Mr. Speaker, in this place, as noted, we just talked a lot about never again and our duty in terms of never again. The report that I am attempting to concur in, should it please the House, has some very concrete recommendations to fulfill the obligation of never again here today.
Obviously, as the Leader of the Opposition said, it is very heartening to hear all people in this House support the apology to those who were on the ill-fated journey of the MS St. Louis but a lot of the words in the speech that the Prime Minister made are directly congruent with the report that I am attempting to concur in.
While it is important for us to apologize and recognize the sins of our past, never again also means ensuring that we are not allowing those sins to reoccur in real time. When we have incidents of genocide, if we say never again, it means that we have to ensure that those incidents of genocide are stopped.
Today, the report that I am speaking to relates to the ongoing Yazidi genocide. The Yazidi people are an ethnic and religious minority in northern Iraq. In the summer of 2014, ISIS invaded their villages, killed a large majority of the male population and rounded up tens of thousands of their women and forced them into sexual slavery.
Two years later, the United Nations issued a report after their initial review of what was going on in Sinjar and came up with several challenges for the international community to respond to in order to ensure that the genocide is stopped and that justice is brought to people who have experienced genocide.
The conversation around what to do with Yazidi genocide survivors has brought a lot of ire and difficult conversations in this House over the last three years. It has forced us and challenged us to have a conversation about the adequacy of the UN selection process for internally displaced persons. It has forced us to have a conversation about whether Canada should be relying solely on the United Nations to select refugees when they were not being referred to Canada for resettlement. It has also forced difficult conversations in the 2015 election process and difficult conversations today.
The report that I have in front of my colleagues makes some recommendations that I believe, if concurred in by this House of Commons, will bring our country a lot further to fulfilling its promise of never again.
While the Prime Minister was making his speech, I noted a few of his words. He talked about how immigration policy around the time of the Second World War imposed strict quotas on victims of genocide, the Jewish people, how there was a list of requirements to deter Jewish resettlement and how the government at that time was inundated with calls for assistance but failed to act.
I would note that one of the key recommendations of this report is that Canada not turn a blind eye to the additional resettlement or reunification of Yazidi genocide victims with those who have arrived in Canada. The government's response to resettling Yazidi victims required it to essentially set up a new program, which is something that had not been done before in Canada. It meant we needed to work faster than the speed of the United Nations and look at internally displaced persons. Survivors who are here in Canada recount their stories to many of us.
They talk about the selection process and being vetted and then about talking to selection agents, who say, “Don't worry, just go to Canada. You can bring your family later.” One of the key recommendations of this report is that the government prioritize the family reunification of these genocide survivors, because that is a key part of their healing and of the world doing its part to stop this genocide. That is why I feel this report should be concurred in today.
I will later read a specific case that relates to the three quotes from the Prime Minister that I just read.
To date, the government has placed strict quotas on Yazidi genocide survivors. There has been no movement to allow greater numbers through the privately sponsored refugee program, as many in the communities who are trying to help these survivors have asked for. There is a very strict set of requirements that I believe is deterring people from being able to resettle, in that many of these genocide survivors did not list family members in their initial applications because they thought they were dead but later discovered they were alive. Now the government is saying it is too bad because these people were not listed.
A lot of bureaucracy is happening rather than our asking the question of how to do this right and how we can change this. If the bureaucracy says this is just the way the rules are, maybe we need to change the rules. That is why I thought this report was a good first step in coming up with a multipartisan consensus on how we can change some of the rules in Canada to prioritize genocide survivors, and certainly in terms of family reunification.
I will relate two specific cases. One of my constituents is a Yazidi refugee. She was one of the Yazidi refugees who came to Canada as part of the initiative that began in 2017. She is an ex sex slave of ISIS who survived captivity for two years after her town was invaded. In January 2017, she was interviewed by the UNHCR. In that interview, she, her sister, her mother and four daughters were all accepted as refugees. She requested bringing her brother as well. She said they advised her that her brother was in process and would follow her to Canada in two months. She states they guaranteed this to her, as she did not want to leave her only male relative behind. This is important, because much of the male Yazidi community was executed during the first round of genocide and male reunification has become increasingly more urgent for the women who survived and are here in Canada today.
She arrived in Canada with her female family members in February 2017. That month, she stated that her brother was interviewed by the UNHCR and advised that he did not have a case as he had not been taken captive by ISIS. My constituent is confused and concerned about the misinformation provided by the UNHCR, as it seems to have changed its mind about her brother. She has now been in Canada for over a year. Her brother has still not joined her and it is not clear what recourse she has since the one-year window of opportunity provision cannot be used for siblings.
In Yazidi culture, the role of male support is important. My constituent's husband and other male family members were killed by ISIS. She and her female family members are now alone in Canada. They feel they require his support—not to mention they are concerned about his well-being as a Yazidi in Iraq. He is currently in an Iraqi refugee camp.
Now I will go back to the Prime Minister's words about the government at the time being inundated with calls for assistance and about government impediments to this type of migration.
On June 18, 2018, my office sent this information to the immigration department. We received a reply on June 21, 2018, from an Olga Radchenko, director of parliamentary affairs, that they would investigate our questions. We provided this information on June 22, 2018. We then sent this person a follow-up email on September 18, 2018, inquiring about the status of the investigation. We have yet to receive a response and have not seen any movement on this file.
I do not know if the minister thinks this is an example of the files of Yazidis being expedited for family reunification, as outlined in the recommendations in this report, but I would not characterize a five-month delay in a simple response to a member of Parliament's office as acceptable.
