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House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the good residents of York South—Weston, my constituents, to try to make some sense out of what is happening but I am afraid I am not able to make sense of it.

A bill has already been passed by Parliament to do what the Conservatives have been saying these past many months, since Bill C-4 and now Bill C-31 have come before us. Bill C-11 will take effect. For whatever reason, its implementation was delayed until June of this year, but it will take effect and it will solve the problem of 95% of refugee claimants from some European countries actually abandoning their claims because the provisions in Bill C-11 do precisely what the government says Bill C-31 would do. Therefore, what is the purpose of Bill C-31? It is really to put more control in the hands of the minister by making the minister solely responsible for determining which countries are safe and which are not.

That leads one to speculate wildly about what possible reason it could have for putting such control in the hands of the minister. We could speculate that it might have to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs or with giving favoured nation status in return for trade agreements. I have no idea. The problem is that we are rushing ahead with a bill that does the same thing as another bill already does. When we examine the difference, it is that the minister would have the power. It does not make sense. The portion of the bill that is new is the part that supposedly deals with human smuggling.

I was listening today to the U.S. ambassador, Luis CdeBaca, who is the head of the U.S. task force on human trafficking. So as we do not get confused, human trafficking and human smuggling are two different things. Human trafficking is engaging in slavery practices in other countries in the world and in countries close to home. What he said made me realize that had the kinds of things the Conservatives are proposing here been in place years ago, they would have prevented the praise that the U.S. ambassador gave us this afternoon.

He said that he was proud of the fact that Canada was one of the very first countries to abolish slavery. In fact, Canada accepted refugees from none other than the United States. Those refugees came to my former hometown of Windsor through the underground railroad. If this law had been in place, who knows what would have happened to those individuals who are now the ancestors of many prosperous and well-deserving families of this country, some in my riding? Those individuals could possibly have been detained in jails for up to a year and prevented from supporting or sponsoring their families. It beggars belief to imagine a regimen similar to what is being proposed by the government to deal with a supposed irregular arrival problem by detaining refugees.

We have heard the government say over and over again that it is on the side of the victims. This is making victims pay. These individuals are the victims of a crime. That crime is perpetrated by the smugglers and yet the government's reaction is to punish the victims. They are the only people it can get its hands on, because the smugglers have long gone, so it punishes them.

I have heard the Minister of Justice suggest that once people know that Canada's laws are such that it is not welcoming and victims will be punished, it will dry up the supply. It is a supply side economics argument, which we have heard a lot from the government, that it will dry up the supply of potential victims of crime.

The problem with that is that there are not a lot of Canadians who read the Criminal Code before they commit a crime, and I doubt very much that there are a lot of people in Somalia, Sri Lanka, or wherever these people come from, who have an opportunity to read Canada's immigration legislation to determine that they will go to jail if they pay someone $10,000 to bring their family over to Canada. That is just not going to happen. We do not publish our legislation in all the languages that might be spoken in these countries either. It is just strange.

In addition to those victims being punished, the minister is suggesting that we will not have to worry because the government will deal with refugee claimants from countries that he has designated as safe countries—he or she, depending on who the minister might be. The minister will determine which countries are safe, and people from those countries will be booted out of this country really fast if they are not true refugees. How do we determine whether they are true refugees? We do that by giving them a chance to plead their case within 14 days. They then have no access to appeal and no access to the refugee appeal division.

There are in fact two classes of refugees. There is a class of refugees who come from countries that the minister has not designated, and we do not know which countries those are yet, and there is a class of refugees who are legitimate refugees in every sense of the word, but who come from countries that the minister designates as safe. They, therefore, would have only one kick to get their suggestion that they are refugees before a tribunal and they have no access to the refugee appeal division. The minister has stated on several occasions that they could file an application in Federal Court. The trouble is that they will be deported long before an application in the Federal Court goes anywhere.

The other thing that bothers me about the attitude of the government toward the whole refugee system is that the minister has suggested on several occasions that he is upset that refugees skip over other countries before they come to Canada, that they should go somewhere else, that they should not come to Canada. I am proud of the fact that they want to come to Canada. We all should be proud that we have such a welcoming and such a wonderful mélange of all the countries of the world that people feel comfortable in coming to Canada. We should not force refugees to go somewhere else simply because they happen to pass by another country on the way. That smacks of a being reluctant to take refugees in the first place, although I know that possibly is not what the minister meant.

The minister also talked about jumping the queue. He does not want refugee claimants to be in a position to jump the queue ahead of legitimate immigrant applicants. He has now created the biggest immigrant queue-jump in the history of this country by eliminating what might be 300,000, and I am not sure of the exact number, legitimate applications for immigration to this country with the stroke of a pen and putting everyone else ahead of those people. Every other applicant to this country would now jump the queue if they applied post-2008, or whatever the year was that it was changed. Those individuals have jumped the queue and the rest must start again. That is so wrong, yet the minister says that he does not like queue-jumpers. He is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

The other issue that covers this whole immigration thing is the issue of temporary foreign workers. It is another example of the doublespeak we get from the government about how it wants to welcome refugees and welcome new Canadians, but we will now have a situation where temporary foreign workers are being allowed into this country and will be paid 15% less than everybody else. That will drive down wages. The minister says that it is only for those jobs where we have a shortage. We know there are jobs out there. Airline pilots are being brought in as temporary foreign workers. There is no shortage of airline pilots in this country, but we have companies bringing airline pilots to this country as temporary foreign workers, and now they can pay them 15% less. That is just going to drive down wages in this country.

Those are the kinds of immigration policies that we do not agree with, including this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether the last four minutes of that speech had anything to do with Bill C-31. It had a lot to do with HRSDC, but it had nothing to do with citizenship and immigration or public safety. I appreciate the member speaking about policies that do not relate to the bill.

In any event, I would like to get his response to one thing that is paramount and that he did not speak to.

The NDP has tried to make hay of the fact that, as they say, there are no issues in there that would actually get at the smugglers themselves, in terms of being tough on them.

When we look at the bill itself, there is failure to file to pre-arrival information--our amendments would make it much more difficult for them, from a criminal perspective—as well as failure to comply with ministerial direction and providing false and misleading information. All of these would be tougher on those who have the nerve to smuggle people into this country.

