Mr. Speaker, I also am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate on the motion presented by the member for Surrey North. Although, as he will likely assume, I will be opposing the motion, let me first commend the member for bringing forward a positive suggestion to deal with a difficult situation.
I recognize that all of us in the House are struggling with the responsibility we have to find the right balance between ensuring that Canada's security is preserved and enhanced and respecting human rights and liberties. I also believe the motion is presented in the context of striking the right balance between our international obligations as a country under the universal declaration of human rights and the 1951 refugee convention and our obligations and our need to respond to the problems of irregular migration and human trafficking. There is no question that we are dealing with a phenomenon that must be tackled by parliament, by legislators everywhere, and I respect the contribution of the member.
However, speaking on behalf of other members in my caucus, let me say that we oppose this recommendation for a number of reasons. I will start by indicating to the member that I believe some of these recommendations we have been receiving since September 11 have been an overreaction to the horrific developments of that day. We are all searching for ways to come to grips with that tragedy without overreacting and putting aside our valued programs and our treasured principles.
I believe that in the course of events since September 11 we have perhaps unwittingly, sometimes deliberately, targeted and singled out refugees as the crux of the problem. In fact, through the media and commentaries on issues pertaining to September 11, we have allowed for such statements as “Canada is a haven for refugees” and, by implication, refugees are terrorists.
The most important thing we can do today is to say unequivocally that under no circumstances, by no means, are this government and this country going to promote or perpetuate any such mythology that is harmful to genuine refugees who are seeking protection and asylum here. It is contrary to the facts of the situation as we know them in terms of refugees and it is certainly not an answer to the threat of terrorism in our society today.
The situation has been presented to us most succinctly by Judith Kumin, who is the representative in Canada of the UN's high commissioner for refugees. She reminds us of our commitment and obligations under the Geneva convention and has clearly stated that the bottom line for all of us as we review our policies, prepare regulations and develop programs is that no one should be returned to a country or territory where his or her life or liberty would be at risk. She also said that it is very important for us as Canadians to ensure that refugees are given a fair hearing.
The motion before us would deny refugees the opportunity to come to this country, make their claims, have their cases heard and the merits of the cases judged in terms of the facts. To eliminate 16 countries because they are deemed to be safe countries is just contrary to our policies and practices.
Let me say to the member who has presented this motion that Canada's policies have been considered by many to be tough and relevant to the task at hand but they do need some major resources and attention in terms of their application.
Our country has to honour the convention by ensuring that every person coming into the country is able to make a claim. Obviously, given the facts and given the situation, there are always some bad apples in the mix. There are always some who use a system to gain entry, but by and large we are talking about genuine refugees who desperately need to seek asylum in Canada. Their claims have to be honoured.
There are three factors the member must take into account in dealing with this motion. One is that there are differences in foreign policy between Canada and the United States. My colleague, the member from the Bloc, has already hinted at some of those differences.
For example, some claimants come to Canada because they know they will not be considered seriously in the United States. Between 1986 and 1990, 26% of claimants coming from Nicaragua, leaving a left-wing government, were accepted in the United States. In the same period about 2% of claimants coming from El Salvador escaping a right-wing government were denied access to the American system.
There are differences in foreign policy that must be looked at. There are reasons that immigrants choose to come to our country, having come through the United States or any other safe third country. We must respect each case on an individual basis.
We as parliamentarians cannot ignore the cultural links and family connections as people pursue asylum and why they choose Canada. We are talking about refugees who are trying to get their lives in order, trying to find safety and security. They end up choosing Canada because of cultural and linguistic connections and family and neighbour support. Those reasons cannot be discounted.
Canada is very much seen as an end of the line country. That cannot be discounted and disregarded in this debate. The idea of a safe third country probably is used by the government--and I will not say it is used by the member in terms of this motion--as a way to reduce the number of refugees that are lined up at the gates and who have presented claims.
Sometimes we think we have such a great problem in the backlog that we have to resort to extreme actions in order to deal with it. There are all kinds of ways to deal with the problems we may have with backlogs. There are other ways to deal with the possibility of some people using the refugee system to gain entry.
We can enforce the laws as they now exist. We can ensure there are proper resources for the timely processing of immigrants and refugees. We can increase the number of overseas officers. We can enforce measures against human trafficking. We can train immigration control officers in culturally specific behaviours. We can introduce refugee protection measures into our international agreements to avoid refoulement of refugees who may be rejected.
We can do it in a number of ways without violating our historic role of offering asylum to people in need of protection. We can do it without violating the spirit of the UN convention on refugees. We can ensure that we are vigilant and determined to protect people in the face of danger and in the case of dislocation from their homes.
I thank the member for bringing forward this motion. I have to say quite honestly that we cannot support it. We have to work together to find solutions that will strike the right balance in standing up for our historical role in terms of refugee protection, offering civil liberties to all people in Canada and at the same time dealing with changes in global human migration and the threat of terrorism.