issue.
Conversations took place with my caucus colleagues a number of times throughout this process to see how we could better improve the legislation. The minister in his answer essentially said that he would welcome discussions about the refugee system and really opened up a sincere dialogue between members of the opposition, myself included, and his department. He was actually very much involved in ensuring the concerns that were raised by my caucus, for example, were addressed in our own conversations about how to better address some of the challenges. The minister in his speech has really covered all the areas that we needed to address and he also clearly has outlined the concerns.
I am speaking at length about the process today, as we reflect on Bill C-11, because what is very evident to me, and I am sure to members of the committee who worked diligently on this and to everyone who cares about the refugee determination system in Canada, is that if there is a sense that there are issues that need to be dealt with in Parliament in a very open way, and if we, as parliamentarians, have the political will to bring about positive change, things can be achieved.
I read with interest an editorial in the Toronto Star, and this is a headline I am sure the minister will treasure for a while:
Miracle deal on the Hill.
Political miracles are still possible on Parliament Hill.
It ends by saying:
The real miracle would be to transform this isolated incident into standard operating procedure.
I think we need to reflect upon that. We need to reflect upon the fact that minority governments can produce great legislation. However, there has to be an openness. There has to be an openness to dialogue. The answer really does not lie in shouting at one another but rather in putting thoughts on paper, discussing, and being open to changes that may even mean giving up some things that are very dear to you.
When we look at what I hope will become a case study of Bill C-11, I hope, with all due respect to other ministers in the government, that they take a page from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to see how they could facilitate a better performance of Parliament.
I can speak at length about the changes, the significant amendments that were made, but I am underlining the issue of co-operation, because I sense that it is what Canadians are really seeking. Canadians are seeking from Parliament a new style, a new way of doing things. They look at us, and they want to know that when we rise in the House, we are not thinking only about our own personal agenda. It goes beyond personality. Rather, it goes to the core of what proper representation in the House is truly all about. We can, as a House of Parliament, get up every morning with the ultimate reality in our minds, and that is that we need to come up with the best possible policy available to deal with the challenges Canadians face.
As I look at some of the significant amendments to Bill C-11 that were already mentioned by the minister, whether it was the Liberal Party pushing very hard on the humanitarian and compassionate applications, whether it was the work of the NDP and the Bloc on designated countries, whether it was the member for Vaughan, if I can refer to myself, pushing for changes to timelines on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, or whether it was dealing with the minister—and may I say that receiving an e-mail at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. was common during these negotiations—it speaks to a willingness to get things done.
As we look down the list of humanitarian and compassionate changes, timelines, the financial commitment of over $540 million made by the government, we can see that this is serious. We answered the call of Canadians. We answered the call of concerned individuals and organizations that deal with refugees. We answered the call of individual Canadians, who felt that our refugee system was, quite frankly, being abused. They wanted parliamentarians in the House to stand up for our country, for the dignity of our system, and for the integrity of our system. This is a bill that goes in the right direction. It is a thoughtful bill. It is a bill that in its original form was a bit flawed. However, with the work of parliamentarians on both sides, we were able to achieve positive change.
When we looked at the advisory panel, when we looked at the trigger points to designate countries, which was a major issue in my caucus, as some members may recall, eventually, we found solutions.
The minister, in his wisdom, when he found that a certain partner was not at the table, sought other partners. At the end of the day, the minister and the country got what we needed. That is more important than a political victory.
What is important is that we, as parliamentarians, have been able to deliver to the people of Canada what is rightly theirs: a bill and a policy that addresses their key concerns. It addresses those things they care about, those issues they talk about around the kitchen table, those concerns of families, of refugees, who have to wait years upon years for a decision to be rendered. Now they will not have to.
If this system works well, what we will need to remember is that public life is about people, at the end of the day. If we can relieve the pain that some of these individuals have felt over the years because of a flawed system, then we have done our job. If we can stand up as parliamentarians and say that we have a refugee system that has elevated Canada's status as a system that is fair, that is just, and that allows individuals to come to our country to seek refuge, then we have done our job.
Upon reflection, as we think of the process of that very first question to the minister, of his openness in his response, of the work done by members of Parliament on all sides, of the agreements and disagreements, and of the tension, and may I say, today, the relaxation, we begin to comprehend in a very real way that positive change in this chamber is indeed possible. Things can, in fact, happen for the better.
