House of Commons Hansard #312 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iran.

Topics

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Motion No. 157. This motion recognizes the importance of visitability. It also prompts the government to address the topic of visitability in the accessibility legislation to be introduced in the House. These are important, much-needed measures. I am pleased to support this motion.

At one time, disabled persons often led a segregated existence. Society did not accommodate them well. Those old attitudes really started to change after the First World War. Thousands of heroic veterans suffered debilitating injuries in that bloody conflict. They lost body parts. They were rendered blind or deaf. When they returned, they simply needed to be accommodated. It forced people to finally start thinking about the needs of the disabled.

U.S. President Roosevelt took great efforts to hide his own disability. He did not want to be seen as weak. He had an agreement with the media never to take pictures of him looking like he was disabled, so as not to appear to be weak. There are plenty of reminders from history that attitudes can take a long time to change. As far as I can tell, visitability is a neologism. It is a great addition to our vocabulary. Visitability is a measure of a place's ease of access for people with disabilities. I did a quick search of the word's etymology and found it had been used a few times in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in the past it did not mean what we are talking about today. The use of the word only spiked in the 21st century, and I am glad it did. It shows that our society is taking the needs of people with disabilities more seriously. We are talking about it more. We are really thinking about how to make the lives of those with disabilities easier and more equitable.

I am proud that our former Conservative government was part of that trend. The home accessibility tax credit allowed Canadians with disabilities or those over 65 to save 15%, up to $10,000, on renovations to their residence. That is a lot of money. It is a great help to people paying for walk-in bathtubs, wheel-in showers, and wheelchair ramps. It really makes a difference to anyone who needs ease of access and visitability. Measures like these are of great help to seniors, in particular, and allow them to continue to live their life to the fullest and often much longer in their own residence where they would prefer to be. The second credit, the home renovation tax credit, was introduced in 2009. One in three households took advantage of it. It saved three million Canadians an average of $700. That is an incredible number of people opting to take advantage of that federal program. It really demonstrates that Canadians appreciated it. We had intended to make that credit permanent. Those credits made a big difference and supported visitability, so I am happy to see this motion would encourage the government to continue in the same vein.

This motion highlights sound practices and accessible construction with a specific nod to visitability. I know the construction industry has made enormous strides in building more accessible venues. At one time, such considerations were an afterthought, which was a shame. Today, businesses would not build a new storefront without considering the needs of those who might need greater accessibility. Municipalities also deserve a tremendous amount of credit. They have really shown leadership in making their jurisdictions more accessible and improving visitability. Municipalities have often taken leadership in demonstrating what is most needed for their citizens, and I applaud municipalities for doing this. In my riding of Bow River, many municipalities have done incredible work in this regard, so it is great that we are recognizing this positive trend and encouraging those who have not yet adopted it to get on board.

We want the future to be accessible to everyone, and I am pleased the House is taking action to endorse this positive future. We all know someone who could benefit from promoting greater visitability. There is not one member in this place representing a riding without constituents whose lives would not be made richer, much better, and more accessible.

I hope the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities indeed addresses this topic of visitability in the upcoming accessibility legislation. We need the legislation. It has been two and a half years. We understand it needs to be introduced soon for the government to get it done. This is an incredibly important matter. It is a non-partisan issue I hope all parties can agree upon. We have been waiting for this act for a long time, two and a half years to three years, and we need it soon.

However, there are numerous other bills before the House the government has waited far too long to introduce. Many of them are complicated and make enormous changes to important issues like criminal justice and electoral reform. This is an important issue for many people in our society. The government has had a challenge with its legislative agenda, so here we are trying to rush through debate on this private member's motion, which should take priority. The government should have devoted less time to omnibus bills and put this one on the books so we could all support it.

I know we have been through many ministers of sport and persons with disabilities. There seems to have been a bit of upheaval there, but hopefully now the file will be stabilized and the minister will be able to move this forward. The people need to know that the government has not forgotten them. The people need visitability. This legislation needs to be introduced, and soon. I hope this motion will finally get the government to focus on this important file. I thank the member for Tobique—Mactaquac for introducing it.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

June 11th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying how much I respect the member who is sponsoring this motion, which we will support. I have enjoyed spending time with my colleague on numerous occasions, and I think he does excellent work, especially on the agriculture file. I thank him for moving this motion and for working so hard to promote visitability. I agree with him that all Canadians, regardless of age or physical ability, should be able to live and age at home.

However, I also encourage the sponsor of the motion to exert more pressure on ministers to introduce an accessibility bill soon. Many groups across the country have been waiting for that for a very long time. An accessibility bill could include visitability as part of a more comprehensive approach.

I listened to the debate that occurred after Motion No. 157 was moved, and I recall my colleague, the member sponsoring the bill, making the following comments on April 30:

Motion No. 157 is meant to introduce the concept of minimum accessibility measures designed to accommodate everyone, including our aging demographic, allowing individuals to stay in their homes for as long as they so desire, and to address the high population of persons with a disability in Canada....

I think it is therefore essential that visitability be one of the many elements of the planned accessibility legislation. The government has been holding consultations for the development of its accessibility legislation since 2016, and while I am aware that the party opposite wants to get this right, after eight months of consultation, 18 public meetings, one youth forum, and nine thematic round tables, not to mention an online survey and input from 90 organizations, I think it is time for the government to table a bill.

The public consultations are over, and the minister's report was released in May 2017. That is a little over a year ago. I am actually astonished that this government did not plan to make an announcement during National AccessAbility Week, which was from May 27 to June 2. I hope the government will not wait until the next National AccessAbility Week to launch its bill.

The Liberals have been in office for almost four years now. The government had announced that it would table its accessibility bill in February 2018. There are only a few days left before the summer break, and there is nothing about this bill on the schedule before adjournment. I also encourage my colleague to urge the government to invest in this area, because there was nothing in the last budget for the planned accessibility bill or for visitability initiatives.

I want to talk about accessibility because I believe that it is time to do more. Our population is aging, and we have known for a long time that the unemployment rate among persons with disabilities is far higher than that for the general population. According to Statistics Canada, the placement rate for people with disabilities was 49% in 2015, compared to 79% in the general population. Advocacy groups are hoping that the new accessibility legislation will offer practical solutions to the very real problems experienced on a daily basis.

James Hicks, the national coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said that the consultations were more an airing of grievances than a forum for tabling ideas on how to bring about change. Now he hopes the new legislation will go beyond merely aspirational statements, which is what we would like to see, too.

Universal accessibility is a fundamental right that affects not only persons with disabilities, but also seniors and people with temporary mobility issues, such as someone using crutches because of a broken leg. We also need to think about parents with strollers, people with chronic pain, and so on. The concept of universal visitability applies to many different groups of people.

I would like to commend the City of Saint-Hyacinthe for all of the work it has done over the past 20 years, since 1998, in order to make our city more accessible for everyone. I worked on that file myself when I was a city councillor for the Saint-Sacrement district and was responsible for accessibility to municipal goods and services.

In 2011, the City of Saint-Hyacinthe, in co-operation with the Table de concertation des organismes œuvrant auprès des personnes handicapées, undertook an initiative to identify problems and implement the necessary solutions. I participated in that initiative as the head of that organization.

Since then, municipal departments have implemented hundreds of measures. They made street parking with timed meters free for anyone with a mobility impairment parking permit, they implemented the Voisins secours program to help residents during emergency evacuations, they installed automatic door openers on many municipal buildings, and they made parks more accessible for strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs.

I now look forward to contributing as a federal MP through legislation on accessibility and visitability.

My colleague will be pleased to learn that Saint-Hyacinthe has 18 municipal sites and 140 properties that are visitable. Thanks to our ongoing efforts, collaborative plans, and partnerships with many organizations, Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton Vale have made great strides in improving visitability and accessibility for seniors and people with reduced mobility or disabilities.

I also want to acknowledge the organizations in my riding that work hard every day on improving accessibility. I am thinking of, for example, the association of parents of children with disabilities in Richelieu-Val-Maska; the handicapped transportation service in Acton Vale; the Maskoutain paratransit users group, RMUTA; the umbrella group for paratransit services in the Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton Vale region; Parrainage civique, a citizen advocacy group in the Acton RCM and Maskoutains RCM; the St-Hyacinthe-Acton MS Society; the Richelieu-Yamaska disability associations groups, commonly referred to as GAPHRY; and Zone Loisir Montérégie. I am very proud of the work of all of these organizations.

