Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to stand in this place and represent the people of Edmonton Strathcona.
I find this to be such an important debate for us to have, but I have to say that I am disappointed that it is happening in this manner and not when more parliamentarians can join in and there can be more people to participate in the discussion. After so many years, I think the genocide happening against the Uighur people is something every parliamentarian in this place must take with the utmost seriousness, and I worry that it is not being taken as such this evening.
I am a relatively new member of Parliament and have only been in this place for three years. One of the very first things that happened after I was elected was an appointment to the international human rights subcommittee. As I think I have brought up before in this place, my whole career has been about international development, foreign affairs and sustainable development around the world, so I was appointed to be the New Democrat member on that subcommittee. I was so happy to have that opportunity, because I feel like in my heart I have spent most of my career trying to fight for the human rights of people around the world, and this felt like an opportunity to do that and perhaps take it to the next level.
One of the very first studies we undertook looked at the genocide of the Uighur people in China. I have two brothers who are very rough and tumble with me, and I was beaten up many times as a child when I was growing up. I have lots of cousins too. I think of myself as a relatively tough and robust person, but the testimony I heard from expert witnesses, Uighurs and people who experienced the genocide was the most harrowing thing I have ever heard to date. The stories of rape, of forced sterilization, of people being surveilled and of the very systematic and cold attempts to erase a people were horrific for me to hear. It was very difficult.
Of course, I am only hearing these stories; I am not experiencing them, so I always try to imagine what it must be like to be somebody from Xinjiang who is dealing with this and is not seeing the world stand up for them and not hearing people in Canada and around the world say that they are not going to tolerate this. How difficult must it be for the Uighurs not only in China but in Canada to know their loved ones are experiencing this genocide?
When I come to this debate, that is what I bring. I bring the testimony that I heard at the international human rights subcommittee. I bring all of the stories I heard in many meetings with members of the Uighur community and with many members of the community who fight for human rights.
I think this is a vitally important debate and it is vitally important that we are all here, but it was disappointing for me that we did not vote to have a debate on the report that came out of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. There was no opportunity for that debate to happen.
Of course, we know the Uighurs have raised concerns about these issues for years. We know they have been calling for more action not only from Canadian parliamentarians but from other parliamentarians for years. In fact, the recommendations that came forward from the report of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights were very clear. We asked that the Government of China be condemned for its “actions against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang”. We asked to “work with allies and multilateral organizations to help international observers gain unfettered access to Xinjiang”. We asked to “provide support through international overseas development assistance to civil society organizations especially in countries that are geopolitically important to China's Belt and Road Initiative”.
We asked to “recognize that the acts being committed in Xinjiang against Uyghurs constitute genocide and work within legal frameworks” of what that meant. We also asked to “impose sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act on all Government of China officials responsible for the perpetration of grave human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.”
We brought forward these recommendations, but we have not seen the level of action from the government that I think all of us in this place should be demanding. We have not seen the empathy and care that I think we have seen for other conflicts.
One of the things I struggle with the most in this place is that we are often in a situation where we are asked to prioritize human rights, to amplify the rights of one group of people over the rights of another. I do not know how to do that. I do not know how as parliamentarians we can do that. Of course, we need to provide whatever support is necessary to help the people in Ukraine who are struggling with a genocide of their own from the Russian Federation. We need to ensure that the people in Ukraine can flee violence, that they can come to Canada and seek safety here and that they are protected and cared for 100%.
However, as parliamentarians, we need to recognize that being from Ukraine does not make someone's life more valuable than being from Afghanistan, being a Uighur from China, being from Yemen, being from Palestine or being from Tigray. We need to recognize that Canada has an important role. We are a country of such opportunity and such wealth, and we have an important role in this world to open up our doors and welcome those who are fleeing violence, those who are fleeing persecution and those who are fleeing genocide. That is such a fundamental role for Canada. That is how many of us ended up here.
I am, in fact, a settler in this country. My family came when the Scots were being persecuted in Scotland. Canada opened its doors and welcomed us here, and, of course, generations of McPhersons, and I am also a McCoy, have flourished in Canada. Providing that opportunity for people around the world is what Canada is all about and what we need to be able to do.
I support the idea of bringing Uighurs here and ensuring that Uighurs are able to flee genocide to come here, but I have deep concerns. I think everybody in the House, including members of the government, must recognize that IRCC is broken. Immigration services with the government are broken. If anyone in the House does not agree that this is a problem, they are not listening to their constituents. They are not listening to the fact that we have massive delays and massive problems.