There are many refugees who have come to this country who have made great contributions. They have enriched the cultural fibre, the economic fibre, of our country. We welcome them with open arms, because we have a responsibility, as people in one of the greatest democracies on earth, to play our role as parliamentarians. We engage in an international and global society, a global village, where countries and citizens need one another to create the type of global environment in which we mutually benefit from each other and mutually benefit from the gifts we have been given.
I want to particularly say that from a governance point of view, Bill C-11 represents a good model to follow, because although we have certain views and some very strong views on issues, I think that the give-and-take is extremely important in the creation of good public policy.
There is a reason refugee reform is often not touched. It is difficult. It is sensitive. It is, at times, politically charged. People want to avoid that. However, I think that this citizenship and immigration committee has really demonstrated leadership in ensuring that these changes the minister stated in his speech were achieved.
As a final comment, I would like to see more of this in the House. I would like to see more Bill C-11s in the House. I want to see ministers who are just as open. I want to see opposition members who are just as forceful and aggressive and who care about people. In the final analysis, when we make our contribution to public life, we need to look back and ask if we made a difference in people's lives.
If the answer is yes, as is the case in Bill C-11, it is definitely a good day for Parliament. It is a good day for politicians. It is a good day for all parties involved. It speaks to the fact that when we gather our energies and focus on an issue of common purpose with good will and faith, we can succeed.
On a final note, during my negotiations, I was helped a great deal by a young man named Vince Haraldsen who works in the office of the Leader of the Opposition. I want to thank him. Obviously, I want to thank the chair, my neighbour from Caledon, for his great work, and all members of the committee. I express to all of them my sincerest gratitude for what has been a great experience.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 26th, 2010
Madam Speaker, as a member who has been around this House for 21 years, there has to be a sense of operating in good faith and there has to be an element of trust. If that leaves parliamentary debate, if that leaves the essence of what public office is truly about, then we have a bigger issue to deal with.
What I will say is that in conversations with the present minister of immigration and past ministers of immigration, including the members for York West and Eglinton—Lawrence, I have always been a strong advocate of the refugee appeal division because I think that refugees should have a right to have access to appeal the decision rendered at the first level. I think it is a step in the right direction. It is something that we discussed a great deal. I am glad that it has been included in this bill.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 26th, 2010
Madam Speaker, I am quite certain that any present or future minister would view this particular issue in light of the definition of refugee. If in fact it falls within those parameters, then of course they certainly deserve to be looked at.
I think the hon. member is quite sensitive to this particular issue because he clearly understands that there are people in many countries who stand up for justice. Sometimes when they do stand up for justice against very powerful organizations, they risk their lives and feel persecuted in their own country.
The hon. member has raised this issue in this past. It is an issue that I am sure this minister and other ministers will look at as they look what defines a refugee and the changing dynamics that are occurring in countries. The world is forever changing.
I will just end by saying that the system needs to adapt to the new realities.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 26th, 2010
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his continuous consultation throughout the process. We may disagree on who is responsible for the backlog, but one thing we do agree on, which is extremely important, is the fact that the status quo is not an option and that improvements need to be made to regain confidence of the refugee system that simply does not work. It does not work for the refugees. It does not work for our reputation as a country. It is simply a system that we really need to roll up our sleeves and make improvements on.
Toward that end, I want to take this opportunity to thank so many members of the Liberal caucus who throughout the process have given me input on this area. I was very glad that earlier on, after the minister delivered his remarks, I brought to his attention four major points with which my caucus was concerned. They related to a number of issues from the safe country of origin to the quality and independence of the decision makers to their concern about the decisions being hasty decisions, which would result in bad decisions that perhaps would create even further backlog within the system as well as some of the concerns raised in reference to the one year ban on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The openness of the minister on those four issues augers well for further parliamentary debate. Ultimately our goal is to build the best refugee system possible.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 26th, 2010
Madam Speaker, it is critical that we examine the legislation before us and ensure that the refugee system reform measures will fix the refugee system challenges our country faces. Let us put the system into its proper context.