I wonder if the member would say why he will not be supporting the piece of this legislation that would get tough on smugglers who try to bring people into this country and who take advantage of them by taking the money right out of their pockets.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to hear we are going to be able to vote on this bill in pieces, because I will support that piece of the legislation. We have praised that piece of the legislation, which would increase the penalties and the risk to the smugglers themselves. We have said, yes, it is a good thing to increase the penalties for the smugglers.

Our problem is the fact that we would be penalizing the victims. The people who are the victims of crime, the refugees who come into this country, are the ones who would be imprisoned by the government. That we disagree with.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there might be a bit of irony here. Today we are debating Bill C-31 which, in good part, is before us because of two boats that came to Vancouver, the member will recall, the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady.

Now, if we go back to 1914, the Komagata Maru is a boat that came from Asia and was never allowed to land, and we are going to debate that issue tomorrow. People within the Liberal Party and, I suspect, New Democrats and Conservatives would ultimately argue that was a mistake, yet if we listen to what the minister said today in his presentation, he said that is not the way to come. People do not come to Canada via boat; they have to come through legitimate means.

Does the member agree that there is some irony there? Tomorrow we are going to be apologizing to the Indo-Canadian community because of the way we treated some 376 individuals who, back in 1914, attempted to land here, yet we just had a minister, and others, say that this is not the way to come to Canada and that they want to prevent that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from Winnipeg North. It is somewhat ironic that there are occasions in this country when we apologize for the very things that we are going to do in the near future or have done in the recent past. We do not seem to learn by our mistakes.

However, I have to remind everyone that irony is often lost on the members opposite.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party seems to want to create two classes of refugees. My colleague spoke brilliantly about this. They may not believe in science, but perhaps the Conservatives believe in astrology. Perhaps they think we can predict the future of potential conflicts and all the rest.

The NDP has a different approach. Perhaps my colleague could talk more about it. Do we need to be flexible, for example, to create a good bill and develop a good process?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP believes that Bill C-11 actually did much of what we are trying to do here, and in terms of the human smuggling portion of the bill, punishing the victims is not the way to go.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great disappointment that I rise to speak to the amendments put forward by the opposition at report stage. I say “disappointed” because the opposition is playing exactly the sort of petty and blind partisanship that turned Canadians off politics. It is important to explain to Canadians the negative consequences that would result if these opposition amendments were adopted.

The opposition will not admit it, but Canadians know that Canada's immigration and refugee system faces challenges and is open to abuse. The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer. This bill would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and refugees with unfounded claims from abusing Canada's generous immigration system. At the same time, this bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need. Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country. The facts speak for themselves. Canada welcomes more resettled refugees than almost any country in the world. In fact, we are increasing that number by an additional 20%. Our tradition of compassion and protection will continue and will grow.

However, our immigration system is open to abuse. Every year, thousands of bogus refugee claimants come to Canada. They choose to file bogus refugee claims in the hope that their lengthy processing times and endless appeals will result in their obtaining permanent residence in this country. Immigrants to Canada, like me, are very welcoming and fair but we have no tolerance for people from safe countries who abuse our refugee system as a way to jump the queue and get into Canada without having to wait and follow the proper process like everyone else. We have no tolerance for those who take unfair advantage of our generosity.

It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the opposition parties, NDP and Liberals, conveniently ignore the facts when they speak against Bill C-31. The amendments they introduced at the report stage prove that. These amendments show that the opposition members continue to ignore the facts that underscore the need for this important piece of legislation and undermine the opposition's criticism of it.

These are the facts. In 2011, Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union alone, a 14% increase from 2010. That means that a quarter of all refugee claims were from the democratic European Union, where human rights are respected. That is more than Africa and Asia. Canada's top source country for refugee claims was Hungary, an EU member state. In fact, in 2011 Canada received 4,400 refugee claims from Hungary alone. In comparison, Belgium received only 188, the U.S. only 47, and France and Norway only 33 each. It is very telling that in 2010, Hungarian nationals made a total of 2,400 refugee claims around the world and 2,300 of those claims were made in Canada. That means that only 100 refugee claims were made in other countries around the world. Canada received 23 times more than all other countries combined.

What is more, in the past few years virtually all of these claims were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. The majority of these claimants chose to abandon or withdraw their claims, a clear sign they were not in need of Canada's protection. These claimants are, by definition, bogus. They are paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadian taxpayers pay upwards of $170 million per year for these bogus claimants from the European Union. Taxpayers fund their welfare, their education and their health care. Hard-working taxpayers are sick and tired of footing the bill for bogus refugee claimants who abuse the system at everyone else's expense. Too many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees.

Bill C-31 would put a stop to this abuse. Allow me to illustrate. The bill would help speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways. It would challenge the designated country of origin policy and enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally do not produce refugees. Claimants from designated countries of origin would be processed in about 45 days compared to more than 1,000 days under the current system. The less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and use it to jump the queue in the regular immigration process. Bill C-31 would also stop the ability of bogus claimants to use endless avenues of appeal to remain in Canada, receiving generous taxpayer-funded health care and social assistance benefits.

Bill C-31 would prevent refugee claimants from submitting a refugee claim at the same time as they apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. It would also bar claimants from submitting humanitarian and compassionate applications for one year following a final negative decision from the IRB. In addition, under the balanced refugee reform act, individuals with a final negative decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board would be barred from applying for a pre-removal risk assessment for 12 months.

Taken together, these measures send a clear message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous refugee system. Those who do not need our protection would be sent home quickly. They would not be allowed to remain in Canada by using endless appeals to delay their removal. At the same time, for those who need refuge, these measures would help to get protection even faster. Every eligible asylum claimant would continue to get a fair hearing by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Again, even with these needed changes, Canada's refugee determination system would remain one of the most generous in the world.

Human smugglers are criminals who operate in the underworld and charge large amounts of money to facilitate illegal immigration. The protecting Canada's immigration system act would help crack down on these smugglers in a number of ways. It would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of individuals into Canada as an irregular arrival. It would establish mandatory detention of those individuals in order to determine their identity, admissibility and whether or not they have been involved in illegal activities.

As my hon. colleagues know, the detention provisions in Bill C-31 were recently amended and now reflect that the first detention review would occur within 14 days and subsequent reviews every six months.

I note that NDP members supported these amendments at the committee but now they are trying to gut the very amendments they supported. This is more proof that their main goal is to play games rather than work in good faith in the best interest of Canadians.

