This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regions.

Topics

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the motion that itself arose initially from the witness testimony and documentary evidence both before the foreign affairs subcommittee on human rights and beyond, to which my colleague, the member for Davenport, referred, which demonstrated that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Baha'is have faced a systematic and state-orchestrated campaign of religious persecution and prosecution in their Iranian homeland, indeed a persistent and pervasive assault on their fundamental rights protected under international covenants to which Iran is a state party, again referred to by my colleague.

In its early stages, more than 200 Baha'is were killed and at least 1,000 imprisoned, targeted solely because of their religious beliefs. In the early 1990s the government shifted its focus to the systematic deprivation of social, economic and cultural rights, impeding and obstructing the development of the Baha'i community, including measures to deprive the Baha'i of their livelihood and to destroy their cultural heritage—in a word, to disenfranchise the Baha'i from equal participation in all aspects of Iranian life.

Most important, in the last several years there has been a resurgence of more extreme forms of persecution directed at the 300,000 members of the Baha'i community in Iran, that country's largest minority.

This upsurge has alarmed human rights scholars and monitors who fear not only for the Baha'i community affected by the government's renewed campaigns of hatred and incitement, but also that such attacks portend something worse, that they constitute a number of warning signs that often foreshadow widespread ethnic, racial or religious cleansing, including—and these are some of the warning signs—the exclusionary “classification” of minority groups into categories of “us versus them”; the singling out of the Baha'i for special opprobrium and repression; the use of the state media to dehumanize and demonize the Baha'i among their fellow Iranians; the orchestration of hate groups for targeted intimidation and fear; the proliferation of assaults on members of the Baha'i community, their homes and their properties; the ongoing denial of higher education to Baha'i youth; the manifold restrictions on their right to a livelihood; the ongoing attempts to destroy their religious, cultural and spiritual heritage; the arrest and imprisonment, as referred to by my colleague, the member for Davenport, of national-level Baha'i leaders in March and May 2008 in a manner that is eerily similar to the events of the 1980s when scores of Baha'i leaders were rounded up and killed; the whole reflected and foreshadowed in the public disclosure in March 2006, referred to in our motion, by a United Nations official of a governmental plan instructing state intelligence services, police units and the Revolutionary Guard to make “a comprehensive and complete report of all activities of the Baha'i sect for the purpose of identifying all individuals of this misguided sect”.

As Asma Jahangir, United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion, put it, “such monitoring constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities”, while others characterized these orders as reminiscent of the steps taken against the Jews in Europe and a dangerous step toward the institution of Nuremberg-type laws.

All this stereotyping, denigrating and demonizing is of a religious minority that itself has the highest respect for all religions.

As the Baha'i international community has put it in its own communication to the Iranian government:

Our Writings refer to Islam as “the blessed and luminous religion of God” and the Prophet Muhammad as “the refulgent lamp of supreme Prophethood,” “the Lord of creation” and “the Day-star of the world,” Who, “through the will of God, shone forth from the horizon of Hijaz.” The station of Imam Ali is described in terms such as “the moon of the heaven of knowledge and understanding” and “the sovereign of the court of knowledge and wisdom.”

I will close by reading into the record an excerpt from a heroic open letter by a group of Iranian academics, writers, artists, journalists and activists throughout the world to the Baha'i community, a letter signed by more than 300 of the most prominent Iranian intellectuals. It reads as follows, and I am only excerpting from it:

We are ashamed...

As Iranian human beings, we are ashamed for what has been perpetrated upon the Baha'is in the last century and a half in Iran...

According to historical documents and evidence, from the commencement of the Babi Movement followed by the appearance of the Baha'i Faith, thousands of our countrymen have been slain by the sword of bigotry and superstition only for their religious beliefs. Just in the first decades of its establishment, some twenty thousand of those who stood identified with this faith community were savagely killed throughout various regions of Iran.

We are ashamed that during that period, no voice of protest against these barbaric murders was registered...

We are ashamed that in addition to the intense suppression of Baha'is during its formative decades, the last century also witnessed periodic episodes of persecution of this group of our countrymen, in which their homes and businesses were set on fire, and their lives, property and families were subjected to brutal persecution--but all the while, the intellectual community of Iran remained silent;

We are ashamed that during the last thirty years, the killing of Baha'is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs has gained legal status and over two-hundred Baha'is have been slain on this account...

We are ashamed of our silence that after many decades of service to Iran, Baha'i retired persons have been deprived of their right to a pension...

We are ashamed of our silence over this painful reality that in our nation, Baha'is are systematically oppressed and maligned, a number of them are incarcerated because of their religious convictions, their homes and places of business are attacked and destroyed, and periodically their burial places are desecrated;

We are ashamed of our silence when confronted with the long, dark and atrocious record that our laws and legal system have marginalized and deprived Baha'is of their rights, and the injustice and harassment of both official and unofficial organs of the government towards this group of our countrymen;

We are ashamed for all these transgressions and injustices, and we are ashamed for our silence over these deeds.

They close with:

We, the undersigned, asked you, the Baha'is, to forgive us for the wrongs committed against the Baha'i community of Iran.

We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you.

We stand by you in achieving all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights.

And in a closing, heroic expression and clarion call:

Let us join hands in replacing hatred and ignorance with love and tolerance.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member and the members of the foreign affairs subcommittee for bringing the issue of the Baha'i persecution in Iran to the forefront of their report so that we are discussing this in concurrence.

I would like to go along the same line my colleagues did about the great Iranian people, but what I would like to dwell upon is that Iran, through its long history, has been one of the beacons in the Middle East.

Iranians, or Persians as they are properly known, have, over history, stood up for great culture, for great civilization, and that has had tremendous impact on the regions around that country, in South Asia and elsewhere.