Today we have a backlog of 63,000 refugee claims. People in genuine need of protection wait about 19 months for processing claims. We have witnessed the drastic 50% decrease in the number of finalized claims and an almost 50% increase in the cost to finalize a single claim. The estimated cost to taxpayers is approximately $29,000 for processing each claimant.
There was a delay by the Conservative government in filling vacancies at the Immigration and Refugee Board which negatively affected the performance of the board. The minister's 2009-10 report on planning and priorities states that the shortfall in decision makers has contributed to the growth of the pending case inventory and to increased average of processing times. In addition, the Auditor General, in the March 2009 report of the Auditor General of Canada, chapter two, asserts her concern for the need to timely and efficiently appoint and reappoint decision makers to the IRB.
These facts and others made the case for comprehensive refugee reform very obvious and an absolute priority. Although reform of the refugee system is needed, we must ensure that it is fair, efficient and just. While the reform package incorporates some Liberal recommendations such as the refugee appeal division, we have to do due diligence on the bill. After all, there are concerns about what has occurred in the past four years, such as slow processing times and longer wait periods for persons claiming refugee status so, caution is in fact warranted.
Therefore, before any refugee reform legislation is implemented, we will ensure that it meets our standards of procedural fairness, that it is just, fast and efficient and that it does not undermine the trust many people place in our system. Obviously, as the minister alluded to, Canadians cannot afford further poorly implemented band-aid solutions like the imposition of visas on individuals from countries such as Mexico and the Czech Republic as happened last summer. This is the reason we will seek assurances that this reform package is going to meet the highest standard of public policy-making.
In 2004, the former Liberal government implemented changes to the appointment process for the Immigration and Refugee Board. Changes included an advisory panel made up of lawyers, academics and others involved in the refugee process which screened all applicants for the IRB. When the present government came to power, unfortunately it delayed appointments. Everyone knows the result of that has been a ballooning refugee backlog. This is what the bill is also trying to address.
In addition to the growing backlog of applications, there has been concern expressed about the integrity of our system. As I said earlier, recent spikes in claims from certain countries have resulted in an ad hoc use of visa restriction to constrict application volumes. As mentioned earlier, significant examples of this occurred last summer when in response to a spike in claims from Mexico and the Czech Republic, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration imposed visa restrictions on both countries. When we impose visa restrictions, we can jeopardize or strain relationships with countries, in the case of Mexico with one of our North American economic partners. In the case of the Czech Republic, there were also bad feelings created in the European Union as a result.
The government's justification for the bill is focused on streamlining the system to deal with the growing application backlog, providing further flexibility to the minister to deal with the unusual spikes in refugee claims from democratic source countries and streamlining the removal process for unsuccessful applicants.
The bill proposes changes to almost every stage of the in-Canada process. Currently, people with successful claims are waiting an average of 19 months for a decision and it takes an average of four or five years to process and remove an unsuccessful claimant.
Information is currently gathered within 28 days through a personal information form. Under this bill, personal information would be gathered within eight days of a claim through an interview process. It is hoped that this will avoid delays related to incomplete forms and late paperwork. However, there have been significant concerns that this timeline is unrealistic and will result in claimants being unable to get appropriate counsel.
Possible changes around timelines and appropriate legal aid protection should be considered. We cannot afford to have a system where legal counsel is effectively denied and where a poor decision will lead perhaps to a number of time-consuming adjournments.
In the current system, a first-level decision is made by a governor in council appointee within about 18 months. Under the new process, the first-level decision would be made by an IRB public servant within about 60 days. Other countries that have public servant first-level decision makers tend to have higher rates of successful appeals. This can make the process less efficient overall and undermine trust in the refugee determination system.
For instance, the UNHCR has expressed concerns that administrative decision makers in the United Kingdom are inadequately trained and are not producing quality credibility assessments at hearings. Although CIC officials claim that the decision makers in the new system would be senior level and would be highly trained, there is no guarantee of that in this package. The fact that decision makers are housed in the independent IRB may alleviate some concerns regarding their independence, but close assessment of their qualifications, training and hiring processes will be required.
Concerns have also been raised about the 60 day timeline, whether it is realistic and whether it will limit a claimant's ability to obtain representation and compile a proper case within this timeline. Review of these timelines and possible further legal aid support will be required.