I have the honour of representing an extraordinary organization, the citizen advocacy group in the Acton RCM and Maskoutains RCM, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Parrainage civique is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the social participation of persons with intellectual or physical disabilities, or persons living with autism spectrum disorder, by pairing them up with volunteers and through integration and awareness activities.

I am very proud to have worked there. I want to thank the following people for their exceptional work: Chantal Lavallée, the executive director of Parrainage civique, and the members of the board of directors, namely Serge Cabana, Jacques Julien, Paul St-Germain, Sophie Martin, Irénée Chênevert, Éric Rivard, and Carole Martin. Thank you to Parrainage civique, and happy 35th anniversary.

I would like to thank my colleague once again for his motion, which we will be supporting, because all levels of government must promote accessibility and visitability.

In my speech, I spoke about the exceptional work of the cities of Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton Vale. In Quebec, the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec does an exceptional job of promoting universal accessibility. Every municipality is required by law to have a municipal councillor responsible for accessibility to goods and services. Every city must prepare an annual action plan for universal accessibility and provide a report to the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec. Municipal and provincial governments are on board, at least in Quebec.

It is therefore important that the federal government have an accessibility law to make sure that all organizations that we oversee ensure accessibility. Furthermore, we must ensure that our laws promote the visitability of every home because anyone could, some day, need greater accessibility in the home they live in. We should have this vision for all homes.

I sincerely hope that my colleague will be able to persuade his colleagues on the other side of the House and include this principle in the accessibility legislation that we are impatiently awaiting.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac for giving me the opportunity to speak to his motion, Motion No. 157, about the importance visitability can have for all Canadians, of all ages and abilities, particularly persons with a physical disability, aging individuals, seniors, and their families in Canada.

I would like to highlight a couple of key benefits that visitability can bring to the senior demographic, specifically since my hon. colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac mentioned my motion calling for a national seniors strategy, Motion No. 106. This is something that must include the aspects of minimum standards for accessible housing.

Visitable homes can give the opportunity to welcome and include guests who use a mobility device, such as a wheelchair or walker, into residential homes, which would help reduce the isolation that can be experienced by seniors and persons with a disability and increase opportunities for social interaction and inclusive communities.

Also, as people age, visitable homes can help residents age in place and live at home longer, avoiding the necessity to move into an institutional setting. A house with a non-step entrance can also help reduce the number of falls and stairs-related injuries of seniors, which in turn would help save health care costs.

Visitable housing can reduce the length of hospital visits, something that seniors tend to experience more frequently than those who are younger. Because of accessibility features in the home, people can return home more quickly following an injury or a diagnosis of a mobility disability.

When visitability features are planned from the outset, costs can be negligible. Retrofits of a conventional home to make it visitable cost significantly more than making the building visitable from the outset. That is from the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies in 2017.

Speaking of costs, it is also important to note that incorporating visitability features in the design stage of building a new home reduces the cost of modifying the home to meet the changing accessibility needs of residents over the course of their lifespan. This means that the more I am aware of now, the better I can plan for my future when it comes to decisions about my home or in the event I need or wish to move homes.

Research from VisitAble Housing Canada indicates that, with planning, the cost of a non-step entrance can be less than $250, and wider doors are as little as $5 to $25. On average, in new home builds, main floor accessible bathrooms do not cost anything additional when planned properly.

I would also like to point out that there are additional low-cost visitable design features, as cited by the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies in 2017, which may be added to improve accessibility and the ability for all of us to age in place. They include lever door handles; lever kitchen and bathroom faucets; raised electrical outlets; lowered climate controls; lowered light switches; and reinforced bathroom walls for future installation of grab bars or ceiling track lifts. These are very important features to plan ahead for.

I have worked as a school board trustee for Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario, as a municipal councillor in West Nipissing, and as a regional director of the Canadian Hearing Society, working closely with the March of Dimes and the CNIB. I understand and have seen first-hand the many struggles faced by the not-for-profit sectors and the clients they serve.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of participating in the official launch of the valley community ramp project, thanks to the Access2all foundation and its co-founders Dan Lebrun and Nadine Law. Access2all is a not-for-profit community group based out of Greater Sudbury. Its mission is to promote an inclusive community by opening doors and removing barriers, as Motion No. 157 seeks to do. Access2all does this by donating custom-built ramps to the business community. However, this project would not be possible without the support and participation of many community partners.

This project was launched at Bitter Bill's Ice Cream Parlour in Val Caron. Those in attendance included enthusiastic students from the Grade 7-8 leadership group “Val Coeur On”, led by Chantale Goudreau from École élémentaire Jean-Paul II, as well as partnership representatives from Cambrian College and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 2486, in Azilda. All were present to celebrate the delivery of the donated custom built access ramp.

The students at École Jean-Paul II partnered with Access2all to see how they could help make their community more accessible. The students started off by doing an accessibility audit to see if there was a need in their community. They then chose a few businesses and organizations that they felt should be accessible to their peers, such as Bitter Bill's Ice Cream Parlour and Chico's Bowl and Sports Lounge, in the Valley.

The ramps were then painted and given to the organizations by the École Jean-Paul II students. All construction materials for these ramps were donated by local lumber stores, including Rona in Valley East. Thanks to the volunteers and all of the community partners, Access2All has been able to pursue this program.

There can be no doubt that this initiative has numerous benefits. For example, thanks to this project, little Katie, a student at Jean-Paul II elementary school, can now go get ice cream with her friends, something she could not do before, because the ice cream parlour did not have a wheelchair ramp.

Having worked in the non-profit sector and in accessibility, I strongly believe in building an environment that is accessible to all.

I commend Dan and Nadine for founding Access2all. It is a fantastic initiative. I also want to send out a special thanks to Jean-Paul II elementary school, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 2486, in Azilda, Cambrian College, Rona, and all the volunteers who made this project a reality. This initiative is a great example of the kinds of solutions and results that are possible when the community gets involved and works hard together. That is why Motion No. 157, the visitability motion we are discussing today, is so important.

There is no doubt that this initiative is a shining example of the solutions and results we can come up with when community leaders get together and work hard to ensure everyone has access to the services and activities in the community.

Motion No. 157 is important to all Canadians. Visitability is about social justice for all. It is about providing accessible places to all: our families, our communities, our neighbours, our seniors, people with an ability, and our young families.

Visitability is important. Motion No. 157 is important. It is about inclusivity.

I want to thank my good friend, the MP for Tobique—Mactaquac, for giving me the opportunity to speak to this motion, and the importance visitability can have for all Canadians, of all ages and abilities, particularly persons with a physical disability, aging individuals, seniors, and their families in Canada.

Meegwetch.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in solidarity with Canadians who are limited in their mobility due to age or disability. For this reason, I stand in favour of Motion No. 157, which calls upon the members of this House to recognize the importance of constructing homes in a manner that makes them accessible to all. Furthermore, it calls on the Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities to address the topic of visitability in the government's accessibility legislation, which was promised more than a year ago and has yet to be seen by this place.

Canada has been a world leader in creating accessible public spaces for those who live with a disability. The previous Conservative government invested heavily through the enabling accessibility plan to retrofit existing public facilities to provide greater access for all Canadians. From small retrofit projects to major community facilities, this program helped build a more accessible Canada for all. It was the right thing to do to make community spaces more inclusive of every single Canadian.

The concept of visitability, as presented in the motion we are discussing here today, takes accessibility to a new level by essentially calling on the federal government to legislate new building codes with regard to residential construction. For those who are not familiar with the concept of visitability, the term refers to single-family or owner-occupied housing designed in such a way that it can be lived in or visited by people who have trouble with steps or who use wheelchairs or walkers. At a minimum, it means three things: one, an entrance to the house without steps; two, doorways and hallways made 32 inches wide; and three, a main-floor bathroom that is accessible by someone who uses a wheelchair. Unless someone has a disability or knows someone who has a disability, most people would not take these things into consideration.

While it is crucial for us to pursue measures throughout society that increase accessibility, it is also important for us to remember that changes like these cost builders, and therefore homeowners, additional money. This could potentially place additional financial strain on homeowners who do not require the suggested changes. In particular, I am thinking of the financial implications this could have for young, first-time homebuyers. Furthermore, the building restrictions associated with visitability would take away choice in home design. For example, split-level entries would no longer be an option, which, of course, takes that away from the consumer. It is therefore incumbent upon this House to study the impact of the proposal outlined in Motion No. 157 before implementing it.