These women are struggling to overcome their trauma, as well as the difficulties of having moved to a new country. The reason I initiated this study was to ensure that we responded to their unique needs as a new cohort of people who have come to Canada without a large diaspora of them here already. I cannot imagine being one of these women who are here and do not know what to do. They are struggling to overcome some basic trauma, never mind trying to figure out they can call a member of Parliament's office to have an inquiry made into their case. This should be a lot easier, and that is what this cross-party report is recommending. Indeed, the recommendations in the report were supported by the government members of the immigration committee.
There are other similar cases. Sarah is a single mom with five kids, three of whom are permanently disabled because of attacks by ISIS fighters. She and her five kids were kidnapped by ISIS, but were able to remain together because they were so young. The kids were given drugs and beaten daily for over a year by terrorists. When they finally managed to escape to a refugee camp, it had little to no medical supplies and no one who could treat her children. A few months passed, and her brother showed up at the camp with his family. Sarah was so relieved to have someone to rely on.
After a month, Canadian officials came to the camp, taking down the names of Yazidis who could come to Canada. Sarah was on the list with her kids, but her brother was not. She pleaded with officials, saying that she could not survive with her brother's help, that if he were not with her, she did not want to go to Canada. The Canadian official responded that her brother would arrive shortly after she did in Canada. That is what she testified. Sarah has been living in Winnipeg for over a year and is still waiting for her brother, who is in a refugee camp that is about to be shut down for lack of funding and supplies. Sarah said she would never have come by herself, but had been told that he would follow shortly afterwards. She said she could not survive here by herself, but that at least back home, she had someone to help her.
These are the types of stories that one will hear when talking to the scant few hundred genocide survivors who have been resettled in Canada. It is sheer panic and desperation on their part that they able to have here the remaining people who survived this genocide. We have to appreciate that this is a small, insular community whose religious and ethnic traditions are passed down through oral history. We have to appreciate the panic and the urgency these people feel to try to reunify with their family members. I cannot fathom being a genocide survivor whose home has been destroyed at the hands of ISIS, who comes from a place where there are mass graves and where it is not safe to return, and where there has been no movement by the international community to bring justice to the perpetrators of this genocide. I cannot imagine being in that headspace and then saying, “I want to leave Canada because the Canadian government will not move fast enough to reunify my family members.”
This raises an awkward question that many of us do not want to talk about here, but one that is worth discussing. According to the United Nations, 65 million people in the world are on the move right now. The context for migration has greatly changed in the last several years. We are seeing a lot of people moving across borders for various reasons, and we need to have a conversation in Canada about whom we prioritize and in what situation. That is a difficult, uncomfortable conversation, but it is one that is absolutely critical to have if we are to have an immigration policy that helps the world's most vulnerable.
It is very difficult for me to understand why the members of this community are waiting years and years to be reunified with their families who are under severe threat of death, yet someone can cross the border at Roxham Road and enter the asylum claim process, after already having reached a safe country as defined by the current government.
We will disagree on this point. There are people in this place who will disagree with me that this is an issue. However, I would say that we cannot turn a blind eye to this, especially going back to the remarks the Prime Minister just made about this never happening again.
In its refugee resettlement programs, Canada needs to prioritize the victims of the four atrocity crimes. If the United Nations cannot figure out how to do that, then we need to both force the United Nations to reform and also change our own processes, because if we cannot reunite these people with their family members, we are doing something wrong.
The reason I support this report is that it calls for these exact changes. It calls for expedited processes to reunite these family members. It calls for a lifting of caps on privately sponsored refugees so that family reunification can happen.
There are many things the government needs to do, which I hope all members in this place would support. I have been calling on the government to do this for the last several years.
We have called on the government to treat the declaration of genocide as an immediate call to action in which a whole-of-government approach is required, including humanitarian aid, military intervention and resettlement. This included acting upon the June 2016 United Nations recommendation to accelerate the asylum claims of Yazidi victims of genocide.
We have been calling for a review of the selection process used by the United Nations to identify refugees for the government-sponsored refugee stream, and have encouraged changes if necessary.
We asked for the removal of the mission cap under the privately sponsored refugee program for Iraq in order to fully harness the generosity of Canadian private sponsors.
We called for a review of the processing times in Canada of the asylum claims of victims of genocide in both the government-sponsored and privately sponsored refugee stream, to make process improvements.
We also called for specific targets for the numbers of victims of genocide within our refugee sponsorship programs and putting in place mechanisms to measure whether or not we are meeting these targets, and thus our efficacy.
We asked the government to examine and implement innovative ways of identifying victims of genocide, as many of these people can experience difficulties being identified as part of the UN selection process.
We requested that the Government of Iraq and the United Nations, if necessary, monitor and report on the progress, if any, being made regarding the return of ethnic and religious minorities to their places of origin in northern Iraq.
We asked the government to ensure that support is provided for the investigators mandated through the UN Security Council resolution 2379 to support domestic efforts to hold ISIS accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
We asked the government to support family reunification for resettled Yazidis in Canada by indefinitely extending the one-year window of opportunity for them to include immediate family members who have been found to be alive, to define family members in the same way as those claiming asylum through exemptions from the safe third country agreement, and to expedite the processing of these applications to take no longer than 30 days.
We have asked for so many concrete things for the the government to do. I know there are good people on the other side of the aisle who want to see this happen. That is why I was heartened to see this report tabled. However, we have yet to see the government act on these things.
I do not want to have to be standing here, or my successor, many years down the road, after we have made all of these recommendations and have to apologize to Sarah, or to the women in my riding, and say, “Look, we didn't get it right. We didn't change our processes. We didn't do everything that we could to stop the genocide and to bring things to justice.”
I understand the need to apologize. However, there are so many groups around the world who understand that genocide is something the world should not respond to after it occurs. We have to prevent it. We have to stop it. I feel very strongly that if the House concurs with this report and agrees with the finding of the immigration committee that this will be one more signal to the government that it needs to act to ensure that this never happens again.