House of Commons photo


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 May 29th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of this debate and because of the clear wording of the motion that we are debating, I will read the motion, which states:

The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members...who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt has raised a similar point in committee, as he has today in the House, and I am sure he will continue to do so as we continue to study these very important issues related to conscientious objectors and Canada's role within the international community.

Committees of the House May 29th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, we have all heard stories like that, which is why we strongly support the report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The support for war resisters in this country can be found everywhere. I was just speaking to the hon. member for London Westwho will be attending a rally in support of war resisters.

It is very unfortunate that, while the support for war resisters grows exponentially throughout the country and while the vast majority of Canadians support their stay here in Canada, the Conservative government has failed to recognize that Canadians are behind war resisters and want them to stay. Canadians describe these individuals as people with strong ideals of humility, good judgment, moral character, dignity and principle. It is about time the Conservative government began to recognize that reality.

Committees of the House May 29th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, I am a bit suspicious about the positioning of the Conservative Party on this particular issue because I think it is really related to the Prime Minister's position on the war in Iraq, which, I believe, makes members, even of the Conservative Party, a little uncomfortable.

I will read the motion for clarification. It states:

The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

If the hon. member had read it, which I am sure he has because we have debated this particular issue and the opposition party actually joined forces to address this issue, then he would have the answer to his own question.

However, I understand that for the hon. member this may be a technical issue, but it is not for us in the sense that we understand that these individuals we are dealing with, war resisters and conscientious objectors, are driven by values like honour, respect and dignity--

Committees of the House May 29th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are aware that I as well tabled a notice of motion to concur in the same committee report.

As I rise today to offer my thoughts and reflections on this very important issue, I am reminded of a speech delivered by the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, regarding Canada's decision not to take part in the war in Iraq. In 2003 the former prime minister said:

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today to support the motion before the House, a principled motion where we reaffirm our decision not to participate in the war in Iraq--

From the beginning, Canada took a stand against military intervention in Iraq. Canada's position was to work collectively through the United Nations to accomplish the objectives we shared with our allies, those of disarming Saddam Hussein and working toward enhanced human rights, the international rule of law, as well as peace in the region.

As an independent country, Canada decided not to send troops into battle. As the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien said in an address to the House of Commons:

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.

A decision not to engage in war was the right decision, a decision that Canadians strongly supported. It was a defining moment in our nation's history. In the fight against global terrorism and other exceptionally trying challenges, we have always supported a multilateral approach. As a nation, we must have confidence in our principles and trust that our sound values will guide our decisions and actions.

Although Canada did not support the war in Iraq, we share the same fundamental goals as our allies. We believe in international peace and security. As in 2003 our belief in peace, justice and freedom and the hope for a better tomorrow are no different today.

The matter before the House is one that inspires sympathy, concern and support among the vast majority of Canadians. It is important to listen to the voice of Canadians who have expressed support and understanding for this cause. Over the last few years a growing number of people have left the United States of America's military refusing to fight in the war in Iraq. Some of them are seeking sanctuary in Canada. Dozens of U.S. war resisters have sought refuge in Canada and more individuals continue to arrive every month.

Canada has a proud history of welcoming war resisters. In fact, during the Vietnam war, over 50,000 Americans came here. Unfortunately on May 21, 2008, war resister Corey Glass was told that his application to stay in Canada has been rejected and now faces deportation. Glass would be the first Iraq war resister to be deported from Canada.

Today I would like to discuss this matter as it affects individuals who have been living in Canada and contributing to the social and economic fibre of this country. I would also like to share with the House the views expressed by the witnesses who presented their case before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

In fact, it is important to note that after hearing from groups and individuals on the matter of U.S. war resisters seeking refuge in Canada, the committee adopted a motion on December 6 recommending that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their families to stay in Canada. It also calls for an immediate halt to the deportation proceedings in these cases.