That said, there is a lot to be said about constructing homes with the features required to comfortably accommodate someone with a disability. It is not just about the present; it is also about the future.

Canada's population is aging. In fact, by 2031, about 23% of Canadians could be seniors, and as a general rule, a person's mobility tends to decrease with age. For the most part, seniors want to stay in their homes. They want to age in place. Constructing homes without stairs to the front door, with wider doorways and hallways, and with a wheelchair-accessible bathroom on the main floor would facilitate a person's ability to stay in his or her home longer. For this reason, it makes sense for contractors and architects to plan for the future when they design homes.

This motion talks about implementing visitability in federal accessibility legislation. Despite significant national consultations conducted across the country in 2016 and a promise to have legislation before the House by Christmas 2017, we still have not seen any action by the current government. The summary of the consultations was completed in May of 2017, which was more than year ago. Many people are wondering why the government has failed to deliver on its promise.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that solutions to social challenges are merely a matter of political will. On that front, I guess the current government has communicated its political will loud and clear. The government is focused on legalizing marijuana, reducing sentences for violent crimes, destroying good-paying jobs in the oil and gas sector, and making life less affordable by implementing a carbon tax. The Liberals appear to care more about attacking Canadians than about making life more affordable and more accessible to those who live with a disability.

In fact, the current government is so committed to stripping Canadians of their rightfully earned wages that it recently voted against my colleague's bill regarding opportunities for workers with disabilities. This legislation would have ensured that people with disabilities would always benefit from their work. Right now, that is not the case. When people with disabilities start earning income, they not only pay taxes but also face sharp clawbacks of their income, medication, and housing supports, and other supports, meaning that they can lose more than they gain from getting a job, earning a raise, or working more hours.

Linda Chamberlain shared her story with the Toronto Star, which wrote, “After three decades of battling schizophrenia and homelessness and poverty, Chamberlain finally got a job.” As a reward, the government increased the cost of Linda's rent by nearly 500%. They also cut her disability payment, making her $260 per month poorer because she got a job. As a result, she had to quit her job and choose to remain poor.

This is a huge problem. It is a glitch in our current system, and it is one that could have been addressed by the private member's bill that was brought forward by my colleague from Carleton.

The problem with the way the system is currently structured is that it not only forces people to live a life of poverty but also demoralizes them. It was incredibly disheartening, then, to watch members of the Liberal Party rise in this place and vote no to this common-sense motion that advocated for the rights of people who live with a disability.

As Conservatives, we understand that actions speak louder than words. We may not be as great at flashy photo-ops and selfies, but we certainly delivered significant assistance to those who live with a disability. We increased investments in skills training and employment opportunities so that persons living with a disability could be empowered to earn a living. We increased the working income tax benefit, which put more money in the pockets of those living with a disability who were working part-time or at minimum wage jobs. We also created the registered disabilities saving plan, which allows the parents of a person with a disability to save for the future needs of their children. Under the Harper Government, Canada became a much more inclusive place, a place that treated people who live with a disability with greater dignity, respect, and honour.

While the Liberal's record very clearly shows that the government does not prioritize people living with a disability, I am happy to support the motion before the House in the hope that perhaps the Liberals will turn from their hypocritical tendencies and actually take action.

Equal opportunity is a key tenet of conservatism. We want to give everyone the opportunity, regardless of circumstance, to build a better life. We support this motion, but beyond words, we want to see action on this file.

The Liberals like to use words like “compassion” and “inclusion”, but the action for persons with disabilities is not there. It was the same story for the Canadian autism partnership. After years of work from every significant stakeholder in the autism community, the model for the Canadian autism partnership was finally ready to launch. Instead, all the hard work went to waste, as the Liberal government refused to fund it.

For one-tenth of the cost of this weekend's G7 summit in Quebec, the Liberals could have provided national leadership on research and treatment for autism. However, apparently, the autistic community was asking for more than what the government was able to offer.

Similarly, Canada's veterans, many of whom live with a disability, have been left in the cold by the government. In fact, at a recent town hall, the Prime Minister stated that injured veterans are asking for more than the government can afford to give. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has enough money to pay a convicted terrorist $10.5 million. Also, he has enough money to increase foreign aid spending by $2 billion, not to mention his tax-funded vacations to the Caribbean and India.

In conclusion, the motion before the House serves as a statement of intent, but if we have learned one thing over the last two and a half years of the current government, it is that intent does not equal action.

In support of those living with a disability, we call upon the government to stop talking and start delivering. Perhaps it can start with this motion.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kent Hehr Liberal Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to applaud the member for Tobique—Mactaquac for his visionary motion. I believe it is the first time visitability has been discussed in this honourable place, and it is an idea whose time has come. As a person who has had a disability for the last 28 years, I can say that visitability would have made a great deal of sense if it had been there 28 years ago. Now that we are discussing it here in this place, I hope that it can lead to more opportunities for people with disabilities and exceptionalities to live even fuller lives in Canada.

Visitability means three things. The first is that we need to be able to get in the door. That means a no-step entry. There have been countless times when I have wanted to get into someone's home, building, or place of business and there has been a step or some other impediment to being allowed to participate. I know it does not seem like a lot, but with visitability being at the fore, we too would be able to participate more in Canadian society.

The second thing visitability means is that we need clear passages. They have to be roughly 32 inches across for people to make it down hallways, whether they are using wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility devices to move around the floor of a building.

The third thing is an accessible washroom. What good is a place if one has to go back home to go to the washroom?

Those three simple things would allow a person's home or business to be called “visitable”. I think these are things Canada needs, with one in seven Canadians having a disability. That is roughly 14.4% of our population. That number is only going to rise with our aging population.

This is an idea that could really have major impacts on people's lives. It would be a cost-effective way of including people with disabilities in the Canadian fabric. Designing new homes this way would be more cost-efficient than retrofitting. When planning a neighbourhood or a business community, this could be incorporated into the mix to allow people to participate and to welcome guests with wheelchairs and mobility devices. It would allow an increase in social inclusion.

It could help seniors age in place. How many times have we seen people, when they get older, having to look for another place to live, because their current place does not meet their needs?

An interesting fact for those who want to live to be 75 years old, and I would guess that most of us do, is that 50% of people over the age of 75 will have a physical disability of one kind or another. We can see how visitability, if it was built right into our homes, would not only save costs for people going forward but would allow them to age in place in the community where they have built their lives.

It could also reduce hospital stays. Twenty-eight years ago, when I had my spinal cord injury, I spent roughly seven months in the hospital. I could probably have left two months earlier, but there was simply no place to go. There was no affordable, accessible, visitable place for me, a Canadian with a disability, to go. There was no room at the inn, so to speak. This is a real need that has to be addressed in our communities. In fact, if we look at the Calgary rental market, only 1% of housing in Calgary is both accessible and affordable. This gap affects almost 90,000 people.

We need to move forward on this. I will note that this is much of the reason why we are moving forward on the national housing strategy that will allow for more people with disabilities and exceptionalities to find a place to live. I am very pleased to see that some of these solutions are already being addressed in Calgary, as we saw in the opening this weekend of Inclusio. It is a place for 45 people with disabilities who meet an income threshold and who will now be able to live in their communities with an ability to get the help they need to live a fuller, more broad, more complete life.

These are important steps forward that are met by having a visitability structure to our way of living. There are communities out there right now that are implementing this strategy. I believe there is a community in Manitoba that has completely designed their housing structures to allow for the visitability structure, to allow for people to come and share the time together in their communities, to make things go forward.

I know with our national housing strategy, how we implement concepts like visitability is going to be very important going forward. There is no doubt that the one in seven Canadians with a disability right now do not have opportunities to live in the community at the same rate as other people. I know this is one thing I am very proud of this government for moving on: the national housing strategy and how we are going to include people with disabilities and exceptionalities, ensuring that they, too, have an ability to take part.

It is not only for people with disabilities that this makes sense. There is a whole broad range of other people who would be able to find society more easy to navigate. We can see that with people who want to have a stroller, a young mother or young father moving their children throughout the community, having that going into a home simply makes sense.

If we look around the community, we can see that visitability is an idea that's time has come. I applaud the member for Tobique—Mactaquac for his visionary work on this front. Hopefully this will be brought into more places and more stations as a way to allow for more people to take part in their community.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on Motion No. 157 and to emphasize how important it is for Canadian society. Even though Canada has always been ahead of the curve in creating an inclusive environment, there is still a lot of work to do. According to Statistics Canada, one in seven Canadians lives with a disability that limits their daily activities. Even so, the evidence shows that there is still a widespread lack of access to urban environments, roads, and housing.

