Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise tonight to speak to Bill S-218. I echo so many of my colleagues tonight who paid tribute to Senator Enverga. He was the first Filipino Canadian appointed to the Senate. He worked tirelessly on behalf of the Filipino community but also reached across ethnic lines, which is why he brought forward the bill before us, Bill S-218. While travelling on ParlAmericas business, he became ill and died suddenly in Colombia. All of us miss him greatly and extend our condolences to his family and the Filipino community.
I have a great interest in Latin America. I used to be in the livestock export business. I had a number of individuals working for me in Mexico, and I had an office in southern Brazil. I travelled extensively across the Pampas. Over the years when I was selling livestock and genetic materials, I fell in love with the culture, music, food, and especially the people. It is amazing how many of them have called Canada home. They have left some gorgeous countries, especially in Central America and the Caribbean, to come here and live in the cooler climate of Canada.
Since I was elected in 2004, I have had the opportunity to work quite a bit on ParlAmericas, including three years as its Canadian president. Sitting on the international executive of ParlAmericas, I worked side by side with politicians from Latino parliaments and got to visit a lot of the countries. I went a number of times to Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina.
They are great, thriving democracies, but they were not always that way. So many people have come to call Canada home because this is the country they came to for refuge. They were fleeing violence, dictatorships, internal conflicts, and civil wars, and they were trying get away from the drug cartels.
I think about Colombia in particular, and how long FARC, paramilitaries, the government, and the drug cartels battled over territory. I have been in the city of Medellin, which is about the size of Ottawa or Winnipeg and has about 800,000 people. At the peak of the conflict, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that city alone was seeing over 4,000 murders a year. If we contrast that with the number of murders here, in cities of that scale, it is astounding that so many people are killed because of that type of violence. Of course people would want to get away from that.
Many people came to Canada from Chile to get away from Pinochet, the general who, through the coup and the junta, took over the country in 1973. He was a dictator there until 1990. Of course, Chileans fled.
We have a lot of Cubans who came to live in Canada to get away from the Castros. First it was Fidel, and now Raúl. We always forget, because a lot of people like to go on vacation in Cuba, but it is a communist country where thousands of people were political prisoners and were executed during the civil war by Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl.
In Ecuador, we had Correa. In Honduras, there are many different conflicts. In Bolivia, there is Morales. In Nicaragua, people lived under Daniel Ortega from 1979 until 1990. He was a brutal dictator, who came back to power in 2007, and even this spring, we were seeing student protests trying to overthrow his corrupt government. Of course, we have heard members talk about Venezuela and how corrupt it is, first under Hugo Chávez, and now under President Nicolás Maduro. Each and every time, people are trying to get away from these individuals, who are committing atrocities. Maduro was using food as a weapon.
That was something we experienced in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933, when Stalin, another Communist leader, actually used food as a weapon. We are seeing it being done in modern times in Venezuela. We have all these people who have come to Canada.
Back in the fall, we passed the Sergei Magnitsky law, which Senator Raynell Andreychuk and I brought to both Houses of Parliament. The first name on the list of government sanctions was Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela. I applaud the government for doing that, because it sends a strong signal that these dictators who commit atrocities against their citizens are the target of what we are trying to do under the Magnitsky sanctions. They cannot use Canada as a safe haven to hide their wealth or hide their families, and their hypocrisy, atrocities, and violent suppression of their people will not be tolerated by the free world.
Of course, a lot of Latinos have come to Canada because of economic opportunity. I think about the Mexicans, in particular. Over 80,000 have come to call Canada home. They are by far the biggest Latino community in Canada. A lot of them came here originally to work on our farms. A lot of them still do as summer migrants as part of the farm workers program we have, with temporary visas. They come year after year, often working in the orchards and vegetable fields, and even on the honey farms in the apiaries. They fall in love with Canada. They love the standard of living they can enjoy here, so they stay. We welcome their joining Canada and our economy.
The largest community of Mexicans is in the city of Brandon. They came to work in the pork industry. They have great-paying jobs, are making major contributions to the city, and of course, brought their culture with them.
We talked about the music, the dance, the language, the art, and of course, the food. However, let us remember that there are some great festivals. I want to invite everyone here to Folklorama in Winnipeg, August 5 to 18. Folklorama has over 44 pavilions of all different ethnicities. Seven pavilions are Latino. There is the Argentina “Tango” pavilion, the Brazilian pavilion, the Caribbean pavilion, and the Mexican pavilion. Chile has two, the Chilean and the Chile Lindo, which means beautiful. There is also the El Salvador pavilion. We have these great pavilions that people can tour. They get a passport. They get it stamped and can enjoy this fantastic festival.
I know there are lots of great Latino festivals. Of course, in Toronto they like to talk about Caribana, but by far, the best cultural festival in Canada, which runs for two weeks, is Folklorama. My friend from Winnipeg North agrees with me. We want to see Canadians come and enjoy all the different cultures, but if we are now going to recognize Latin American heritage month in Canada every October, let us make sure we get out there and support their festivals and learn more about their culture. All of us will be better for it.
I thank all our friends in the Latin American community across Canada for coming and making Canada their home. I thank them for coming here and making such a major contribution. I thank them for being part of our cultural mosaic, as a multicultural nation. I thank them for making us a better country.
I encourage all my colleagues to support Bill S-218. Let us do it in celebration of the memory of Senator Enverga. I know, at the end of the day, that we will be a better country for it.