Journey to Freedom Day Act

An Act respecting a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment designates the thirtieth day of April in each and every year as “Journey to Freedom Day”.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

March 25, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, again it is an honour to rise today and speak in strong support of the journey to freedom day act, Bill S-219, which is an important piece of legislation that comes to us from the other place.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the effective end of the Vietnam War, one might reflect on the broader events that took place across Indochina 40 years ago this month. At that time there was an ominous shadow falling across the entire region, and the U.S. Congress had decided after great agonizing to end funding of the governments of Cambodia and of South Vietnam and to withdraw all further remaining U.S. military support and military advisors.

In March, barely 30 days before that fateful day of April 30, the Khmer Rouge forces had effectively surrounded Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. The American ambassador, Ambassador Dean, had begun preparations for the final pullout of embassy staff and Americans and third-country nationals, which took place on April 12, and which led to the eventual Cambodian genocide, the brutal murder of more than two million Cambodians, and a dark five years in that Southeast Asian country.

Barely three weeks later, the United States ambassador in Saigon, Ambassador Martin, decided it was time to end the American presence in that country. The musical strains of White Christmas were heard on April 29, and on armed forces radio in Saigon a voice said it is 110 degrees in Saigon and rising. This was the signal to all Americans, to all third-country nationals, to all Vietnamese who had worked in various ways for the United States over the previous three decades, to assemble at evacuation points and to leave the country.

As a journalist who was there and had evacuated from Phnom Penh on April 12 with the American ambassador, and again left Saigon on April 30 from the U.S. embassy in Saigon, my memory is saturated with images of the vast movement of humanity. More than 7,000 people were rescued from Saigon on that final day, in addition to some 50,000 people who had been lifted by fixed-wing aircraft in the weeks ahead of them. However, the greater tragedy lay ahead. It was not the two million-plus deaths of the Cambodian genocide, but the millions of Vietnamese who, when the country was partitioned in 1954 under the Geneva Accord, had fled the northern regime looking for a better life in the south. Many of these people had no option but to leave Vietnam. They did not have an aircraft or helicopter support nor connections with departing Americans, so they fled by all manner of marine watercraft

When Saigon did fall on April 30 and the North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gate to the presidential palace in Saigon, barely a few blocks from the American embassy, the beginning of an exodus of more than 1.5 million people began.

They set sail for the South China Sea in hopes that neighbouring countries would take them in. Many countries unfortunately turned them away, forcing them even further from their homeland to seek refuge in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and the United States. As we know, and as we celebrate in the journey to freedom act before the House today, 60,000 made their way to Canada.

I am proud to say that Canadians from all walks of life stepped up to the challenge then, offering whatever help they could to the long-suffering Vietnamese boat people. Approximately 34,000 were sponsored by Canadian families, churches, synagogue groups, and other community organizations, while 26,000 were accepted into the country under a government sponsorship plan.

In 1986, Canada was honoured with the Nansen Medal, which is the refugee equivalent of the Nobel Prize, given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in recognition of major efforts on behalf of refugees. This was the first and the only time that the Nansen Medal has been presented to the entire population of a country.

I will conclude my remarks now in the hope that colleagues will support Bill S-219 and the journey to freedom act.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-219.

I will support this bill at second reading so that it can go to committee. However, I would like to start by explaining why I am so proud to rise today. My colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry and I are the only two people of Vietnamese origin to be elected members of the House of Commons, of Parliament. For us, it is very important to remember what our parents, family members and ancestors lived through. Being able to talk about it in the House today is truly a privilege and an honour. It is a testament both to the great value we place on our origins and to Canada's openness and the fact that the Canadian people opened their arms to us by electing us and asking us to represent them.

It is therefore with great pride and gratitude that I rise today.

Bill S-219 is very short but has several aspects to it. I will read it because I want to talk about it. It has three clauses.

The first clause concerns the short title:

1. This Act may be cited as the Journey to Freedom Day Act.

The second clause, which is the core of this bill, reads as follows:

2. Throughout Canada, in each and every year, the thirtieth day of April shall be known as “Journey to Freedom Day”.

The third and final clause simply says this:

3. For greater certainty, Journey to Freedom Day is not a legal holiday or a non-juridical day.

The bill before us is a very short and simple one. As I said in French and will repeat in English, there are three clauses in the bill. The main one says:

Throughout Canada, in each and every year, the thirtieth day of April shall be known as “Journey to Freedom Day”.

Then the bill specifies:

For greater certainty, Journey to Freedom Day is not a legal holiday or a non-juridical day.

Why are we talking about April 30? Many people who had to leave their country attach considerable significance to that date.

For instance, my parents were fortunate to be here in Canada on April 30, 1975. They came here, they met here and they settled here, and I was lucky to be born here.

However, many people unfortunately had to leave their country. We all know this, thanks to the films and news reports that have been made about the Vietnam War, which left its mark not only on an entire generation of Vietnamese people, but also on the entire world.

Everyone is familiar with the Vietnam War. Everyone knows how much a war and the devastation it causes can affect the population and future generations. Still today, development in Vietnam lags behind because of the damage and destruction caused by the war.

I think remembering April 30 is extremely important because April 30 represents a day of commemoration. For many people in Canada and indeed around the world, April 30 is a day for people to come together. Ever since I was elected, for instance, I go to Montreal every year, which is an opportunity for me to remember my roots, my culture and the sacrifices made by many Vietnamese people.

I invite Canadians to watch the very moving speech made by my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry, who shared her personal experience and that of her parents. I think it is quite meaningful to many people.

To some, this day signifies the end of the Vietnam War, the end of a devastating war that had tremendous repercussions for the country. To others, this day also serves as a reminder that people had to leave their country.