This continues to prevent Canadians with reduced mobility from participating fully and equally in our society. I believe the member for Tobique—Mactaquac has a vision for Canada and that solutions exist. This motion affirms that vision by calling on the government to act. I share his vision, and I believe it can help change things.

Adopting the visitability motion will bring about major change in more ways than one. This motion will not only improve physical access, but also, over time, help reduce obstacles to communications and other social and behavioural barriers. The people who would benefit from government actions that honour the spirit of this motion will be recognized in our conversations and our decision-making. Ultimately, that will help remove the socio-economic barriers they face.

By addressing this issue through accessibility legislation, the minister would demonstrate our government's leadership on this matter, and also raise public awareness while highlighting just how many Canadians are still facing discrimination and disadvantages related to mobility issues. Awareness helps encourage social responsibility and recognizes that all individuals must be supported and given the opportunity to achieve and exercise their autonomy without being impeded by inaccessible places, when we have the capacity and the resources to accommodate them.

The concept of visitability will improve the quality of life of all Canadians, not just people with a disability, but also seniors, parents pushing strollers, pregnant women, children, and visitors who use mobility devices. Seniors are also very vulnerable to the structural barriers that the concept of visitability is meant to address. It is estimated that approximately 43.4% of Canadians 65 and older suffer from pain, vision loss, or loss of agility, causing them to restrict their activities. More specifically, one-third of Canadians 65 and older face difficulties in their daily activities because of mobility issues. This is a problem we need to acknowledge, because it will eventually affect us all.

When people start to age, their home can become an uncomfortable environment. When home layouts become increasingly difficult to use and no longer meet the needs and requirements of the residents, the latter can no longer access their homes or use them as well as they once did. With the new physical and sensory changes that happen naturally with age, our homes, which were once comfortable, start to become a barrier. Climbing the stairs can become difficult, hallways that were once easy to navigate do not accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, and the absence of a main floor bathroom can be a challenge.

These situations make seniors somewhat disabled by exposing them to risks of serious and potentially fatal injuries. All these factors can force us to spend our final years in an institutional setting equipped with ramps, bars, and no-step entryways. It is not enough to have government-run institutions that meet these requirements. We have to structure our society in such a way as to make all places accessible.

Elder abuse is a growing problem in Canada. The safety of seniors is an issue that family members have to take into consideration when choosing a retirement home or a palliative care home for their loved ones.

Ensuring that visitability standards are included in the construction of new homes will allow Canadians of all ages to live and age in their homes.

I would also like to take this opportunity to shed light on the impact that visitability can have on women. At present, it is estimated that approximately 53% of all people living with a disability in Canada are women, and that the levels of violence and abuse experienced by women with a disability are also the highest of all groups in Canada.

Inaccessibility means that it is difficult and sometimes impossible for women to attend meetings where information is exchanged and decisions are made. Women with reduced mobility and their families may refuse invitations to places that are difficult to access. Economic insecurity and inaccessibility, which are common among women with a disability, can lead them to live in places where there is no basic accessibility or to remain in precarious situations where they cannot exercise their autonomy because they depend on their partner or family. Single mothers who have children with a severe disability and who cannot afford accessible housing or cannot visit their families run the risk of not getting the help they often need. Visitability is crucial in order to promote full social inclusion of all women.

In order to empower women and ensure that they are able to participate in society in a fair and equal manner, we need to continue to focus on accessibility. Including these necessary accessibility standards will presumably have a significant impact. It is also important to realize that, as we work to achieve this objective, we will strengthen our commitment to making the changes that vulnerable Canadians desperately need.

We know that the federal government is working with the provinces and territories and providing funding through various means to make projects that are currently on the table a priority and to help the provinces and territories get the funding they need to launch these projects. That is why the third point set out in Motion No. 157, “inviting the federal government to address the subject of Visitability with its provincial and territorial partners in upcoming Federal, Provincial and Territorial discussions”, is so vital.

Visitability should be taken into consideration as we move forward with affordable housing projects by focusing on seniors and people with disabilities. All levels of government can work together so that the most vulnerable members of our society are better taken care of and so that they can have the best possible quality of life.

What is more, funding for accessibility in general is incredibly effective and has helped communities restructure and remodel their facilities to accommodate people who would not otherwise have access to certain locations.

Accessibility in private spaces is just as important as accessibility in public spaces, and this is something I want to emphasize today. The needs of Canadians who require greater accessibility reflect those of our communities. Accessibility standards and principles of inclusiveness could and should be incorporated into a project's development and funding, as the sponsor of this motion, the member for Tobique—Mactaquac, pointed out.

I strongly support this motion, because I know what kind of impact it can have for people , in particular the most vulnerable Canadians, who simply cannot go certain places because our communities are unable to meet basic mobility needs.

I want to conclude by congratulating Mr. Perreault, the CEO of StimuleArts, a not-for-profit in my riding of Vimy, who does amazing work with people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There remaining only five minutes in the time provided for private members' business this morning, we will go directly to the right of reply by the sponsor of the motion before the House.

The hon. member for Tobique—Mactaquac has up to five minutes.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak for the second time to my motion, Motion No. 157, on visitability. I would like to express a gracious thanks to my colleagues on both sides of the House, all parties in fact, for speaking to and supporting this important motion, including the hon. member for Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, as well as the hon. member for Calgary Centre, to recognize the need for visitability, access for all, and the ability to age in place. This is a non-partisan topic. Supporting it through their kind words in first hour of debate and emphasizing the need for minimum standards of accessibility sends the right message to Canadians.

The need to work together for the benefit of Canadians of all ages and abilities and the need for increased accessibility nationwide is essential, and I thank them sincerely. Education on visitability is key, and our discussion should not end here.

I would also like to thank all those individuals and organizations that advocate for visitability and accessibility locally in my riding, in my home province of New Brunswick, and across Canada. Their work is so appreciated and important to us all.

In addition to calling on the government to support and promote the concept of visitability, the motion invites the government to raise the issue in future provincial and territorial discussions. The National Building Code is the model building code that forms the basis for the provincial building codes. Although visitability practices are not within federal jurisdiction, our government encourages the visitability of residential housing within provincial and territorial jurisdictions. I hope to see it included in the national accessibility legislation the minister wishes to present to Parliament.

The debate in the House has been successful in fostering meaningful discussion around the introduction of the topic of visitability. I hope to see those discussions brought forward with our provincial and territorial partners in future discussions.

The motion would also allow for an opportunity to emphasize the efforts of companies, contractors, and builders already applying the principles of visitability in their new constructions. I would like to commend these companies for their efforts and attention to pre-construction planning, as this type of housing is truly necessary if we are to age in place in a barrier-free society.

We need to ensure we all recognize and communicate to others that visitability is not just for the benefit of persons with a disability but for all Canadians, including seniors, families, persons without a disability, and all of us in this place. Bringing visitability before the House is not just for the benefit of persons with a disability but for everyone, which is in the spirit of inclusivity.

I congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, for his dedication to accessibility through his statement last week on the importance of access for all, a true demonstration there is a trending and long overdue need for us to address our accessibility challenges nationwide. Most of all, including visitability practices in construction can no longer come as an afterthought.

Someone who has continued to emphasize this point is Canadian Paralympian, activist, philanthropist for persons with a disability, and someone we all know as the “Man in motion”, Mr. Rick Hansen. He is a tireless advocate for accessibility in our country, one I am proud to say has supported the motion by stating:

Physical accessibility is a fundamental barrier for people with disabilities. Something as simple as the expectation to stay in your home as long as you want to is just one example. This is why I support Motion M-157 in helping ensure that homes are accessible and inclusive, providing greater independence and quality of life for all Canadians.

This issue is particularly important to me, and the reality is that disability is likely to affect every one of us directly or indirectly throughout our lifetime. One in seven Canadians over the age of 15 has a disability, that is 3.8 million Canadians, and this will increase with an ever-aging population.

Our government has made a commitment to putting accessibility legislation forward. This motion has created an opportunity for visitability to become the cornerstone of the legislation. I very much look forward to seeing the impact visitability will have as we continue to build on the hard work that has already been done to date for the benefit of all Canadians and as we anticipate the tabling of legislation in the House this session.

