Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak in support of Bill C-440, as other of my colleagues from the New Democratic Party have done.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Parkdale—High Park for bringing forward this bill. It is a very important measure.
I am very disturbed to hear the comments from the parliamentary secretary and to hear the member completely dis the bill and the genuine and humanitarian intent that is contained within it. I think the member and the government are obviously fearmongering.
It was very interesting to hear the parliamentary secretary say that it is popular among the rabble. I am not sure who he means. This bill has very broad support right across the country from significant organizations, from faith communities, from the war resisters support network, from many organizations. It is very disturbing that the government would undermine the bill and its intent in that way.
We are debating the bill at second reading stage. If the bill passed this critical vote on Wednesday, it would go to committee where there could be further examination. It would be perfectly in order to raise any of the issues and concerns the government has at the committee and to have a response and amendments, if necessary. However, to want to kill the bill at this point is very unfortunate and something with which we certainly do not agree.
I do want to speak about this issue because one of the war resisters, Rodney Watson, is actually in sanctuary in my riding of Vancouver East in the First United Church. He just marked the first anniversary of his being in sanctuary. He is a 32-year-old man who came to Vancouver in November 2006. He was deployed in Iraq in 2005. He is a very courageous young man. In making the choice not to participate in the illegal war in Iraq, he made a very big life-changing decision that affected him, his family, his future. He did it as a matter of conscience, as a matter of principle, of integrity about what he felt, what he had witnessed, what he had experienced in Iraq.
He chose to come to this country. Many Canadians have welcomed this young man. In fact, the War Resisters Support Campaign and network across the country has been unbelievable in its tremendous volunteer effort in supporting the 300 or so war resisters in Canada. Probably about 40 of them are engaged in various legal campaigns around their status here in Canada.
The bill before us would allow someone like Rodney to apply for permanent resident status. We have to think of this in a historical context. It was not that long ago that Canada welcomed about 80,000 draft dodgers, war resisters from the Vietnam war. They came to this country and are now very much a part of the Canadian society, the Canadian fabric. They became doctors, lawyers, professors, workers of varying kinds. They are people who have contributed to Canadian society and Canada is the better for their contribution.
Here we are 40 years later and we see that the war resisters are fighting a tremendous battle to have their conscience respected, to find a way that they can make a humanitarian option for leaving the military. I support the bill and I know my colleagues support it because we believe there has to be a way within the system to accommodate these war resisters who are people of conscience. I hope very much that within the House there will be a majority vote that will allow the bill to go to committee.
I want to thank all of the folks at the War Resisters Support Campaign and network, people like Sarah Bjorknas, who has done outstanding work; people like Reverend Ric Matthews who is the minister of mission and community life at First United Church. This church has opened up its space, its mission to welcome this young man, Rodney Watson, his wife and his young son, Jordan. They are currently involved in an application but I know they are hoping that the bill will be supported.
It is like a beacon of hope for all of the people involved that we are debating this issue in Parliament and that we are trying to find a way forward to ensure that this young man can remain in this country, and others like him who have made this very courageous decision.
When the Conservative members play this politics of fear and put out misinformation that this bill would undermine the whole citizenship and immigration system and put Canadians at risk, which is what we heard the parliamentary secretary say, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, what we do know is that all of the usual procedures that are within our system would still be in place. What we are trying to do is to find a humanitarian way, an objective way and a good way of allowing these war resisters to remain in our country so issues around criminality, which are issues that are usually dealt with within the system, nothing would be different here.
It is very disturbing that the government would kind of play on those fears and undermine this very genuine attempt by a majority of members of the House to find a way for war resisters to remain in this country.
I do note that a motion expressing that sentiment was passed in Parliament by a strong majority, and I think it is shared by a vast majority of Canadians. These war resisters pose no threat to our country. They are people of conscience who have chosen a way of peace rather than participating in a horrific experience. These are people who want to contribute to Canadian society and be members of our greater community.
I know that personally, having visited Rodney Watson in Vancouver a number of times. I have talked with him and have met his wife. I attended his marriage at the First United Church where he has been in sanctuary. We must remember that this young man cannot go outside of this building. He cannot see his son play in a park, nor can he take a walk down the street. He is very happy that the First United Church has offered him sanctuary, which is a time-honoured tradition to have sanctuary, but it has placed his life in a very difficult circumstance.
I and others are very hopeful that the bill will pass second reading, go to the committee where it will be objectively discussed and maybe there will be improvements that are brought forward, which is all in the realm of possibility, then it will come back to this House and be passed. This would give hope to the war resisters that Canada is still a place of refuge, a place of welcome, a place where people of conscience can seek refuge and a place where they can go through a proper process instead of having all of their hopes dashed, as I think the government would like to see.
I wholeheartedly support this bill and urge all members of the House to support it. It would reinforce the reputation Canada has had over many years as being a place of compassion and a place where people, on humanitarian grounds, can be welcomed and protected. That is what we would like to see with this bill and this is what the bill would make possible, not only for Rodney Watson and the situation he is in, but for the many others who are in a similar situation.