As before, a person would be released before this time upon being found to be a genuine refugee. As an additional safeguard, the Minister of Public Safety, on his own initiative, at any time, can also order the release of a detained individual when grounds for detention no longer exist. Mandatory detention would also exclude those designated foreign nationals who are under the age of 16.

The government is sending a clear message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, but we will crack down on those who threaten the integrity of our borders. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.

Unfortunately, by introducing these irresponsible amendments, the opposition has shown that it does not support strengthening the immigration system. It has shown that it does not support genuine refugees getting protection more quickly or protecting hard-working Canadian taxpayers from having to foot the bill for bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.

I urge the opposition to stop playing games, listen to the will of their constituents and vote against these amendments.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raised the concept of designated safe countries, where the minister can select a country and designate it as safe. The result of that is refugee claimants from that country would have certain rights denied them, like the right to appeal to the refugee appeal division.

In Bill C-11, which preceded this bill, the minister agreed to the concept of having an independent commission made up of a couple of human rights experts who would also have to agree on the minister's decision. The minister himself said that this made the process more transparent and accountable, yet in Bill C-31 the minister has taken that out.

Could the member explain why the Minister of Immigration does not want to have an independent panel as a protection to ensure that a designated safe country is proper instead of leaving that decision solely to a minister of the crown with no independent oversight? Why is that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is not true, because a number of ministries will be involved in that decision.

There are countries that are safe. It is not true that refugee claimants arriving from those countries would be refused some rights that others would enjoy. The process would be faster and they would have the right to appeal.

There were many examples given of European countries. One of the members previously said that refugees should come to Canada rather than go somewhere else. There are many countries in the European Union where they would not have to fly 5,000 miles, as they would to get to Canada. They can get to other safe countries if they really are unsafe in the country in which they live.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, what offends many Canadians, and in fact people outside of our borders, is the fact that this legislation will tarnish Canada's leadership role to address a very important world issue, over 10 million refugees worldwide. Canada played a very important role in providing leadership. Many people who came before the committee acknowledged that the bill would tarnish that reputation.

I want to focus on one specific aspect, and that is the detention where children will be kept away from their parents. The legislation would do that, at a great social cost. Could the member attempt to defend how a government can justify keeping a mother away from her 8- year-old child because the mother has to be kept in a detention centre, or a jail while the child will kept in foster care? How does he defend that approach?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, in cases like this the parents would make the decision whether the child would stay with them or be separated.

In reference to a tarnished opinion of Canada and its immigration system, there is nothing more incorrect than that. Canada does more than its fair share in protecting refugees from around the world, in giving them safe refuge in our country. Actually it is the opposite. The world will laugh at us if we do not make those changes to protect genuine refugees from the abuse that happens.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, a bill that dramatically changes the refugee system in Canada and, in my respectful view, does so for the worst.

I was our party's immigration critic when the bill was introduced some three short months ago. Following the introduction of the bill, I was inundated by ordinary Canadians and stakeholders alike who were worried and shocked about what the government was proposing.

It is no exaggeration to say that the bill is opposed by every major stakeholder group in the country. Churches, doctors, immigration lawyers, settlement service organizations, academics, refugee groups, cultural organizations and refugees themselves.

Rarely has a bill been so roundly condemned by so many. Why? Because it is readily apparent to anybody who studies this omnibus legislation that the bill is unconstitutional, punitive to refugees and will be completely ineffective in deterring human trafficking.

I am extremely disappointed to be back here at report stage after the Standing Committee on Immigration and Canadians heard many hours of very trenchant and damning testimony. I am disappointed to see that the government has ignored the recommendations of over 40 witnesses representing the full spectrum of the immigration community, who warned about the damaging and misguided effects of the bill.

I am referring to witnesses such as the Canadian Pediatric Society and psychologists who warned of the effect that mandatory detention would have on refugees who had been traumatized by persecution, violence, torture or other atrocities.

The government has ignored this testimony and is moving forward with this backward approach. Most telling, those same groups testified about the particularly damaging effect that detention had on children, whom the bill would also see in detention.

I think of the testimony of Peter Showler, Lorne Waldman and other members of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, probably the most knowledgeable group of people in the country on refugee law. Peter Showler used to be the head of the Immigration and Refugee Board. They testified that the accelerated timelines to make refugee claims would be impossible to meet in an adequate manner. In their testimony and their experience hearing cases, this would lead to mistakes and decisions not to grant asylum to bona fide refugees.

I want to pause to say this. Rarely is a mistaken decision more damaging and dangerous than a mistaken decision in a refugee determination case. To be refugees, they have to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution. This often means they are fearing for their lives. Therefore, a wrong decision could lead to a deportation of someone back to a country where that person might face torture, persecution and death.

That has happened. In the past year there have been cases. There was a case recently of a Mexican refugee claimant denied here, sent back to Mexico, who then was murdered by her ex-husband, a police officer, whom she claimed persecuted her.

Those lawyers also spoke of the provisions for mandatory detention, arbitrary designation of irregular arrivals, denial of appeal to certain classes of refugees and ignoring the best interests of children, all of which went against our Constitution and international conventions alike. The government, unfortunately, ignored that expert testimony.

I think of the testimony of Gina Csayni from the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, who spoke of the real human rights violations and systemic discrimination in Europe. She spoke about how Roma refugees would be negatively affected by having EU countries designated as safe. She spoke about how disheartening and insulting it was to hear our Minister of Citizenship refer to them as bogus and she explained why he was wrong.

I want to pause there and say that we are all very intimately familiar with the persecution, the genocide, against the Jewish people in World War II. What is less commented upon is the fact that Roma, along with the disabled, were also targeted for their ethnicity, rounded up, tortured, medically experimented upon, detained in concentration camps and murdered simply because they were Roma.

This is not just any ethnic group. It is an ethnic group with a history of being the victims of genocide in Europe. There is absolute rock-solid evidence that Romas still face persecution, and states are unable to protect them even today.

The government ignored that testimony. In fact, it doubled down and continued to use inflammatory language referring to Roma refugees as bogus.

We heard from Chris Morrissey and Sharalyn Jordan from the Rainbow Refugee Committee and others who spoke about how the so-called safe country determination process threatened LGBTQ refugees specifically. Over 100 countries of this world have some form of legislative discrimination against the LGBTQ community, including death in some countries.

Again, the government plows forward as though these stakeholders never spoke.

