Madam Speaker, the government has a real issue when it comes to identifying vulnerable communities for refugee selection.
I asked a question earlier about the fact that we know there are certain communities around the world that face ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is important that our refugee policy be able to identify those communities and ensure that we are indeed taking the most vulnerable.
I note in this context that in many cases, there is a challenge for those most vulnerable communities to actually even access the refugee certification process. Very often they may not feel safe in refugee camps, where even in those situations, they may be vulnerable to persecution. This is something we have heard, in particular, about Yazidis and Assyrian Christians.
The government has accepted the principle of accepting the most vulnerable, at least when it comes to Yazidis. We are still waiting for it to even address the issues affecting Christian communities in the same region.
I want to share with the House a particular exchange from a technical briefing given by immigration officials to reporters at the end of 2015 on the refugee program.
The question was, “Last week at the briefing one of my colleagues asked about breakdown by religious minority. You said you didn't track that. I want to ask you again if you have that information because you had access to it under the previous government.
“Back in September we had numbers to that effect. Both you as the bureaucrats and the ministers keep saying Canada wants to help the most vulnerable. We all know those are the religious minorities. How are we to believe that you don't track that if you say you're there to help the most vulnerable?”
The official response was, “I can't comment about leaks of confidential documents under the previous government. Our standard processes and our standard systems do not track anyone's ethnicity or religion. We don't put it in the system, therefore we can't get it out.”
In the follow-up question, the reporter said, “Two things off that. One, how did it exist before? You said you can't comment on leaks of documents but obviously it existed if it was leaked. Two, if you're not willing to track that you said you want to make helping LGBT get out of the area a priority. It seems odd you're willing to track that but not are you a persecuted Christian. What's the difference?”
The official response was, “With regards to your first question, information that may have been available for a small sample of cases does not reflect the standard processes of the government of Canada in our refugee resettlement cases. We do not ask people at interviews are you a Sunni, are you a Jew, are you a Christian of which denomination and record it in our systems in a systematic way.
We don't have data fields for it.”
The government thinks it is standing on some kind of virtuous principle by saying that it does not track and it does not discriminate when it comes to different communities. The reality is that in the regions we are looking at, people are specifically vulnerable because, often, of their membership in a religious minority community. They are being targeted for that.
I am sure the parliamentary secretary knows that the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951, to which Canada is a party, defines a refugee as someone who has fled his or her country owing to:
....well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
It is fundamentally relevant what someone's religious background is, because it likely informs their degree of vulnerability in the context from which they are escaping. It is also a good practice in terms of basic data collection. If the government is not even collecting data about which vulnerable communities people come from, then it may well be that they are unintentionally being completely excluded from the selection process, yet the government has no way of knowing it.
I challenged the government, and I challenge it again, to step up and provide a better and credible answer about how we ensure that we take the most vulnerable, those facing genocide, like Yazidis and Assyrian Christians, and how we ensure that those people are not being excluded or, at the very least, are being included in our refugee selection. What is the government doing for persecuted religious minorities, and has it finally fixed its data fields?