Mr. Speaker, I believe it is important to understand one thing. Today, this is a test not for war resisters, but for Canadians. It is not about respecting Canadian laws but about respecting ourselves.
This is a character test for us in Canada. This is about respecting our neighbours in the United States but it is also about respecting ourselves. We set laws and regulations according to our values, how we see our country evolving. We are saying that our immigration system, the friends and neighbours we choose to have come here, is also based on our values.
The question today is narrowing from a character test for all Canadians to one for government members. Why do they stand outside a Canadian sensibility? Why do they hide behind facts that are not correct, characterizations that are not accurate? Why are they threatened by a small number of people who had a crisis of conscience and at great personal cost walked away from the United States and came to Canada for refuge?
It is not correct to say that we have not accepted such people before. Out of the draft dodgers who came here for sanctuary before, 3,000 were volunteers in the American army.
This decision has been made by Canadians before. It is the government of the day that seeks to change how Canadians express themselves. Every reasonable Canadian can today ask themselves this: why does the minister in particular use his personal biases, declare at every opportunity and mis-characterize people?
We also have a precedence by the government. It passed a regulation, supported special immigration for a group of Vietnamese living in the Philippines. Quite contrary to what we hear from the members opposite, there is precedent for discussion, debate, and decision by Parliament about special needs and special cases.
That is truly what we are talking about today. We are talking about a group of people who come from the United States, our neighbour and ally, but who have found themselves in a crisis of conscience. They find themselves subject to compulsion that we do not agree with in Canada.
Some of the hon. members have already spoken to the compulsion around stop loss, and in one instance, one person served a full four-year term, tried to return and was called back. Some 13,000 American servicemen have been subject to that.
The new administration suggests it is going to phase out stop loss and get rid of it by 2011. The minister of defence of the United States has said, “This is not fair. This breaks contracts with people”. Quite a large number of war resisters find themselves subject to it and other forms of compulsion.
Near to my riding, there is a 27-year veteran of the United States armed forces. I would challenge any member opposite to have a better record in terms of contribution to military service in their country. He had a crisis of conscience. He is a nuclear engineer who decided his ship was bombing civilian territory. He was not permitted to question it, as he might have been in the Canadian military, which has different rules around crisis of conscience and what one might be able to do. With three years left to his pension, he instead came to Canada.
I think it is highly objectionable and outside the boundaries of fairness on the part of Canadians that one would characterize such people who showed fidelity and devotion to their country, principles we would agree with, as criminal in their behaviour. Clearly, there is a gap in our system, and it is one that the House is meant to address.
We stand on the traditions of previous Parliaments when we say these are people who merit our attention. It behooves members opposite to say why they would stay outside of that consensus, which was represented in the House, debated and discussed at the immigration committee, and expressed by many Canadians across the country.
Again, it is becoming a character test. Why is the government tone deaf? Why would it impose its narrow view of this country on others? It bespeaks a government unprepared to govern for everyone, and that is the job. There is no other job when one sits on the government side of the House.
We heard from the United Church, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the oblates in the Catholic Church. They said this cannot stand as a moral decision of the government. They exhorted the government to find it in the values that Canadians want to see expressed.
I think this is very clear. We need to make a choice for Kimberly Rivera, my constituent who got the stay in Federal Court, and who found herself in that circumstance. She has a young daughter, Katie, who is four months old. They are contributing to society and supported by Canadians.
Hundreds of families came out in support of Kimberly Rivera in my riding. Mainstream Canadians heard her story and said that she needs to be among us. I have the greatest respect for the members opposite, but to try to raise the spectre that we have no room for these people and that it is at the expense of somebody else is simply not true. There is every bit the travail, loss and sacrifice that has happened to these people. Unfortunately it seems to require an overwhelming direction from the House that the government adjust to the way that Canadians view this particular group of people.
In case after case, these are people who have stood up to great jeopardy. Kimberly Rivera faces 15 months in jail and felony convictions. She faces separation from her Canadian-born daughter and her family because she had a crisis of conscience. She and her family have lost everything economically and have nothing to gain by coming here and being among us, except because of the revelation she had in Iraq. They were going to force her to serve another term and she chose to get away.
We do not judge the sets of values and consensus that form in the United States, even though they are now changing with the defence secretary and perhaps even the new president. However, we surely are free in the House to establish Canadian values when it comes to who lives here. We have done that in the past and done it effectively. To surrender our capacity to evaluate situations does not show true respect for a friend or neighbour.
There are more than 30,000 people, and their children and grandchildren, in this country who came to us from the United States in part because we stood differently. We did not stand better. We do not lord that over any other countries. However, we did stand differently, and every member of the House needs to appreciate what has come before us. It is interesting to see a Conservative Party that cannot respect traditions and does not believe in some of the hard-gained ideals that we have.
When one looks at what is happening in terms of the different people who are here, one sees not just a nuclear engineer, a young mother, or a university graduate. These are articulate people.
In my riding, we have people who are volunteering. Every single person they volunteer with at this particular agency that re-establishes computers has signed a petition for them to stay, every single one of these volunteers who give of their time. That is what they are doing while their status is in limbo.
I just want people to imagine what it was like for these people to have been ostracized in the United States when they left two or three years ago, what the feeling was, how they had to uproot themselves from their community, and how it must feel to still hear echoes of people condemning them here in this country. What they get on the streets and in the markets from people out there is that we understand.
All we are saying here is that these are potential future Canadians. They would still go through a process. They would be characterized through this motion as eligible for immigration. There is nothing automatic here, and they could not be arbitrarily deported by a biased minister or government.