Experts from Australia, a country the government likes to selectively quote from when its adopting policies it likes, testified that the draconian rules that the government was imposing to try to deter human smuggling—that is, rules that direct punitive elements at refugees—had no deterrent effect at all. Australia has adopted the same procedure that this bill would, and there has been no diminution of refugee claimants coming to the shores of Australia since it adopted those rules years ago. The government ignored that evidence.

The government did make two important changes, and it is important to point that out because it shows what an effective official opposition can do and it shows when parliamentary committees work.

Witnesses and opposition members warned about the impact of clauses 18 and 19. These clauses would allow the minister, through the IRB, to strip permanent residence status from people who had been living in Canada for many years on the basis that conditions had improved in the countries they fled.

The minister said repeatedly that this was not his intention. Actually he went much further than that. He said that the bill categorically did not have this effect. He vociferously and arrogantly derided members of Parliament and stakeholders who brought up the subject. In the end, however, he realized and acknowledged that he was wrong, that he did not understand the effect of the bill that he wrote. He has still not apologized for the vitriol and derision with which he so wrongly defended these clauses.

The other change that the government agreed to was to require a review for the mandatory detention at 14 days and at six months. This came after witnesses, including witnesses sympathetic to the government, had a consensus that this provision was blatantly unconstitutional, as the New Democrats pointed out for months.

This means that the government put forward a bill and could not find one expert in the whole country who deemed it to be charter compliant. This is shocking.

I would also point out the intransigence of the minister who insisted throughout that this bill was constitutional, repeatedly, only in the end to find out, just like the official opposition said and the stakeholders said and the legal community testified, it was not constitutional.

This change notwithstanding, experts still believe other provisions make this bill unconstitutional and we may be tied up in the courts for years figuring that out.

I want go back to the beginning and ask this question. Why this bill? Why does the government insist on going forward with the bill when many of the problems the government claimed to address were already dealt with in the previous Parliament in Bill C-11? We dealt with them when all parties, the Conservatives included, came together and passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. We all recognized that the refugee determination system was slow and we put forward reasonable solutions to this problem.

The minister stood in this very House and praised Bill C-11. He said that the amendments that were worked out by all parties in the House made the system faster and fairer and he called that legislation “a monumental achievement”.

When I asked the minister whether he was wrong then or wrong now, he said that he was wrong then. Well, that may be honest, but it does not inspire confidence and it raises serious questions about the real motive behind this bill.

Why would the Conservatives throw a bill in the trash can, a bill that the minister praised, and reintroduce a bill that in previously unamended form was inferior? Even the Minister of Immigration said that.

One part that still puzzles me is the minister's insistence to give himself the power to unilaterally declare a country to be safe. Under Bill C-11, designated persons still have the right of appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division. Under this legislation they do not. Under the previous legislation the minister had to consult with a panel of experts before determining a country to be safe. Under this bill he does not.

On television the minister said that he had run simulations that showed the system under the previous bill would not work. However, when I have asked for the data from these simulations, even under access to information, the minister cannot produce that information.

There is no need for this bill. Canadians know it. The official opposition knows it. The immigration community knows it. The government should withdraw the bill now before serious damage is done to refugees and Canada's reputation as a compassionate country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have five minutes for questions and comments when this bill returns to the House.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 2 consideration of the motion.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, first I want to commend my NDP colleague on her motion, which the Liberal Party will support with much enthusiasm. We are a little fed up because this issue has been going on for a long time and a lot of money has been spent on it. But I think it is important and essential that the Government of Canada shoulder its responsibility.

I myself was a member of the government at the time when negotiations were taking place concerning the Shannon water situation. Families in Shannon were late in finding out about the situation, which took place close to CFB Valcartier.

In 1997, people learned that the water on CFB Valcartier had been contaminated with trichloroethylene—I will only say it once because it is difficult to pronounce. From now on, I will refer to it as TCE because it is easier to say.

Most certainly, we know that this solvent had been present in the groundwater for several decades. Unfortunately, a cause-and-effect link can be made between it and certain diseases, including cancer.

People were made aware of the situation on the Valcartier base in 1997 and action was taken. Unfortunately, only in 2000 were the people of Shannon, which is close to this base, informed of this problem.

Of course, in 2003, my colleague at the time, Claude Duplain, a Liberal MP, worked with the authorities in Shannon, including the mayor. Then David Pratt, the former minister of defence, offered financial restitution. The conflict was resolved in a friendly fashion with an agreement to give the municipality $19 million. Then the Conservative government also injected money to hook up the water system and such.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence said that the government was transparent and accountable and that it injected money. In my view, that is not enough.

As my colleagues know, a class action lawsuit was launched in 2007 and is now in progress. The lawsuit was recently heard, but we are still waiting for the decision.

The proceedings ended in November 2011. We are now waiting for an answer to know what will happen. I think it would be only right and proper for the Government of Canada to follow up on that. We are talking about a class action lawsuit involving 2,700 families. Of course, I feel that the government should recognize that it has some responsibility, since this happened on a military base and some concrete action has actually been taken. Concrete action can be taken, but you have to follow through with it. Following through means recognizing your responsibility. For the sake of the many viewers who are watching us today on television, we should perhaps reread the motion.

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) formally recognize the responsibility of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces with regard to the contamination of the groundwater which is the source of drinking water for multiple homes in the residential area of Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, residential areas of the municipality of Shannon, and numerous public institutions, due to the use of chlorinated solvents for several decades, including trichloroethylene (TCE); (b) take over the efforts of the Shannon Citizens Committee to monitor filtration systems in place for those dealing with the contamination of drinking water, and include the Committee in any environmental efforts undertaken; and (c) commit to (i) notify all persons employed at CFB Valcartier or who have lived in the residential quarters of the Base for the years during which the contamination took place, (ii) quickly clean up the affected sites, (iii) compensate victims of TCE contamination.

Can you imagine living in an area and not knowing that such a thing had happened and finding out later that TCE causes digestive and neurological problems and that it is associated with some cancers, including liver and brain cancer?

This is necessarily a matter of public health, a matter of responsibility. Water is a fundamental right. If mistakes were made, then the government necessarily has to be in a position to carry its share of the responsibility.

Obviously, we are perhaps always cautious, as a government, about accepting that responsibility. When we talk about compensation, what does that mean? We owe not just our own families, but also the families of the armed forces our respect. There are people who lived there who are now all over Canada or in other missions and who have these illnesses today. It can also have an impact on the family. I think we have to be transparent.