What is more, many commemorative events are held around April 30 in recognition of the boat people. I invite those who have yet to watch a documentary on this, to do so.

This shows the direct impact that the war had on the population and the sacrifices that people had to make to leave their country in search of a better future. Today, we feel and see the results. New generations like mine and future generations reap the benefits from the fact that people had to leave their country and learn to live in a new society that was foreign to them. Even though Vietnam was a French colony, many Vietnamese did not speak French or English. Coming to Canada meant they had to adapt and integrate.

As an elected member, I am very proud to say that I am well integrated into Canadian society. The community is very proud of all the Vietnamese people who have achieved success at all levels, such as earning a living by becoming a doctor, for example. I am generalizing a bit. We also have writers, such as Kim Thúy, who is very famous in Quebec and around the world. A great number of people have made very significant contributions.

I read the bill and it is very simple. Unfortunately, it will not contribute anything new. We could have taken this opportunity to find solutions to current problems. I will come back to that later. I want to mention that there was lack of consultation and debate, and therefore transparency, in the other chamber's process. A great deal of attention was paid to what some people said, but not to what others had to say. I hope that the House of Commons committee will be more open-minded and that we will have a more fulsome debate, because it is important to have this debate.

As I mentioned, I received some 300 emails about this bill. Unfortunately, this bill is divisive at a time when we should be uniting the community. The bill has received criticism from all quarters. Some say that it does not go far enough and that it is not critical enough of the current government. Others, especially those in the business community who are dealing with Vietnam, say that it is not necessarily beneficial to negotiations and that it would be detrimental to discussions with the Government of Vietnam. As this is a Conservative bill from the other place, it is unfortunate that the approach used is not one that brings people together, not just Canadians, but also all Vietnamese Canadians, whether they are the children of boat people or those who were forced to leave their country. Why not unite all these people?

I am proud of the NDP position because we are talking about human rights. It is time to do so. I regret that the bill does not do enough to bring people together.

I look at what the younger generation has done. A friend of mine, Glenn Hoa has created “generation legacy”. Last year thousands of dollars were raised in order to invest in the Vietnamese boat people museum in Ottawa. It was a way for the community to get together behind a project that was unifying, that looked at the heritage of Canadians of Vietnamese origin or even that of the Vietnamese people who came here. It was a way for us to get together; it was different generations coming together.

Unfortunately with the bill, we do not feel this. We feel it is divisive. As I said, I have received hundreds of emails, some supporting the bill and some denouncing the bill. There are many things that need to be done in order to help people in Vietnam. I think we could have done a better job.

Since it is time to negotiate with Vietnam as part of the trans-Pacific partnership, we need to advocate for human rights. Unfortunately, the government is not going in that direction. Nevertheless, I understand that the important thing is to commemorate what happened to the people who had to leave their country. That is why I am going to support the bill at this stage.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Liberal critic for Canadian heritage, I would like to explain to the House why I will be supporting Bill S-219, An Act respecting a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, or the Journey to Freedom Day Act.

I would also like to explain why I am insisting that the government allow this bill to be extensively and thoroughly reviewed by the appropriate parliamentary committee. Everyone must have an opportunity to freely express their opinions, unlike what happened in the Senate.

Bill S-219 would designate April 30 as the Journey to Freedom Day and would commemorate Vietnamese refugees and their exodus to Canada. This day would not be a legal holiday or a day off. However, it would provide an opportunity to celebrate how lucky Canada is to have such a vibrant Vietnamese community. As the Liberal leader and member for Papineau always says, Canada's diversity is what makes our country strong. Vietnamese Canadians are a good example of that.

A number of my constituents of Vietnamese origin have shared a different perspective. They see this day as an opportunity to thank Canada for welcoming them with open arms and for giving them a chance at a new life. The Vietnamese are known for their generosity and modesty.

If Canada tells them that it wants to celebrate everything they have contributed, they respond that they would rather celebrate everything that Canada has given them. After all, we are looking at two sides of the same coin. Canada owes a lot to its Vietnamese community, which wants to thank Canada. Let us celebrate together.

The proposed new national day would commemorate a major historic event. On January 1, 1975, some 1,500 persons of Vietnamese ancestry were living in Canada, mostly in Quebec. Following the 1979 to 1982 boat people crisis, some 59,000 Vietnamese refugees entered Canada. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, after the United States, Canada is the country that welcomed the largest number of Vietnamese refugees from 1975 to 1996.

In 1986, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees awarded the Nansen Refugee Award to the people of Canada for the “major and sustained contribution of the People of Canada to the cause of refugees”. Canadians were the first and the only people to have been honoured collectively with this award.

The journey to freedom day will remind us that Canada welcomed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees and that Canada must continue to be welcoming. There were millions of victims of the Vietnam War, and unimaginable atrocities were committed on all sides. Since we did not participate, our country could have chosen to ignore these victims. If we are being honest, there were some people in Canada who did not want to get involved in the aftermath and consequences of a conflict we had no part in.

However, Canada remembered that although it was not involved in the war, it played an active role in the peace efforts. Canada remembered that every time it has shown generosity, it has become even stronger. Canada listened to its heart and welcomed refugees not only from Vietnam, but also from Cambodia and Laos, saving many lives and transforming broken dreams into renewed hope.

We must never forget the pain of the exodus, those who lost their lives, the unspeakable horrors experienced by the boat people, or the generosity of the Canadian families, communities and religious groups who took them in, clothed and housed them. Nor must we forget the foresight of the Canadian governments of the day, how hard the newcomers worked to learn, in a matter of months, French, English and new customs or how very much Canada benefited from the contributions of these newcomers, their children and the generations that came after them.

