When they arrived in Canada, my parents had to learn everything: how to survive winter, speak French, drive a car, look for work, cook Canadian food. In short, they had to learn how to live in their new country.
It is thanks to people like Captain Pierre Pellerin, Ginette Malenfant, Nicole Leduc and Estelle, who has now passed away, who welcomed my parents, but also other people, including Fred and Bonnie Cappuccino and many Canadians who opened their doors to my family and welcomed thousands of Vietnamese as if they were part of their own family. From that point on, many Vietnamese were able to begin integrating into Canadian life and making a contribution to Canada. Many thanks on behalf of all Vietnamese.
However, like more than 1.5 million people, my parents were boat people. Canada accepted 137,000 Vietnamese refugees at the time. The federal government also established a private sponsorship program that allowed agencies and Canadian citizens to welcome a family of refugees and provide them with support for one year. For each privately sponsored person, the government would sponsor another refugee. An entire movement of solidarity was created.
Here in Ottawa, at the corner of Preston and Somerset, there is a monument paying tribute to the boat people. Marion Dewar, the mayor of Ottawa at the time and the mother of our colleague from Ottawa Centre, worked hard to welcome thousands of Vietnamese refugees, so many in fact that Chinatown here in Ottawa is a primarily Vietnamese neighbourhood, where they serve the famous pho soup that is so warm and comforting, especially on a cold day like today.
The Vietnam War was the result of 50 years of cold war that divided the world in two. For ideological reasons, countries were at war, families were divided, men and women were murdered. Today, we no longer live in that bipolar world where everyone tried to impose their own truth. It is high time we began a real dialogue.
Earlier, I spoke about openness and dialogue, because this is something we really need. The Vietnamese diaspora, here in Canada and throughout the world, is divided by economic, political and religious differences.
A round table must be set up where everyone has the right to express their own views. This is how we will move ahead and ensure that the world will change.
I think that Bill S-219 provides a perfect opportunity to establish this dialogue, in light of the fact that it adds a positive aspect to the usual commemorations by emphasizing Canada’s acceptance of the refugees.
Out of respect for our refugees and in recognition of the Canadians who opened their arms to Vietnamese refugees starting in 1975, I think it would be worthwhile to at least allow a parliamentary committee to properly study the bill. It is up to us—the children of refugees, those in exile and immigrants—as well as all other Canadians who are open and interested in this dialogue, to help initiate discussion and debate about the Vietnamese commemorations.
I had the good fortune to go to Vietnam to see my family and get to know the land of my ancestors. It is a wonderful country where people are welcoming and very special. I still have many family members living there, and I want them and all Vietnamese still living in Vietnam to have the same opportunities as I did, so that they can live in peace and security and enjoy democracy and universal fundamental rights as I do.
Unfortunately, that is not yet the reality for everyone in Vietnam. Vietnam has signed or acceded to seven international conventions on human rights. It is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Human rights are entrenched in the country’s constitution. However, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens continue to be arrested, tried and imprisoned merely for expressing their opinions.
Today, we must not be afraid to tell the truth. Every human being is entitled to life, liberty and equal opportunity. I therefore reach out to all Vietnamese, and all Canadians, who wish to undertake this dialogue with me and with parliamentarians.
Bill S-219 provides us with that opportunity for exchange, because the wounds have not all been dressed as yet. We must take the opportunity to sit down around the table, as I said, Vietnamese from all walks of life, so that the process of dialogue and healing can begin and we can at last look to the future.
As the member opposite said, the ambassador of Vietnam was not able to be heard. I have received many emails from other Vietnamese living in Canada who want to participate in this debate and were not able to participate in the debate held in the Senate.
This bill has to take its course in the Parliament of Canada, and I want it to be considered in committee and for all points of view to be taken into consideration when it is examined. Unfortunately, as has been said, the committee did not hear all the witnesses, but I believe that the House to which we have been elected, the House of Commons, can do better and can hear from everyone at the second stage. It not only can, I believe it must.
To demonstrate our values of open-mindedness, democracy, empathy and generosity as has already been done, we should allow the debate to continue. Let there be no doubt on this point: I am asking questions because I believe the process can be improved. I am in fact in agreement, and it is very important that this debate be allowed to continue.
On a somewhat more positive note, as the Asian new year, the lunar new year, will fall on February 18, I wish everyone a happy Têt. That is the Vietnamese word for the new year. To all Vietnamese everywhere in Canada and elsewhere,
[Member spoke in Vietnamese as follows:]
Chuc mung nam moi!