Mr. Speaker, this bill was introduced in the Senate, a place that is already undemocratic, where there are no elected officials and no real accountability. The bill comes from a place where there is no accountability for the work being done and, specifically, a very biased process.
I will start by giving a little background of the bill. The short title of the bill is the journey to freedom day act. It would establish April 30 as journey to freedom day to commemorate the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975, which ended the Vietnam War and began the emigration of South Vietnamese refugees to Canada.
I started by speaking of what happened in the Senate. That is because people had requested to appear, to be witnesses and provide testimonials in front of the Senate committee but were refused. The ambassador for Vietnam was refused. Anybody who wished to voice dissent and not support the bill was not allowed to speak at the Senate committee, which is a very biased, unfair and undemocratic process.
The NDP proudly recognizes the important contributions of Canadians of Vietnamese heritage and their community in Canada, which includes the people who came to our country as refugees. Tens of thousands more came as economic migrants.
As a responsible official opposition, we want to ensure that any legislative attempt to recognize the contributions of Vietnamese Canadians to Canadian cultural heritage will actually unite Canadians of all backgrounds. It would unite Vietnamese Canadians in our country but also ensure that all members of the community would be included. To that extent, we will seek to include as many opinions as possible when the bill gets to committee and ensure that it is an inclusive process. As the deputy spokesperson for the New Democrats on Canadian heritage and as a member of the heritage committee, I look forward to ensuring that all voices and opinions are heard at committee.
I want to mention that when this bill was studied, there was a strong base of support for it and also voices of dissent. We need to ensure that as responsible legislators, we hear all sides of the story. There is a quote by Mr. Can Le, a former secretary general of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation, who stated:
By approving this bill, Parliament will assure newcomers and future generations of their place in this country and will prove that Canada's inclusiveness is the foundation of its strength and prosperity.
It is great that there were positive comments about the bill and there were many more during the Senate hearings, but there were absolutely no voices heard that spoke against this bill. From what I am learning, there are quite a few, because my office has been inundated with emails and phone calls. I have met with members of the Vietnamese community in Toronto who do not support the bill and are very hurt that their voices are not allowed to be heard. They requested to appear before the Senate committee and were refused. They were not allowed to speak before the committee.
I sent a brief to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that I was given by a member of the community in Toronto in the hope that it would be put before the committee. The brief points out that the bill offends and marginalizes most of the people it purports to honour by assuming that they would join former Saigon military officers in commemorating the fall of Saigon on April 30. The majority of Vietnamese Canadians will never join that commemoration. I read this directly from a brief I was given, which clearly shows there is a divide in the community. As responsible legislators, we need to ensure that all voices are heard, and that did not happen in the Senate. I hope that in the committee phase we will be able to ensure that all voices are heard.
The second main point identified in the brief is that the bill exploits the boat people and the Canadians who helped them by using them to justify having a national day to commemorate the fall of the Saigon military regime, a divisive, partisan, political event that most of them will not participate in. Once again, they outline that there is a divide and that they do not want a bill that commemorates the fall of the regime or commemorates something that only part of the community here wants to be part of. It is important that we hear all voices, and that has not happened at the Senate committee. If I seem a little repetitive, it is because I am purposely repeating the fact that the Senate was extremely biased and did not allow all voices to be heard.
The third main point outlined in the brief is that the bill slights the Canadian Forces by falsely claiming that they were involved in the Vietnam War. The bill does not give credit to Canadian Forces for carrying nearly all of the refugees from Asian camps to Canada.
I tend to agree with that, because Canada was not involved in the war. Canada did not have a participatory role in the war, yet Canada was a country that was a safe haven. Our forces went in and helped people by removing them from the camps when they fled Vietnam and went to other countries. That is not being recognized in the bill.
What I am hearing from members of my community is that the bill is divisive. Why can we not move forward in a way that gives us something that all Vietnamese Canadians can come together around and make sure that it is inclusive for everyone, rather than just a small group of people from Vietnam who live in Canada now, or even many Canadian-born Canadians who are not naturalized Canadians? We are all Canadians, and they are saying they all want to be included.
Further on, the brief mentions that the problem is that there were waves of migrants who came to Canada from Vietnam. The first wave were people who were working for the Saigon regime at the time and fled after the end of the war, which ended on April 30. That date is tied very closely with the war, and many people were affected by it. Whenever a war happens, many people are affected. I know from personal experience. I was born in a war zone and know the personal, lived experience of being in a war. No matter how the idea is spun, life is impacted severely by a war. I am hearing that people do not want this day of commemoration to be about the war or the end of the war; they want it to be about showing gratitude to Canada. That date is not April 30, 1975. They would like to adopt July 27, 1979, because that was the first date that refugees were brought into Canada by the Canadian Forces. Why can we not consider that option?
I wish I had more time to go further into this. I have had petitions sent to my office, and the one I am holding has more than 222 signatures from people all across the country who say that the process was severely biased and seriously flawed because it was undemocratically put forward and there is no transparency in the bill. People suggest that another date, any time in July, be set aside as the date, because that would help the community come together and not be further divided. The community wants to stand together to commemorate and to show their gratitude for Canada.
The bill says it is about giving gratitude, but it is called the journey to freedom day bill. Which journey to freedom does the bill actually talk about? That is the real question.