The Government of Canada took on responsibilities; it not only reached an out-of-court settlement, but invested money in infrastructure. Connections and branch lines were rebuilt, but I think we have to do more than that.

We also have to fully recognize that there was fault. We must certainly also find a way of solving the problem and ask ourselves whether this kind of problem exists elsewhere. In the environmental context, I think it is also important to follow up, to make sure we are able to inform those families, and to use this model for prevention in future.

Work has been done. Health Canada has done its homework in some respects. There is a communication and transparency problem that may have caused other problems. We are not talking about statistics; we are talking about human beings, families children, fathers, mothers and grandparents who have had to live with this.

Water was supplied to Shannon after that. It was just like the problems that happened in Walkerton. When there is a problem with the water, when people have to boil their water and they have to flush out the system to make sure there is no contamination, this is a major problem, particularly if it affects people's health, with the psychological damage that comes with it.

It is imperative that the Government of Canada recognize its responsibility in that case.

The Liberal Party of Canada will support the motion put forward by my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. It is not a partisan issue. It is a public health issue. It is a matter of providing help. We need to find a way to have better communication at least, not only in a corrective sense but also in a preventative sense. We have to make sure that if it is a matter of red tape between departments or if somebody tries to hide, then there should be no impunity.

However, first things first. We have to focus on the population itself. It has suffered enough.

There were some answers and we have to recognize that. It is not a matter of money. It is not about saying the money is there. It is more than that. It is about recognizing responsibility. If we have to go further, then so be it.

If we recognize responsibility, we have to accept responsibility. The role of a government is to protect the people. There were blunders, there were problems. My colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier is not the only one who has talked about this. My colleague at the time, Christiane Gagnon of the Bloc Québécois, did as well. This is an issue that affects people in the Quebec City region and it is certainly a very significant problem.

I welcome this motion. The Liberal Party of Canada will be supporting it. I have heard the parliamentary secretary respond to the same effect, and I think it would be in good form.

The government has apologized for a number of things in this House in the past, and I think it should apologize for the bad job that was done for the population of Shannon and the people who were living near CFB Valcartier.

If there has to be compensation, why get bogged down in legal action and class action suits? Just think, it has already taken from 2007 to 2011. And we are awaiting the result. I definitely think it is going to be important that the government step up to the plate. We will therefore be supporting the NDP motion.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am speaking today on behalf of all the citizens of Charlesbourg—Haute-Sainte-Charles, the neighbouring riding to Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, who would like to support the citizens of Shannon in their fight for justice.

I would also like to thank my colleague for doing such a good job of standing up for the rights of the people in her riding and the common good in our region.

In my view, the motion by the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier constitutes an official invitation to the government to take an initial step towards a new relationship of respect and trust that needs to be restored between the residents of Shannon and the federal government.

The facts behind this motion go back a long time, and it is important to understand exactly what happened. In 1997, the Department of National Defence found TCE in the groundwater under the land at the Valcartier military base. A few years later, this toxin was discovered in the private wells of the citizens of Shannon, the municipality that neighbours the military base.

The important thing to remember is that TCE is a toxic industrial solvent that was used at the military base. At the time, disposal consisted in simply burying it in the ground in the expectation that there would be no impact.

TCE is a chemical that was used for a long time to remove grease from metal parts and also to dry clean clothes and extract organic products.

Technological advances more accurately identified this product's toxicity, and it was gradually replaced with products less harmful to humans and the environment. It is now banned for personal use in the European Union. The problem is that technological advances have also raised suspicions that TCE is carcinogenic and that it affects the central nervous system.

The cause and effect relationship that lies at the core of this issue and this motion is unfortunately very simple. The TCE that was disposed of in the ground at the military base after use, without any precautions, contaminated the groundwater in Shannon. This contaminated water then found its way into the wells and drinking water systems of thousands of residents in the small municipality.

The consequences that we are now aware of are shameful and excessively harmful to human health. Indeed, in recent years, Shannon has experienced specific health problems and a cancer rate that is five times the average.

The scientific evidence in this case is solid and clearly shows the causal link between the TCE in the groundwater and the abnormally high rates of cancer and other illnesses among current residents.

In addition to those victims, there are the people who lived in Shannon but have since left the municipality. As we know, they are members of the military and they tend to move around.

But the problem facing us today is not a simple public health problem caused by not knowing how toxic TCE was when the army used it. It is not at all the same thing as tobacco, for example.

The problem is that we know that National Defence has been aware of the contamination for over 30 years, yet did nothing.

Scientific research conducted by journalists from Radio-Canada, for example, confirmed that “the government has been aware of the TCE contamination of the water in Shannon and on the military base for [at least] 30 years”.

According to those journalists:

...documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, the federal environment and defence departments were warned that waste water was being discharged into a lagoon connected to the groundwater. The people of Shannon drank that contaminated water for 22 years before discovering the contamination themselves, quite by chance, [around] 2000.

What is very serious about this case is that the government does not want to acknowledge its responsibility and refuses to properly compensate the victims of this crime who are paying with their health and their lives.

Today, the people of Shannon continue to suffer physical and emotional health problems and to develop illnesses such as cancer.

Documents show that more than 350 residents have died from cancer linked to the TCE-contaminated wells in Shannon. In total, more than 500 people have developed cancer in a small town that has a population of barely 5,000.

Another concern was raised by Marie-Paule Spieser, president of the Shannon Citizens Committee.

She said:

There is still a plume beneath our feet, six kilometres long and 600 metres wide, so gases can still pose a risk. There is also a latency period between contact with the product and the onset of cancer.

We do not know what the future holds, but we know we can expect to see very high cancer rates in Shannon for many years to come. The time has come for the federal government to acknowledge its share of responsibility for groundwater contamination in Shannon because it knowingly buried TCE on federal lands, including the Valcartier military base.

The government's stubborn denial and refusal to compromise are unacceptable. The motion moved today by the NDP asks the government to reconsider its position and take appropriate action in good faith for the people of Shannon, who deserve justice, honesty and compensation from their government.

As the representative of the Crown, the government is responsible for problems on Canadian military bases, even if those problems are decades old. The government should step up now with acknowledgement, accountability and compensation for illegal decisions made in the past. That is how to right wrongs and look to the future as a society.

As we speak, the residents of Shannon must still fight alone to defend their rights and eventually see justice done. It is a real David and Goliath story. Until now, the only thing the government has done is to invest $35 million in infrastructure that connects one part of the municipality of Shannon to a new municipal drinking water supply.