The third report, adopted by the committee on December 11, 2007 and presented to the House on December 13, 2007, reads as follows:

In accordance with its mandate pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your Committee has considered the issue of Iraq war resisters.

The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

This report served as a sign of hope and an important step forward for conscientious objectors. It demonstrated a willingness on behalf of the opposition parties in Canada's Parliament to come together to ensure that none of these individuals would be returned to the U.S. where they would face potential court martials, incarceration and possible deployment to Iraq.

Let me tell the House the story of one of the witnesses who the committee heard from during a hearing on this issue. The committee had the opportunity of meeting with Mr. Phillip McDowell, a former sergeant in the United States army. Mr. McDowell had volunteered for the army shortly after the tragic events that occurred on September 11 because he felt that his country was under attack.

Mr. McDowell said:

I didn't join or volunteer to take part in an illegal war or a war of aggression....When I came back from Iraq, I was determined not to have any part in this at all. I determined that when my contract was up with the military, when my volunteer service was over, I was going to separate and not be in the military anymore. However, after I did that in June 2006, I was called back into service involuntarily under the army's Stop Loss policy. I was told that I was going to have a 15-month tour in Iraq. I told my chain of command that I disagreed with the war and that I didn't want to go....I tried to contact my elected officials to explain to them how I felt about that. They said, sorry, there were a lot of people in the same situation, that I didn't have a choice, and that I was going to Iraq.

There are many other resisters in Canada who have come to seek refuge. Among them are Patrick Hart, an army sergeant with nine years of service, Chuck Wylie who was chief petty officer with 17 years of service, Dean Walcott who was a field marine deployed in the initial invasion of Iraq, Kim Rivera, a mother of two who was told by her recruiter that women were rarely deployed to combat zones. Less than a year later, she was in Iraq, unable to cope with the abuse and indiscriminate violence she witnessed. Among others was Jeremy Hinzman who applied for conscientious objector status. He asked for non-combat duty and was denied.

People may ask what is the stop loss policy? Let me explain. In the United States military, stop loss, as Mr. McDowell explains, is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term service date.

The problem for individuals such as Mr. McDowell is the military service has in fact become involuntary. Many conscientious objectors, such as Phillip McDowell, come to Canada much like the soldiers who deserted during the Vietnam war in search of shelter and safety. In fact, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau welcomed such soldiers as he believed that Canada should be a refuge from military.

Another reason for individuals refusing to fight in a war in Iraq and seeking refuge in Canada is their knowledge that Canada did not participate in the Iraq war.

According to Mr. McDowell:

—knowing, myself, that the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in 2004, declared the war illegal, I felt it was right for me to move to Canada to take this decision.

Mr. McDowell further stated:

—many people say there are no deserters doing time. Many people say they receive less than honourable discharges. However, a quick search on the Internet will show you that Sergeant Kevin Benderman deserted and served 15 months, bad conduct discharge; Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was sentenced to one year, bad conduct discharge; Stephen Funk was sentenced to six months, bad conduct discharge; Ivan Brobeck was sentenced to eight months, bad conduct discharge; Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to seven months, bad conduct discharge.

The problem with such cases, as Mr. McDowell explained:

—bad conduct discharge is a felony conviction, on your record for the rest of your life because you didn't want to take part in a war that you believed was illegal.

During the same committee meeting, Gay Anne Broughton, an individual representing the organization Canadian Friends Service Committee, presented evidence in support of conscientious objectors. Ms. Broughton explained:

The right to conscientious objection to military service derives from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It can be based on religious, ethical, moral, philosophical, humanitarian, or related motives. These rights are captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also article 18. Canada is a signatory to both and includes these rights in its Constitution.

According to Ms. Broughton's testimony:

These instruments assert that these rights apply to everyone. Conscientious objection to military service is a legitimate exercise of this right, and a decision by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2006 in favour of two conscientious objectors from the Republic of Korea put to rest any question of that.