That is what we must never forget. That is what we will all be able to celebrate together in harmony, as we bear in mind both the sacrifices people made and the promises of the future, the opportunities available in a Canada that is stronger because of its Vietnamese community. That is how I, as Liberal critic for Canadian heritage, see this commemoration. That is why I support this bill. There is no other reason. The goal is to bring people together, to leave nobody out. The goal is also to strengthen the bond between Canada and Vietnam, to strengthen the trade, cultural and scientific ties between our two countries. Canada must stand up for human rights and justice in Vietnam as it does all over the world.

In other words, the Liberal Party sees this bill as an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the great contributions of the Vietnamese Canadian people to Canada's diversity and multiculturalism, and to all the elements of Canadian life and society.

The proposed new national day would also celebrate the Canadian families, charities, religious groups and non-governmental organizations that sponsored tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees and assisted them in their resettlement and adjustment to their new country.

Some Vietnamese Canadians have written to us, their parliamentarians, to tell us that they do not like the date chosen for the commemoration, April 30; others do not like the title; still others are afraid this commemoration will lead to a historical interpretation that makes them uncomfortable. To that I say that it is important for the people of the Vietnamese community to talk to each other. This commemoration must not be a divisive issue. On the contrary, it should be a symbol of unity and the wonderful symbiosis that exists between the Canadian and Vietnamese identities. That is why I think the committee that looks at this bill must take the time needed to listen to all points of view. In the meantime, Vietnamese Canadians must continue talking to each other to reconcile their points of view.

The Liberal Party of Canada will insist that it is the government's responsibility to invite an inclusive and comprehensive list of witnesses and experts to discuss this bill at committee to ensure a thorough discussion on the title, date, content and implications of the act.

We, as Canadian parliamentarians, need to clearly understand and send a message that, above all, our intention with this bill is not to dictate an official, unilateral version of the history of another country. We cannot even do that when it comes to Canada. It is not a question of siding with one side or the other after the fact, after a long and bloody war that our country consciously chose not to take part in. No, it is simply a matter of providing an opportunity for us to celebrate the contribution made by Vietnamese Canadians to Canada's rich social fabric, to remember where we come from in order to better understand where we want to go together.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill S-219, journey to freedom day bill.

I very much believe that this is a very important piece of legislation regarding a period in history that was a great tragedy for the people of Vietnam, however it also serves as a recognition of an event in which all Canadians should be proud.

On April 30, 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, it set off a mass exodus of people, many of whom—

[Disturbance in gallery]

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on April 30, 1979, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese army, it set off a massive exodus of people, many of whom had only one means of escape, on the water. It was the beginning of a journey that would be fraught with peril and tragedy for millions

In the first few years that followed, a few thousand made their escape from the communist regime, but by 1978 to 1979, those Vietnamese refugees were fleeing from their homeland in the tens of thousands. They arrived in a number of neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Their plight created a massive humanitarian crisis across southeast Asia, as many refugees left in overcrowded boats that were, in many cases, unfit to withstand the harsh conditions of the stormy seas.

More than a quarter of a million perished. Some died from illness, some were victims of pirates and kidnappers. It was, by all accounts, a nightmare for all involved.

An influx of so many refugees to those countries was more than they could handle. The “boat people”, as they became known at the time, were sometimes turned away. If they were allowed to land, they were not allowed to integrate into those countries, which led to the creation of several squalid refugee camps.

This vast humanitarian crisis required action on a global scale, and the world responded. With the aid of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, government officials in each country began the process of resettling the refugees in a number of developed countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, the United States and, of course, Canada.

Canada played a significant role in aiding tens of thousands of refugees after the fall of Saigon. During the humanitarian disaster that followed, Canadians rallied to offer whatever assistance they could. We ultimately brought more than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees here to settle and build new lives across our great country. It is estimated that 34,000 were sponsored by Canadian families, Canadian charities, religious groups and non-governmental organizations, while another 26,000 were assisted by the Canadian government.

The arrival and resettlement of the Vietnamese refugees in Canada is a shining example of how Canadians responded to a global calamity. Canada's compassionate response included families, church groups and community organizations that took the refugees into their homes, helped them find a place to live, to find employment and to get their kids into school.

This exemplary moment in Canada's history of humanitarian protection was a contributing factor in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' awarding its Nansen Refugee Award to the people of Canada in 1986. It was the first and only time that this prestigious medal was awarded to an entire nation.

Canada was forever changed and enhanced by the events following the fall of Saigon and the exodus of the Vietnamese refugees, not just demographically and culturally. In addition to the development of strong and vital Vietnamese-Canadian communities thriving in many cities across Canada, the Government of Canada enshrined its private sponsorship of refugees program as a fundamental part of Canada's refugee and humanitarian resettlement program. The community and church groups that sponsor refugees to come to Canada continue their compassionate work today, to the betterment of Canada, refugees and their families from around the world.

This bill would designate April 30 as “journey to freedom day” in Canada, and it would honour our Vietnamese-Canadian population by showing our support to a community that has flourished in our country economically, culturally and socially. The Vietnamese community in Canada has demonstrated its loyalty and love of Canada.

We are building on a tradition of commemoration well established in communities of displaced Vietnamese people from across the globe. It would also be a significant day for all Canadians, many of whom united in the mid to late 1970s in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe to welcome more than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees to a new land and a place to call home. It was an inspiring time as the Government of Canada and the people of Canada exhibited their humanitarian spirit to the world.

