Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of the members participating in today's debate.
I would like to address my remarks to the people out there who could be a little confused about what we are debating today.
Each member in the House received a kit about what this bill attempts to do, what it will do if it is passed at second reading. It will, in a way that respects our military and our relationship with the United States, accept people who for reasons of conscientious objection have decided not to participate in a particular war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations, and that contained acts that many in the United States have regarded as illegal. It would introduce measures that conform to a Canadian sensibility.
We have noted today that the members opposite have taken this as an anti-government bill. They have responded only in the voice of the government. They have decided that they are afraid to debate the concepts in this bill, the concepts that affirm the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nuremberg Principles that protect our military. These rights and principles make sure that when we have soldiers under arms we have them there for the right reasons, at the right time, under the right direction.
This bill reflects a Canadian sensibility, but also some of the duress that a number of these soldiers were under. I know there are members in the House who have served in the military, but most of us have not. Some of these members have been disdainful of the people we are talking about, without reading the books or the literature or talking to the people involved.
There are people like Chuck Wiley, who spent 17 years in the military. He walked away from a pension of $1,700 a month when he was three years away from it, because of his conscience. He had more guts than anybody in the House has a right to dispute. His situation demands that each hon. member in the House give consideration to this bill on its merits. Unfortunately, that is not what we heard from members opposite.
There was an element of compulsion at the peak of the Iraq war, a practice called stop loss, which affected people, many of whom find themselves in Canada today. They did not have the choice of honourably serving out their commitments. They were pulled back into service by a trick in their contracts. They were supposed to go back into service after their full services were rendered. In fact, this policy affected as many as 15% of the personnel in U.S. services. The current president has agreed to phase it out. However, it reflects the difficulty of people in that war.
Distinct from any service personnel under the Canadian flag in any other war, they did not have recourse to the options that most modern armies should have in respect to conscientious objection. Anyone in the National Guard who signed up to serve domestically was forced to go overseas.
I have made it clear that I am open to looking at any language brought forward by the government. There has been none. There have been no opinions tabled by the Department of Immigration. There has been no information forthcoming, only threats and accusations from various members of the government party who have spoken on this bill.
It is disappointing. I think people have a right to be disappointed in the inability of the House to take on a bill that contains some contentious elements. I would very much respect those who might sit in opposition to this bill if their opposition was derived from what the bill actually contains.
This debate has been unfair to the people coming in. This summer, Jeremy Hinzman, one of the resisters, received a court decision that said exactly what this bill says: that conscientious objection is reasonable and must be taken into account. It was sent back for a new evaluation.
We do not want to send people through courts and grind them through processes. However, the reaction of the government was not that it should maybe take a look at this. Instead, it sent out a one-sided bulletin that prejudiced the chances of anyone's getting a fair hearing. That is the behaviour of a government that does not listen to two motions passed in the House. It does not give heed to the fact that Canadians have pronounced themselves on not just the Iraq war but on the ability of Canadians to have a national sensibility. We accepted 50,000 people at the time of the Vietnam War. Some people in the House are too timid even to debate these 300.
I believe this is a character test for us in the House. I look forward, whether it is here or in a public debate with members opposite, to meeting that test honourably and giving due consideration to people who have put themselves in our hands. They deserve an honest reply.