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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was jobs.

Last in Parliament September 2010, as Liberal MP for Vaughan (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 49% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House April 29th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I paid close attention to the statement made by the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

I want to put this motion into what I think is its proper context by clearly outlining what is in fact occurring in Sri Lanka. It is a very serious issue that we collectively, as members of Parliament in the House of Commons in Canada, need to give the attention it justly deserves.

The situation in Sri Lanka is the following. The escalating violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent, largely Tamil civilians, many of whom are relatives of citizens here in Canada. Many more have been displaced and left homeless. We feel that the international community has a responsibility to intervene and protect these innocent victims of civil war.

We on this side of the House recognize that Canada is in fact home to one of the largest Tamil communities outside of Sri Lanka. Many Canadian families are under tremendous emotional strain.

I have witnessed that emotional strain. I met with members of the Tamil community in my constituency office in recent weeks and saw how the children, parents and grandparents, individual Canadian citizens, are deeply concerned about the status of their own family members in Sri Lanka.

It is really when one looks into their eyes that one sees the distress they are in and one recognizes that we as a great compassionate and humanitarian country cannot sit idly by and watch what is going on without doing something about it. That is one of the reasons the Leader of the Opposition met with members of the Tamil community last week, to hear first-hand from the Tamil Canadians whose families and friends in Sri Lanka are suffering from this crisis.

I say to hon. members on the government side that, in fact, Tamil Canadians deserve the support of their government to help keep their family members safe. For months, the Liberal Party has called on the Conservative government to press for the creation of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of aid and the safe evacuation of the affected population.

Also, in relation to the issue of immigration, we have called for the Canadian government to examine the feasibility of fast-tracking existing visa applications under a special assisted relative class for those wishing to escape the violence and join their immediate family members here in Canada. New applications should be dealt with as quickly as possible, and processing fees should be waived for those who have been personally affected by the escalating violence.

The government, of course, should not only make a statement about doing this, but as everyone knows, the immigration system in this country also requires greater funding and resources to turn the words that we say in the House into reality so that people can in fact be helped.

On this issue, a senior humanitarian assistance delegation led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs should be sent to Sri Lanka on an emergency basis to assess the situation and report back to Parliament. This delegation should evaluate what can be done on the ground to assist the victims of the violence and whether it is feasible to send Canada's disaster assistance relief team to help relieve the suffering.

As one can see, this motion and the statement I made about the immigration component of this issue are part and parcel of a greater, more comprehensive plan that the Liberal Party is offering.

Canada also has a special responsibility to assist in international efforts to bring about a political reconciliation. Canada must assume a leadership role in condemning the ongoing violence in the region and press the Government of Sri Lanka to commit to an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Renewal of Sri Lanka's International Monetary Fund loans should be contingent on their commitment to such a ceasefire.

The Government of Canada must also press the United Nations to appoint a special representative for Sri Lanka to facilitate a return to dialogue. The Government of Sri Lanka must understand that there are no military solutions. Canada must call for national reconciliation and help build a future of justice in Sri Lanka.

This immigration issue cannot operate in isolation. It must operate within a wider, more comprehensive and more holistic approach to resolution of the crisis. It is also very important that Canadians understand that our party has made clear statements about the measures we are calling for. These include the creation of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of aid and the safe evacuation of defected population, the fast-tracking of new and existing visa applications for those wishing to escape the violence and join their immediate family members in Canada, and Canada must press the government of Sri Lanka to commit to an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

I reiterate: These are important points that the government needs to think about as it tries to address this issue.

I want to read on the record some statements that were made by the Leader of the Opposition, so that Canadians are very clear on his position on this particular issue. On April 8, he said:

The humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka has continued to deteriorate, causing grave concern to the international community and demanding urgent and coordinated action to end this conflict....

The international community has a responsibility to intervene and protect these innocent victims of civil war. As home to one of the largest Tamil communities outside of Sri Lanka, Canada has a special responsibility to assist in international efforts to bring about a political reconciliation and to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it.

The Liberal Party will continue to put pressure on the Canadian government and the UN Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative for Sri Lanka to serve on behalf of the international community to assist in bringing about an immediate ceasefire and an end to this crisis.

Canada must continue to press for diplomatic engagement and additional humanitarian assistance while strongly condemning these ongoing attacks on the civilian population. We stand with the people of Sri Lanka in calling for an end to all hostilities as well as with Canadians of Sri Lankan descent whose lives and loved ones are affected by this conflict.

Ultimately, we in the House must remember that we are talking about people, people who are in need, people who look to us to provide them with what they need to be part of that global village that is committed to peace and committed to individuals who want to help one another.

I will conclude with this: Recently, my leader met with members of the Tamil community and once again called for access to humanitarian efforts and dialogue. He said:

We cannot sit back and watch as thousands of innocent lives are lost in the cross-fire, and we condemn any attempt to use civilians as human shields.