All Canadians deserve a day to remember, to show their considerable efforts and to show the world that we are a caring and compassionate nation. Journey to freedom day would not be a legal holiday nor a judicial day, but a day that would solemnly acknowledge the events of that dark time in history with respect to the sorrows of those refugees who were lost to illness, malfeasance or the cruelty of the turbulent sea. It would also be a day with a deep sense of hope for those who became Canadian, and a strong sense of pride for those who helped make that happen. It would also serve as a fitting way to begin Asian heritage month, which would begin the following day, on May 1.

With the passage of Bill S-219, April 30 will be a special day of commemoration for the Vietnamese-Canadian community, followed directly by a full month of reflection and celebration of the contributions of all Canadians of Asian heritage.

Canada values its relationship with the country of Vietnam. Grounded in mutual respect and partnership, we look forward to building on this very key relationship into the future. We owe it to those who have become Vietnamese-Canadians, however, to also acknowledge their true journey to freedom.

Today, there are more than 220,000 Vietnamese-Canadians who have integrated into and enhanced our country, who contribute to our growth and prosperity as vibrant members of Canadian society. The bonds that they have forged here have been deep and enduring, and Canadians are rightfully pride of our role in their journey to freedom, which began almost 40 years ago.

I strongly encourage all members to join me in supporting Bill S-219.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill was introduced in the Senate, a place that is already undemocratic, where there are no elected officials and no real accountability. The bill comes from a place where there is no accountability for the work being done and, specifically, a very biased process.

I will start by giving a little background of the bill. The short title of the bill is the journey to freedom day act. It would establish April 30 as journey to freedom day to commemorate the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975, which ended the Vietnam War and began the emigration of South Vietnamese refugees to Canada.

I started by speaking of what happened in the Senate. That is because people had requested to appear, to be witnesses and provide testimonials in front of the Senate committee but were refused. The ambassador for Vietnam was refused. Anybody who wished to voice dissent and not support the bill was not allowed to speak at the Senate committee, which is a very biased, unfair and undemocratic process.

The NDP proudly recognizes the important contributions of Canadians of Vietnamese heritage and their community in Canada, which includes the people who came to our country as refugees. Tens of thousands more came as economic migrants.

As a responsible official opposition, we want to ensure that any legislative attempt to recognize the contributions of Vietnamese Canadians to Canadian cultural heritage will actually unite Canadians of all backgrounds. It would unite Vietnamese Canadians in our country but also ensure that all members of the community would be included. To that extent, we will seek to include as many opinions as possible when the bill gets to committee and ensure that it is an inclusive process. As the deputy spokesperson for the New Democrats on Canadian heritage and as a member of the heritage committee, I look forward to ensuring that all voices and opinions are heard at committee.

I want to mention that when this bill was studied, there was a strong base of support for it and also voices of dissent. We need to ensure that as responsible legislators, we hear all sides of the story. There is a quote by Mr. Can Le, a former secretary general of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation, who stated:

By approving this bill, Parliament will assure newcomers and future generations of their place in this country and will prove that Canada's inclusiveness is the foundation of its strength and prosperity.

It is great that there were positive comments about the bill and there were many more during the Senate hearings, but there were absolutely no voices heard that spoke against this bill. From what I am learning, there are quite a few, because my office has been inundated with emails and phone calls. I have met with members of the Vietnamese community in Toronto who do not support the bill and are very hurt that their voices are not allowed to be heard. They requested to appear before the Senate committee and were refused. They were not allowed to speak before the committee.

I sent a brief to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that I was given by a member of the community in Toronto in the hope that it would be put before the committee. The brief points out that the bill offends and marginalizes most of the people it purports to honour by assuming that they would join former Saigon military officers in commemorating the fall of Saigon on April 30. The majority of Vietnamese Canadians will never join that commemoration. I read this directly from a brief I was given, which clearly shows there is a divide in the community. As responsible legislators, we need to ensure that all voices are heard, and that did not happen in the Senate. I hope that in the committee phase we will be able to ensure that all voices are heard.

The second main point identified in the brief is that the bill exploits the boat people and the Canadians who helped them by using them to justify having a national day to commemorate the fall of the Saigon military regime, a divisive, partisan, political event that most of them will not participate in. Once again, they outline that there is a divide and that they do not want a bill that commemorates the fall of the regime or commemorates something that only part of the community here wants to be part of. It is important that we hear all voices, and that has not happened at the Senate committee. If I seem a little repetitive, it is because I am purposely repeating the fact that the Senate was extremely biased and did not allow all voices to be heard.

The third main point outlined in the brief is that the bill slights the Canadian Forces by falsely claiming that they were involved in the Vietnam War. The bill does not give credit to Canadian Forces for carrying nearly all of the refugees from Asian camps to Canada.

I tend to agree with that, because Canada was not involved in the war. Canada did not have a participatory role in the war, yet Canada was a country that was a safe haven. Our forces went in and helped people by removing them from the camps when they fled Vietnam and went to other countries. That is not being recognized in the bill.

What I am hearing from members of my community is that the bill is divisive. Why can we not move forward in a way that gives us something that all Vietnamese Canadians can come together around and make sure that it is inclusive for everyone, rather than just a small group of people from Vietnam who live in Canada now, or even many Canadian-born Canadians who are not naturalized Canadians? We are all Canadians, and they are saying they all want to be included.

Further on, the brief mentions that the problem is that there were waves of migrants who came to Canada from Vietnam. The first wave were people who were working for the Saigon regime at the time and fled after the end of the war, which ended on April 30. That date is tied very closely with the war, and many people were affected by it. Whenever a war happens, many people are affected. I know from personal experience. I was born in a war zone and know the personal, lived experience of being in a war. No matter how the idea is spun, life is impacted severely by a war. I am hearing that people do not want this day of commemoration to be about the war or the end of the war; they want it to be about showing gratitude to Canada. That date is not April 30, 1975. They would like to adopt July 27, 1979, because that was the first date that refugees were brought into Canada by the Canadian Forces. Why can we not consider that option?

