Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to this concurrence motion on the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Just for the record, in that report 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 is a very important report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I am glad that the standing committee was able to finally make that clear statement about the need to offer a welcome to war resisters, war resisters to the war in Iraq, American war resisters here in Canada, and that it garnered the support of all the opposition parties on the committee.
The committee considered this for some time. Early attempts that I made to raise this issue were not as successful as recent ones, often spearheaded by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, so I am very glad that we are here today to discuss this majority report of the standing committee.
Canada needs people of conscience. We have been well served by such people who have taken a stand on an important issue of principle, a stand for peace, a stand for truth and accountability of government, and a stand against militarism. In the case of Iraqi war resisters who are currently coming to Canada, their conscientious objection has not been recognized in the United States. It has not been recognized through the conscientious objection process of the U.S. military.
I think we also want to say that wherever we have military forces we want soldiers who do not check their conscience at the recruiting office doors. We need people in the armed forces who act out of full conscience. That is what these American war resisters are doing. As such, as people of conscience, they should receive a welcome in Canada.
It is very clear that Canadians do not support the war in Iraq. That has been shown time and time again across this country. Many of us believe that it is an illegal war, and Canada rightly refused to participate in that war. Our government made the right decision to not participate in the war in Iraq.
It is now very clear that the United States and President Bush lied, I do not think it is too strong to say, about the situation in Iraq prior to the invasion. They lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They lied that this fight was against al-Qaeda or that it was a war on terrorism. Even as recently as yesterday, we saw that President Bush's own messengers, the people who were communications spokespeople in his office, are now admitting their role in promoting this misrepresentation and admitting that they helped promote a war for different reasons than those publicly stated by the U.S. administration.
There is no doubt that the Saddam Hussein regime was a problem, to say the least, but the invasion on false pretences and the ongoing war were and are wrong and have done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. In fact, the situation is much, much worse for ordinary Iraqis today. This war is a terrible mistake, something that Americans themselves are increasingly aware of, and the dramatic decline in support for the war in the United States is clear evidence of that.
Many patriotic Americans signed on with their armed forces because they believed what they were told by their leaders. After serving in Iraq, they came to know the truth and decided they could no longer in good conscience participate. We should listen to their stories. The member for Trinity—Spadina told some of those stories this morning. They speak clearly to the horror of war and the way these honourable people struggled with their personal responsibility for that war.
Many of those folks signed on to the military because that was their only way of getting an education and their only way out of poverty and difficult financial circumstances. After serving a tour of duty, many are being forced back to Iraq against their conscience by the stop loss program, which extends their deployment beyond anything contemplated when they enlisted. This is another serious problem that these people face with the process in the American military. None of this is acceptable.
These war resisters are people who can make a huge contribution to Canada and who share key values with Canadians, values that have taught them to struggle to do what is right and resist what is wrong, values that lead them to want to support a path of peace rather than war, values that value life over death, and values that seek the best for their country and hold it to high ideals.
Canada has benefited often from such refugees and immigrants many times in our history. Mennonites, Doukhobors, Vietnam war resisters have all made significant contributions to our country and our communities. I do not think anyone would deny this.
Canada made it possible for over 100,000 Vietnam war resisters to find a haven from militarism here in Canada. New Democrats were early supporters of extending that welcome. Former Prime Minister Trudeau actively sought that solution eventually and stated that Canada should be a haven from militarism during the Vietnam war. Over 50,000 of those folks remained in Canada. I am constantly amazed and impressed at where I meet them and the kind of contribution they are making to this country.
Canada did well by that migration. Canada did well by our decision to welcome those young men and women of conscience.
This is one way Canada can be an agent for peace in the world. We can make a statement by extending a welcome to Iraq war resisters, and indeed resisters of war in other situations and other conflicts.
I believe Canadians strongly support such an action. There must be a special immigration program for conscientious objectors. We must allow them a safe haven. We must ensure that people from countries that are unwilling to recognize conscientious objection find a welcome here.
I have said that Canadians support this. I have tabled petitions here in the House from 15,000 Canadians back in June 2005 who called for exactly this kind of welcome for U.S. war resisters. I know other MPs have tabled petitions with many more signatures.
The war resister support campaign is working across Canada in many different communities to support war resisters and to extend support to the broader community for them. Thousands of people in Canada have endorsed their declaration. Many have contributed financially to the ongoing support of war resisters. They have also lobbied many of us here in the House of Commons.
Back on May 15 it was International Conscientious Objection Day. This day is important to many people who are conscientious objectors to war and militarism here in Canada. Along with some of those people that I have worked with, we have developed a bill called the conscientious objection act or more commonly known as the peace tax bill, where people of conscience would have the opportunity to divert some of their income tax away from military purposes and place it in a peace tax fund.
This bill was developed in cooperation with people from Conscience Canada, Quakers, Mennonites, the Mennonite Central Committee and Nos impôts pour la paix.
I think there is also a very important statement from the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Canadian Friends Service Committee and the yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. It is an aspect that is regularly raised by the war resister support campaign as a major principle of that campaign. The churches say in this letter:
The majority of Canadians and the Government of Canada did not support the Iraq war. The Nuremberg principles established that soldiers have a duty not a choice to refuse to carry out immoral orders. The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18) and the UN Handbook for Refugees (Chapter 5, Section B) makes clear that conscientious objectors to war have rights and can require protection from states.
I think it is good for us here in this place to be reminded of those obligations given the debate here today before us.
I believe that it is time to take a stand, that Canadians want us in this place to take a stand on this important issue. We have to offer a welcome to people of conscience, people who share the values of Canadians.
I would urge the government to take heed of these concerns, to immediately stop all removal action against American war resisters and introduce a program such as that contemplated in this motion and in this report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to allow them to remain here in Canada as permanent residents.
I believe that Canada will benefit strongly from their contribution, and that Canada will benefit strongly from taking this important ethical and moral stand against the war in Iraq.