However, in terms of what has happened there, I think my hon. colleague will agree that it was only after the arrival of the Islamic Republic of Iran under Khomeini that we started seeing this persecution. These regimes have actually forgotten the great Persian and Iranian traditions that have existed there for so many years.

So perhaps the member would clarify that this is the work of the new regime over there right now in Iran.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to concur with the remarks of my colleague. Iran has been a great civilization. It has made an enormous contribution to humankind, and indeed, humankind internationally. We are all the beneficiaries of that great civilization. It was only as a result of the witness testimony and documentary evidence, to which I referred, that the foreign affairs committee's Subcommittee on International Human Rights, taking note, as I quote, and I will read this into the record:

on the persistent and pervasive assault on the human rights of the Baha'i community in Iran, alarmed by the escalation of the prosecution and persecution of the Baha'i leadership, alarmed further by the state-backed demonization of and incitement against the Baha'i community in Iran, resolves to take all necessary measures both domestically and internationally to address and redress this state-backed assault on the human rights of the Baha'i community.

We stand in solidarity with the Iranian people who are themselves the objects of mass targeted repression domestically by the Iranian government. We stand with them as we stand with the Baha'i. Our critique is solely of those who have assumed the leadership since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Again, we hold no brief against Islam. On the contrary, we see Islam as a peaceful religion that has made contributions to humankind, as have the Iranian people and the Iranian civilization. We single out only those in the government who have embarked upon this state-backed policy of persecution and prosecution of a minority solely on the basis of their religious faith and heritage.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on the Baha'i community in Iran. This subject is very important to our government. The report does an excellent job in highlighting the persecution faced by the Baha'i in Iran.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. That is why we condemn such persecution in all its forms, including those who continue the long-standing persecution against the Baha'i and by others who quietly excuse them. We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong.

In addition to the report done by the committee, I would like to add a little historical perspective to demonstrate the long-suffering nature of the persecution faced by the Iranian Baha'i and the long-standing support provided to them by the government and the people of Canada. Under this government, I am proud to represent a strong Canada on the world stage that not just believes but fights to ensure that every man and woman in the world has rights and dignity.

Canada has been a leading voice in speaking out on the persecution of and for the rights and dignity of the Baha'i community in Iran. The Baha'is have been a persecuted minority community in Iran since the inception of the Baha'i faith in Iran over 160 years ago. The persecution has been consistent irrespective of which ideology or political orientation has happened to be in power.

The Baha'i community in Iran poses no threat to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The principles of the Baha'i faith require its members to be obedient to their government, to avoid partisan political involvement, subversive activity and all forms of violence.

Unfortunately, a new and more violent wave of persecution against the Baha'i came in the way of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Since the revolution, 50 Baha'is have disappeared and more than 200 have been killed, two as recently as in 1997. The oppression of the Iranian Baha'i is not a matter of oversight or the thought of a few individuals acting in bad faith. It is planned and systematic.

In 1991 Dr. Sayyed Mohammad Reza Golpayegani, head of the office of the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, prepared a report, now known as the Golpayegani document, which outlined how the Islamic Republic of Iran would set out to undermine the well-being of the community.

The Golpayegani document was prepared on behalf of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. It was blessed by the president, the supreme leader Khomenei, who authorized the implementation of its recommendations.

The recommendations outlined in the document include the following elements.The government's dealing with the Baha'i must be in such a way that their progress and development are blocked. They can be enrolled in schools, provided they have not identified themselves as Baha'is. They must be expelled from universities either in the admissions process or during the course of their studies once it becomes known that they are Baha'is. A plan must be devised to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside the country. They will be denied employment if they identify themselves as Baha'is and will be denied any position of influence such as in the educational sector.

Unfortunately, these were not just words on paper. The subsequent history of the Baha'is' treatment at the hand of the government reads from this playbook.

I would like to talk about the education in a bit more detail to highlight the Golpayegani plan in action.

In 2006, the director general of the central security office of the Iranian ministry of science research and technology sent a message to 81 Iranian universities instructing them to expel any student who was discovered to be a Baha'i at the time of enrolment or in the course of his or her studies. The letter stated that the instructions were being promulgated under the provisions of decree 1327 of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution of February 1991. This is the Golpayegani document.

The letter came after Iranian officials had informed the Baha'i community that its students would enrol in university under something like a “Don't ask, don't tell” approach. The 800 Baha'i students took the entrance exam for the academic year 2006-07. Three thousand students were allowed to enrol, but one by one they were identified and expelled as per the instructions delivered by the director general.

Educational problems are not limited to the university level. Elementary-aged children are regularly insulted and have been threatened with expulsion and, in some cases, the dismissals have been carried out. The harassment and severe psychological pressure faced by the young students is all the more intolerable, as they routinely are committed by those who should rightfully hold their trust: their teachers and school administrators.

While there are many examples of such behaviour, it is only fair to point out that there are many brave Iranian teachers who tried their best to ensure a healthy learning environment for all the students, including the Baha'i students, but the officially sanctioned policy of persecution means that too many Baha'i children face a hostile environment.

Canada has been a leading international defender of the Iranian Baha'i community. The Government of Canada was the first government in the world to draw attention to the severe persecution suffered by the Bahá'i community in Iran, when in June 1981 the House of Commons passed a strongly worded resolution condemning the post-revolutionary persecution of the Baha'is.

Canada led the world in admitting Baha'i families into our country as refugees during the first few years following the 1979 revolution. Several other countries followed our lead and together we welcomed 10,000 Baha'is from Iran into our countries.