In addition, she noted:

Military personnel, whether volunteer or conscript, can develop a conscientious objection. Resolution 1998/77 of the UN human rights commission recognized this. That resolution puts no limits on whether the objection is to all war or to a particular war. Indeed, it is most often through experience itself that many basic human attributes, including conscience, are developed....Soldiers who are uninformed of their rights and do not have access to an independent assessment process are left with the choice to desert or to violate their conscience, which is perhaps the most sacred aspect of being human.

Ms. Broughton also pointed out that under the UN High Commission for Refugees handbook, paragraph 170, conscientious objectors qualified as refugees. The paragraph states as follows:

There are, however, also cases where the necessity to perform military service may be the sole ground for a claim to refugee status, i.e. when a person can show that the performance of military service would have required his participation in military action contrary to his genuine political, religious or moral convictions, or to valid reasons of conscience.

Ms. Broughton explained that the published record and testimony given in hearings in courts showed that these young men and women met this requirement and according to paragraph 171 of the handbook, their right to asylum hinged on the military action they were objecting to being condemned by the international community.

As I mentioned earlier, the witness, Phillip McDowell, explained how in this case the Iraq war was indeed condemned by the international community.

On the same issue, it is important to remember that following the second world war, the Nuremberg tribunal set out important principles of international law. Those principles established that soldiers had a moral duty, not a choice, to refuse to carry out illegal orders.

The United Nations formulated the elements of morality and conscience, as set out in the Nuremberg principle, into international law.

The government has a very important choice. It is really not compelled to force these individuals to go back to a country where they may face prosecution under military law, or may be permanently branded for making a principled decision.

Five years ago I believe the Liberal government made a principled decision not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations. I personally feel we should not punish individuals and their families for making the same decision based on their personal principles. Fairness and justice is all about that.

Perhaps this is an uncomfortable position for the government to be in. Observers of Canada's political scene and Canadians would remember the present Prime Minister's position on the war in Iraq. Therefore, I can understand why there would be some concern about the position on war resisters, and I can appreciate that.

I can appreciate that it would create division within government if, by any chance, some members of the Conservative Party were to get on their feet and stand up for what I believe is fairness and justice to individuals seeking fairness and justice. I understand all that, but there comes a time when parliamentarians must stand up for what we believe, where fundamental rights are being challenged, and say to these individuals that, yes, they can stay.

As I said, we should not punish individuals and their families for making the same decisions based on their personal principles.

I ask the members of the House to support our endeavour as a committee of Parliament. We took the time to listen to individuals in need. They want help from us. Above all, we want to bring hope, fairness and, most of all, justice to them. This motion is all about that. The committee stands for justice for people in need of justice.

Komagata Maru Incident May 15th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, April 2, my colleague, the member for Brampton—Springdale, tabled a motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

Over the years, immigrants in our society have consistently been faced with many challenges and struggles that they have had to overcome. As elected representatives, it is critical that we acknowledge the hardships and obstacles that immigrants have encountered in their journey of hope for a brighter future in Canada.

Today I would like to speak about the great injustice that took place within our own nation in the year 1914. It is time that the government recognize and apologize for the incident of the Komagata Maru.

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru, a passenger ship, arrived in Vancouver at the Burrard Inlet with 376 passengers from India. On board were 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims. Many of them had fought alongside the British in wars and gave their lives to the Commonwealth. They were British citizens coming to a Commonwealth country, yet upon their arrival, they were shocked to learn that they would be denied the opportunity to disembark and enter Canada. The grounds for their rejection were part of the exclusionary, discriminatory and racist laws passed in the 1900s and designed to select immigrants based on race and country of origin.

When the passenger ship arrived in Vancouver, passengers of the Komagata Maru were not permitted to leave the ship. According to the legislation of the day, to be admitted into Canada, immigrants were required to have $200 and arrive by continuous journey from their country of birth. It was no secret that the regulation, although it did not have any mention of race or nationality, was intended to target individuals immigrating from India or China.