I wish I had more time to go further into this. I have had petitions sent to my office, and the one I am holding has more than 222 signatures from people all across the country who say that the process was severely biased and seriously flawed because it was undemocratically put forward and there is no transparency in the bill. People suggest that another date, any time in July, be set aside as the date, because that would help the community come together and not be further divided. The community wants to stand together to commemorate and to show their gratitude for Canada.

The bill says it is about giving gratitude, but it is called the journey to freedom day bill. Which journey to freedom does the bill actually talk about? That is the real question.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to take part in this debate on Bill S-219.

Before I read my notes, I would like to comment on some issues that were raised by the previous speaker. I do not think that she has a full understanding of the issues surrounding that journey to freedom.

I will speak on more of a personal note, because I came to Canada from a Communist country and regime. The many people who came before me were escaping or trying to escape a regime that they did not want to live under.

The same thing happened with those poor boat people. They were escaping because they did not want to live in a Communist regime and face oppression. A quarter of a million people died trying to escape from that Communist regime in unsafe boats. Does that not speak for itself? I do not know who would need an explanation.

The comment that was made was that the ambassador of Vietnam was not invited. The ambassador of Vietnam represents the current Government of Vietnam. It is not a democratic government. Let us make that clear. Therefore, I would not be surprised if the ambassador of Vietnam would not be in support of this bill or of creating a day to commemorate those brave people who were trying to escape to find a safe haven here, as many others have.

After the war, Canada opened its arms to a lot of people who came from Polish territories, people who took a terrible journey. They were sent by the Russians to Siberia. Hundreds of thousands of them died. No one ever knew the real number. They joined the army and fought alongside Canadians. After the war they had no country to go back to, so many of them came to Canada. We are very grateful for this. People of our generation, in the 1980s, were able to leave Communist Poland. They were stranded in refugee camps across Europe and other countries in the world. They found a safe refuge here.

We can repeat these stories with many groups from many places in the world. Canada has always been strong in supporting those who are oppressed and denied basic human and democratic rights. That is what this bill is about. Let us not confuse anyone. This is not a bill to divide communities; we have to fully understand who is a part of the community and who is not.

On April 30, Canada's Vietnamese community commemorates the end of the Vietnam War, a day that this legislation would recognize as “journey to freedom day”. It was on this day in 1975 that the fall of Saigon led to the exodus of over 840,000 Vietnamese citizens. They were prepared to take great risks. Many were even prepared to die, rather than suffer at the hands of the Communist regime. Many of those who fled the brutal regime had to resort to extreme measures. They fled on crowded, unseaworthy boats in the hope of escaping to their freedom.

Tragically, many of the Vietnamese boat people did not survive the perilous journey. More than a quarter million of them drowned, starved, or were attacked by pirates. Miraculously, more than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees did succeed in making their way to Canada. Canadians welcomed these refugees with open arms and even invited the refugees to stay with them in their homes. More than half of the refugees were privately sponsored by generous individuals and groups of Canadians from all walks of life.

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity and support of Canadians, entire refugee families were able to resettle here and build a new and peaceful life.

Resettlement of such a large number of refugees in such a short amount of time was a tremendous achievement, and Canada's humanitarian efforts and compassion were recognized internationally. In response to these efforts in 1986, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees awarded the Canadian people the Nansen Medal, which is the refugee equivalent of the Nobel Prize. This is the only time an entire country has been recognized with this honour, and for this we should all be proud.

Bill S-219 aims to designate April 30 as the journey to freedom day. Not only would it commemorate the perilous journey 40 years ago of Vietnamese refugees to Canada, but it would also pay tribute to an incredible humanitarian role played by thousands of Canadians in community and church groups, who opened up their hearts and found ways to welcome Vietnamese refugees here in our great country.

As April 30 is already recognized by our Vietnamese community, it is appropriate to designate this day as a national day of remembrance. It would serve to commemorate the lives lost and the suffering experienced by people during the exodus. It would also mark their arrival to freedom and the gratitude of the Vietnamese people to Canadians for their generosity.

It is a Canadian tradition to commemorate tragic lessons in history so that they are never repeated. We believe we must not ignore the past, and this includes the shameful past of our country's history. Indeed, perhaps it is the memory of one of our own darkest moments that contributed to such an outpouring of generosity from Canadians toward the Vietnamese refugees.

It is with great shame that Canadians recall the tragic decision to turn away the MS St. Louis in 1939. The outcome of that disturbing decision should not be forgotten. After being turned away by Cuba, the United States, and finally by Canada, the ship was forced to return to Europe, where almost one-third of its passengers ultimately perished in the Holocaust.

To memorize and educate Canadians about the MS St. Louis incident, a powerful memorial is now located at Pier 21 in Halifax, where the ship should have landed. On this day we would mark a tragic period in history, but we would also commemorate a very important part of our country's proud humanitarian tradition.

The outpouring of support from Canadian people during this time underscores our country's commitment to providing protection to the world's most vulnerable. A memorial would also serve to remind all Canadians of how fortunate we are to live in one of the most free and democratic countries in the world, and that we are proud to stand up for our values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

It should also be noted that this period in Canadian history is one that is not as well known among younger Canadians today. Unlike the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and the Cold War, the Canadian connection to the Vietnam War is often overlooked.