In my view, the government's inaction on this issue is totally unjustified, and a paltry investment in a huge health problem and the contamination that remains is not sufficient. How can this government explain what it is doing and the logic behind it to the residents of Shannon without losing all credibility? The role of the state is to protect the people, not the opposite. Why does this government stubbornly maintain its position of complete denial?

The health aspect of the situation is very serious in and of itself, but I think the financial aspect also deserves attention. The residents of Shannon, over the years, have had to pay out large amounts of money for wells, for bottled water, and so on. These expenditures are totally separate from the decrease in equity that they face because their homes were built right over a contaminated aquifer.

My colleague decided to move this motion because the residents in her riding feel they have been wronged by a government that is supposed to protect them. She is trying to stand up for them, and this is something else the government is supposed to do.

Let us remember that the state is responsible for providing safe and appropriate services to the people. Let us also remember that the state must take the necessary steps to rectify a problematic health situation when it becomes aware of the dangers facing the people.

In this case, it was almost 20 years after the forces were told about the problem that a resident became aware that his water was toxic. Even more time went by before the meagre $35 million investment was made to improve the water supply and sewage infrastructures, and we will have to wait even longer for real compensation.

This is why, before I conclude my speech, I would like to urge the government to show some compassion and fairness toward all the residents of Shannon who have been suffering from the harmful effects of their contaminated groundwater for decades now, by supporting my colleague’s motion.

It must also make all the necessary arrangements, which are set out in this motion, to ensure that the residents of Shannon receive appropriate compensation and are made part of a fully transparent process for restoring the municipality’s infrastructures, cleaning up all the sites and notifying all those who have been affected by the contamination.

This is the only way that the residents of Shannon will ever regain confidence in their government.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to support the motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, and seconded by the member for Beauport—Limoilou.

I am supporting this motion out of solidarity with the victims of the TCE-contaminated groundwater in Shannon, in the province of Quebec, who want to obtain compensation from the federal government.

I have heard that, in past years, the municipality of Shannon has seen health problems and rates of cancer that are five times higher than normal.

Before talking about a resident in my riding of Toronto—Danforth, a victim of the contaminated water in Shannon, I would like to make six important points.

First, as a general principle, the government must add a level of ethical responsibility to its litigation strategy decisions. There are cases—and this is one of them—where it is quite simply inappropriate to defend what is wholly indefensible.

Second, under my colleague’s motion, the government should stop its opposition to the request from the victims and negotiate an agreement in a fair and equitable manner.

Third, if the government continues refusing to act acceptably, it must commit not to appeal the court's decision if that decision is unfavourable to the government, out of decency, to bring closure and for the good of the victims.

Fourth, the government should establish a compensation fund for all the victims of Shannon's contaminated water, above and beyond the class members, including and especially those who are diagnosed with cancer associated with this situation in the future.

Fifth, we acknowledge that it is not the current government that caused the harm, but it is important to note that it is responsible as the Crown’s representative for the harm caused by governments in the past.

Finally, this government will be the one that receives justified praise if it acts in good faith and stops resorting to legal tactics designed to delay a settlement. As a matter of fact, this government's behaviour is only causing the victims more suffering from uncertainty and delays. Even worse, some may well die before justice is served.

As I was saying earlier, Yves Boucher is with us today. He is a resident in my riding of Toronto—Danforth and has been severely affected by the contaminated water in Shannon. He is now living with brain cancer. Mr. Boucher has permitted me to share his story with you today, and I would like to thank him.

Yves has lived in Toronto for nearly 20 years. He served our community proudly as a firefighter. He was active and in good health. A few years ago, he started to feel numbness in his arm when he was driving the fire truck. After a few consultations, it was discovered that, at age 42, Yves had brain cancer.

In less than 24 hours, his life changed completely. Yves can no longer work at the job he loved as a firefighter, and he is now very limited in what he can do. The life of his partner, David, has also been turned upside down.

His cancer limits his life in all sorts of ways: memory loss, difficulty speaking and other frustrations caused by the many medications he takes. His personal life has been affected, of course. His partner and he have had their ups and downs together. He has been abandoned by some of his friends, who were unable to accept the sadness of the situation. Everything is even more frustrating in that he has suffered these things because of a mistake made by the government, a government that did not even have the decency to inform the people who had lived in the area around Valcartier about the contamination.

In fact, Yves learned the reason for what had happened to him from a friend, who had heard a customer talking about the poor children in Valcartier who had drunk the water and who now had cancer.

Before hearing that news, Yves did not know the cause of his cancer. It is unforgivable that he heard this news by word of mouth rather than from official information. Yves is one of the 3,000 people affected who formed the Shannon Citizens’ Committee in March 2007 and launched a class action against the government of Canada, the SNC-Lavalin Group and SNC Technologies.

What he is asking is for all victims who have had the same thing happen to them be compensated and have the costs of their drugs, in particular, covered. The shining light in this whole story comes from Mr. Boucher’s courageous and impressive attitude.

In conclusion, the purpose of this motion is to urge the Crown to recognize the responsibility of the Minister of National Defence and the Canadian Forces for the contamination of the water table; decontaminate the affected sites; and compensate the victims of the TCE contamination.

Like all other Canadians, all the families who live on or near a military base have the right to live in a healthy and clean environment without being afraid of harm to their health.

I urge my colleagues from all parties to support this motion in solidarity with Yves Boucher and all the victims of the TCE-contaminated water in Shannon.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House rather reluctantly. I rise reluctantly because of the subject matter, but I rise proudly in support of the motion moved by my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, namely Motion M-273. It is very reluctantly that I must rise in the House to speak to this matter after years of controversy and with so many families suffering.

I must admit that, for the first time, I had a hard time preparing my 10-minute speech because my first instinct was simply to stand up for two seconds, just enough to ask that this be resolved once and for all. I had to make a great deal of effort to prepare the few points I will address over the course of the next 10 minutes because, really, we have reached the stage where this needs to be resolved and we all need to support this motion. It is a matter of human dignity.

Let us talk about the problem's source, no pun on wells intended. Trichloroethylene is considered to be carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. When inhaled at high levels, it can induce a coma and cause death. It is an industrial solvent that was used at CFB Valcartier for decades starting in the 1930s and buried in the soil. That was a very long time ago.

As an aside, if any industry in the private sector had taken the liberty of burying a potent carcinogen in the ground for years, something tells me that the matter would have been resolved long ago.