In Edmonton, Alberta, 636 students who were approved to study at the University of Alberta could not do so this fall because they could not get a study permit. It cost the University of Alberta $6 million. These are people who wanted to come here to study. I therefore have some concerns about the IRCC's capacity to actually welcome all of the newcomers we need to be welcoming in Canada. Absolutely there are people who are suffering around the world, and the Uighurs have been suffering for years. For years they have been calling for attention to this horrific genocide. However, Canada needs to do better at welcoming people into our country. We need to be better at doing the work of government to ensure that people can come here.
For me, I do not want to say that we need to limit how many Ukrainians, Afghans, Tigrayans or Syrians come to Canada so we can make sure that Uighurs are able to come. There needs to be something done so that all people fleeing violence have access to come here, are able to be treated with respect, are able to be protected and able to be brought here. I have this deep worry that there is a Peter-Paul mentality with the government.
In August 2021, we were going to welcome a huge number of Afghans into our country. Then, of course, the horrific war started in Ukraine, and we were going to welcome an unlimited number of Ukrainians into our country. That is great, but we do not have the capacity to do that right now.
My worry is how we are going to get there. How can we work with the government? How can all of us in this place work with and reinforce to the government how important it is that it fix our broken immigration system so that we can be the country that so many Canadians believe we are, and certainly that so many Canadians believe we should be.
There is another thing I want to raise. In terms of immigration, there are things that we can do, things that need to happen and things we can expedite to make sure that Uighurs are protected, but there are other things we can do to help the people in Xinjiang who are being persecuted right now. There is legislation before the foreign affairs committee, Bill S-211, that looks at forced labour. My opinion, and members may say this is always the NDP opinion, is that the bill does not go far enough. It would not do near enough to protect people from forced labour, slave labour or child labour around the world.
My dear colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, brought forward Bill C-262, which is an excellent example of what forced labour legislation could look like. It aligns very much with what is happening around the world, in Germany, the EU, France, Australia and the U.K. This country is at least a decade behind other countries in ensuring that we have good forced labour legislation in place.
It has been in mandate letter after mandate letter, which used to mean that action would be taken, but it does not appear to mean that any longer. I look at things like that and ask how we can make sure that Canada is not complicit in supporting forced labour, that we are ensuring that the cotton, the tomatoes and the products that come into Canada are not produced with forced or slave labour. What can we do to make that better?
There is one last thing I want to talk about today. Here is what I am struggling with in the House of Commons right now. I worry that what we are doing in this place is politicizing human rights. I worry that we are using it as a tool to cause shenanigans or gum up the work of government, and if that is the case, we should be so deeply ashamed of ourselves. Human rights are of such fundamental importance that, when they are used as a tool to gum up the work of government, it demeans every member of Parliament. When we use human rights as a trick to force things through or to stop things from going forward, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
When we talk about human rights in this place, we need to be honest with ourselves and talk about human rights across the board, because it is not okay that the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party refuses to talk about human rights in Yemen, as both of them are complicit in the selling of arms to the regime that is propping up that war.
It is not all right that neither one of them will talk about human rights in Palestine. Children in Palestine are being murdered, and neither of the parties will talk about that. That is not all right. They do not get to pick and choose human rights. They do not get to choose that the people being murdered in Tigray matter less than other people. They do not get to choose that the Uighurs do not matter because we have an economic relationship with China. That is not now human rights work. For every one of us in this place, if we believe in protecting human rights, then a human right is a human right is a human right.
It does not matter if it is a child in Palestine. It does not matter if it is a child in Yemen. It does not matter if it is a woman in Xinjiang. It does not matter if it is a woman in Ukraine. If we have a feminist foreign policy, and if we believe in human rights, all human rights matter.
I am deeply afraid that in this place we are choosing to politicize human rights. We are choosing to use human rights to forward our agenda and gum up the works of Parliament. About that, I am deeply worried.
There is a genocide happening against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. There is a genocide happening in China right now. Parliamentarians have an obligation to stand up to protect the people being persecuted. We have an obligation to welcome those people to Canada. It is not even an obligation. It is a privilege to welcome those people to Canada.
I will always stand in this place and fight for human rights. I will tell members that I will fight for all human rights, not just some of them.