In conclusion, I would say that the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees is a very important part in our Canadian history. That is why so many Canadians have voiced their support for the bill and are enthusiastic about the national day of commemoration. For this reason I urge all my colleagues to support the bill. It is a great bill, and we all, as Canadians, will be proud of it.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2015 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am humbled to be speaking after my colleague for Mississauga East—Cooksville, who spoke from the heart of his personal experience living under the regime of a communist government and who knows of what he speaks.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, when the forces from the north invaded the south, breaking the Paris agreement negotiated in 1973, and took over South Vietnam with the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

We put forward this bill, which originated in the other place, and I am honoured to be the co-sponsor of it in this House.

This bill would serve three purposes. First, the bill would mark April 30 as a day to commemorate the fall of Saigon, when the communist forces of the north invaded the south and took over the country.

Second, it would serve as a celebration of who we are as Canadians. We took in 60,000 boat people, refugees, who under extreme circumstances, made their way to Canada. We made them Canadian citizens, and they are now proud Canadians.

That is the story of Canada. Canada is made up of people from all over the world. We are all immigrants. We are all from some other place. We come here for hope and opportunity. That is what Canada represents to so many people around the world. People come here to escape persecution and hatred. They come here for a better life for themselves, and more importantly, for their children so that they can realize all of their dreams. That is why this bill is so important.

Third, this bill would serve a pedagogical purpose. Canadians, whether they are Vietnamese, Jewish, or Polish does not matter, should all know the history of each other.

April 30 is a significant day for the Vietnamese people. It is also a a significant day because it marks a time when freedom ended for a group of people around the world, and our young people need to know that. They need to know that living in Canada bears a certain responsibility. Because we live in such a great country, because we live in the democracy we do, we have responsibilities. We have a responsibility to remember all of the past atrocities that have occurred around the world, from the Holocaust to the Holodomor to the Armenian genocide. These are all important facts of global history, and yes, of Canadian history.

This is why it is so important that all members of this House support Bill S-219. It is because April 30 is a significant day in global history, but more importantly, the symbolic nature of this bill stands tall so that we as Canadians remember and do not forget. That is why when the time comes to show our support in this House, we must all stand in unanimity to support the journey to freedom day act, Bill S-219. I ask all members to join me in supporting this bill.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

moved that Bill S-219, An Act respecting a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, on April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended. The capital city of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to the Communist invaders from the north, but that is not where the story ends. April 30, 1975, began a new chapter in the lives of the people of South Vietnam.

It was the start of the exodus of millions of people fleeing that country, the land they had called home for generations. They were fleeing the harsh treatment and suppression of human rights by an authoritarian government; ethnic, religious, and political persecutions; political executions of former South Vietnamese officials and their families; forced resettlement in remote areas; and deteriorating living conditions brought on by food shortages, flooding, and drought. By 1979, some 600,000 South Vietnamese had fled.

Over the next three years, the refugee label “boat people” became familiar as Vietnamese began trying to escape from their homeland aboard small watercraft, seeking temporary refuge in neighbouring countries.

Many countries refused to allow them to land. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that while attempting to escape, at least 250,000 Vietnamese people lost their lives at sea due to drowning, illness, starvation, and sexual assault or violence from kidnapping or piracy.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, Canada responded by opening our doors. Between 1975 and 1976, Canada accepted some 6,500 political refugees who had left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. In October 1976, Canada accepted 180 boat people. In August 1977, there was a further commitment for 450 people. In 1978, the government agreed to accept 50 boat families per month. By 1980, some 120,000 Vietnamese refugees were welcomed with open arms to Canada. Also, by demonstrating an ongoing concern, Canada aimed to encourage countries of first asylum to open their doors as well.

By 1986, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was so impressed by Canada's role in accepting so many refugees from South Vietnam that the people of Canada were awarded the Nansen Medal for their “major and sustained contribution to the cause of refugees”.

This medal is the refugee equivalent to the Nobel Prize, and marks the only time in history that an entire country has been recognized in this fashion. That is why I am so proud to co-sponsor, along with Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, Bill S-219, or the journey to freedom day act, which will serve three purposes.

First, it would establish April 30 as a day to commemorate the exodus of refugees from South Vietnam.

Second, it would recognize the extraordinary humanitarian role played by the Canadian government as well as Canadian families, voluntary agencies, communities, synagogues and churches, and religious groups in welcoming so many Vietnamese so warmly into the Canadian family.

Third, it should also be noted that this period in Canadian history is one that is not well known among younger Canadians today. For that reason, April 30 should serve as a day of reflection and education. All Canadians should know the story of Vietnamese refugees who were forced to flee their native land, of the vast humanitarian effort that was undertaken by Canadians to welcome them, and of the triumph over adversity that the vibrant Vietnamese community in Canada represents.

Canada was among the first countries to welcome Vietnamese refugees with open arms. When the people of Vietnam were in need, Canadians from all walks of life answered the call without hesitation and opened their homes and hearts to over 60,000 Indochinese refugees who desperately needed a place to rebuild their lives.

This is the highest number of refugees per capita taken by any country in the world during this period. Canada's role in opening its doors to so many Vietnamese refugees is an example of the best of Canada. It is a true demonstration of Canadian values.

Here is a little bit of how it worked.

The federal government developed a private sponsorship program whereby institutions such as churches and groups of at least five adult citizens would take a refugee family into their care for a year.

For each person sponsored privately, the government accepted another refugee under its own care. It was Canada that pioneered the private sponsorship refugee program, enabling our country to accept a much larger number of refugees while also reducing the cost to the government coffers and providing an example to the rest of the world.

Without the warm and caring efforts of thousands of Canadians, and the leadership, support, and co-operation of the Canadian government, as well as refugee agencies, non-governmental organizations, and religious groups, the movement of such large numbers of people, under such urgent and difficult circumstances, would simply not have been possible.