Let us always remember this as we continue to address this very important issue.

Earthquake in Italy April 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to seek unanimous consent for the following motion, which has been circulated to other parties. I move:

That this House express its condolences of all Canadians to the people of Italy for the tragic loss of lives and the physical destruction caused by the earthquake on April 6th in the Abruzzo region, and we pledge to do our part to provide all necessary support to the Italian earthquake victims as they rebuild their lives, their communities and the unique cultural heritage of the Abruzzo region that is a treasure of the whole world.

Earthquake in Italy April 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, today I rise on behalf of my colleagues in Parliament to express our condolences to the people of Italy for the tragic loss of lives and the destruction caused by the earthquake of Monday, April 6 in the Abruzzi region, my place of birth.

The images of this disaster are vivid in our minds. Hundreds of people died, thousands injured, and tens of thousands left homeless. As well, we witnessed the devastation of the historical centre of the medieval city of L'Aquila with its rich cultural treasures and architectural magnificence.

The power of nature keeps humanity humble. When tragedy strikes one of us, it strikes us all.

As Canadians, we will do our part and provide our fullest support to help people rebuild their lives, their communities, and the unique cultural heritage that is shared with us and belongs to us all.

[Editor's Note: Member spoke in Italian]

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act April 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-291, moved by the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber. It is an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171.

As I read the statements made by the hon. member, I just want to bring to the attention of the House the type of work that is required to address Canada's refugee system and the challenges it faces. What became very evident during the debate, here in this chamber and outside the chamber, was that there are many challenges faced by the refugee system in this country. I want to quickly read some sections from the speech delivered by the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber. He said:

Let us start at the beginning, with the issue of arbitrary decisions. There are quite a few board members at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), many of whom are undoubtedly competent. However, the problem is that many of these people are not well-suited to this work.

He went on to say:

There is an obvious problem here: some commissioners do not have what it takes to do the job. We need an appeals division to overturn these decisions. Even if they were all very competent, we would still have a natural justice issue on our hands. Even though we have very competent judges in our other courts, we still have an appeals division. Why do citizens and permanent residents have access to appeals in the regular system, but refugees do not?

The second reason he gave was the lack of consistency in the decisions:

When there is no appeal division, each IRB member can decide one way or the other. As all immigration lawyers will agree, this makes it impossible to tell someone whether they are eligible or not by simply looking at their file.

Lastly, I think we could even save money in our justice system, since the appeal division, as it is defined in the legislation, is an administrative tribunal. But since this administrative tribunal does not yet exist, claimants who have been refused by the board tend to avail themselves of all kinds of procedures before superior courts to try to obtain justice. In the end, this is more expensive for the system, since those proceedings tend to be much more costly.

The view on the other side, of course, is the government response through the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. He has a different view on this issue. He said:

The government opposes this legislation because it is neither necessary in the current system nor is it efficient. It would add considerable delays and costs, both in the start-up and operating costs as well as the prolonged costs for services provided to failed refugees waiting for their fourth level of appeal, which would be this appeal division.

The cost of implementing the refugee appeal division would be in the range of $15 million to $25 million annually in new operating costs, about the same amount in social services costs paid by both the provincial and federal governments for refugees, not to mention start-up costs of approximately $10 million.

He also said he believed there were individuals taking advantage of our compassionate nature in seeking refugee status on dishonest grounds, and on and on.

I thought it was my responsibility, when there are divergent opinions coming from both sides of the House, to promote debate in the House. I listed some of the supporting arguments to implement the refugee appeal division, which means passage of the bill would ensure that the entire design in IRPA would be realized.

Implementation of RAD would increase the efficiency of the system, while still ensuring the humane treatment of those in need of protection. The creation of RAD would allow for greater consistency when reviewing the facts of a decision. RAD would serve as a procedural safeguard to enhance the IRB's credibility and ensure justice is done so that no decision to deny refugee status leads to serious consequences, such as detention, torture or death.

A human decision-making process is subject to potential errors, especially when information is limited, and testimony is usually heard through an interpreter. Judicial review of an IRB decision is more limited in scope than the appeal contemplated in the RAD. The court cannot replace a decision by the IRB with its own judgment and the Federal Court does not specialize in refugee matters whereas advocates for the RAD would have an expertise in refugee determination. That is one side.

The other side says:

--implementing the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) at this time would provide very limited benefit at a very high cost...the RAD would only provide a review on the record similar to a federal court review, without the calling of additional evidence or the provision of new or additional facts...an appeal to the RAD...would allow only a paper review of a RPD decision, and that no new evidence would be allowed to be presented at a proceeding before the RAD. To add another layer of appeals and process would simply make an already extremely lengthy refugee determination process even longer. Failed refugee claimants can apply for a Federal Court review of their decision. They can also apply for a pre-removal risk assessment and for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, including consideration of possible risk if returned to their home country. As things stand, it can take years to conclude the adjudication of a case. To add additional months and even possibly years to the delays is unfair to refugees and their families who expect a timely resolution and decision with respect to their application for refugee status...Resources would be better directed at seeking ways to improve and streamline the existing refugee determination process as a whole.

