Madam Speaker, I would like to speak to the debate on the report from the citizenship and immigration committee.
Essentially, the report does three things. It condemns the unwarranted and unprovoked attack on Ukraine by President Putin and the Russian Federation. It calls on the government to support Ukrainians and people residing in Ukraine who are impacted by this conflict to ensure that there is a process to process immigration applications on an urgent basis without sacrificing the department's ability to process other applications. Finally, it calls on the government to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada, including the issuance of electronic travel authorizations and increasing staffing resources so there are no additional backlogs in other immigration streams.
I support this report because we, for some time, have been calling on the government to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada. In fact, we have been making this call for over a year. It is similar to other calls we have made to the government to assist Ukraine and Ukrainians in the last year. We have, for some time now, called on the government to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, something it resisted up until recently. We made the call for lethal weapons over a year ago, asking the government to come to Ukraine's assistance, as we were anticipating some of the threats we are now seeing unfold from the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
Up until February 14, the very same day that the government invoked the Emergencies Act, the government resisted the call for visa-free travel and the call for providing lethal weapons to Ukraine. In fact, it said that with respect to providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, the solution would be a diplomatic one, not a military one. On February 14, on the very same day it announced the invocation of the Emergencies Act, it did a 180° on the policy of not providing lethal weapons to Ukraine and announced the government would, in fact, be providing some 9 million dollars' worth of lethal weapons to Ukraine. However, it did not reverse course on our long-standing call to implement visa-free travel to Ukraine.
That is why this report has come to the House. It is because the government has still not addressed the problem of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. It has still not done enough to ensure that Canada plays its part in assisting Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and those in the European Union. Ukraine is a country of some 45 million people. About a quarter of the country is now displaced. Over 10 million Ukrainians have been forced out of their homes. Some of them are now internally displaced people. Some seven million of them are now in Ukraine, not at home, fleeing the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas we are seeing being perpetrated by the Russian Federation. An additional three million Ukrainians have fled Ukraine into the European Union.
It is those Ukrainians who have fled that we feel Canada can do a better job of assisting. Right now, the burden is falling disproportionately on member states in the European Union, particularly member states in the eastern regions of the European Union, places like Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states.
While the Government of Canada has said that it is processing visas for Ukrainians to come to Canada, the problem is that there are the backlogs and long wait times to apply for a visa to come to Canada. In fact, we are getting reports that it is taking up to four months just to book an appointment to get biometric scans done in order to begin the application process for a visa. Ukrainians in eastern Europe who have family members here who could take care of them have been applying for these visas to come to Canada, but the websites are indicating that it would be up to four months from now before they can get the biometric scan that would allow their visa application to be processed. After the biometric scan is completed, who knows how much additional time the department will take to process their visa applications?
These wait times are not acceptable. The government has had some time now to fix this process and ensure that biometric data can be collected more speedily and that processing of the applications can take place more speedily.
That is why we have put this motion in front of the House today: It is to put some pressure on the government to fix this broken process, and this should come as no surprise to the government, because this has been going on for some time. We saw this only last August when we went through a similar problem, to the shame of this country, in Afghanistan.
In the months leading up to the fall of Kabul on Sunday, August 15, of last summer, the opposition had been calling on the government to take expeditious action to bring to Canada Afghans with an enduring tie to Canada in order to protect them from being attacked and killed by the Taliban. We made that call in a statement we issued in early July of last summer, more than a month before Kabul fell. It was reiterated by the then leader of the official opposition, who wrote a publicly released letter to the Prime Minister at the end of July that called on the Prime Minister to take expeditious action to help Afghans who were vulnerable to attacks from the Taliban and Afghans who had an enduring tie to Canada.
These are Afghans who assisted Canadian soldiers in the field during the war in Afghanistan, one of our most significant commitments in the last two decades. These are Afghans who served as translators, advisers and other local experts on the ground who assisted Canadian soldiers in the field and who no doubt saved countless Canadian lives, and without their expertise Canadian soldiers would have been operating in a much more dangerous and much less information-rich environment.
We made these calls leading into the fall of Kabul on August 15 because it was clear from quotidian reports that were being published almost daily by reporters on the ground from reputable newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian that the Taliban were making advances quite rapidly through the first six months of last year. It was clear that the Government of Afghanistan was not able to contain the Taliban advance, and it was clear that Kabul was going to fall a lot earlier than many people had expected when American withdrawal from Afghanistan was confirmed by President Biden earlier last year.
Despite these calls, the government did nothing. It could have easily evacuated some 6,000 or 7,000 Afghans whom we needed to evacuate, those who had these enduring ties to Canada. These 6,000 or 7,000 Afghans were made up of about 1,000 or so Afghans who served as interpreters, advisers and local experts for Canadian troops in the war in Afghanistan, as well as their families. Afghan families can often be quite large, and so there were about 6,000 or 7,000 individuals we needed to evacuate and had a duty to evacuate, because they put their lives on the line to protect Canadian soldiers and assist Canadian soldiers in the field and because they believed in the mission that we had embarked on. This was a mission, I might add, that was commenced by the then Liberal government of Paul Martin in 2005 and was continued by the subsequent Harper government when it came to power in February 2006. However, despite these pleas, the government did nothing.