Canada has championed the rights of the Iranian Baha'is in various United Nations fora and the representatives of the Baha'i community of Canada enjoy regular and substantive access to senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

As I noted in the House of Commons on February 12, Canada is deeply troubled by these charges of espionage levelled at the Baha'i leadership in Iran. The Canadian embassy in Iran has conveyed these concerns directly to the Iranian authorities. We believe that these charges are unacceptable and without foundation, and that these individuals are being persecuted solely on the basis of their faith.

The Baha'i leadership has been detained without access to legal counsel for more than 10 months. Six members were arrested last May and the seventh may have been detained since March of last year. If found guilty, the seven could face the death penalty. In addition to the seven members facing charges of espionage, there are 30 more Iranian Baha'is in prison for their beliefs.

We are further troubled by public statements of senior Iranian officials that threaten the Baha'i community as a whole. For example, last month Iran's prosecutor general stated:

The administration of the misguided Bahá’i sect at all levels is unlawful and banned, and their ties to Israel and their opposition to Islam and the Islamic regime are clear. The danger they pose to national security is documented and proven...

The prosecutor general went on to state, and I find these words to be particularly chilling, that “ the administrative element [of the Bahá’í community] will be confronted decisively until its complete destruction”. Such comments are deeply worrying.

There have been a movement to intimidate defenders of the Baha'i, including Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. In December 2008, the Iranian authorities closed the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran, headed by Ms. Ebadi, and raided her private offices. As noted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a statement issued on December 22 and December 30 of last year, Canada was seriously concerned by the closure of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the raid on Shirin Ebadi private office.

I regret that these are just the latest in a long line of incidents of harassment, intimidation and the human rights violations aimed at the 300,000 Baha'is living in Iran. As I outlined earlier, this peaceful community has been targeted by the Iranian authorities and subjected to persecution, discrimination and detention for years.

This persecution has increased in recent years. Since 2005, there have been more than 200 arrests of Baha'is in Iran. On May 19, 2006, for example, Iranian authorities arrested 54 Baha'is in the city of Shiraz. Most of those arrested were youth and all were engaged in humanitarian service when they were arrested.

The humanitarian activities included tutoring children, offering art classes to young cancer patients at the hospital in Shiraz and visiting orphanages and facilities for physically and mentally challenged students. The Baha'is were later convicted of offences related to state security.

Other Baha'is have been arrested and convicted in recent years for such crimes as organizing the activities of the perverse Baha'i sect, being an active member of the Baha'i community and teaching Muslims secretly by providing them with Baha'i materials.

In the past year alone, more than 50 Baha'is have been arrested. Among those arbitrarily detained is Ms. Jinus Sobhani, who worked as an assistant at the Defenders of Human Rights Center headed by Ms. Shirin Ebadi.

In addition to the arbitrary arrests, Baha'is in Iran are also subjected to violence and intimidation. Death threats and vandalism are disturbingly common occurrences. One of the most disturbing trends is the increase in attacks on Baha'i cemeteries. The Baha'i cemetery in Darzikola, for example, has been repeatedly attacked, including with bulldozers and front-end loaders until being completely razed by municipal officers in January of this year.

Also in January, government workers entered a cemetery in Tehran and destroyed an entire section where Iranian authorities had buried many of the Baha'is executed in the years immediately following the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Iranian state media regularly publishes attacks on Baha'is and their faith. In November 2008, the Islamic Republic news agency announced the publication of a new anti-Baha'i book, which portrays Baha'is during the Shah era as spies holding key positions in media, government and the military.

Kayhan, the conservative state-sponsored newspaper, regularly publishes similar-themed articles slandering the Baha'is, including charges that the Baha'is are secretly linked to colonialism and Zionism. Others have gone so far as to link the Baha'i faith with satanic cults.

The government of Iran's treatment of the Baha'i community is in direct opposition to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. The covenant protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It also states that no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention.

We urge Iran to live up to its commitments and obligations under domestic and international law, which it knowingly entered into, and to begin to adopt meaningful change in its human rights practices.

It is important to recognize that there are important voices in Iran who are calling for an end to the persecution of the Baha'is. The most prominent statement came from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri in May 2008.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri had been the designated successor to Atayollah Khomeini, but fell out with him in 1989, shortly before Khomeini's death, over government policies that Montazeri claimed infringed on freedom and denied people's rights. Grand Atayollah Montazeri is under house arrest in Iran, but remains influential in religious circles. His May 2008 decree said:

The congregation of Baha’ism not having the heavenly book like those of Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in the constitution...are not considered one of the religious minorities. However, since they are the citizens of this country, they have the rights of a citizen and to live in this country. Furthermore, they must benefit from the Islamic compassion which is stressed in Quran and by the religious authorities.

This simple statement defending the citizenship rights of the Baha'i community marked the most important defence of the rights of the Baha'is by a senior Islamic authority

It was an important step and one that demonstrates that there can be respect and dignity for the Baha'i people in Iran. There are other prominent voices in Iran calling for an end to the persecution of the Baha'is. The 2003 Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Shirin Ebadi, is one such brave voice. She has sought to defend Baha'is in the Iranian courts and has called for justice and respect for these citizens of Iran.

This government takes every opportunity to make it views on human rights and religious discrimination known to the authorities of Iran and to other countries. Support for freedom of religion is an integral part of our ongoing work in promoting human rights.

Canada continues to draw attention bilaterally and internationally to the persecution of the Baha'is and the overall human rights situation in Iran. As I noted, the Canadian embassy in Iran has raised this issue directly with the Government of Iran, and we will continue to express Canada's deep concern with the charges facing the Baha'i leadership.

Our government continues to urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice, and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against religious, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities.

The situation of the Baha'is is a reflection of the troubling human rights situation in Iran.

As Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have noted that persecution of religious and ethnic minorities goes beyond the Baha'i and includes Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sufis and Sunni Muslims.

Iran continues to execute more juvenile offenders than any other country. The rights of women and workers are suppressed and the Iranian authorities have gone to great lengths to limit freedom of expression and the media. There has also been a movement to intimidate academics and journalists as well as human rights defenders.

Addressing the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, such as the Baha'i in Iran, has been a consistent priority of our government.

The poor state of human rights in Iran prompted Canada and more than 40 other countries to again sponsor a UN General Assembly resolution on the human rights situation in Iran last December.

As a response to the report from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the resolution called attention to egregious human rights violations, including confirmed instances of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, multiple public executions, persecution of minorities, including the Baha'i, and arrests of human rights defenders. The adoption of this resolution was a clear signal of the international community's ongoing concern for the human rights of people in Iran.

The government will continue to raise our concerns about the human rights and the Baha'i directly to the Government of Iran. The report of the standing committee will assist in Canada's ongoing pursuit of justice and dignity for the Baha'is of Iran.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that ringing declaration of freedom, something for which Canadians can stand up and be proud, and that is protecting voiceless people around the world. It is exciting to be in this chamber to hear that.

Could my colleague answer the following question? I see in the very large, robust and dynamic Persian-Iranian community in Canada, many of whose members I represent from the north shore of Vancouver, has similar concerns for these issues. I know, for instance, that on April 17, a great member of this community, Nazanin Afshin-Jam of Persian background, will speak in front of over a thousand people on human rights issues in Iran and around the world.

Could my colleague help me understand how we can uphold the Persian and Iranian people in Canada who are struggling to make known their condemnation of those abuses and ensuring that we, as parliamentarians, distinguish between our condemnation of the government of Iran and its abuses on the one hand from the wonderful contributions that the Persian-Iranian people are making in Canada on the other hand?

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as in today's debate on this concurrence motion, every member who has already spoken and who will speak will talk about the great contribution the Iranian community has made to Canada, and will continue to make those contributions.

I had on many occasions the opportunity to meet with the Persian people of the Iranian community in our country. They have brought forward many issues of human rights and other issues. As my friend on the other side and I have stated, human rights abuses have become an issue since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

I encourage the member and the community to keep in constant touch and to keep talking to us. As I stated in my speech, they have access to the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and to us to ensure we keep bringing this issue up in Parliament and into the international domain.

I am sure tonight's concurrence debate, as well as the report of the subcommittee, will be seen right across the world. Canada will continue speaking on behalf of the Baha'is around the world.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to support the unanimous position of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, which is the same position taken previously by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. We need to recognize the exceptional sensitivity demonstrated by that committee, on which the Bloc is represented by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. The committee report sheds light on an unacceptable situation that must be reported. It does not question Iran's history as a great society, with the highs and lows that every country experiences. But this is a particular situation that must be brought to light. It is the responsibility of this Parliament and every parliament on the planet. We have to be very sensitive to human rights abuses. History has taught us that ignoring human rights abuses has a snowball effect, so we have to make sure that we are sensitive and on the alert and that human rights are respected.

The Bloc Québécois is obviously in favour of adopting this report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, because the Bloc Québécois, like the other parties in this House, condemns the persecution of people because of their religious affiliation, ethnicity, language or sexual orientation. In this case, it is a question of religious affiliation.

In all friendship, we call on the Iranian government to put a stop to its discrimination against the Baha'is. Iran has international obligations under international conventions it has signed. In recent weeks, we have seen that the new American President and others are open to dialogue with Iran. This issue must be addressed with that same openness, but it is important not to hide the facts and to speak the truth and say what needs to be changed.

In the case of the imprisonment of seven Baha'is, the Iranian government must ensure that they have a fair, balanced, prompt and transparent trial so that their situation may be resolved as quickly as possible. We know that, often, when light is shed on such matters by NGOs or parliaments, as we are doing this evening, issues are resolved because the specific sensibilities raised are reported internationally through diplomatic efforts or by the media. Awareness is heightened and this prevents situations from deteriorating. That is to some extent the objective of the committee.

The House of Commons recognized that, on May 14, 2008, six members of a group known as the Friends of Iran, which is responsible for the needs of the Baha'i community in Iran, were arrested and jailed as political prisoners in Evin prison in Tehran. The seventh member was already being detained there after being arrested in March 2008.

In October 2005, the United Nations human rights commission uncovered a confidential letter from the command headquarters of the armed forces of Iran ordering that all Baha'is be identified and their activities monitored. Thus, the Baha'is were targeted. This is a dangerous practice and we must absolutely put a stop to it. The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion stated, on March 20, 2006, that she “also expresses her concern that the information gathered as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of and discrimination against, members of the Bahá’í Faith, in violation of international standards... The Special Rapporteur is concerned that this latest development indicates that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran is, in fact, deteriorating.” It is with this in mind that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development adopted the report we are debating this evening.

Clearly, the Baha’i community in Canada is concerned about the safety of these seven Baha’i individuals being detained with no formal charges against them and without access to a lawyer or the evidence against them. They are being subject to harsh treatment and interrogations, with very restricted visitation rights, all for the past nine months. Tonight's debate is meant to tell those people, even though they cannot hear us directly, that we hope they will be treated fairly and equitably by the Iranian government.

In addition, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who announced her intention to defend the Baha’is in court, has been subjected to harassment and has had to close her offices. Our vigilance is therefore justified and must be maintained. The deputy prosecutor general has announced that these prisoners will be tried by the Revolutionary court on charges of “espionage on behalf of Israel, insult to the sacredness (of Islam) and propaganda against the regime”, all of which are capital offences.