I do this research. I meet with people. I talk about the refugee system with those people affected. I speak to the people on the government side. I speak to the hon. member who proposed this private member's bill and I am left with a decision. I think this particular bill requires further study. I want to draw the member's attention to a question that I asked of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism where I quoted the departmental performance report. Under the Conservatives, the backlog of refugee claims has more than doubled. The number of finalized claims has decreased by 50%. The average processing time has increased to 14 months. The average cost per claim has increased by almost $2,000 to nearly $5,000. My question was: Why has the government failed to provide a timely and efficient refugee system to people who desperately need it?

One may think I am being unnecessarily critical. However, in response to my question in question period, the minister basically came back to me and said:

I am really delighted to hear the interest of the member in hopefully working together to create a more efficient refugee determination system.

I do this with a great deal of sincerity. I see that there are divergent views that exist on this particular issue. When there is a minister who in many ways admits that there are problems in the refugee system and that we need to collectively work together to improve the system, I think it is time to provide this member and members of our immigration committee with further study. There has also been a very critical report by the Auditor General on this particular issue. We need to take the time to study this bill. While we are studying this bill in committee, we should also be looking at all the issues I have raised. Working together to improve Canada's refugee and immigration systems is a commitment that I have made to the House.

I think it would be wise of all members in the House to support the bill so that we can study this particular issue. There are divergent opinions that require time and reflection, so that we may have a more efficient and effective refugee system and protect those individuals who require protection.

Citizenship and Immigration April 1st, 2009

Mr. Speaker, according to the Auditor General's report, the Conservative government's delay in filling vacancies on the IRB has resulted in a record refugee backlog. Since the Conservatives took office, we have witnessed a 50% decrease in finalized claims, an increase in processing times, long delays in rendering decisions, and thousands of lives being negatively affected.

Why did the minister ignore the recommendations of the IRB? Why did he fail to reappoint over 50% of the qualified individuals whose terms have now expired?

Committees of the House March 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the hon. member that I had the opportunity in the then cabinet of Mr. Jean Chrétien to address this particular issue. I think the member is aware of the decision not to participate in the war. It is the position of the Liberal Party of Canada. That is about as clear as we can get. I remember that in those days there were individuals, including the present Prime Minister, who said that was the wrong way to go and who wanted to enter into the war in Iraq.

The reason I signalled the change in administration was to bring to light to Parliament and the Canadian people that Secretary Gates has signalled that on these particular issues change is on its way—

Committees of the House March 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I think we in this House, as elected officials, understand the responsibility of our actions and the consequences of our actions. In the same way, I think that we need to understand the consequences of our actions as parliamentarians when we are dealing with this particular issue. This is an issue that requires reflection and action at the same time.

In reference to the new American administration and my faith in it, I thought I was very clear during the press conference that it was important to note that Secretary Gates has signalled a change to the stop loss provisions, as well as compulsion. I brought it to light at the press conference because I thought it was the right thing to do, to tell Canadians and the reporters present that in fact there is this change afoot in the United States. What we will need to do, and this is to the parliamentary secretary, is to look at the changes--

Committees of the House March 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I want to briefly comment on the comment made by the parliamentary secretary, with whom I worked on the citizenship and immigration committee, in reference to the justice issue.

Members probably saw just a few minutes ago in this House the leadership of the member of Parliament for Wascana, who actually proposed that the bill now go straight to committee. I think that shows that on the issue of justice, we as a party understand its importance, understand that the issue needs to be studied, and we also understand that action is required on that file.

I also agree with the previous speaker from Windsor who said that in fact there has been a delay. We can now focus on the justice issue and move forward, and provide the best justice legislation we can as Canadians to a population that deserves better justice legislation.

Today we are of course debating the issue of the concurrence motion which recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors, and their immediate family members, partners and dependants, who have left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations, and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent residence status and remain in Canada, and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions it may have already commenced against such individuals.

I come to this issue as an individual who sat around the cabinet table during the decision not to enter the Iraq war. Back then, the former prime minister said in an address to the House of Commons that the decision on whether or not to send troops into battle must always be a decision of principle, not a decision of economics, not even a decision of friendship alone. That is what Mr. Chrétien said.

As I said, I was a member of that cabinet that decided not to participate in the Iraq war. We took a stand against military intervention in Iraq. The decision not to engage was the right decision, a decision that Canadians strongly supported. In many ways, that decision was a defining moment in Canadian history.

