Mr. Speaker, human history is littered with examples of our capacity to inflict great evil upon each other. There are also times when humanity has shown its capacity for great compassion and love.
The greatest failures of humanity have occurred when opportunities for us to exhibit our capacity for compassion are presented but we choose instead to turn our backs. These would be the times when we justify that it is too difficult to do something, that it is not our place, that we are already doing enough, that it is too risky, or that something cannot be done. Simply put, the greatest failures of humanity occur when we self-justify our failure to prevent the infliction of evil upon others when we know it is occurring.
Unfortunately, as we near Canada's 150th anniversary, our country has many examples of these great failures. We allowed the Komagata Maru affair to happen. We allowed the Chinese head tax to happen. We interned Japanese Canadians during World War II. We allowed the residential school system to happen. The most shameful thing we as a country could do is to forget the lessons of these events, to dismiss them as in the past, to think that they could not possibly happen again, and then to repeat them. Today, I believe we are at risk of doing just that.
In 1939, the MS St. Louis, carrying more than 900 refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution, changed course for Canada after being denied entry to the United States. A group of Canadian academics and clergy tried to persuade Mackenzie King to provide sanctuary to the ship's passengers, but an immigration official, a bureaucrat, persuaded the prime minister not to intervene. These refugees were turned away and sent to face genocide.
I would like to imagine that I do not know any of the excuses this bureaucrat used to justify Canada's failure to show compassion and love. However, I suspect they sound a lot like the excuses being delivered by Canadian federal immigration officials today, as many of us in the House across party lines seek to find ways to help the Yazidi people who are facing genocide. Frederick Blair was the name of the immigration official who persuaded the prime minister to turn away the MS St. Louis. In 2000, his nephew apologized to Canadians for his shameful record.
I have two charges today, one to my elected colleagues and another to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada bureaucrats.
The first charge is to the immigration bureaucrats who are sitting in the government lobby right now watching this speech, nervously hovering over government MPs, and handing out department-written speeches designed to obfuscate the fact that Canada has done nothing to help the Yazidi people.
This charge is directed to junior bureaucrats who write up the briefing notes to the minister for their bosses, which tell him that it is too hard to help these people, that the Turkish and Greek governments' policies are too hard to navigate, and that Canada cannot possibly help.
This charge is to the IRCC official who has the job of watching this debate right now and writing up the key points in summary for the bosses, so that media talking points can be written, instead of seeking to help the Yazidi people.
This charge is to the ADMs and DM of IRCC who have spent more time in the last two years, across two governments, coming up with reasons as to why we cannot help the Yazidi people, instead of finding innovative ways to do so.
My charge for them is this. In the decades ahead, will their families have to apologize for their being so stuck in the mire of a bureaucracy that they were unable or unwilling to help a people facing genocide, or will they push forward and find innovative approaches to help these people?
My second charge is to my elected colleagues. We are elected to make decisions on behalf of the people we represent, not these officials. They carry out our will and, in doing so, the will of the people of Canada. For two years, we have sat in committee meetings, briefings, and caucus meetings listening to reasons why we cannot help.
In the meantime, thousands of Yazidi women have been raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. Right now, Yazidi children are being trained to become suicide bombers after being stripped from their families. Right now, tens of thousands of Yazidis lie in mass graves. Right now, Yazidis in refugee camps in Greece and in Turkey know that they can never go home or they will die. Right now, these same refugees are being persecuted and beaten in these same refugee camps.
A deputy director for research at Amnesty International has said, “The international community must translate its shock and horror at IS crimes...into concrete actions”. Yet, we listen to the advice of bureaucrats when they say that Canada cannot do anything.
Groups that have raised money to bring these families to Canada and have identified them are being told by bureaucrats that there is nothing we can do to help, that it is too hard, that it is really not Canada's place, and that we are already doing enough. That is all false. It needs to stop, and it needs to stop today.
My charge to my elected colleagues is this. We were elected to bring hope and change to Canada. This is one of those moments in our parliamentary careers when we have the ability to impact change and bring hope. I will not stand in this place, on the eve of Canada's 150th anniversary, and allow us to repeat a great failure in our history. I implore my colleagues, if for nothing else than for the sake of Canada's honour, to do the same.
Now to the motion before us today. The motion asks the government to take immediate action to support Yazidi victims of genocide. It asks us to first recognize that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people. This is a fact that is well established and should be formally recognized in a vote in the House, which has not yet been done. This is our opportunity to do so.
The motion then asks us to acknowledge that many Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive by ISIS as sexual slaves. Again, this is a fact. Our acknowledgement of this by supporting the motion would send a message to the international community that this is a great atrocity and that we are compelled to stop it.
The motion also asks us to recognize that the government has neglected to provide the House with an appropriate plan and the corresponding action required to respond to this humanitarian crisis. I do not want this debate to become about who did less for the Yazidi people, our former government or the present government. However, I feel that this is where we are at, and we have to move past it.