There is currently no appeal within the IRB and review is left to the Federal Court. It should be noted that the concept of a refugee appeals division was part of the initial Liberal plan for the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The bill would create a new refugee appeals division, RAD, staffed by governor in council appointees to review negative first-level decisions. The target for the appeal process in this case would be within four months. Most of the appeals would be paper based, but there would be an opportunity for an oral hearing and the introduction of new evidence that was not available at the time of the first hearing.
In the United Kingdom, 89% of the initial 2007 decisions were appealed and 23% of those initial refusals were overturned. This has led to a huge court backlog of 450,000 cases as of 2008 in the United Kingdom, which may take between 10 to 18 years to resolve. By comparison, in Canada only 1% of asylum appeals are currently successful.
Guidelines are expected to clearly set out when an oral hearing is necessary and when an appeal should proceed in writing. The adjudicator's decision to proceed in writing or not would create an additional administrative decision that could be appealed to the Federal Court.
The primary concern about the introduction of the RAD would be to ensure that the first-level decision is conducted in a way that protects procedural fairness and fundamental justice sufficiently to avoid the RAD becoming another bottleneck in the process.
The system does not currently include a designated country of origin list. The bill would provide the minister with discretion to create designated countries of origin. This is one of the most contentious proposed changes.
The UNHCR has already expressed concern that any such process must take into account the gender and sexual orientation persecution issues in many democratic countries. This may also create diplomatic problems as countries lobby to be put on the list or may be insulted that they have been left off.
UNHCR has previously indicated that safe country of origin practices are acceptable as a procedural tool provided we have safeguards in place. The bill would remove access to the RAD for individuals from designated countries of origin. However, claimants can still have a negative decision reviewed by the Federal Court.
There are still unanswered questions about the process for adding countries to the designated country of origin list. Although we have been assured that this will be used as a last resort to avoid the imposition of visas in countries in good human rights records, issues of fairness and fundamental justice will have to be addressed.
Legal experts are pointing to a major difference between Canada's proposed legislation and that of European countries. The word “safe” does not appear anywhere in the relevant section of Bill C-11. This omission, they say, places too much legal discretion in the hands of the minister and raises serious questions about the law's potential use. It may be appropriate to look at the process by which countries are designated and incorporates some level of independence for selection or parliamentary oversight through amendments.
Currently a claimant has access to multiple appeal processes, including the Federal Court, after each additional rejection. The bill would restrict access to other avenues of appeal for one year following the last negative decision. That means that once the IRB, or RAD, if triggered, has rendered its decision, post decision processes will be barred for one year to allow for removal within that year. Applicants would retain the ability to appeal to the Federal Court. For the information of members, barred avenues include pre-removal risk assessment, section 25, a humanitarian and compassionate grounds application, applications for temporary residence and administrative deferrals of removal.
There would also be a ban on concurrent applications under the refugee protection system and under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Prior to the first level decision, applicants in the refugee system would be required to select which stream they would like to pursue. Unsuccessful refugee applicants would be banned from section 25 applications for one year from their final IRB determination. After one year from the final IRB decision, the section 25 avenue would again be reopened or open to the applicant. Any time bars to accessing pre-removal assessment or humanitarian and compassionate applications would still need to be reasonable and procedurally fair, as the life, freedom and security of the applicant could be at stake pending the outcome of these decisions.
The humanitarian and compassionate review process operates as an avenue of last resort for persons who do not fit into any of the categories in IRPA to appeal directly to the minister. Limiting access to humanitarian and compassionate grounds could lead to people being deported in the face of humanitarian injustices and safeguards. This will require close review. This issue will require further study to assess the practicality of closing all these avenues of recourse.
The reform package proposes $540.7 million over five years and $85.4 million in ongoing funding. The $540 million is broken down into $324 million over five years for the development of the new refugee system, $126 million to address the backlog and $90 over five years to increase the number of refugees resettled from abroad.
The concern we have, and I have stated this to the minister, is that these funds were not set out in budget 2010 and the Conservatives told us program spending was frozen for the next several years. The minister has stated that these funds are in the fiscal framework, so it will have to be determined what will be cut to take into account these new expenditures. For instance, according to budget 2010, CBSA was actually identified as a source of savings of $54 million in 2011 and $58.4 million in 2012-13 through streamlining and cuts, but had been allocated $142 million in new money under this plan. Questions about transparency and accountability of funding are of concern. We want to ensure that the investment Canadian taxpayers make actually goes where it is supposed to go.