It seems to us that these charges are frequently used by Iranian authorities to target human rights defenders and religious minorities and there is nothing in the history or teachings of the Baha’i community to lend any credence to such charges.

I do not wish to draw any unwarranted parallels, but 50 years ago in Quebec, we saw these kind of excesses in connection with Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. The situation was later corrected, thanks to vigilance and the defence of human rights in Quebec and in Canada, in order to ensure that such situations never happen again. In this case, we hope that Iran will take a similar approach, and that our message will be clearly heard in parliament. It is not a question of trying to teach the Iranian government a lesson, but to show it once again that people are aware of this issue.

Therefore, be it resolved that this House condemns the ongoing persecution of the Bahá’í minority of Iran and calls upon the government of Iran to reconsider its charges against the members of the Friends in Iran, and release them immediately or failing this, that it proceed to trial without further delay, ensuring that the proceedings are open and fair and are conducted in the presence of international observers.

It is with these considerations in mind that the motion was passed, and we hope that it will be respected.

It is important that those who are watching us understand that the Baha’i religion has close to 6 million adherents in 235 countries. So, we are talking about a religion that is well recognized. It is one of the youngest religions among the world's major religions. It started in Iran, in 1844. It evolved from the Shia branch of Islam. I do not want to get into the details of the evolution of that religion but, for its members, God is a transcendental and unknowable entity. Prophets are successive and divine manifestations, not incarnations. The Baha’i religion recognizes the prophets of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the Baha’ullah begins the Baha’i cycle, when other prophets will come.

We can see the general spirit that is found in the major religions, and in other religions in general. That spirit is based on respect for others. No religion is exempt from excesses. Such excesses are found in all religions but, fortunately, history shows that we regularly go back to the essence of religions. We hope that tolerance will develop and that we will succeed in setting aside the excesses that lead to consequences that are more or less acceptable.

Baha’is have been persecuted almost since the emergence of that religion, during the 19th century. In 1933, the Baha’i literature was banned in Iran, and Baha’i marriages were not recognized. So, Baha’is had to put up with a degree of intolerance. After the Islamic Revolution, people lost their jobs and many even lost their lives because of their religious faith.

In light of this situation, we want the Iranian government to know that not only do the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development support the report that was tabled, but that the House of Commons also supports it. We want the House to transmit this report, because that would be an additional recognition. This report should also spur the Canadian government into making more specific representations regarding this issue.

It is important to remember that Iran has signed a number of international treaties that protect the rights of religious minorities, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. All these conventions protect religious minorities against discrimination and persecution. Iran is also a member of the UN, and as I said earlier, we have seen a change in attitude on the part of the UN in the wake of the new U.S. President's openness.

We hope this constructive approach will spread and that what we are doing today in this House about this situation will translate into a series of actions by other countries and will lead to a change in behaviour and a tolerance that is more befitting societies as we would like them to be in the 21st century. Tolerance is a truly important societal value in Quebec and Canada, and it is also valued around the world. Clearly, we must avoid thinking that we are white and the other side is black. We must also make sure that our own country practises tolerance.

In this case, we are not talking about a solution abroad. It is up to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to raise these sorts of issues when they come up. It is interesting to see the consensus and the unanimous positions of both the human rights committee and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on common values. In view of that consensus, we ask that this report be concurred in.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the NDP and as a member of the subcommittee. I stand in support for the motion to concur in the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on the Baha'i community in Iran.

It is very important for the people at home who are watching the debate tonight to understand first of all that there was consensus, as the previous speaker just said, in our committee. We all understand the importance of this situation in Iran. I also believe it is important to read the motion that is contained in the report. The motion reads:

Whereas, the House of commons recognizes that on 14 May 2008, six members of an informal group known as the Friends in Iran that oversee the needs of the Bahá’í community in Iran were arrested and taken to the political prisoners section of Evin prison in Tehran, where the seventh member was already being held, following her arrest in Mashhad in March 2008.

And whereas, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in October 2005, uncovered a confidential letter from the Command headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran ordering the identification and monitoring of all Bahá’ís and their activities.

And whereas, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated on March 20, 2006, that she “also expresses her concern that the information gathered as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of and discrimination against, members of the Bahá’í Faith, in violation of international standards … The Special Rapporteur is concerned that this latest development indicates that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran is, in fact, deteriorating”.

And whereas, the Bahá’í community of Canada is gravely concerned for the safety of these seven Bahá’ís who have been held without formal charges or access to legal counsel or evidence brought against them and being subjected to harsh treatment and interrogation with very restricted visits from family members for more than nine months.

And whereas, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi who announced her intention to defend the Bahá’ís in court has since been harassed and her offices have been closed.

And whereas, the Deputy Prosecutor General has announced that these prisoners will be tried by the Revolutionary court on charges of “espionage on behalf of Israel”, “insult to the sacredness (of Islam)” and “propaganda against the regime” – all of which are capital offences.

And whereas, such charges are frequently used by Iranian authorities to target human rights defenders and religious minorities and there is nothing in the history or teachings of the Bahá’í community to lend any credence to such charges.

And whereas, these arrests have taken place in the context of an upsurge of arbitrary arrests, raids on home, expulsion of university students, harassment of school children, destruction of graveyards, virulent attacks in government controlled media.

Therefore, be it resolved that this House condemns the ongoing persecution of the Bahá’í minority of Iran and calls upon the government of Iran to reconsider its charges against the members of the Friends in Iran, and release them immediately or failing this, that it proceed to trial without further delay, ensuring that the proceedings are open and fair and are conducted in the presence of international observers.

This not one of those debates where members try to score points at the expense of other parties in the House. No, Mr. Speaker, as you have listened, you will have heard unity in the House, unity in support of human rights and security for the Baha'i people in Iran.