In 2000, water from private wells belonging to residents of the municipality of Shannon was analyzed, and a high level of trichloroethylene was detected. More than 2,000 families, from whole neighbourhoods where fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters live, learned that a potent carcinogen had been flowing from their taps for decades. Years later, we are realizing that the cancer rate in that area is five times higher than the national average. I repeat: five times higher. We can imagine how families feel when they come to the following conclusion: they were poisoned for decades by a carcinogen and the consequence is that it is five times more likely that their two- or three-year-old son or daughter will get cancer. I am also speaking on behalf of parents who do not have cancer or do not have a child with cancer right now. They have committed no crime in their life, they are guilty of nothing, but they know that it is five times more likely that their three-year-old child will get cancer.

Furthermore, we can only imagine what effect this is having on Canada's image, as the government continues to drag its feet on this issue, challenging and questioning these families for decades. The Internet is full of comments like this. It is no longer even a question on Wikipedia:

Groundwater is the sole source of water for 25%...of the Canadian population...The municipality of Shannon, a municipality in the province of Quebec...conducted analyses and noted that the water table is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), which has caused an increased incidence of cancer in the region. The people of the municipality decided to launch a class action lawsuit against the Government of Canada, which has known about the problem for 30 years.

Comments like that can be found all over the Internet. What a stain on Canada's reputation. It is no longer even being challenged by any groups. It appears everywhere. For 30 years, the government knew about the contamination. The people who have been affected are suing, but it takes forever to obtain justice. What a stain on Canada's reputation.

In 2009, the government spent $35 million to connect part of the municipality of Shannon to a new water supply system. At the same time as it was doing that, it maintained that the Crown was not to blame. Nine years had gone by—from 2000 to 2009—between the time that it was clearly established that concentrations of a powerful carcinogen were much too high and the implementation of a solution, with which the Crown washed its hands of the problem. Nine years is how long it takes for a family to produce three or four children, and, I repeat, these children are now five times more likely to develop cancer.

I repeat once more: just imagine what it must be like for the victims who now have cancer—people who lived in Shannon. Imagine what it must be like for those who lived in Shannon for some time between 2000 and 2009 and whose young children drank water containing a powerful carcinogen.

There is a price to pay for having failed to pay compensation to Shannon. There is a social price to pay for having resisted and for having dragged its feet while the problem continued. Imagine the stress felt by the parents. I have spoken about it twice now. Millions of dollars were spent on lawsuits by both parties, money that could have been put to much better use by paying these people compensation. TIt is now said that tens of millions of dollars have been spent, not to help the victims, but to continue with endless legal proceedings and court challenges.

Just think about the deep injustice felt by a 15-year-old victim who once lived in Shannon. She feels stress because she is wondering whether she will be able to live a normal life, and watches as her own government challenges a class action to redress a serious public health problem. How can she feel confident, first of all towards her country and then towards the government? How can she feel confident enough to get on with her life? This burden has been handed down to a whole generation of people in the Shannon area. How much less effective will they be at work, for example, with such a legacy, such a weight on their shoulders, and the stress they have experienced for years?

Public health authorities have testified in connection with the class action. They explained that the population of Shannon was too small for statistical studies. That is basically all that remains as a basis to challenge the class action by the people of Shannon. The situation is now completely preposterous. The thing to learn from this kind of logic is that if a group of people should ever become ill, then they should make sure that there are a lot of them. Because if there are not enough of them to be so sick that they are dying, then statistically, it will be impossible to prove that it was the introduction of a carcinogen or some other substance into a well that made them all sick.

Thus, if a group of people has to be ill in Canada, there had better be at least 300,000 suffering from the same thing. Otherwise, the statistics are not valid. In a group of 250 people, 25 could die, but it would not be enough to prove that contamination was the cause. This justification for not helping the people of Shannon puts us squarely in the realm of the absurd and the unacceptable.

There was one piece of bad news, among the many given to the people of Shannon, that particularly bothered me. In February 2011, the lawyer for the Shannon Citizens Committee, Charles Veilleux, was audited by the Canada Revenue Agency, just a few days before the start of this important case. The president of the Shannon Citizens Committee, Marie-Paule Spieser, did not believe it could be a coincidence.

All the commentators that I read at the time were outraged by the thought that, suddenly, three days away from such a complex trial, Mr. Veilleux was subjected to a major audit. This case had been backed by Mr. Veilleux, who was up to his neck in debt primarily because of his decade-long effort to help the people of Shannon. I raise my glass to Mr. Veilleux, who deserves to be toasted. It is just water, but it is not contaminated. Not one of the commentators I read that week had even a shadow of a doubt that it could have been a coincidence. It was unacceptable.

I will conclude with a fairly simple principle—the duty of a government. When a public health problem is serious, we must help the people. We can no longer hide behind the statistics, as former military personnel sometimes did, and say that the evidence may not be adequate.

If people are suffering because of huge mistakes made by the army or an industry, we must simply do our duty as a government and help them.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise here today to speak to a problem that has gone on for far too long in the Quebec City region.

I do not know if anyone has explained so far exactly what Shannon is. Shannon is a small municipality located next to a military base where a part of Quebec City's anglophone community lives.

Everyone is familiar with the facts, so I will not repeat them in detail. Briefly, first the groundwater was contaminated and no information was given right away. Many years passed and then a class action lawsuit was launched. We are now waiting for the judge's ruling following a trial that did not happen until last year.

While many elements of the motion are at the heart of the lawsuit, I still think it is important to talk about certain essential matters. Is it not essential that we protect the health of our soldiers, their families, their neighbours and, in fact, all Canadians? Is that not a duty that we must constantly fulfill? Is that not at least part of why we are here?

If that is why we are here, it should give us some perspective on the problem.

I am deeply disappointed that a health issue has become an issue of money. I believe that as responsible human beings, we must ensure the well-being of the public, regardless of where they are. I find it unimaginable that the government is refusing to resolve this problem and telling people that they can live next to the military base, but at their own risk. This is unacceptable.

I believe that DND's bases should be peaceful and safe neighbours for their community. If the government looked at the problem from that angle, then maybe it could change its mindset.

I am not looking to blame anyone because there was a time when waste was disposed of in a certain way and people were unaware of the possible consequences of their actions. Now, we know better.