There has been a wide variety of reaction to the tabling of Bill C-11 and even prior to the introduction of the bill. For example, the UN High Commissioner was concerned prior to the introduction of the bill about the countries of origin idea. He stated that the new measures must recognize such things as “sexual preference”, are “grounds for persecution even in democracies”. He also noted other potential issues about gender.
Another individual, Professor Peter Showler, notes that the requirement that the first hearing take place within 60 days after a very quick interview is too quick and impractical. It is impractical in the sense that the refugee will not be able to find a lawyer, inform the lawyer, let the lawyer gather the evidence and present that evidence at the hearing. If that first hearing is not a good hearing, the entire system will unravel fairly quickly. He suggests that 120 days would be a more realistic time frame.
Lastly, the Canadian Council of Refugees does not agree with any of the major changes in the bill, stating that the introduction of a list of “safe countries of origin” is a mistake and has basically criticized the entire approach.
The Liberal Party and the Auditor General of Canada have noted the need to reform the refugee system for a while now. We must address some of the flaws that I have stated, however, there are some positive steps in this bill regarding needed refugee reform.
We must examine the effectiveness and fairness of the timelines for the first decisions so that they are realistic and ensure that the refugees are adequately represented. Refugees may face logistical challenges in acquiring the necessary materials to support their cases due to poor infrastructure in source countries or translation requirements. We must ensure the fundamental justice of vulnerable people involved in the system and ensure a flawed first-level process does not result in a backed up system at the appeal level, like they are struggling with in other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom. It is important that we ensure that all claimants have equal and fair access to the appropriate legal representation.
In the case of the quality of first level decision-makers, it is important that the government provide more specific details about the independence and qualification of the proposed first line decision-makers.
Clause 12 of Bill C-11 would give the minister the authority to designate a country, or part of a country, or class of nationals of a country, according to criteria to be established by regulation. Persons from designated areas of classes may not appeal negative refugee protection decisions to the Refugee Appeal Division. Nor may the minister appeal cases involving these people. Instead applicants and the minister would need to seek leave to appeal the first level decision from the federal court. The designated authority of origin clause may be problematic in its design, as it may present concerns of transparency and accountability.
Several lawyers and academics have raised concerns about the specific wording of the provision in Bill C-11, which refers to “designated countries of origin” rather than “safe countries of origin”. They argue that the current wording provides the minister with too much discretion in designating countries and that it is susceptible to politicization.
Bill C-11 would make several changes to the humanitarian and compassionate grounds for foreign nationals in Canada. For instance, according to subclause 4(1), the minister may not examine requests to remaining Canada's permanent residents on humanitarian and compassionate grounds if less than 12 months have passed since the final negative IRB decision.
It is obvious that we have presented a credible case for changes to a number of elements of Bill C-11. As Canadians, we take pride in the fact that our country offers a safe haven to so many who are victims of fear, discrimination or persecution in their home countries. Throughout this parliamentary debate, our focus must be on creating the best possible refugee system.
Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 26th, 2010
Mr. Speaker, as the minister knows, I have been consulting with my colleagues on the Liberal side extensively on this particular bill and, as with any public policy debate, there are those who are against and those who are for. Even when there are criticisms, they vary.
I have some very specific questions. Is the minister willing to be flexible in the following key areas? To ensure the initial process is procedurally sound and fair and does not cause unnecessary delays at later stages, is the minister willing to look at the feasibility of the timelines in the refugee package, as well as possible provisions to ensure claimants have appropriate legal requirements? On that same point, is the minister willing to provide further clarity around the independence and qualifications of the proposed bureaucratic first line decision makers?
On the issue that he raised, the designated country of origin provision is possibly the most controversial provision of the bill. My colleagues, in their consultations, have brought forth concerns relating to the actual establishment of the designated country of origin list, its criteria, purpose and potential to compromise the protection of legitimate refugees. They have also taken note of the concern cited by the UNHCR, which I am sure the minister is well aware of.
