Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-31, a very important piece of legislation. I hope to put some of this into context.
I wish our new elected official from Toronto—Danforth, Mr. Craig Scott were able to participate. He has yet to be sworn in. He has a legal degree from Oxford, London School of Economics and Dalhousie University. He can certainly provide an international lens to this. Canada is not an island. It is important to deal with the issues of worldwide refugee problems, whether they be violence, hunger, persecution for religion or beliefs or not having beliefs. This is something that Canada has to do with other nations.
I have empathy for the minister having to deal with a difficult file. Karen Boyce in my office is directly assigned to deal with immigration matters. She has worked diligently for 10 years, since I was elected in 2002, processing many claims for people, because we have such a backlog in our system. Sadly, we are not even funded to have a direct immigration person. However, in my office we are dedicated to that service. Karen has basically dedicated her life over the last 10 years to helping people. There is not a day that goes by that she does not change somebody's life.
It is important we talk about this, and think about some of the language that is being used here by the government. In the last couple of minutes I jotted down the words government members are using: protection, take advantage, security of population, abuse, crackdown, bogus. These are the types of words that the government is using to describe the most vulnerable who are coming to our shores, whether they be refugees or immigrants.
I think about this, and I think about my grandfather, Fred Attwood, who came to Canada after the Second World War. How courageous he must have been to come across the ocean, to Windsor, Ontario where he had never been before. He had to try to find a job and save money to send back for his wife, daughter and young son who had been left behind. I thought about how courageous it was. When we go to citizenship ceremonies, we think about how courageous people are. Also, there are the ones who are being persecuted and who do not know their fate. They are often dealing with children.
Let us be straight about this. Canada needs immigration and refugees. That is a reality for us to sustain our quality of life. That is necessary. We have a small population growth right now. That is not going to do, the day we need our pensions paid for, our economy moving and important new skill sets.
Let us put a face on some of these people the government is saying are dangerous, are security issues, who have problems and who we have to make sure are not going to be threatening the general public. They are people like K'naan. He was born in Somalia. He spent his childhood in Mogadishu and lived there during the Somalian civil war which began in 1991. Is a person like that a threat? He is a refugee.
How about Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada? She emigrated from Hong Kong as a refugee in 1942. She came here, making her mark and contributing to Canada.
How about Fedor Bohatirchuk, a chess master? He has since passed away, but he was persecuted in Ukraine. He came to Canada and contributed for many years.
Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief. He left America for Canada as a holy man who led his people as tribal chief during the years of resistance in the United States. Sitting Bull eventually came here to Canada from the United States.
These are the people we are talking about. So when we see a system that is going to be put in place, we have to be very careful. I do not like the language that is being used. I do not think it is fair. I do not think it is right. It feeds into the base, the negativity. It is almost exhausting to see that this is what Canada is about, that we literally have a refugee problem that is overwhelming the capability of our current government, and that we have to gut our immigration and refugee policies to deal with this plague before it destabilizes our country. That is almost the message the Conservatives seem to be trying to paint.
We do have problems with our immigration and refugee situation. We do want to make improvements. There is no doubt about that. However painting it in this context, locking up people, tearing families apart, having no defined dates, having no capabilities to be able to advocate for themselves, is this what we are trying to espouse?
I do not like to see lists. I have seen this in the past. I was in the Canadian embassy in Washington in 2003. The ambassador said that Canada was going to have certain citizens who, when they entered the United States, would be put on a list because they came from a different country. I asked if we were going to protest that. He said that we were going to accept that. I said that is wrong, because that list is going to grow. Sure enough, it did. It went from 5 countries to 17.
Now there is a situation where our own citizenship is being tiered and defined by the U.S. to this day, with no resistance from the government, not the previous Liberal administration, not the current administration. We have accepted the fact that they will not validate our legal and due process to assign citizenship to the people we want to come into our country. We have allowed them to tier that.
What happens on the Windsor-Detroit border every day is ironic. We have doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, a whole slew of people, some of them were born in Pakistan 40 years ago, who are saving lives.
This is the funny part. Their credentials are not recognized in Canada, so they have to go into the United States and serve in the hospitals there. They are considered a threat to the United States at the border, in many respects because they happen to come from a country that the United States defines as being insecure or having issues, despite having Canadian citizenship. They are actually fingerprinted and photographed. Then they go to their jobs, saving American lives every day.
Ironically, they sometimes save Canadian lives, because when the hospitals are full in Windsor or if there are problems with people that cannot be solved, instead of being sent to London sometimes they will be sent to the United States. They get treated by a doctor who is not qualified to treat them in Canada and cannot get a job here. It is unbelievable. We have not been able to solve that in over 10 years.
The problem we have with this bill is it does not deal with the real situation of the backlog. I am concerned with the delays that are going to take place by not having appropriate staff levels.
We see this on a regular basis. For people waiting for security clearances, what happens is their health clearance goes null after its expiry date. Then they try to go back and get that and have their security clearance go null again, or wait in advance for many years. We have many cases where people are waiting for many years because of security reasons. We understand and appreciate that. However, why would we not put the resources to get these people moving?
Once again, we are connected to the world in regard to refugees. When there is a situation as in Sri Lanka, or in the past with Jews out of the Second World War, it is for all the world to contribute and do its due diligence to ensure that those who are vulnerable, through no fault of their own, get protection. Hopefully, we can restart their lives so they can contribute to our country and planet.
When we talk about refugees, think about people in the past who were refugees. Bob Marley was a refugee from Jamaica. Olivia Newton-John's grandfather was a refugee, as was Max Born. There is K'Naan, as I mentioned before. There are people like Jackie Chan. He was a refugee because of the Triads in Hong Kong. There is Jerry Springer, and I am not a fan of him, but his parents were German refugees. My own editorial opinion is he has not improved the television I watch, but the point is it is a free democracy.
There is Madeleine Albright. Under the system we are talking about, she would be considered a risk and would have to be vetted through our system the way the government wants to do it. Madeleine Albright and Harry Kissinger were refugees. As I mentioned, Sitting Bull was a refugee. I would bet if one were to look at some of the persecutions of people who did not want to participate in the draft during the Vietnam War, they would probably not be let in Canada anymore. Victor Hugo was a refugee. Here is another interesting refugee, Albert Einstein.
When we talk about this, we need to have some context. That is why I think it is important to note the language coming out. It was interesting to hear the minister talk about polls. In a question to one of my colleagues, he talked about polls wanting Canada to do this. We get calls and false emails all the time claiming refugees are getting all this money. It is not true. It is all a campaign of hate.
On an issue like this, sometimes the proper thing to do is not what is popular but what is right. That is hard to do sometimes, and the Conservatives do not understand that. They see this as a wedge issue.
When the Conservatives use the words, “bogus”, “crackdown”, “abuse”, “protection”, “take advantage”, “security of the population”, I refute that with the refugees who have contributed to Canada and this planet. We have to be there for them, not only in terms of passing legislation but in ensuring they can contribute to our country.