However, ignorance does not mean it is okay to forget about the consequences. As responsible beings, even if we did not know about the long-term problems, it is imperative to solve them now.

I think it is terrible that millions of dollars are being spent on legal fees while the health and daily problems of the people are being forgotten. Let us talk about health. Let us talk about the water supply. Let us talk about how the property values have dropped dramatically. I can attest to the fact that there was a time when no one wanted to live there.

It is tragic. I would have expected the Department of National Defence and the government to take action. I am not specifically blaming the Conservative government. I want to be clear about that. I am instead criticizing the way it is handling this problem. I think it is terrible that the government is looking at this from the perspective of civil and commercial responsibility instead from the perspective of the health and protection of individuals.

I find it very ironic. The purpose of a military base is to increase protection, but in this case, it is not protecting its neighbours.

I have a really hard time accepting this paradox. We were justified in expecting some co-operation. Yes, I recognize that things are being done right now. But even though things are being done today, we also have to think about the damage of the past. That is important, and we have to fix it. It is important for our country's reputation, but also for the dignity of the people in question and of our armed forces.

I do not think that the members of our military want to put their neighbours' health in danger. Of course not. No way would they want to do that. That is not what they are all about. No one has those kinds of values. Why not fix the problem? Why spend money on lawsuits that will only benefit big law firms?

I would really like to know how much all this has cost the government. If the money had been invested in addressing the problem, what portion of the problem would have been solved already without anyone losing out? When you lose face, you are on the losing side. People suffered damages, and, as a society, we have to be able to repair those damages.

We live in society, in an environment, in a community. It is essential for relations between communities to be maintained. It is essential for there to be mutual trust between the people who live near a military base, the base itself and the Department of National Defence. These things are important, and they must not be taken lightly. These relations are absolutely vital, and how the problem is addressed is an important indicator of the state of the relationship.

If the current legal challenges continue, and are possibly lost later on, what message will that send not only to the people who live around the Valcartier military base, but to those who live near other military bases? Will it become necessary to build a no man's land around our military bases? I do not think so, and I am just speculating, of course. What I do believe in is the relations between the diverse communities and the ability of the armed forces to guarantee a level of security, not only in its everyday operations, but in its environment.

Sometimes, completely uncontrollable things can happen. This is understandable, but once they happen, the problems have to be addressed.

What, basically, is this motion about? What it seeks is simply an honourable way out for all the parties involved. There is no attempt to find a guilty party, but rather an attempt to repair previous damage. The idea is to stop the legal expenses and solve the problem. That would be the most cordial and respectful way of doing things.

That is why I am asking the government to vote for the motion, agree to an out-of-court settlement, which would certainly be a step forward, and act in a dignified manner in everyone's interest.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. I would ask that she keep her comments to five minutes.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate and thank all of my colleagues who stood in this House to support Motion M-273, which I was proud to move on behalf of the citizens of Shannon whose lives have been turned upside down by the tragedy that struck their municipality.

The support and compassion shown by my colleagues in this House are invaluable to the former residents of Shannon, some of whom are here with us today.

As we know, many victims of this terrible tragedy are former or active members of our proud Canadian Forces. They have made many sacrifices to serve this country with dignity but now seem to have been forgotten or, worse, pushed away by the government.

This motion is incredibly important for the current and former citizens of Shannon, who have been seeking justice for many years.

The victims of the TCE contamination have suffered many losses and hardships through no fault of their own, and yet no one will take responsibility for what happened to them.

The victims of the TCE contamination of Shannon's water supply have still not been fairly compensated for their suffering, after more than 10 years of fierce battles. Even today, many people who suffer from illnesses linked to the intake of TCE, like cancer and the other illnesses mentioned earlier, still do not know why they are sick, because no one has told them about what happened in Shannon. This is totally unacceptable.

This government must act now, before the judge renders his verdict. This government must compensate the known victims of the contamination and their families, as well as those who have suffered or are still suffering without knowing why. The government has a moral obligation to do everything in its power to inform those who may have been affected by TCE contamination and to offer them the fair compensation they deserve, with a victim compensation fund for those who are not parties to the current class action.

My Conservative colleagues should not forget that the victims of the TCE contamination do not only live in my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, as was demonstrated by my colleague from Toronto—Danforth. As I have mentioned before, many of them were current or former members of the Canadian Forces who served at the military base in Valcartier in the past but have since moved away to serve in other bases across this country.

Many of the victims of the TCE contamination in Shannon now live in Conservative ridings and are expecting their members of Parliament to stand up for them and get them the justice they so rightly deserve.

It is extremely disappointing that the victims of the TCE-contaminated groundwater are once again being abandoned by their government, which has already indicated that it intends to vote against this motion. The government is still refusing to admit the Crown's responsibility in this tragic situation and to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the Shannon Citizens Committee.

About two weeks ago, we learned from the report released by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development that there are still several thousand contaminated federal sites across the country. The bill to fully decontaminate the affected sites would come to over $7 billion. On this excessively long list of contaminated federal sites is, of course, the municipality of Shannon, as well as the land on the Valcartier military base.

As my colleagues know, toxic chemicals, in particular trichloroethylene, have been dumped or buried since the 1930s on land that was, and still is, federal government property. These toxic substances have gradually leaked into the soil and contaminated the groundwater under the Valcartier base and the municipality of Shannon and as far away as Quebec City, including the Val-Bélair area.

A lot of work remains to be done in Shannon to clean up the water, but the most recent report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is not reassuring in that regard. In his report, the commissioner states that while many federal contaminated sites have been successfully dealt with, the remaining sites, like Shannon, will be much harder to clean up. There are many reasons to explain that reality, but I would say that one of the main reasons for this is that the Conservatives decided to cut over 60% of the remaining budget to evaluate the health and environmental risks and take care of the decontamination operations. In view of all the work that remains to be done, I think we can all agree that this was quite a bad decision.

Even though the contamination in Shannon was discovered in 1997, TCE, sadly, can still be found in the water and unfortunately it seems that it will remain there for many more years.

Some decontamination efforts have been made in past years but it is too little too late as government funding to clean up those toxic chemicals is insufficient and irregular at best.

Since the debate began, I have heard several arguments in favour of the motion, but the most important argument is about doing justice to the victims of the contamination and their families. They have suffered too much. Yes, some steps have been taken and we recognize that some efforts have been made in the past, but much more needs to be done.

I urge all my colleagues to do what is right and support my motion.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Groundwater ContaminationPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.