I would also like to know if the minister is open to further measures to increase the transparency and accountability of the designated country of origin process, as well as the currently proposed degree of ministerial discretion.
Finally, is the government willing to look at introducing more flexibility into its proposal on the accessibility of applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds to ensure that nobody will fall through the cracks?
British Home Children December 7th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House and dedicate my words to our children all over our country who deserve to live in peace and harmony, and who need to be nurtured with love, understanding and compassion.
My hope today is to speak words of encouragement to inspire them to fulfill their destiny, to expand their vision and to find the courage to overcome challenges and accomplish their dreams and aspirations.
Each day for our children should be a day of purpose, one where they experience joy and happiness and pursue their goals with integrity and passion and make a meaningful contribution to their communities, our country and indeed our world.
Our children's lives should be an expression or manifestation of creativity and a source of inspiration for us all. Their sense of curiosity and their free spirit, unencumbered by preconceived notions of reality, should liberate them to create a new and better world, a world of expanded opportunities where all things work for the betterment of our society, where we stretch to get beyond our comfort zone and grow, where we stretch to build greater strength and surpass previous levels of achievement and fulfilment.
Our children need to know that they have our support in choosing hope over fear and in seeking thriving over surviving, success over failure and love over hate. Children need to know that they can count on us to be there for them and that we can be a guiding light for them during their life's journey.
Today, however, the motion we are debating reminds us of a dark chapter in our nation's history. As we reflect on this motion, we are also reminded of other past injustices, moments we regret and are not very proud of, such as the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, the Chinese head tax, the immigration rules that prohibited Jewish people from entering Canada, or the internment of Italian Canadians.
Today this motion to designate 2010 the Year of the British Home Child across Canada is a motion I fully support, a motion that the Liberal Party of Canada supports and I hope every single member of Parliament on both sides of the House will support.
Between 1869 and the 1930s, over 100,000 British children, the majority of them under the age of 14, were brought to Canada by British religious charitable agencies and placed with Canadian families as labourers and domestic servants. Many of these children had been in British orphanages or other institutions, often not because they were orphans but because their families lacked the economic means to care for them. They were simply too poor.
Their living conditions in Canada were not closely monitored. They were often vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. By some accounts as many as four million Canadians are descendants of home children. Their story is a sad story. It is a story of abuse, exploitation, displacement and abandonment, but it is also a story of courage, character, integrity and inner fortitude. Their young lives were emotionally, psychologically and physically painful.
In some cases, they became prisoners of their experiences, of the recorded images inculcated in their minds, images of betrayal, images that brought incredible sadness and pain and in some cases, unfortunately, a sense of learned helplessness. These children began to view the world as a dark uncaring place where no one could be trusted, where every person they met could be another exploiter, another abuser. Their memories were memories of lost childhoods and humiliation, memories that for far too many, broke their spirit. Their memories were filled with images of people and betrayals by people they thought they could actually trust. That lack of trust for people, institutions and, in some cases, themselves eroded their sense of well-being. In some cases, it also broke their self-confidence and instilled fear and self-doubt.
However, the vast majority looked within themselves and found the inner strength to overcome these very serious obstacles. In this House, in these comfortable surroundings, it is almost unimaginable to think of the great pain these individuals felt and how impressive it is now to look back and see the great contribution they have made to the growth of this country, the great contribution they have made economically, culturally and, in some cases, spiritually to the growth of Canada. It is hard imagining how these young children, the children who were abandoned, the children who were essentially given away, not because their parents did not love them but because they did not have the means to take care of them, would come to a country like Canada and put that past away, although it is always within their spirit, and bring about the type of positive change to their lives and those of their communities in making an incredible contribution to our country.
For that reason I want to congratulate the member for bringing this to the attention of the House. As I have said to him personally, I support him in a very strong and unequivocal way because children are very special. When I read their stories, I was deeply touched and moved by the reality they had to deal with, the adversity and challenges they had to overcome, to get to where they eventually arrived, the great place called Canada. However, as we debate the motion, which embodies what the very best of Canadian citizenship is truly all about, that we understand that when mistakes are made we apologize for them in many ways, we should never forget that these individuals are truly special people.
I want to leave the House with a final comment, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. who once said:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.