Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on this concurrence motion regarding the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration tabled in the House of Commons.
What are we talking about? We are talking about a group of victims, people who have faced genocide, who are seeking assistance and safety from the international community. This call for action has been ongoing for some time. Finally, in this House, in this very chamber, every single member unanimously recognized that genocide of the Yazidi community was taking place. From there, a study was undertaken by the House of Commons.
Witnesses who came to committee expressed their point of view and called urgently on the government to take action, particularly to help resettle the women and girls who have faced sexual violence and to allow them to come to a safe place.
This took some time, I must admit. Through that discussion, the government made a commitment that it would settle 1,200 Yazidi women and girl survivors in Canada. That was meant to be a special measure. Ultimately, the government did no such thing. It did not take that special measure. In fact, what it did was to identify Yazidis within the existing numbers of refugees it was accepting under its Syrian refugee initiative, and then double-counted them as Yazidi survivors who had come to Canada.
I cannot tell the House how dismayed I was. It is not a numbers game per se, except when it matters and people's lives are at stake. That is what we were talking about. Every single member in this chamber acknowledged that there was a genocide under way and that we needed to act urgently.
The government did not do what I had hoped and thought it was committed to doing, which was to bring in and resettle as a special measure 1,200 Yazidi women and girls. It did no such thing. I was so dismayed and disappointed with that outcome.
That said, Yazidi women and girls, under the Syrian refugee initiative, came to Canada, and some of them were resettled here. I want to share with the House that not very long ago, back in October, I held a press conference in the press gallery here in the House of Commons. With me were a number of women, one of whom was a survivor. In fact, she was one of the first women who was resettled here under that initiative.
Her name was Adiba. She was a Yazidi woman who was in ISIS captivity, and who was sold roughly six times over the course of the year by different male captors. She arrived in Canada in 2016. She was still dealing with the psychological damage of sexual violence. Her experiences were a prime example of how Yazidi women have struggled in Canada due to a whole variety of persecutions and misunderstandings.
Several months after arriving, Adiba had a breakdown at her home. She was taken to MacKenzie hospital in Ontario. The support network, the community members with her at the time, remember rushing to the hospital after calls for help. When her support network arrived, they were horrified to find Adiba being restrained on a bed, surrounded by male security guards. They had tied Adiba's hands and feet to the bed. Each hand was tied, each leg was tied, and there were men all around her. That was exactly what ISIS used to do to her, before they raped her. Imagine the trauma she had to re-experience in that situation.
Adiba was one of the victims. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had persecuted Yazidis and minority religious sects mostly in northern Iraq. Adiba was 27 at the time. She fled her home in Sinjar District in northern Iraq after the Islamic State militants massacred Yazidi villages and captured women as sex slaves. She also advised us that some of her family members were among the estimated 10,000 Yazidis killed in the genocide. Her parents and her brother are still living in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. She is not using her last name out of fear for their safety.
She was living in a refugee camp when she learned that the Canadian government would sponsor Yazidi women to move to Canada. As one of the first of the groups to arrive, she spent her first few nights scared and alone in a hotel in Toronto, until a non-profit organization came forward to offer her help. She was dropped off at the Radisson Hotel not far from here, and stayed in the lobby hungry and thirsty, but with no language she could understand or use in order to obtain some water. That is what her direct experience was. That is what she advised us of during the press conference right here in Ottawa.
I ask, how is this possible? When we raised this issue and studied it, we learned from our German counterparts who gave us advice from how they had helped resettle Yazidi victims. But still, when we resettled the Yazidi women and victims here, this happened. How is it even possible, I have to wonder? Yet, it did happen.
Therefore, the question was raised, what is the government doing, now that it knows about the lack of psychological and mental health support for the victims? What is it doing for these women who have experienced this extreme trauma to get them the support they need? The government promised that additional resources would targeted for this group, yet it did not materialize. At the end, the government says that there is the interim federal health program, and so just go to that. However, there are no psychologists with the language capacity to provide that help. Some of these women do not even know where to seek it. Where is the on-the-ground support for the women, the survivors, who came here and that Canada agreed to resettle? It was nowhere to be found.
We learned at committee that there were some Yazidi families who were relocated in a part of Canada where they were supposed to have a network of support, where there would be other Yazidi members to support them, only to learn that there were none. It did not happen. They literally just got dropped off in the middle of nowhere, from their perspective, because they are not familiar with Canada at all. They were just left there to fend for themselves. How is it possible for that to have happened? I was so dismayed to learn of that.
The government says that it will do everything it can. Now, to the Liberals' credit, in the levels plan, they have now put forward a special measure to resettle Yazidi men and women. I am glad to see that. We advocated long and hard for the government to do that, and it did appear in this levels plan.
Having said that, there were several other recommendations that witnesses at the committee put forward for the government to consider, which were vital for them, for their mental health and well-being and survival as a community. Yet, no action has been taken.
What are some of those basic recommendations they were calling for?
More than anything else, they wanted to be reunited with their family members, with their loved ones, like we all do. We all want our loved ones around us. We want to know that they are safe and to be in the warmth of their arms. For people who have gone through genocide, I cannot imagine how much they would want that. Witnesses came forward and said that they wanted the government to allow their nuclear family members to be able to come to Canada as refugees as well.