I believe that the decision made by members of my caucus and other members of the opposition to support war resisters is the right decision as well. It is a decision that is based on the sound values of fairness, justice, understanding, and compassion for these individuals who are in fact engaged in the Iraq war.

There is a bit of an issue here. I have paid attention of course to the debate, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration have to understand that we cannot be looking at the Iraq situation now as being the same as the past. These are different conditions.

We have a new administration in the United States of America, and of course I note that Secretary Gates has signalled a change to that provision for the future, but that is for the future. We need to look at present conditions. We need to look at individuals such as Kimberly Rivera and her Canadian-born infant who are faced with different conditions. To be revisionist as it comes to the issue of time does not really be apply to this issue.

We also feel, on this side of the House, that the whole issue of compulsion of a stop loss provision in the United States is simply not consistent with values that we as Canadians hold, in the sense of fairness and justice for individuals.

For the benefit of the House and for Canadians who perhaps did not watch the press conference that was held yesterday in support of Kimberly Rivera, I want to read into the record of the House of Commons what I said, because what I said at that press conference embodies how I truly feel about this issue, this individual, and the actions that we have to take as a Parliament.

I said, after Kimberly Rivera spoke and as I listened to her speak and tell her story, that I was really struck by her sincerity and her honesty and integrity, as well as I think her principled position on the Iraq war. It is a position that I share. It is a position that a vast majority of Canadians share. It is a position that the ramifications of that war have been very serious on a number of fronts.

I said that I was a member of the cabinet that decided not to participate in the Iraq war. We took a stand against military intervention in Iraq. The decision not to engage was the right decision, a decision Canadians strongly support. It was a defining moment in Canadian history. A decision taken by the Liberal Party and other members of the opposition to support Kimberly Rivera is the right decision as well, a decision based on sound principles of fairness, understanding, compassion and justice. The element of compulsion and the stop loss provisions in the U.S. are not consistent with these values. We note that Secretary of State Gates has signalled change to this provision for the future. This is a critical point of distinction.

Canadians understand fairness and Canadians understand justice. What Canadians fail to understand is a Conservative government that essentially, with its action, wants to separate this mother from her Canadian born infant child and potentially send her to a military prison for having made the decision to follow her conscience. That is essentially what it is, following her conscience under the circumstances that existed at that time.

Canadians do not understand that. They do not understand why we would put Ms. Rivera through all this because she opposed the war that the Prime Minister has finally admitted was absolutely an error, and I am quoting him.

I want the government to immediately intervene and let Kimberly and her family stay in Canada, a place where she feels at home. I hope that the Prime Minister and his government will understand that deporting Kimberly Rivera, for holding views that the vast majority of Canadians believe in, is wrong.

The Prime Minister needs to understand that the critical point is the element of compulsion and the stop loss provisions in the U.S. I ask him to intervene, to act with justice and fairness, and let Kimberly stay in Canada and her Canadian born child and family. It is the right thing to do.

I felt it was important for me to put that on the record because as members of the opposition when we were holding the press conference, we could see the humanity of this issue.

Parliament and public life is not necessarily sort of a neat package where everything fits in perfectly. There are times when we as individuals need to look at ways to help people by using a different perspective to address the plight that these people face in their reality.

There have been a number, and time does not permit me to go through all the issues related to this particular matter, but I know that other members who are sharing the time with me, like the member of Parliament for Etobicoke Centre, will address some of the other issues. I just want raise a couple of points.

Some people question that when these individuals go back everything in their lives will be just fine. When we look at Robin Long, who was deported by Canada in July 2008, he received a lengthy prison sentence of 15 months in military prison and received a dishonourable discharge.

James Burmeister, who voluntarily returned to the U.S. from Canada, was sentenced to nine months in military prison and given a bad conduct discharge equivalent to a felony conviction.

So, this notion that they go back and everything is fine and that they go on with their lives is actually inaccurate. We as individuals here in the Parliament of Canada need to factor all these things in as we contemplate a fair response to the challenges that these individuals face.

Citizenship and Immigration March 11th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, that is an answer I would celebrate on April 1.

According to the most recent departmental performance report, under the Conservatives, the backlog of refugee claims has more than doubled. The number of finalized claims has decreased by 50%. The average processing time has increased to 14 months, and the average cost per claim has increased by almost $2,000 to nearly $5,000.

Why has the Conservative government failed to provide a timely and efficient refugee determination system to people who desperately need one?

Citizenship and Immigration March 11th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration continues to fail immigrants and their families.

The record speaks for itself. The Conservatives have accepted 50,000 fewer landed immigrants into Canada; Canadians who have adopted children abroad face major delays; and processing times for skilled workers in Pakistan, China, India, Syria, the Philippines and Ukraine have dramatically increased.

Does the minister not understand that by not addressing the inefficiencies in the system he is negatively affecting people's lives? Do people matter to the minister?