This presents an opportunity for all of us in this place to do what is right and non-partisan. I hope for unanimous support on Motion No. 157 for the benefit of all Canadians.

I would like to conclude my remarks with a point made by an individual who originally brought the topic of visitability to the attention of the provincial non-profit, of which he is a board member, Ability New Brunswick. Mr. Courtney Keenan is a constituent from my riding, a friend, and a passionate advocate for accessibility.

Drawing from the disability statistics, which have been stated many times through these two hours of debate, given that 16.5% of the Canadian population has a disability and using the theory we all know as “six degrees of separation”, the idea that all living things in this world are six or fewer steps away from each other, calculations would show that nearly 100% of the population is directly or indirectly impacted by disability and the need for accessibility.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Yea.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Nay.

VisitabilityPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, May 29, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 13, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

moved:

That the House: (a) strongly condemn the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border; (b) condemn the recent statements made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for genocide against the Jewish people; (c) call on the government to (i) immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations, (ii) demand that the Iranian Regime immediately release all Canadians and Canadian permanent residents who are currently detained in Iran, including Maryam Mombeini, the widow of Professor Kavous Sayed-Emami, and Saeed Malekpour, who has been imprisoned since 2008; and (d) stand with the people of Iran and recognize that they, like all people, have a fundamental right to freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other forms of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

Mr. Speaker, is Canada an indispensable country? Is our voice and influence necessary on the world stage? I believe it is, but in order for Canada's influence to matter, we must stand for something.

Our foreign affairs minister gave a speech about a year ago in which she asserted that Canada was an indispensable country, and yet she has failed to deliver a foreign policy that involves us standing for anything clearly or consistently.

In my motivating remarks for this motion, I am going to start by articulating the principles that we believe should animate Canadian foreign policy and then talk about the situation on the ground in Iran and the wider Middle East. It calls for the particular substantive Canadian response that we are proposing.

At a fundamental level, our party contends that Canada must have a principled foreign policy; that it is a foreign policy that stands for something. What does that mean?

Canada is a special place. We were founded as a free, bicultural society with religious freedom and diversities and with common laws and values. We chose to reconcile our diversity in the unity of one democratic political community from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.

Out of that founding vision has grown the greatest nation on earth. We are free, prosperous, bold, creative, and kind. Our political culture is characterized by freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We are diverse but we are great, not just because of our diversity but because of how we live together in the midst of that diversity, how we live out the maximum of St. Augustine, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

That is Canada, an uncommon example of diverse people living together well. We are the exception that proves the rule, evidence that something outside the experience of many people around the world is in fact possible. This is who we are and this is what we seek to preserve here in Canada.

As we develop our foreign policy, we have two paths available to us. We can choose to stand as we are, true to ourselves and our own experience and seek to expand the space for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world. Or we can demure, speaking of our values as Canadian values but failing to assert that they are also universal human values, perhaps, and highlighting our own failures in the world in a way that gives comfort to human rights abusers elsewhere.

A principled foreign policy is one that seeks to apply our own domestic experience to make the world around us a better place. An unprincipled foreign policy would put a claim in the councils of the world and the approval of other nations ahead of our principles, preferring the appointment of envoys and the taking of photos to actual action on important files.

A principled foreign policy recognizes that the peoples of the world are no less deserving of freedom, democracy, human rights protections, and the rule of law than Canadians. Again, a principled foreign policy seeks to expand the space for these ideas. A serious, principled, strategic Canadian foreign policy that involves doing the right thing even when people are not looking can make a big difference.

Canada is part of most major non-regional international clubs, the G7, the G20, the Commonwealth, the Francophonie, etc. We do not have the natural challenges of being a super power. We do not have the baggage of colonial history beyond our borders. We have a domestic experience of reconciling diversity in a well-functioning federation. We can use our access and our experience to effectively seek the spread of our values around the world.

This is our opportunity, but we also face challenges. Fully projecting our influence requires us to do two things that do not normally come natural to us nationally. It requires us to be proud and it also requires us to be impolite.

It is fashionable among some Liberals today decry the rise of nationalism, without even qualifying or defining that term. Nationalism obviously has many negative manifestations, but nationalism properly oriented is the love of one's country and its natural virtues, a love of one's country that is not incompatible with love and goodwill to all, but a love that is grounded in and starts with one's most immediate community. In order to spread our experience around the world, we must first be proud of that experience and unafraid to speak about our greatness. We should be unapologetic about saying and showing the greatness of our political model. That is the basis on which we will spread it.

To be principled is also to be willing to be impolite when the situation calls for it. Are we the sort of country that wants to get along with everyone, or are we willing to risk our relationships, in the case of very bad actors, or risk not having relationships at all, in order to stand up for what is important? I think those suffering persecution around the world who want to see their own country become more like Canada would want us to be as effective as possible and as impolite as necessary in seeking to support and advance their legitimate aspirations.

Canada cannot be both a friend to the oppressor and a friend to the oppressed. We must choose. A timid foreign policy, lacking in sufficient pride and aggressiveness would be a friend to the oppressor. However, a Canada that understands the genesis of our own success, that is proud of what it is, that is bold, blunt, and even impolite when confronting abusers of human rights, would be a friend to those who need it. Surely, this should not be mistaken for a call to isolationism. It is fundamentally the opposite. It is a call to authentically carry ourselves into the councils of the world.

I moved a motion today specifically about Canada's foreign policy towards Iran. This motion calls for a a clear condemnation of the Iranian regime's aggression throughout the Middle East, including the sponsorship of terrorism, and specifically its support for Hamas during recent violent clashes on the Israel border. It calls for a clear condemnation of the Iranian regime's advocacy for a second Holocaust; that is, for the complete destruction of the world's only Jewish state. It calls for a response from the Canadian government to the actions of Iran, the total abandonment of its plan to negotiate the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran, for aggressive and consistent advocacy for Canadians imprisoned in Iran, and for the designation of the so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code. Finally, this motion calls for a recognition of the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people.

Some context here is important. The Iranian state is recognized by most nations in the Middle East as a clear and present threat to the security of the region. At a fundamental level, the Iranian regime does not operate like a normal state, accepting the strictures of sovereignty and diplomatic action in this age. It is rather a post-revolutionary state, seeking to spread its theocratic revolutionary doctrine and system through any and all means possible.

While Canada ought to seek the spread of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law through a rules-based order that recognizes the inherent dignity of all human beings, Iran seeks to spread its particular brand of authoritarian theocracy through underhanded support to violent proxies. It seeks to wage war through its proxies against anyone in the way of its quest for complete dominance in the region, especially against Israel and Saudi Arabia.

This present conflict should not be misconstrued as a clash of civilizations or religions. In fact, countries in the region, other Muslim nations, generally see and experience a threat posed by Iran more clearly than do nations in the west. In the region, Iran is using proxies to infiltrate Iraq; it is supporting the Assad regime in Syria, and it is continuing to back Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. It is co-opting and using Houthis in Yemen to destabilize the country and attack Saudi Arabia, and it is supporting violent action by Gaza on Israel's border.

We, and other regional powers, are in something like a new cold war against Iran. The term “cold war” does not seem quite right in light of how hot it actually is. However, the current situation is analogous to the Cold War that we fought against the Soviets, insofar as Iran, a radical post-revolutionary state, is seeking to spread its revolution by backing violent proxies, and in some cases sending direct military aid. It is trying to spread its brand of revolutionary theocracy, and to encircle and undermine the security of those who it defines as its foes.

Of particular concern to Israelis, but also to Syrians, Iranians, Kurds, and other Middle Eastern people, is the attempt by Iran to open up and operationalize a northern corridor from Iran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, covering Israel's northern border and stretching to the Mediterranean Sea. This corridor would give Iran the means to ferry weapons and equipment more easily back and forth between its proxies, sending more sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and opening a second front against Israel from Syria.

Israel has highly sophisticated iron dome and anti-rocket technology. However, that does not eliminate the substantial risk presented by the proliferation of weapons in an Iran-controlled transportation corridor. The previous American administration had sought to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief. This strategy represented a laudable goal, but it did not engage sufficiently with the non-nuclear ways that Iran represents a threat to regional security, and the way that sanctions relief has enabled the regime to invest further in support of its terrorist proxies.