In western society, we define our family members differently. Our spouse, children and parents tend to be those whom we define as within our nuclear family. However, for many communities, mine included, our definition of family is much larger. We consider our aunts, uncles and cousins to be immediate family. For example, I live with my sister and her children, her one son and one daughter. My nephew and niece are like my children. They are like my children's siblings. They are like their brothers and sisters. We define ourselves as a clan. We literally are just one giant clan in one house.
That is how many of the refugees define their families too. The Yazidi women who were able to be resettled here in Canada have left loved ones behind, uncles, aunts, cousins and others, but there is no path forward for them to come to Canada. Why is that? Witnesses came forward and asked us to please understand the broader definition of a nuclear family and to allow that definition for genocide survivors. That recommendation was rejected by the Liberal members at committee. I asked them why they would reject something as basic as helping families come together so they can bring their loved ones here.
Another committee recommendation was rejected by the Liberal members, and I do not understand why they would do that either. Some of the Yazidis who have survived this horrific genocide were able to come to Canada, but unbeknownst to them, they have a surviving member of their family back at the camp or somewhere. Someone told them they have a surviving family member, yet because of our rules, our immigration policies, unless they make an application within one year of their arrival here in Canada, which is known as the one-year window of opportunity program, under that stream, they will miss the chance to bring those other family members here. They are part of their nuclear family. It could be a son or a daughter, but unless they make that application within one year, they will have missed their opportunity to bring them here. How is that even logical?
These individuals do not even know they have a surviving family member. They thought the family member had been killed, only to discover later, past the deadline, that the family member was still alive but they would have a tough time bringing the person here. They have to go through a whole process of appealing to the minister for intervention. All kinds of things have to take place.
In fact, I assisted one family in such a situation. The woman did not know that her son, her little boy, had survived the situation. She found out through social media. A picture of him showed up and someone told her. She almost collapsed at the sight of him. A whole movement happened to help bring her son here. We had to go through a special application process to get the minister to provide an intervention and so on. After much to do, it happened, and he was brought here.
Why would we not just make it simpler for everyone and just allow for those individuals to be reunited, recognize right from the outset and extend the one-year window of opportunity restriction in terms of timeline, to allow for all of those family members to bring their loved ones here.
Those are basic questions. I wonder why we are even here debating it. As human beings, as people who are connected, as a compassionate country of people who want to see humanitarian action taken, why do we not do these things?
The Liberal members at committee rejected those recommendations. I wrote a supplementary report and brought it forward. It is not like the government members do not know about it. It is not like the minister does not know about it. The parliamentary secretary gloats and claims how swell the Liberals have been on this file. They should take some action and make a difference. They should adopt those recommendations and make that change. They have it within their power to do that right now, right here in this chamber. I challenge them to step up and undertake that effort, because it will make a difference in the lives of people in a very significant way.
It will also save resources which could be spent elsewhere within the immigration file. We could put those resources toward ensuring that an asylum claimant, for example, who is fleeing the Trump administration which rejects women who are facing domestic violence, rejects people who are faced with gang violence and are trying to seek refuge, rejects people from the LGBTQ2I community who the Trump administration seems to think are born with the sexual identity to which their gender has been identified.
Why are we making people jump through hoops for no good reason? We can reinvest those resources in other places to make a difference. Those are the kinds of things that we as parliamentarians can do. Those are the kinds of things that I dream of being in government to be able to do, to remove barriers, cut the red tape and make a difference in the lives of people. That is the privilege we have.
I have been elected for 25 years now. I was taught something by a former lieutenant governor in British Columbia, the late Dr. David Lam. He said that it is not the title that brings you honour, but it is what you do with the title that you honour it. All of us have the opportunity to make a difference.
When we are talking about genocide, today in the House of Commons I tried to get unanimous consent to move a motion to call on every single member of the House to recognize December 13 as the Nanjing massacre commemorative day. Eighty-one years ago, some 300,000 people were killed. Some 200,000 women from Japanese-occupied territories in Asia were brought into sexual slavery. We have lessons to learn from history and to commemorate it would mean that we learned those lessons and we could apply them today.
It would mean that for the Yazidi women who are faced with sexual slavery, with sexual violence, we collectively can act on that and do something about it. The UN currently recognizes some 19 countries see sexual violence as a tactic of war. What is wrong with that picture? Why did I not receive unanimous consent? From what I understand, it was a Liberal member who rejected it to begin with. Why would that happen? When we work across partisan lines on issues like this to commemorate a situation of such magnitude, of crimes against humanity, of such atrocities, we have the power to unite our voice and strength to make a difference in the global context to try to save lives, to bring peace forward as the middle power country that we are. We worked so hard to earn a reputation as a peace-loving people so that we can assert ourselves in the international community to drive a difference.
Unanimous consent was denied. I hope that is not the end of it and that we can come back and apply those lessons from history to today's context. Whether it be the Yazidi community or Myanmar, people who are faced with those kinds of situations, with sexual violence being used as a military tactic, let us take action. Let us not just talk about it. Let us not just debate it. Let us make those policy changes and make it happen.
We can help resettle, provide aid, and we can assert ourselves in the international arena to broker change, to bring allies in other countries on board to make that difference. I think we have the power to do that. That is why I am so honoured to be a parliamentarian with all the members in the House. Let us work together to make that difference, shall we?