Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today and return to my first love. In fact, until just recently, I was the Bloc Québécois citizenship and immigration critic. It is therefore a pleasure for me to talk about an issue that is close to the hearts of many Quebeckers and Canadians. Moreover, a number of young people from my riding, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, are here today, and I will have the opportunity to talk to them and discuss this issue. I would therefore like to thank my colleagues for giving us the opportunity to hold a debate today about conscientious objectors.
The deportation order against Corey Glass, a deserter from the war in Iraq who is living in the Toronto area, has reopened the debate. I am happy about what I have heard here from the opposition members. My friends from Vaughan and Scarborough—Agincourt, as well as my NDP colleagues, have described the cases that are before us and about which groups are asking parliamentarians to make a decision. In my opinion, this is a political decision that could change the course of these people's lives. The principle on which their claims are based is laudable and justifiable, as the member for Vaughan said in his speech.
The Bloc Québécois endorses the committee report on the issue of conscientious objectors. The motion that was adopted reads as follows:
The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.
This would apply until the issue had been discussed and solutions had been found.
I would now like to talk about certain factors which support war resisters.
In the past three years, people opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq who have been living here in Canada have had the opportunity to talk to a number of people here. About 50 people living here have been involved. I would like to commend them on having the courage to uphold principles of international law, principles of solidarity and humanitarian principles. These are great values shared by the parliamentarians here.
I do not want their words to be forgotten. These people came to speak to us. In their opinion, the war in Iraq is illegal and immoral. Some came to that conclusion after their experience on the ground in Iraq, while others came to that same conclusion based on what they read, namely accounts by other soldiers who have returned from Iraq. Their claims were also backed by certain facts and events, including Colin Powell's outburst.
This is a sensitive issue because it affects our relationship with the United States and could also affect our relationships with other countries. As far as the issue of conscientious objectors is concerned, one of the basic problems that always brings us back to this type of debate is the lack of clear direction in Canada's foreign policy.
This policy has not been implemented for almost 10 years.
Other factors at play include the review of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act following the attacks in 2001. Instead of allowing the borders to remain open for humanitarian or family reasons, Canada stepped up its border controls and increased its munitions. It is closing its borders and fewer and fewer refugee claims on humanitarian grounds are being properly considered here in Canada.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act poses a basic problem. The Bloc Québécois was opposed to it then for the same reasons it is now. Our evidence shows that we were right at the time.
Since the 1990s, the global economy and the international political scene have had their share of upheavals that have had an impact on Canada's role in the world. For the past 10 years, the Government of Canada has not conducted an indepth public review of its foreign policy and its defence policy. A policy incorporates the values we want to the defend and the principles on which we can make our decisions, whether it is a matter of regulations or other measures. A real reform is needed, preceded by real consultations with the elected members.
Nowadays, issues are being brought up one by one. That is why people get the sense that everything is so complicated, and things get bogged down in endless processes and procedures.
Our Conservative Party colleague talked about what he would do with the soldiers and what would happen if we were to adopt a policy toward conscientious objectors. We already have a basic principle to inform our decisions. These considerations have to do with multilateralism and peacekeeping.
We have to consider Canada's position on the war in Iraq and base the decision we make today on that. These factors also influenced the decisions made by those who resisted the American war in Iraq.
Witnesses who appeared before the committee brought up three main points. First, in March 2003, the Canadian government decided not to send more troops to participate in the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Second, Canada welcomed resistors during the Vietnam war, a chapter in history that is relatively well known in the United States and that created a historical precedent.
The third point involved people who have been the subject of significant international media coverage and who made it possible for members of the American armed forces to gain access to information about what was really going on on the ground.
I would like to talk more about the Vietnam war. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of parliamentarians of the day. I had the text of the debates held in 1969 printed, and what people were saying back then in Parliament is the same as what we are hearing now. Some members were wondering about how to build soldiers' loyalty and deal with international relations with other countries. Others were worried that officers or soldiers who had committed serious crimes or crimes against humanity might wind up here in Canada.
But a policy was implemented at the time and thousands of deserters were able to come to Canada. This brings me to the question of immigration. At the time, the Immigration Act was different. When people submitted documents explaining their opinion and what led them to decide to be conscientious objectors, the act allowed them to apply here and those people were allowed normal entry to Canada.
I would also like to thank these people, because many of them had the courage to come and appear before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, precisely to tell us how they have contributed to this country by passing on pacifist and humanitarian values. Many are now emeritus professors at Canadian universities. I would therefore like to sincerely thank them, on behalf of deserters who were conscientious objectors, for their contributions. The committee concluded that the government could implement some measures. In this case, under existing legislation, these exceptional measures could allow conscientious objectors to come to Canada.
I do not know what time it was when I began my speech, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind this House that, this year, the United Nations made a specific commitment to peace. The Bloc Québécois defends Quebec's values and I believe many people in the other provinces also share the values generally espoused in Quebec, which include respect for the rights of individuals and of peoples, freedom, solidarity and peaceful resolution of conflicts. These values are deeply entrenched in Quebec and have been passionately expressed, for instance, during the debate surrounding the war in Iraq, which illustrates just how willing people are to denounce illegal wars.
We need only recall the 250,000 people who braved the cold to demonstrate in Montreal and the polls that showed major opposition to the war at that time. We managed to change political positions in terms of foreign affairs and our policy on the war in Iraq.
We can now reaffirm these values because the United Nations has proclaimed 2001 to 2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World. I think that this is a golden opportunity to educate and act in the spirit of non-violence and peace by recognizing the requests of these conscientious objectors and drawing on the wisdom of 1969. At that time, during the Vietnam War, Canada showed clemency and allowed thousands of people—I would like to speak of people and not cases—to establish themselves in Canada and make a positive contribution to the country.
I will wrap it up here and take questions.
We are in favour of conscientious objectors staying in Canada. We are in favour of creating a mechanism to examine their applications. We would like the House to have the same attitude as it had in 1969. The government must show leadership and recognize, once and for all, the events of the war in Iraq. It must develop a policy to recognize the rights of these people who, by the way, have worked hard for the recognition of their rights using the means available to them.
And that concludes my presentation.