While Israel is a particular target of these northern corridor efforts, we must also recognize how harmful they are to the particular countries in the path of this Iranian regime's aggressive attack corridor. The people of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon have suffered enough already, yet their states and their rights are in different ways undermined by Iranian aggression. The Iranian regime, aided by sanctions relief, is developing greater capacity to undermine regional security through terrorism. It is not just developing capacity, it is repeatedly demonstrating a willingness to use that capacity.

A principled Canadian foreign policy would seek to join with our allies to counter Iranian aggression by doing all we can to prevent the regime from accessing the resources it needs to complete its strategic design, undermining other countries' sovereignty, and using them to attack our partners. The spread of Iranian regime-backed terrorism and instability throughout the region requires the clear and steadfast opposition of all free nations whose foreign policy is informed by principle.

I would like to turn now specifically to the situation in Gaza, and the role that Iran is playing. I recently had the opportunity to join members of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary friendship group on a trip to the West Bank to observe the situation and engage in dialogue with the Palestinian leadership, civil society, and people. Palestinians are a warm and hospitable people. They deserve the same things that all of us do. I do not always agree with our hosts in the West Bank, but they profess a commitment to recognizing Israel's right to exist, and the pursuit of a peaceful two-state solution, including hard compromises on both sides. Conservatives in Canada seek the establishment of a free, democratic, rights-respecting, pluralistic, rule of law-based Palestinian state, living in peace with, and enjoying close co-operation with the Jewish state of Israel.

The situation in the West Bank under the Palestinian authority stands in marked contrast to the situation in Gaza. Gaza is fully controlled by Hamas, a terrorist entity which countenances no negotiation or peace with Israel. Some people have called Gaza an open-air prison. If that is the case, then Hamas is the jailer. Hamas's charter says the following, “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.” Then later, “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” That is from the Hamas charter.

Lest there be any doubt of what they mean by the word “Jihad” in this context, the charter says later:

The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised. To do this requires the diffusion of Islamic consciousness among the masses, both on the regional, Arab and Islamic levels. It is necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the nation so that they would confront the enemies and join the ranks of the fighters.

No wonder there is such kinship between Hamas and the Iranian regime. Iran and Hamas are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, in effect to the bringing about of a second holocaust. The Hamas charter contains similar language to the recent tweet of Iran's supreme leader, who said, “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.” This statement should clearly be understood as incitement to genocide. Insofar as the tweet specifically references the so-called “Great Return March”, we should understand that this march on Israel's border is part of the mechanism that Hamas and Iran see for effecting the second holocaust that they desire.

The Palestinian people are the first victims of Hamas, and of the Iranian regime in this case, because they regard the Palestinian people as mere chess pieces in their cynical game against Israel. Hamas has used a series of tactics for targeting Israel, trying to inflict maximum suffering on Israelis, but with no concern for the associated cost to Palestinian people. The costs of this ongoing violence have included lost aid, collateral damage, and direct repression.

Hamas launches rockets into Israel, although these rockets can often be effectively countered with Israel's iron dome technology. Hamas uses aid and building materials to try to construct tunnels into Israel through which to launch attacks. Hamas has repurposed kites given as aid, intended to bring some joy to the children of Gaza, but that are repurposed into tools for setting fire to forests and fields in Israel. Hamas has organized marches on the border, combining civilians and militants, as they always do, but specifically with the intention of infiltrating and violently attacking Israel. The name of the event , “Great Return March”, should make rather obvious that the intention is not to protest at the border, but rather to violently cross it.

When it comes to issues involving international peace and security, as well as advancing Canada's vital trade interests, Canada's Conservatives seek co-operation with the government whenever and wherever possible. However, we will not deign to criticize substantial wrongs by the government, which are at odds with our values and interests. The government's response to the so-called Great Return March has focused solely on criticizing Israel's response to it. We desire for multi-party unity and support for Israel's right to exist and defend itself, but Israel becomes an issue of partisan disagreement when this government makes statements that single Israel out and fail to identify the real instigators of violence in the region. We will not, in the name of so-called non-partisanship, demure to criticize the government when it fails to properly support our close allies.

Aside from the supreme leader's tweet, the Iranian role in these events should be eminently clear. The Palestinian ambassador to France has specifically identified the role of Iran in fomenting and supporting these protests in Gaza.

Iran and Hamas seek a second holocaust. My grandmother was a survivor of the first Holocaust, and she instilled in us the necessary sensibility towards those who threaten violence against the Jewish people. It is a sensibility rooted in that historic memory. When people say they are trying to kill us, believe that they mean it and stop them before it is too late. Never expect critics around the world to have the same commitment to our security that we do. Israel will not wait until it is too late to respond to Iran, and neither should we.

Our motion calls on the government not to seek resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, and further to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity. I would like to turn now in particular to the importance of those measures.

The question of diplomatic ties with Iran is an important one, but one which is often misconstrued in terms of its actual impact. In cases where Canada does not have a diplomatic presence, we work to advance our interests and support Canadians in other ways. Everyone understands that there are workarounds and back channels that exist as part of international diplomacy.

Diplomatic relations are not merely a question about whether or not we have an ability to talk to each other. It is also a question of the status of our relationship and the degree to which we believe that mutual access to each other should be automatic. Should Iranian agents have the freedom to come to Canada easily and inevitably to work clandestinely to intimidate members of their own community and share intelligence back home? Should Iranian authorities be able to threaten Canadian diplomatic staff and property in Iran, as we have seen happen in other cases with nations that have disputes with Iran? Should we reward Iran's threats of genocide and instigation of violence in the region with an upgrading of relations?

It would have to be out of either willful blindness or in clear spite of our values and interests for us to pursue the reopening of diplomatic relations with Iran at a time like this. Pressing the reset button arbitrarily in the midst of worsening regime behaviour sends a perverse message about our intensity and our resolve to advance the things that we consider important. Rewarding bad behaviour is appeasement. It has never worked, and it will never work. Organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah which enjoy Iranian support and share its designs are rightly listed as terrorist organizations.

The government trumpets the importance of dialogue with extreme bad actors like the Iranian state, and yet accepts, in the listing of Hamas and Hezbollah, the principle that there are some people we should not be talking to, whose actions put them beyond the pale of even the legitimacy that comes with discussion, and that we are safer drawing a clear line in the sand. Insofar as we take this approach with Hamas and Hezbollah, it follows naturally and reasonably that we take the same approach with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC is almost certainly responsible, at a practical level, for more violence and mayhem than these organizations, and it shares values, objectives, and tactics with them.

What makes it different, of course, is an apparent link with a state, but it functions with a level of autonomy and independence that could well justify its recognition as a non-state actor. In any event, there is nothing in Canadian law to prevent the listing of state entities as terrorist entities, if in fact they are. It would be perverse to contend that we should sanction non-state entities involved in terrorism while seeking greater diplomatic ties with state entities that do the same thing.

Our motion concludes with an affirmation of the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people.

In the midst of efforts by the Iranian government to spread violence and terror throughout the region, the Iranian people have stood up and said no. A powerful protest movement broke out this past December and January, with protestors demanding political change and the emergence of a government that protects their rights and is on their side. Slogans included "Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I give my life for Iran", and also "Death to the dictator". In other words, protestors were specifically and knowingly repudiating the grand design of their regime, and even calling for an end to the regime itself. In the midst of significant violence and repression, these protesters were a portrait of courage.

Some in the west will often cover Iranian politics as some legitimate contest between regime moderates and regime hard-liners, but the more important cleavage is between the supreme leader who holds all of the political power, and the people who seek more than simply the moderation of their environment, the gilding of their cage. They seek fundamental change.

In the midst of this, a Liberal MP referred to the Iranian government as "elected". I know many people in the community and the democracy movement found that offensive.

Political change in Iran is the most important and reachable strategic objective for us in the region. It would, in a moment, dramatically reduce the security threats posed to Israel and our other allies. It would open up a space for opportunity and prosperity. By weakening Hamas and Hezbollah, it would be a particular blessing to the people of Palestine and Lebanon. It would significantly increase the prospects of peace between Israel and Palestine, between Israel and Lebanon, in Syria, and in Yemen.

Most importantly, it would mark the extension of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law to over 80 million people who do not presently enjoy it.

We, here in this House, today, have the power to do something about this, to constrain and isolate the Iranian regime, to support the Iranian people, and to work towards the perhaps imminent objective of a free Iran. In this struggle, our experience matters; our voice is indispensable.

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's motion touches on many different segments of the issue. Particularly, I would like to touch on two aspects.