This component of the motion is included because if we do not acknowledge our shared failure, we can never move forward in helping these people. This part of the motion is included because when our former government asked IRCC bureaucrats to establish ways for Canada to prioritize persecuted and ethnic religious minorities in our refugee system, we were stymied.
The reality is that Canada is dependent upon the UN to provide the names of refugees to Canada, and the UN is not delivering Yazidi names to us. We need to innovate to stop this spiral of uselessness.
For my Liberal colleagues who will retort and say that Canada should in every instance turn a blind eye to religion and ethnicity in the prioritization of refugees, I would disagree, as these factors sometimes are the key contributing factors to the reason people are refugees to begin with. However, for today, let us put that aside and look at the fact that with the Yazidi people, we are dealing with people who are facing genocide. This is a separate category of persecution, and it carries with it a different level of responsibility when it comes to the protection of these people, because their very survival as a distinct group is threatened. The United Nations has even explicitly asked Canadians to prioritize Yazidis in its report.
This component of the motion is here because, to date, the government has failed to acknowledge that the Yazidi people need to be prioritized in Canada's refugee system, let alone put in place a plan to help them.
We could argue that the government's retraction of our CF-18s from the fight to contain ISIS did not help the Yazidi cause, given that it is widely acknowledged that the coalition air strikes have greatly aided Iraqi ground forces in taking back key ISIS strongholds. That aside, I will give the House three specific instances of when the government has had an opportunity to show a clear action plan to assist the Yazidi people but has failed to do so.
First, I have asked the Minister of Immigration many questions in the House about what he is doing to accelerate Yazidi refugee claims. In one of these recent exchanges, he said, “we do not know how many Yazidi refugees have come to Canada.... What I do know is that we have admitted more than 30,000 Syrian refugees”.
In his reply there is no acknowledgement that we need to prioritize Yazidi genocide victims in our refugee system. While the government has certainly admitted more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, the reality is that departmental officials told a parliamentary committee that only nine Yazidi refugee cases have been processed. Further, many Yazidis are not Syrian refugees. Most of them originate in Iraq.
After being slow to acknowledge the genocide of the Yazidi people, the minister's response was a punch in the gut for many organizations in Canada that are working hard to bring Yazidis to Canada.
The government has failed to show a plan to assist Yazidis. Operation Ezra, a multi-faith group, which has fundraised over $250,000 to bring Yazidi families to Canada, has been, politely put, given the runaround by the minister and his bureaucrats for over a year now. They had Yazidi refugees identified who are in camps outside of Iraq that are accessible by UN and Canadian officials alike.
When one of the organizers of this group, a Yazidi woman herself, approached the minister at a citizenship ceremony in Winnipeg last week, at the Museum of Human Rights, no less, about the families they had identified, he said that it was in the hands of the bureaucracy and that there was nothing he could do. For the love of God, he is the Minister of Immigration. If there is nothing he can do to help Yazidis, then maybe we need a new immigration minister, because that is his job.
The third failure of the government to present a plan occurred when the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship presented its sixth report to Parliament a little over two weeks ago. Our committee held emergency summer meetings regarding the Yazidi genocide, and Nadia Murad, a UN ambassador and a survivor of sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS, testified, as did other Yazidis and organizations that are working to help the Yazidi people. We heard hours of damning testimony about the inability of the international community to help the Yazidi people.
We also heard concrete and smart recommendations that Canada could examine to develop a plan to help the Yazidi. The report that was submitted after all that work contained exactly zero recommendations to help the Yazidi. Instead, the government opted to issue an op-ed in the Toronto Star in which it listed the following reason why it could not help the Yazidi. It stated:
Yazidi society is based on a caste structure...
Although this tradition has been questioned in recent years, it remains firmly in place. The result is that members of the morid class could be overlooked, even though their predicament may be far worse than that felt by shaikh and pir elites and their families. This is not a certainty, but it is a possibility and should give us pause.
Instead of seeking to help the Yazidi, a Liberal member wrote an op-ed about why their religious structure should exclude them from being refugees to Canada. I highly doubt that the member talked to any Yazidi families about this or sought understanding. He simply made assumptions about their religion and then used it as an excuse for why Canada should not help. This article is perhaps one of the most embarrassing pieces of garbage I have ever had the misfortune of reading. It tarnished the reputation of a government that has welcomed many refugees to Canada. The government needs to clarify whether this is in fact the real reason it is not helping Yazidis.
All this said, I am willing to amend and remove this component of the motion if the government will commit to immediately helping the Yazidi. To me, saving the lives of these people is more important than an argument about who did less when.
A plan, with a very short timeline for action, is what matters now. The plan should include ways to address items (d) and (e) in the motion, which are to support recommendations found in the June 15 report, issued by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, entitled “They came to destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”, and to call upon the government to take immediate action on the recommendations found in sections 210, 212, and 213 of said report and use its full authority to provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 30 days.