The government could have easily evacuated these 6,000 to 7,000 individuals on Globemaster flights. These are immense planes that can easily hold 400 to 500 people. In fact, during the chaos of the fall of Afghanistan on August 15 and the days around that fall, there was a report of a Globemaster that took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport with some 850 people on board. We could have evacuated these 6,000 or 7,000 Afghans to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, to whom we owe our honour, on about a dozen Canadian Globemaster flights in an organized manner in the weeks of July and early August before the fall of Kabul.
The government then went into a panic about trying to do something at that point in time. I feel that is really where we are at right now on the crisis in Ukraine. The government is now belatedly scrambling to figure out how to address the bureaucratic inertia and the immense backlogs that have sprouted up in the last several weeks when in fact we have known that this was going to take place for some time.
As with the Afghanistan situation, the government seems unable to fix the process that is leading to these delays in biometric scans and visa processing and come up with a much more efficient and much quicker process to process applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada. Canada can do better.
We know we can do better because it was under Clifford Sifton, one of the former Liberal ministers of the Crown under Wilfrid Laurier, that the government opened up western Canada to literally hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians a century ago. The west was settled by these Ukrainians through an ambitious immigration program. It was an open doors program that during the 1920s saw Canada's immigration rise to some of the highest levels in our history. Many of those immigrants came from Ukraine and settled in the western prairies of this country. They broke sod and laid the foundation for modern western Canada. Some 1.3 million Canadians today trace their roots back to those waves of Ukrainian immigration a century ago. We can do better because we have in the past done better.
The motion in front of us today is a call on the government to do better when it comes to addressing what is currently one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world. Ironically, it ties in to the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today, which is the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is facing the biggest humanitarian crisis. Shortages of food, energy and so many other things are putting millions of Afghans at risk of starvation and severe deprivation in the coming months. There too, as in the present situation in Ukraine, the Canadian government, while it is doing a number of things to address the situation, can do a lot better, especially considering the immense wealth and the fortunate circumstances we have in this country in not being directly affected by war and conflict, as both Afghanistan and Ukraine are. Part of what I hope comes out of this debate today is the government's understanding that parliamentarians are seized with this issue and that we believe that the government should do a better job in helping Ukrainians flee from Ukraine and helping Afghans flee from Afghanistan.
The situation regarding Ukrainians in eastern Europe is arguably much easier for the government to address than the situation in Afghanistan today, for the simple fact that Afghanistan has become a closed-off society with a government that we do not recognize, a government that is listed by the Canadian government and other western allies as a terrorist entity. It is a government with which we should not and cannot be doing any business, whether directly or whether indirectly through humanitarian aid groups on the ground.
However, that is not the situation with Ukrainians in eastern Europe. There are some three million of them that we could be assisting today here in Canada. All it takes is for deputy ministers and central agencies to figure out what the roadblocks are, shorten the wait times for biometric scans from four months down to four days or so, and figure out what we then need to do to shorten processing times for visas down from an uncertain amount of time now to several days or so.
That would ensure that we can start admitting Ukrainians in the numbers needed to relieve pressure on our NATO allies in eastern Europe. We have done these quick things before in our country's history, and the urgency of the situation today requires us to do the same now. It is in our interest to do this. These are things that we have the resources to do and the capabilities of doing. If the issue is a concern about security, as the government has indicated in recent weeks, then surely we can work more quickly with the European governments and the European Commission to exchange the data necessary to ensure that bad actors do not use the cover of a humanitarian crisis to sneak into Canada and continue their nefarious work.
My God, we live next to one of the largest countries in the world, the United States of America, where some 300 million citizens have the right to visa-free travel into Canada. I can assure colleagues that as is the case in Canada, there are a lot of bad actors south of the border whom we do not want admitted through our Fort Erie-Buffalo border crossing, our Niagara Falls border crossing, our Queenston-Lewiston border crossing or the dozens of other border crossings that dot this great land, so we have put in place information-sharing systems to ensure that CBSA officials at the border can interdict individuals from coming into Canada as soon as their passports are swiped, because we have information from U.S. intelligence and from U.S. law enforcement about which individuals should not be coming into Canada and vice versa. I am sure there are individuals here whom the Americans do not want to see entering the United States, and on a daily basis they deny entry too.
We should be putting in place similar systems expeditiously, right now, between democracies in the European Union and Canada, because the European Union member states have already done exactly that in order to ensure the protection of their own citizens. In fact, the European Union implemented visa-free travel some time ago between Ukraine and the European Union. The three and a half million Ukrainians who have fled from Ukraine to the Schengen zone of the European Union have done so without visas. That process was in place well before the advent of the war. The European Union felt comfortable putting in place that visa-free travel because they had put in place security systems to ensure that bad actors did not take advantage of visa-free travel to enter the European Union zone and do their nefarious work.
We should be able very quickly to get the security data and the other intelligence data to ensure that we do not allow bad actors into Canada. It is the job of political leaders to do that expeditiously. It is the job of the ministers responsible and the Prime Minister's office to direct central agencies, to direct the department, to establish a task force among departments, central agencies and the political leadership to unstick what is stuck so that we can do our fair share to help Ukrainians to flee Ukraine, help Ukrainians currently in the European Union and help alleviate some of the pressure some of our eastern European NATO allies are feeling as a result of the influx of millions of Ukrainian refugees.
I hope what comes out of this debate today is a real sense of urgency on the part of the Government of Canada to do better when it comes to helping Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and in the European Union.