First, I want to join in saying that we, the New Democrats, unequivocally condemn the comments by the Iranian cleric, as well as the comments by the supreme leader regarding the destruction of Israel and including, most recently, when he said that “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor....that has to be removed and eradicated”.

These comments are of course unacceptable and incite violence against an entire population. It is not a path that I think anybody in this House of Commons wants to see anywhere.

With that said, on the issue around establishing diplomatic relations with Iran, the Conservatives are arguing that Canada should not reward Iran with diplomatic re-engagement. The previous Conservative government did many arms trade deals with human rights abusing countries, like Saudi Arabia. Why is member's perspective that he is willing to engage with one human rights abuser but does not advocate for Canada trying to have a conversation with another?

Without diplomatic relations, there are challenges. On February 13 at the foreign affairs committee, Amnesty International, Alex Neve said:

We do note that if diplomatic channels are open, it offers an avenue for advocacy, diplomacy, and more regular consular access, including in-person consular access from Canada rather than from a partner country. These options won't be there if the channels are closed.

Does the member not agree that we should actually engage in a conversation, even though we do not agree with Iran's perspectives?

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is a legitimate and a good question. It is an important question to have some dialogue about.

I want to be clear that there are many countries whose human rights record I have criticized in this House. I have criticized China's human rights record; I have criticized Saudi Arabia's human rights record. I have not advocated breaking off diplomatic relations with those countries. There is a case for wisdom and strategy in terms of how we approach specific cases in order to maximize our effectiveness.

Iran is a special case for a number of reasons. One of them is that Iran does not play by the normal rules of diplomatic respect. There are multiple cases in which foreign embassies have been attacked inside Iran in response to criticism that has come from other countries over their record. How we do have a dialogue with Iran if it is the kind of country where there is a real threat to the safety of our diplomatic staff every time we speak out? That is not a reality in many other countries, but that is a situation we have seen in Iran, the repeated attacking of diplomatic properties and personnel.

The Conservative government broke off diplomatic relations with Iran at a time when there was a clear concern about security. We realized that we could not in fact guarantee the security of staff. In addition to all of these other issues, now would be the wrong time to reward Iran with the re-establishment of those relations especially in light of that.

I will just wrap up my response with this. Of course there are cases where we have somebody in Iran we want to get out, and the Iranian government has been unhelpful. However, we had the same problems previously. We had the case that has just happened, Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, who was killed in an Iranian prison. We had the case of Zahra Kazemi at a time when Canada did have diplomatic relations with Iran.

The way in which Iran uses diplomatic relations to threaten Canadians and their embassy as a clandestine mechanism for exerting power outside of normal channels makes Iran a special case, and certainly, in any event, having had diplomatic relations broken off, now is not the time to reward Iran with that re-establishment.

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a Conservative I am very proud of the history of the Harper government for standing for democracy, justice, and prosperity in free markets around the world. I believe this was beyond the former prime minister. It was something that extended to my predecessor, Jason Kenney. He fought very hard for these rights, as did the hon. John Baird. We had a fantastic powerhouse team that was committed to international democracy, human rights, and justice. Therefore, perhaps my colleague could give his thoughts on what we can learn in terms of promoting democracy, justice, free markets, and prosperity around the world from the previous Harper Conservative government.

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question and for her service to Canada in the diplomatic world before now serving in the House.

I have spoken about the Middle East, so perhaps I will take another example outside of the Middle East to illuminate the point my colleague is making about the way the previous government approached these issues. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Canada, as a member of the G7, had an opportunity to try to drive the world consensus toward a strong response to that invasion. We were uniquely placed to do that. We have the close cultural connection with Ukraine because of our large diaspora community, but also we do not have the same economic ties with Russia that some of our European partners have. We do not have, in a sense, the same superpower plot line tension that exists between the U.S. and Russia. It meant we were well positioned to take a leadership role in speaking out against that invasion. We were able to say things that some of our international partners were less willing to say, but in the process we were able to build a consensus within the G7 for tougher sanctions than would have existed otherwise.

Some people were asking at the time why it really mattered that Canada speak out and how was it actually making a difference that Stephen Harper was making these strong statements on the issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He was able to influence the conversation and the thinking in other countries through our membership in international organizations in a way that established this multilateral response.

Sometimes, we see on the other side of the House an emphasis on a principles-based approach as somehow characterized as isolationist, as saying we should not be out there engaging with people. We believe, on this side of the House, in the importance of being out there, but out there as Canada, out there in a way that is reflective of our values, of our own domestic experience of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and of a recognition that that is not just a Canadian value, but a universal human value that we can spread.

In the case of Ukraine, in the case of our support for Israel, and support for other oppressed minorities around the world and the actions we are taking through institutions like the office of religious freedom and others to build capacity and encourage minority rights, some of this is the loud vocal stuff, like what happened with Ukraine. However, some of it is the small investments we make in, for instance, educational materials that encourage pluralism. They are reflective of our own experience here in Canada. We seek to partner with others to spread those values around the world. Those are the kinds of things we can and should be doing, not seeking the approval of others at any cost, but rather, seeking to be Canada and advance our voice on the world stage.

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to say very clearly, the NDP supports diplomatic engagement, based on the principle that dialogue is the best path forward to peace and positive change. The decision to cut diplomatic ties with Iran shows perhaps a profound misunderstanding of what diplomacy is. Diplomacy is about advancing national interests and values and using dialogue to build better understanding and progressive change. It is not really about shunning others. Therefore, I would ask the member: If we do not engage in diplomatic channels, what other options do we have?

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear that even the NDP does not actually take the principle that the member just articulated all the way. I think all parties in the House support the listing of certain entities and organizations, for instance terrorist entities with whom we do not have diplomatic relations. I do not think anyone in the House proposed the opening of an embassy to Daesh during their heyday. To recognize that there is some extreme point beyond which we would not be talking or engaging, because to do so would give legitimacy, now leaves us at a point of just evaluating where exactly that line is. I think we would all agree that there is a line somewhere. We have to have some engagement with people we do not agree with, but we also have to recognize a point at which entities are beyond the pale. In the case of Iran, there is a threat to the security of our own diplomatic staff. Of course there are opportunities to talk through back channels when we need to, but diplomatic relations is not just about talking—

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. We are out of time. We had slightly over a minute for that last exchange, so we are out of time.

I realize members pivot and direct their speech to different parts of the chamber, but from time to time, maybe they could check back here so that we're able to give some of those signals as to where the time is at that part of the period allowed for their comments.

The hon. Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Opposition Motion—IranBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Mississauga Centre Ontario

Liberal

Omar Alghabra LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Consular Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, our government is deeply committed to providing help to Canadians in distress abroad. As parliamentary secretary for consular affairs, I have spent the last two and half years focused on ensuring that Canadians abroad get the help they need from their government.

When Canadians are abroad, they want to know that they have a government at home that will provide them with the help they deserve, and a government that will fight for them; not a government that will be equivocal, not a government that will be selective, and not a government that will be partisan about standing up for their rights.

I am pleased to say that we are able to provide that help to many Canadians who find themselves in difficult situations in foreign countries every year.

Our government places the highest value on providing consular services to Canadians. We place a vital priority on helping Canadians in distress. No Canadian should be abandoned by their government, a point that I know the members opposite do not always agree with, and did not in fact act upon while they were in government.

Led by our Prime Minister and our Minister of Foreign Affairs, we have been very clear around the world throughout our bilateral meetings and multilateral meetings that consular issues are the highest priorities to our government.

In fact, I know that many world leaders are often surprised when our Prime Minister personally takes the time to raise consular matters during bilateral meetings. Foreign leaders are not accustomed to seeing a world leader dedicate time within a bilateral meeting, when there is a short time for a face-to-face encounter, to raise consular affairs. I am proud that our Prime Minister has taken leadership on this file.

I am sure I join with all of the members of the House when I express how deeply shocked and appalled I was when the world learned of the death of Canadian Iranian Dr. Kavous Seyed-Emami. Dr. Seyed-Emami was sociology professor, a dedicated environmentalist, and the founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

The circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention have raised many important questions, which remain woefully unanswered. He was arrested by Iranian authorities and taken to the notorious Evin prison. His family found out two weeks later that Dr. Seyed-Emami died, and they were given the explanation of suicide.

We immediately called upon the Iranian authorities to answer those questions, and we continue to do so today. We need an independent investigation to examine the circumstances and the situation surrounding his death. We must have the truth in this case. There are too many questions left unanswered, and his family is still desperate for answers.