Over the last few weeks, the human rights subcommittee has been studying the human rights situation in Iran. At each session, we heard compelling testimony raising grave concerns about the actions of the government of Iran against its own people.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other private individuals spoke of the situation in Iran, which all believe is worsening daily.

Canadians will remember with horror the case of the Canadian, Zahra Kazemi. I would like to share with the House the following letter written by Susanne Tamas following her testimony at the human rights subcommittee which was subsequently published March 9 in the Ottawa Citizen. She wrote:

We are fortunate to live in a country that enables elected representatives and citizens to work together to promote human rights and protect those suffering human rights violations.

Ms. Tamas went on to write about how she recently appeared as a witness before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. She said:

The subject under discussion was the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation of the Baha'is of Iran. The parliamentary subcommittee recognized the threat to the lives of the entire leadership of the Baha'i community in Iran who, after nine months in Evin prison with no access to legal counsel, have been charged with “espionage on behalf of Israel”, “insult to the sacredness (of Islam),” and “propaganda against the regime” and are to be tried before the revolutionary court.

She went on to say:

The baseless charges brought against these seven individuals are capital offences. The gravity of their situation is underlined by the context in which these trials are taking place: the recent upsurge in arrests, incitement to hatred and increasingly violent attacks on the Baha'is of Iran. The parliamentary subcommittee took immediate action and adopted a motion addressing this issue which it sent to the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs.

She went on to write:

There, the motion was adopted again and it will be reported to the House. I hope that the motion will be debated and adopted by the House, sending a clear signal to Iran that it must abide by its freely-given commitments to international human-rights standards. It will also send a message of hope to the Baha'i leadership in Iran, whose lives hang in the balance. Every state is sensitive to the court of public opinion. Governments, human rights organizations and concerned citizens in many countries are speaking out against the imminent threat to the lives of the Baha'i leadership and the intensifying persecution of Baha'i community in Iran. If we all add our voices to this appeal -- we might be able to avert yet another tragedy.

That was signed by Susanne Tamas. In her letter, we heard words of hope. We heard hope that this Parliament would come together on this issue and we will see that tonight. The speakers who have preceded me are all saying very much the same thing. The voices in the House are rising together to send a strong message to the government of Iran.

I want to praise the members of the human rights subcommittee and the foreign affairs committee for adopting this resolution. I want to thank the House tonight for the unanimous support for this resolution.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Pursuant to order made Friday, March 27, 2009, the motion to concur in the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development is deemed adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

8:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, on March 4 I asked a question of the Prime Minister regarding Vale Inco laying off 421 people across the country but more particular to my interest were the 261 people in Sudbury in northern Ontario. The response came from the Minister of Industry.

The minister spoke of what was going on in northern Ontario. He rattled off a list of programs and initiatives that were nothing new to northern Ontario. They sounded good, but there was no real substance nor were new initiatives discussed in light of what was happening to the economy and the job losses in northern Ontario.

He complained about the Senate holding up the budget and how the benefits were being held back by the Senate. We know that was not true. We know that was nothing more than Conservative propaganda. The Senate has long since passed the budget, yet the Conservatives continue to drag their feet regarding help for unemployed workers in northern Ontario.

Let us go back to my question of March 4 and the response or perhaps the lack of response to my question. In October 2008, we were told that the minister was reviewing an agreement with Vale Inco, key to the foreign takeover, and this was the agreement between the Conservative government and Vale guaranteeing that Canadian jobs would be protected when this foreign takeover took place. Was this for the people of Sudbury and Canada? I do not think so. This was more Conservative posturing.

When asked of this arrangement with the company, the minister replied on March 4 that he expected Vale Inco would live up to its agreement with the Government of Canada. There was nothing in force; there was nothing there. We need more than words from the government. We need actions.

Under the watch of the government and the minister, Inco was sold to a foreign company, a foreign multinational, and in true Conservative form there are no demands put on multinationals to protect Canadian jobs.

I have a few questions I would like answered. Was there in fact an agreement to protect Canadian jobs when Vale from Brazil bought Inco? What has the government done to uphold that agreement if in fact it did exist? When will the government stand up to protect the citizens of Canada and not continue to defend multinationals? What sanctions does Vale Inco face now that the agreement has been violated?

Furthermore, what is the Conservative government doing to prevent future violations? My final question is, more importantly, what is the Conservative government doing to bring back the jobs that have been lost in northern Ontario and across Canada because of violations of this agreement?

8:10 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Nipissing—Timiskaming for his question concerning what the Government of Canada is doing to save jobs and to ensure meaningful work for laid-off workers in northern Ontario.

Of course, we are disappointed by the layoffs in Sudbury and the impact they have had on the families in the region, but the member should know that these are challenging times for mining companies around the world due to the global economic crisis. The government is continuing to closely monitor the impact of unfolding economic conditions on Canadian industries, workers and their families across the country.

To deal directly with the current crisis, our government recently announced its economic action plan which will have a significant impact on the economy of northern Ontario and the lives of the region's residents over the next two years. Northern Ontario will benefit from this plan in a number of ways, including the strengthening of the Government of Canada's catalyst for economic development in the region, FedNor. As part of the plan, FedNor will be charged with delivering a number of initiatives designed to stimulate the region's economy.

Some of the measures in Canada's new economic action plan will be of great benefit to both of these sectors, resulting in real impacts for residents of the north. Of particular significance in northern Ontario, the government's action plan will provide $170 million to help the forestry industry develop innovative products and promote these products globally. Promoting alternate uses for northern Ontario's wood supply is crucial to the region's economy, particularly for smaller forestry-dependent communities.