It is written in scripture that he who saves a single life saves an entire generation. Today there are approximately 300,000 people of Vietnamese origin living in Canada. More than 100,000 of them live in the greater Toronto area.

On April 30, for the past 39 years, Vietnamese Canadians have gathered to remember a new beginning and to thank Canada. In 2015, the Vietnamese Canadian community will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the resettlement of the boat people to Canada.

This bill speaks to Canada's long-standing tradition as a beacon of freedom and democracy, a nation that generously embraced refugees who were forced to flee their homelands through no fault of their own.

One of the more remarkable developments in this story is that many of those who came to Canada as boat people are today sponsoring refugees themselves. They have partnered with the Government of Canada, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, to bring to Canada the last remaining Vietnamese refugees, who have been stranded, without status, in Southeast Asia, in places like Thailand and the Philippines, for nearly 40 years. What a proud legacy, and what an amazing way to mark their journey to freedom: by helping others.

This is an important bill, and today I ask for all members' support in moving it forward. National recognition of this day would serve as a point of pride for people of Vietnamese descent and for all Canadians, highlighting as it does the generous Canadian spirit and national respect for freedom. Our nation is one built by immigrants, and our communities are enriched by the vibrant mosaic of cultural heritage within them.

Never again shall Canada's refugee policy be as disgraceful and despicable as it was before and during the Second World War, a time when “none is too many” was the order of the day. Canada's warm, generous acceptance of immigrants and refugees is one of our nation's most sacred traditions. Our historic and continued commitment to diversity is one that we as a government must strive to recognize and honour whenever we can.

This bill would also provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our own commitment to a diverse and inclusive Canada, a place where we are all united in our values, regardless of race, religion, colour, or creed. It is so important for all Canadians to remember and reflect on our nation's history and how it has contributed to our current culture of pluralism, diversity, and acceptance.

This bill would also provide an excellent chance to reflect on the strengths and diversity the Vietnamese community has brought to our country and to thank them for their contribution to our cultural mosaic. We can all learn something from the refugees who were willing to risk everything to live in freedom, because a life lived without freedom is no life at all.

I am a first-generation Canadian, and this bill invites reflection on my own experience as a child of a Holocaust survivor, whose dad came to Canada with nothing more than the shirt on his back, a number tattooed on his arm, but most importantly, hope in his heart. For so many refugees who came to Canada, like the survivors of the Holocaust, the Vietnamese boat people, the persecuted Christians and Yazidis of northern Iraq and Syria, and so many others, each and every one of them had a right to turn their backs on humanity, yet they did not. They came to Canada in search of hope, hope for themselves, yes, but more importantly, hope for their children so that they would not be forced live under the yoke of oppression or persecution. They came to Canada because Canada is a beacon of light in the world, a country that stands tall and strong, adhering to the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

The journey to freedom day act would offer an opportunity to reflect on our commitment to the very best of Canadian values. It would give us yet another reason to showcase Canada as the best country in the world to call home.

Today I ask for my colleagues' support to pass Bill S-219 and help us declare April 30 as journey to freedom day in this great country of Canada.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his very compassionate speech.

I want to ask just one question so that we can really talk about reconciliation and the path toward democracy and freedom of expression. I would like to know if the member would argue in favour of his government giving all Vietnamese people the opportunity to express their opinion in committee.

We know that at the Senate committee, only testimony in favour of the bill was heard. I hope that in the spirit of genuine, open and frank dialogue, the parliamentary committee will hear from Vietnamese people from all walks of life so that we can finally talk about reconciliation and moving forward toward respect for human rights.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this legislation is not about reconciliation. This legislation is first about remembrance and second about celebrating the great Canadian spirit of remembering, of knowing who we are, and celebrating Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We are here in the House today as an example of that. We are debating the bill here in the House today.

I know what the hon. member is referring to. At the Senate committee a representative—I believe it was the Ambassador of Vietnam—submitted a letter on behalf of the communist regime of Vietnam to give its perspective on the journey to freedom day act, to which I understand it is vehemently opposed. He submitted his remarks in writing. Unfortunately they were not in French and could not be translated in time to be put into the record.

This is an important bill, and I really hope that, in the true spirit of our great Canadian values, all members will support it.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question is based on the response to the previous question with regard to the Vietnamese ambassador. I think there is support for this legislation to go to committee. Is the member in a position to ensure those who might be listening or interested in presenting at committee on his bill that there will be fair representation at committee stage, so that all who want that input will be provided with the opportunity?

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I looked at the record of the debate in the Senate, and it appears that there were four votes against the bill by the Liberal Party and 14 abstentions. I am a little perplexed that the Liberals would be interested in hearing the communist views of the Vietnamese government, given that they seem to have already made up their minds that they will not be supporting this bill. Maybe I should not be surprised. I think it would surprise even members of the NDP that the Liberals would be interested in hearing that.

I would be shocked if the NDP were against such a bill that would celebrate our great Canadian values of freedom and democracy and yet, on the other hand, remember that those in their time of need were helped by Canadians. Their generosity and the great Canadian spirit of celebrating Canadian values brought so many refugees here to Canada who have made wonderful lives for themselves. We as a country have benefited by their presence.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-219, a very important bill, which was tabled in the Senate and which seeks to create a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada.

We sometimes forget what it really means to be here in a democratic society where citizens can elect their members of Parliament, and both citizens and elected officials can safely exercise their right to freedom of expression. Most of the world’s population cannot exercise that fundamental right.

If I am able to rise today as a member of Parliament and speak in the House of Commons, it is because my parents had to flee Vietnam and were able to find refuge here in Canada, start a family, live in peace, work and support themselves.