We immediately demanded details surrounding his detention and his tragic death. We are also shocked and appalled that Dr. Kavous Seyed-Emami's widow, Ms. Maryam Mombeini, continues to be denied the freedom to leave Iran. Ms. Mombeini is a Canadian citizen, and she wishes to return home to Canada. There is no reason why she should not be allowed to do so, and we call upon the Iranian authorities to grant her the freedom to return home immediately.

I have spoken with her sons on many occasions. Her sons have been able to return to Canada. In fact, I received them at the airport in Vancouver when they came back. I am grateful that they are back home and that they are safe, yet I can also understand what they are going through. They have lost their father, and they are unable to be joined by their mother, who has been barred from leaving Iran.

The decision by the Iranian authorities not to let her leave is unacceptable, and we have been taking every possible measure to address this terrible situation. In fact, we have said repeatedly, both in public and in private, that as long as Ms. Mombeini is not able to leave Iran, the focus of any discussions with Iran will be on getting her home to Canada. That has been the focus of every interaction that the Government of Canada has had with the Iranian authorities, and I can say to the members opposite that this continues to be the firm case today.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has spoken on several occasions with Ms. Mombeini, as well as her sons in Canada, to reassure them of our strong commitment to resolve this unacceptable situation. I have spoken with the sons as well and I have reassured them that the government stands by them unequivocally.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has raised this issue directly with Iranian authorities. Just two weeks ago, she spoke with the Iranian foreign minister and delivered that exact message, that any interaction with the Iranian authorities today will solely focus on making sure that Ms. Mombeini is able to return home. She has also raised that issue directly with the Iranian permanent representative to the United Nations.

Let me say this. I strongly doubt that any foreign minister of a previous government would have been able to fight for a Canadian citizen as we have been able to do. We understand the commitment we have made to the citizens of Canada. It is a promise to provide the help and assistance that we are able to do. At every opportunity, we raise consular issues with other countries, including with Iran.

It is appalling to us that Saeed Malekpour remains in prison in Iran. In fact, just under a week ago, Mr. Malekpour marked the 10th birthday that he has spent in an Iranian prison. We advocate for his case at every opportunity. Our government is in frequent contact with Mr. Malekpour's family, and I have spoken with his sister, Maryam, whose bravery and determination I truly commend.

Our government's commitment to Canadians oversees is paramount. The case of Dr. Homa Hoodfar, who in 2016 was released from a Tehran prison after 112 days of detention, illustrates this. Our Government of Canada was actively engaged at the highest levels in Dr. Hoodfar's case, working for her release. The decision of the Conservative government to shutter our embassy in Iran, of course, made providing this help and advocating for Dr. Hoodfar's release even more significant a challenge. In the absence of diplomatic representation of its own in Iran, Canada worked closely with other countries, notably Oman, Italy, and Switzerland, in helping secure Dr. Hoodfar's release. We were extremely relieved and pleased to be able to welcome Dr. Hoodfar back to Canada.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the many people who worked so hard on this case, including of course, our own Canadian diplomats.

It is clear that the lack of respect for human rights in Iran is a serious concern for our government, and for all Canadians. The promotion and protection of human rights are at the core of our foreign policy, and we raise these issues globally, both bilaterally and in international forums. That is why Canada leads the annual United Nations General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran. This was begun in 2003, and we welcomed the adoption of the Canadian-led resolution by the General Assembly again last year in 2017.

Our concerns with Iran include the highest number of executions, particularly of juveniles, widespread discrimination against women and girls, restrictions on freedom of expression, and serious and systematic discrimination and harassment of ethnic and religious minorities. The UN resolution sends a strong message to Iranians that the international community remains concerned about persistent human rights violations in Iran. Our government also meets with human rights groups on the human rights situation in Iran regularly. This includes organizations such as Amnesty International, as well as Iranian minorities such as the Baha'i community.

I have met on several occasions with groups of Iranian-Canadians to discuss human rights issues, including the cases of individuals detained in Iran. This includes the Mohammad Ali Taheri human rights campaign. We are concerned by the case of Mr. Mohammad Taheri, who has been in prison in Iran for a few years.

I commend those who continue to advocate for human rights. We must never be afraid to fight and stand up for human rights. At the very core of our government's foreign policy is the protection and promotion of human rights. It is a fundamental belief of our government and a reflection of Canadian values that human rights and democratic rights should not be denied to any person, and that no government should seek to do so. We are not afraid to speak up when these rights are denied.

At the end of December last year and at the beginning of January, the Iranian people exercised their right to protest. These protests were widespread, taking place in some 80 cities throughout Iran. They attracted a broad cross-section of society, and protestors expressed their discontent on a number of issues. These protests were the demonstration of genuine frustration and real grievances. On December 30, our government was one of the first around the world to speak out publicly in support of the Iranian people. As we said then, we were encouraged by the Iranian people who were exercising their basic right to protest peacefully. We also called on the Iranian authorities to uphold and respect democratic and human rights.

However, the Iranian security services arrested approximately 3,700 protestors. At least 25 were killed. In addition to this tragic outcome, security services also attempted to suppress the protests by blocking access to social media. On January 3, the Minister of Foreign Affairs issued another statement on the protests, expressing how deeply troubled Canada was by the deaths and detention of protestors in Iran. We reiterated that the Iranian people have the right to freely assemble and express themselves without facing violence or imprisonment, and called on the Iranian authorities to uphold and respect democratic and human rights, which are too often ignored.

We also remain deeply concerned by Iran's support of terrorism. That is why Canada has listed Iran as a supporter of terrorism under the State Immunity Act. Also, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force is listed as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code, and the IRGC is listed under the Special Economic Measures Act. This means that all persons in Canada are prohibited from engaging in certain activities with the IRGC and the IRGC Quds Force, such as dealing with its properties or entering into a financial transaction. These are strong and meaningful sanctions on Iran, reflective of its actions, internal and external, and they will continue to remain in place.

Let me also be clear on a further point. We also absolutely and without equivocation condemn Iran's actions against Israel. We condemn the recent abhorrent statement by the supreme leader Khamenei that clearly incited hate and violence. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said then, we are appalled by it. We strongly condemn its incitement to violence as we condemn all of Iran's threats against Israel. Canadians want us to stand up for Iranian citizens who are tired of corruption, incompetency, and military adventurism that directs precious resources to questionable endeavours and creates international instability rather than policies that could improve people's lives. These Iranian citizens are driven to the streets to protest, only to be met by violence from their own government.

Canadians expect us to have the promotion and protection of human rights at the core of our foreign policy. They also expect us to raise the consular cases of Canadians abroad. We understand that, and that is why our government is so committed to doing it. Let me repeat our firm position on the decision by Iranian authorities to deny Ms. Mombeini the ability to leave Iran. Until that decision is reversed, and until Ms. Mombeini has the freedom to return home to Canada, the focus of any discussion with Iran will be on securing that freedom. We will continue to call on the Iranian authorities to give answers to the detention and death of Kavous Seyed-Emami. We also call on the Iranian authorities to release Saeed Malekpour.

What our government values above all are the lives and well-being of Canadian citizens. That has always been and will always be our absolute focus.

In closing, let me add one more thought. Canadians are not deceived by the Conservatives' rhetoric. The Conservatives were in power for 10 years and Canadians saw they were not able to make any progress. On our core values, we agree with all the messages and virtue signalling they keep promoting today. However, we disagree with them on the fact that Canada needs to be impolite. The hon. member just said that we need to be impolite to achieve those goals.

As the Prime Minister said last weekend, Canadians are polite and reasonable people, but Canadians will not be pushed around. Canada will not be pushed around. Canada will stand up for Canadian citizens abroad and for human rights everywhere, and we will find the best way to achieve those objectives.

I want to close by saying that I find it regrettable that the hon. members on the opposite side are using consular cases for partisan purposes when Canadians' lives are at stake. I accept the fact that they have the right and, in fact, I welcome their tough questions on the government's approach to dealing with these cases, but to politicize consular cases for partisan reasons is unbecoming of the official opposition.

Canadians are not deceived by this because they have not forgotten the 10 years under the Harper government when the Conservatives were not able to accomplish anything. In fact, they remember cases of Canadian citizens abroad who were abandoned, ignored, and neglected.

I welcome the voices of opposition members on this debate, but I call upon them to be prudent, to be wise, and to be careful when using consular cases for partisan purposes.