Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Richard Mahoney. I appear today as a volunteer counsel to the SOS Viet Phi.
Let me give you a little about my background in this organization. I don't think I can add much to the very powerful evidence we've heard from people who have been there, but I have been involved in this issue with the SOS Viet Phi for a couple of years, and in a prior part of my professional life I spent a number of years as an immigration and refugee lawyer, so I have some perspective on this.
First of all, this committee did some very important work when it met last on this issue. Just to put some clarity on this, it's fair to note on the record that our immigration department has some reluctance to characterize these people as refugees because of an approach to the definition of “refugee” that they take.
Notwithstanding that, Minister Volpe and the Government of Canada and this committee did what I believe and what we would humbly submit was the right thing in trying to make sure that Canada did its bit to step up and take up to 200 of those people. For a number of reasons, as we've heard, that didn't happen. Some people came, but many went to other countries. We now find ourselves here.
Through the clerk, I have some submissions to make on the law on this, which I'll leave with you. Give me a couple of seconds, if you would, to go through it a bit.
First of all, it is our submission that notwithstanding, and with respect to, what the department says, the SOS Viet Phi now stranded in the Philippines clearly meet the definition of the country of asylum class, and I'll give you a couple of examples why. The country of asylum class is defined in the regulations, which say that foreign nationals are members of the country of asylum class if they've been determined by an officer to be in need of resettlement because they are outside all of their countries of nationality and habitual residence and they have been and continue to be seriously and personally affected by civil war, armed conflict, or massive violations of human rights in each of those countries.
Well, these people are stateless, have no country, and as a result of the civil war in the country--admittedly, a civil war that has now passed--are outside the country of nationality and unable to seek that protection. Your committee recognized this very fact last year by making two findings of fact--that they have remained for 16 years out of their country and that they have been seriously and personally affected--so you've already found, as fact, that which I just said happens to be a matter of law.
You went beyond that. You added a couple of things that I think were very appropriate. One is that these individuals have no possibility within a reasonable time of having a durable solution. They are, in most and all cases, privately sponsored by existing Canadian citizens and they have suffered violations of human rights.
In my submission, first of all, if this committee chooses to take that approach again, I think you can easily find as a matter of fact that these remaining 188 people meet the test of the definition of the country of asylum class.
Having said that, and having acknowledged that our department has some reluctance to so find, I can say it's not the only option available to the minister. The minister has lots of other options in law to recognize these people. He can, as my submissions say to you, find under subsection 25(1) of the act that these people should be granted admission to Canada under humanitarian and compassionate grounds. In questions, I can, if you like, expound upon that in terms of what the test in law has been for humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but I think we would quite clearly find agreement in this room that humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist. So there's the second option.
The third option is that you could easily ground the proper and lawful admission of these people to our country in international law and the conventions and treaties Canada has signed. The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees has actually expired. It expired in 1996. Our department has always taken the position that since these people weren't found to be refugees 16 or 17 years ago, they can't be refugees now; that plan of action has expired. What do we do in law if that plan of action expired in 1996--how do we treat them? It's certainly a very credible and easy argument to say we go back to general international law on this.
We are, as a country, signatories to a number of conventions, including the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. And again, we have, in practical terms, a number of stateless people here.
I'll refer you to my remarks; if you want to get into it in questions and answers, I can expound on that, but we also can ground that finding, Mr. Chairman, in international law.
Finally, I was able--and I was honoured, frankly--to help last year when the SOS Viet Phi, along with the member for Burnaby--Douglas and others, pressed the government and your committee to do the right thing. Our history as a country on this issue is quite admirable. When the original Viet Phi crisis happened, Canada literally led the world in stepping up and taking Vietnamese.
If you look at the Vietnamese community in Ottawa, the city where I live, many of the Vietnamese Canadians who are now very productive and happy members of our community came to this country via that original crisis. It's the same in almost every major city in this country. We did the right thing then.
I would argue that last year you did the right thing--and the minister and the government did the right thing--in attempting, in our own way as Canadians, to find a way to deal with the remaining people there. Fortunately for the world, the United States, Australia, and other countries did the same. Now we're left with 188 people--fewer than you as a committee and we as a country agreed to accept.
Our submission is that we should honour not only our traditions in this country and our great work in terms of responding to these people, but also our Vietnamese Canadian community. Let's finally do the right thing for those people who live in what is really a stateless no man's land.
Thank you very much for your time and patience.