In addition, our government's economic action plan will also put northerners to work by supporting much needed construction and upgrades to community recreational facilities, as well as infrastructure projects, including the rehabilitation of bridges and roads. For example, our government will create jobs in the north by moving forward with the twinning of a number of segments of highways 11 and 17, as well as our $225 million effort to extend broadband coverage to unserved communities.

Collectively, these measures will help stimulate job creation across northern Ontario. They will provide viable alternatives to workers who are feeling the effects of the global economic downturn, and will benefit the communities and residents of this great part of Canada

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to hear that the hon. member is concerned for northern Ontario and about job losses, of which we do have quite a number. I do not see the money coming through FedNor. It is very slow and very hard to picture. I know questions have been asked about what is being done for northern Ontario but it really is not a lot.

I want to get back to Vale Inco and the takeover. This is a foreign multinational taking over a Canadian company and there was an apparent agreement. The specific question I am asking the hon. member has to do with the sanctions that Vale Inco faces now that the agreement has been violated? Furthermore, what will the government do about future violations of agreements that are made with the government? Do we just let multinationals come in, walk all over us and take away the jobs or do we have a plan to stop that?

8:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, these are tough economic times, which is why we have the Canada economic action plan.

I would like to assure the member that with the Canada economic action plan and through FedNor, we are working to ensure there is investment in northern Ontario that will provide the jobs that have been lost and will provide the necessary means for the families to find work.

The hon. member has asked how the money will be coming, I am glad to see that he finally got the Senate to pass the budget bill and now we can help the people of Canada.

8:15 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 12, 2009, one week before U.S. President Obama's visit, I drew the government's attention to the fact that Omar Khadr, a child soldier, was still imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. It is now the end of March, and nothing has changed.

Let us take a few moments to reflect on this situation. This young man, who was arrested, who is a child soldier and who has been detained for several years in Guantanamo Bay, which President Obama will close, continues to live a difficult and intolerable situation, a situation that was condemned by the three opposition parties, by Amnesty International and by the Canadian Bar Association.

We did not ask for his release. What we asked for, what we are asking for and what we will continue to ask for, even if the government seems inflexible, it that this young man be repatriated to Canada to face the relevant judicial proceedings, if authorities feel that he should be prosecuted. Some very constructive proposals were made by his lawyer and by families from the region where he was living, here in Canada. These people suggested that he be sent home, so that he can resume his life and be properly reintegrated into society. However, we see absolutely no will on the part of the Conservative government to go that route.

Yet, since I asked that question, European governments have agreed on a process to repatriate to Europe the European nationals who are incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. They found a way. Mr. Khadr is the only citizen from a western country who has yet to be repatriated. This means that the government is still not respecting its international commitment under the convention on child soldiers.

This evening, I am merely asking the Conservative government again if, after a careful review and after taking into consideration all the relevant factors, it might not be appropriate for it to finally take action so that Mr. Khadr can be repatriated to face the justice system and, eventually, to reintegrate our society. Is this not the way to operate in a case like that?

Moreover, we got confirmation that he was tortured. Should the change of attitude of the U.S. government not be reflected here? While it listens to President Obama regarding many other issues, the Conservative government remains unmoved when it comes to this matter. Will it finally do the right thing for Mr. Khadr and, more importantly, for Canada's international reputation?

8:15 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has asked this question on numerous occasions during late shows in the House of Commons but our position remains the same.

Events have taken place. Mr. Omar Khadr has been accused of very serious crimes and, as such, he is supposed to go through a trial at Guantanamo Bay. However, events have changed. The government in the U.S.A. has changed and President Obama's party, for which we and everybody else has very high regards, has said that he will review every case there. Why will the member not wait for the review system to go through?

As for the factor that he is talking about regarding his defence lawyers, the Government of Canada's policies are not run by defence lawyers.

I ask the hon. member to wait. Based on the executive order, the administration in the U.S.A. is looking at each case and, if it has the evidence, it will charge Mr. Omar Khadr. If it does not and Mr. Khadr is let go, the Government of Canada at that time will decide what course of action it will take.

However, I want to assure the member that we are providing full consular service to Mr. Omar Khadr, as we do for all Canadians overseas. We also facilitated, as a matter of fact, so he could get his defence counsel. We also are in contact with the American authorities to ensure Mr. Omar Khadr's well-being.

I would again ask the hon. member to wait and see what comes out of the review that President Obama has ordered. It is my understanding that it will only take about six months.

8:20 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has asked why we would not wait for the American government's decision. The reply was given in this place by the three opposition parties. As a leader, Canada's role in this case is to ensure that Mr. Khadr is returned to Canada as soon as possible because he was a child soldier. Canada is not exercising leadership and this is harming its international reputation. This is not a matter of being partisan.

The majority of members in this House want Mr. Khadr to be returned to Canada to face our judicial process. The U.S. President has suspended the commissions that were to try these individuals because they were not considered to be objective enough.

Could the government not take this under advisement and exercise the leadership that it has refused to date?

8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the hon. member that it is the Conservative government that is still in power. Their attempt to become a coalition fizzled out due to opposition from Canadians.

However, again I want to point out that this government's position has not changed. We are waiting for the review that is taking place by the U.S. government. As soon as that review is done, we will then take the next step as appropriate based on that review.

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on March 4, I asked the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration why the Conservative government had cut staffing levels by one-third in the immigration section at the Kyiv Embassy in Ukraine in 2006. The minister, in typical fashion, did not answer the question. However, the following morning he put out a press release under the title, “MP Misleads Ukrainian Canadians About Immigration From Ukraine”.

Further down, he writes the facts. I will quote the minister's press release. He says:

since mid-2006, there have been no reductions in staffing in the visa section of the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine.