I myself, Anne Minh-Thu Quach, was born in Canada and grew up in Canada, and it is because of my parents’ courage and Canada’s acceptance that today I can take part in Canada’s democratic life.

I would like to take a few moments to recount how my parents fled Vietnam and arrived in Canada. In 1979, after the Vietnam War, my parents decided to flee their country because of the horrible living conditions imposed by the new political regime an in the hopes of finding a better quality of life elsewhere. They could no longer endure the restrictions, the violence and the injustices that happened after the war.

They jumped at the first opportunity to flee in the middle of the night, in secret, with my two brothers, who were one and three at the time. They made their way to a port and paid the smugglers with the last of their belongings, that is, whatever they could carry. They got on a boat, with the direction indicated by a compass, in other words, anywhere, wherever the captain would take them, not knowing whether or not he would bring them to a safe harbour.

They lived in a refugee camp in Indonesia for 18 months, before the Red Cross came to get them. They then arrived in Canada. They had no identification; they had no goods or belongings. They had only their own lives and my brothers’ lives. Canada gave them papers and welcomed them as refugees with great generosity.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Yes indeed.

When they arrived in Canada, my parents had to learn everything: how to survive winter, speak French, drive a car, look for work, cook Canadian food. In short, they had to learn how to live in their new country.

It is thanks to people like Captain Pierre Pellerin, Ginette Malenfant, Nicole Leduc and Estelle, who has now passed away, who welcomed my parents, but also other people, including Fred and Bonnie Cappuccino and many Canadians who opened their doors to my family and welcomed thousands of Vietnamese as if they were part of their own family. From that point on, many Vietnamese were able to begin integrating into Canadian life and making a contribution to Canada. Many thanks on behalf of all Vietnamese.

However, like more than 1.5 million people, my parents were boat people. Canada accepted 137,000 Vietnamese refugees at the time. The federal government also established a private sponsorship program that allowed agencies and Canadian citizens to welcome a family of refugees and provide them with support for one year. For each privately sponsored person, the government would sponsor another refugee. An entire movement of solidarity was created.

Here in Ottawa, at the corner of Preston and Somerset, there is a monument paying tribute to the boat people. Marion Dewar, the mayor of Ottawa at the time and the mother of our colleague from Ottawa Centre, worked hard to welcome thousands of Vietnamese refugees, so many in fact that Chinatown here in Ottawa is a primarily Vietnamese neighbourhood, where they serve the famous pho soup that is so warm and comforting, especially on a cold day like today.

The Vietnam War was the result of 50 years of cold war that divided the world in two. For ideological reasons, countries were at war, families were divided, men and women were murdered. Today, we no longer live in that bipolar world where everyone tried to impose their own truth. It is high time we began a real dialogue.

Earlier, I spoke about openness and dialogue, because this is something we really need. The Vietnamese diaspora, here in Canada and throughout the world, is divided by economic, political and religious differences.

A round table must be set up where everyone has the right to express their own views. This is how we will move ahead and ensure that the world will change.

I think that Bill S-219 provides a perfect opportunity to establish this dialogue, in light of the fact that it adds a positive aspect to the usual commemorations by emphasizing Canada’s acceptance of the refugees.

Out of respect for our refugees and in recognition of the Canadians who opened their arms to Vietnamese refugees starting in 1975, I think it would be worthwhile to at least allow a parliamentary committee to properly study the bill. It is up to us—the children of refugees, those in exile and immigrants—as well as all other Canadians who are open and interested in this dialogue, to help initiate discussion and debate about the Vietnamese commemorations.

I had the good fortune to go to Vietnam to see my family and get to know the land of my ancestors. It is a wonderful country where people are welcoming and very special. I still have many family members living there, and I want them and all Vietnamese still living in Vietnam to have the same opportunities as I did, so that they can live in peace and security and enjoy democracy and universal fundamental rights as I do.

Unfortunately, that is not yet the reality for everyone in Vietnam. Vietnam has signed or acceded to seven international conventions on human rights. It is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Human rights are entrenched in the country’s constitution. However, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens continue to be arrested, tried and imprisoned merely for expressing their opinions.

Today, we must not be afraid to tell the truth. Every human being is entitled to life, liberty and equal opportunity. I therefore reach out to all Vietnamese, and all Canadians, who wish to undertake this dialogue with me and with parliamentarians.

Bill S-219 provides us with that opportunity for exchange, because the wounds have not all been dressed as yet. We must take the opportunity to sit down around the table, as I said, Vietnamese from all walks of life, so that the process of dialogue and healing can begin and we can at last look to the future.

As the member opposite said, the ambassador of Vietnam was not able to be heard. I have received many emails from other Vietnamese living in Canada who want to participate in this debate and were not able to participate in the debate held in the Senate.

This bill has to take its course in the Parliament of Canada, and I want it to be considered in committee and for all points of view to be taken into consideration when it is examined. Unfortunately, as has been said, the committee did not hear all the witnesses, but I believe that the House to which we have been elected, the House of Commons, can do better and can hear from everyone at the second stage. It not only can, I believe it must.

To demonstrate our values of open-mindedness, democracy, empathy and generosity as has already been done, we should allow the debate to continue. Let there be no doubt on this point: I am asking questions because I believe the process can be improved. I am in fact in agreement, and it is very important that this debate be allowed to continue.

On a somewhat more positive note, as the Asian new year, the lunar new year, will fall on February 18, I wish everyone a happy Têt. That is the Vietnamese word for the new year. To all Vietnamese everywhere in Canada and elsewhere,

[Member spoke in Vietnamese as follows:]

Chuc mung nam moi!