The recommendations in the UN report present a clear, non-partisan, concrete path for the international community to protect the Yazidi people and should also be reflected in Canada's action plan. These recommendations are the following: strongly encourage rescue plans targeted at Yazidi captives; encourage coordination between local and international armed forces where military operations target ISIS controlled regions where Yazidi captives are held; use all means available to ensure that Yazidis held captive by ISIS and Syria are rescued during ongoing military operations; put in place a protocol for the care and treatment of Yazidis rescued as areas are seized from ISIS; recognize ISIS's commission of the crime of genocide against the Yazidis of Sinjar; and for those states that are contracting parties to the genocide convention, engage with article VIII of the convention and call upon competent organs of the United Nations, including the Security Council, to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations to prevent and suppress acts of genocide.
Further, provide expertise, on request, to assist in the preservation and documentation of mass grave sites; provide further funding for psychosocial support programs, with increased emphasis on trauma therapy for children, noting that Yazidi children have suffered different violations, depending on their sex; provide funding and expertise to support the training of psychologists and social workers in Iraq and Syria; provide funding for the reconstruction of Sinjar and expertise to allow more efficient clearing of improvised explosive devices; accelerate the asylum claims of Yazidi victims of genocide; and ensure that the provisions of the genocide convention are enacted in national legislation, as contracting states are obliged to do under article V of the genocide convention.
There are many more good recommendations under this section, and that is why these recommendations are included in the motion today. They come from the UN. They are non-partisan, and the UN hopes that the world will act on this.
Given that the government is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council, in addition to saving Yazidi lives it should show international leadership in advancing UN directives by supporting the motion today.
When the Prime Minister posed for a photograph with Nadia Murad in New York, I hope he recognized Canada's covenant to do her and her people justice by championing these recommendations.
The motion also includes a special reference to Yazidi women and girls, not to the exclusion of Yazidi men but as an acknowledgement that there are many survivors of sexual violence who need to be supported in our country. Germany recently accepted over 1,000 Yazidi sex slave survivors and their families. There is no reason Canada cannot do the same.
Moreover, we need to put a deadline on a plan for action. It has been nearly two years since the massacre at Sinjar, and every day that passes, more Yazidis die. In the 2015 election campaign, the government said that bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015 was only a matter of political will. The government was sworn in on November 4, 2015, yet it held firm to its year-end commitment.
Today is October 20, 2016. If the government could commit to focusing on bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada in a similar time period, surely it could commit to doing what the motion asks, which is to assist Yazidis within a 30-day period, after having had a year to already so.
Further, the government has the benefit of hours of committee testimony and the recommendations contained in the dissenting reports of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The time for committees and reports has passed, and the time for action is now. The government needs to act today. Frankly, even 30 days is too long.
For my colleagues today who have speeches prepared by departmental officials that say that we cannot help Yazidis because it is too dangerous to travel to Iraq, keep in mind that figuring out how Canada can help internally displaced Yazidis and helping Yazidis who have made it to camps in Greece and Turkey are not mutually exclusive. Yazidis in these places still face persecution, which often hampers their ability to find employment and stay in camps for any length of time, and they cannot go home, because the religious majority in the region is likely to kill them if they do so. As well, many Yazidi villages have been razed and simply do not exist anymore.
Testimony at our committee also showed proof that Yazidi refugees are being discriminated against by UN screening agents and are not making the lists that are given to Canada for the selection of government sponsored refugees. For these reasons, Yazidi refugees in these camps should absolutely be prioritized, and they should be the first people Canada helps.
Canadian departmental officials who say that this cannot be done simply are not being encouraged strongly enough by elected leaders. For this reason, many Yazidis will be listening to the speeches given here today to see if we are courageous leaders or bureaucrat followers.
I implore members to support the motion. In the words of author Ken Harbaugh, who recently visited a Yazidi refugee camp in Greece:
In every other camp I have visited, refugees talk of one day going home. That can never happen for the Yazidis. The brutality that drove them here was utterly complete. Their homes were burned, their worship houses were defiled, their faith vilified. When ISIS targeted their ancestral lands in northern Iraq, the Sinjar mountains became the Yazidi's last stand. The world watched as ISIS closed in, intent on finishing the massacre begun in the villages....
Now, their culture hangs in the balance. Its survival depends on an ancient woman who can neither see nor walk, but can remember it all too well. It depends on a saint like Nadia Murad, who wanted nothing more than to become a school teacher in the shadow of Mount Sinjar and now carries the weight of her people's grief. And ultimately, it depends on us, on whether the world awakens to the suffering of the Yazidis, or lets it count for nothing.
Let our actions here today count for something. Support the motion, support the Yazidi people, and show Canada's capacity to stand for good in the face of great evil.