Unfortunately for the minister, a search of the Internet shows that the cuts did in fact occur under the Conservative government's watch in 2006. They were confirmed by Canadian embassy program officer, Inna Tsarkova, who stated in an October 26, 2006 interview in the Kyiv Post:

In the immigration section of the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, this review and adjustment resulted in the elimination of one immigration officer position and two clerical/support positions -- a registry supervisor and a cashier. This was a one-third reduction of staff in the immigration section.

Under the title, “The Facts”, in his press release, he goes on to state, “Under our Conservative government there has been an increase in emigration from Ukraine”.

Once again, in a search on the Internet, on the minister's very own departmental website under “Statistics and Facts” is a table with the heading, “Permanent Residents From Ukraine By Year”. It starts in 1998 and goes through to 2007. For the Liberal years, from 1998 to 2005, the average was 2,933. In 2006 and 2007, under the Conservatives and after the one-third cut that the minister denied in a press release having taken place, it was 2,025. That is a 44.8% decrease.

How could the minister have claimed that there were no cuts in staff and that there was an increase in immigration when the facts clearly demonstrate that the reverse is true?

Even worse, as one goes through the Citizenship and Immigration website, one finds the following. In Kyiv, what is the waiting time for 80% of cases to be finalized for skilled workers to immigrate to Canada? The worst in the world. The waiting time has gone up from 34 months under the Liberals to 77 months, six and a half years. The processing time for spouses is the worst in Europe. This has gone from 10 months to 14 months under the Conservatives. Let us do another reality check. The waiting time for dependent children went from eight months to thirteen months and parental reunification went from 17 months to 22 months.

The minister's response in the House to my question and the subsequent press release should not only be taken with a great deal of skepticism, it was inaccurate in its wording. What the minister claims as fact was clearly false. The minister should spend less time attacking his parliamentary colleagues and expend his time and resources fixing the situation in the embassy in Kyiv.

8:25 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would like to push back on the member for Etobicoke Centre. I would like to thank him for giving me the opportunity to respond, but at the same time his last sentence speaks volumes to what I think he should consider doing himself, which is to spend a lot more time in the House and in Ottawa working positively in a very focused fashion on behalf of his constituents rather than spending this time criticizing each other.

However, I am pleased to rise to speak to the question of the hon. member for Etobicoke Centre regarding emigration from Ukraine. My hon. colleague is completely and totally mistaken in his statements about staffing at the Canadian embassy and the impact on emigration from that region, so I am glad to have this opportunity to enlighten him.

Contrary to the hon. member's claims, there have been no reductions in staffing in the visa section of the Canadian embassy in Ukraine, which has been delivering all permanent and temporary resident services since 2006.

All aspects of the hon. member's questions are full of factual errors. For instance, I refute the claim that as a result of the cut in “consular staffing levels” there has been a one-third decline in emigration from Ukraine to Canada.

On the contrary, I can assure the hon. member and the House that the total number of immigration visas issued by our office in Kyiv rose from 1,399 in 2004 to 1,527 in 2008. We are planning to issue a higher number of visas this year. Perhaps the member should take a few minutes before he officially speaks about an issue relating to Ukraine to speak to the government first to ensure that his facts are correct.

Furthermore, I deny in the strongest terms his statement that the Canadian embassy in Kyiv has the fourth slowest processing time for visitor visas in the world. I am very proud to point out that in 2008 alone, 85% of applications made in Kyiv for temporary resident visas were processed within two days of the time the application was made. This turnaround time is in fact well above the worldwide average. Our visa processing office in Kyiv has maintained these processing times despite the increasing numbers of applicants from this area.

Our government has prioritized our relationship with our friends in Ukraine. Our government strongly supports the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO. Under a Conservative government, Canada was the first western nation to recognize a free Ukraine after the fall of Soviet tyranny.

We have also worked productively with the Ukrainian community in Canada. We are providing funding under the community historical recognition program to commemorate past mistreatment of Ukrainian Canadians during World War I. We were also the first Canadian government to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide. I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Selkirk—Interlake, for his work on this particular issue.

I also want to correct a misunderstanding on the part of my hon. colleague. If there were cuts to consular staffing anywhere in the world, these would have no bearing on any aspect of immigration, as consular staff do not deal with immigration issues.

My hon. colleague is mistaken in almost every respect. There have been no cuts to the number of visa officers in Kyiv over two years. There has been no drop in the number of immigration visas issued by our visa office in Kyiv and processing time for temporary resident visas in this office is in fact well above the worldwide average.

I am very glad to have been able to set the hon. member straight on these important points.

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the facts speak for themselves. It is clear on searching the websites that what I have stated in fact is correct. There have been cuts. They were referenced by staff at the embassy. The hon. member spoke of visitor visas. I have been talking about immigration and the time that it takes for immigration.

Ukrainians began arriving in Canada in the 1890s. They transformed the west into the golden wheat fields of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. They not only helped build this country, but they also built institutions such as schools and churches throughout our great country.

The minister often talks about the integration of new Canadians. This is a community that can seamlessly integrate new immigrants. The government should put resources into the immigration section so that we can get on with the job.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing the member for Etobicoke Centre and I will agree on, and that is the commitment and contributions Ukrainians have made to this country once they have arrived here.

However, let me say that it is under this government, and only this government, that we have moved forward in a positive partnership with Ukrainian Canadians. This government takes second place to no previous government in terms of the commitment made to Ukrainians across this country. The member spoke often while in government about the commitment that Ukrainians deserve in this country. The member opposite knows full well that it is this government that has delivered on every single one of those issues. We do not have to apologize for anything when it comes to our love for and our commitment to Ukrainians in this country.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 8:32 p.m.)