As a result, the passengers of the Komagata Maru were forced to spend two months under very poor conditions. They experienced famine, starvation and many of them fell victim to disease. At that time, the Indo-Canadian community, in particular those from the Khalsa Diwan Society, struggled to assist them by negotiating on their behalf their stay in Canada.

Sadly, despite determined efforts and struggles, at the end of the two months only 24 of the 376 passengers were given permission to stay in Canada. The rest were ordered deported. On July 23, 1914, supporters and friends of the passengers on the Komagata Maru watched the great injustice occur as the Canadian navy used a ship for aggression for the first time. The Canadian government of the day brought in the cruiser HMCS Rainbow. It aimed its guns at the Komagata Maru and escorted it out of Canadian waters.

After this terrible journey that began on April 4, 1914, and that ended on September 29, 1914, the Komagata Maru returned to Calcutta, India. Upon its return, the passengers experienced further anguish and distress. Some of them were arrested and others were killed.

Here we are 94 years later and the tragedy of the Komagata Maru remains an open and dark chapter in our nation's history.

As other members of the House have rightly indicated, the Canadian government must apologize to both the Indo-Canadian community and any other individuals who were affected by this tragic event, which has brought much sadness to many and left a black mark in our nation's history.

Despite all the efforts, including those of the Indo-Canadian community, other municipal, provincial and federal politicians, a formal apology has yet to be expressed.

It is important that we are reminded of the injustices of the past, injustices like the Komagata Maru incident, the time from 1885 to 1923, when there was a head tax for the Chinese, the period of 1923 to 1945, where strict immigration rules prohibited the Jews from entering our country or the internment of Italian Canadians. These moments are not proud moments in the history of our nation, and it is important that we recognize that fact.

We acknowledge that this issue is being raised nearly a century after its occurrence, but it must be addressed. We need to communicate compassion, understanding and hope to all those who still, 90 years later, are touched by this tragedy.

As a nation, we must refrain from the politics of exclusion, discrimination or racism. We must do now what should have been done years ago. We need to apologize for the Komagata Maru incident.

The community and all those affected by this tragedy patiently await a formal apology from the government. The painful memories still live on in their minds and in their hearts. Their healing process must now begin. While it should never be forgotten, we must close this sad chapter of Canadian history.

Today, I ask that the Prime Minister and the Conservative government express through words and deeds their apology for a wrong of the past. Let us be driven by the sound values of fairness, justice, respect, compassion and understanding. Let us never forget to be vigilant and safeguard the fundamental principles of a democracy and that of an open society, which prides itself on treating people with respect and dignity.

Today I would urge all the members sitting on this side and the other side to support the motion put forth by the member for Brampton—Springdale, who has for many years championed this important cause with persistence and determination.

Canada is recognized by many as a country of opportunity, of fairness, of hope, of justice. Canada's national wealth, prosperity, cultural, social riches have been fueled by the imagination, work and ingenuity of new Canadians. We are a nation in which, despite events like the Komagata Maru, individuals from the Indo-Canadian community have been able to succeed, to achieve, to prosper, to contribute to the building of a better and brighter future of our nation.

As responsible and committed individuals, we must accept our errors. We must acknowledge the challenges and the struggles of others, and we must humbly apologize.

Citizenship and Immigration April 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the immigration minister claimed that her government does not allow candidates to skirt testing requirements.

How about Raminder Gill, the two-time Conservative candidate that the government allowed to circumvent the screening requirements in order to sit as a citizenship judge? We want an answer.

Citizenship and Immigration April 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the immigration minister claimed that her government does not allow candidates to skirt testing requirements.

How about Raminder Gill, the two-time Conservative candidate that the government allowed to circumvent the screening requirements in order to sit as a citizenship judge?

Citizenship and Immigration April 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the minister claims that the new rules will eliminate the backlog. On what date will the backlog in fact be eliminated?

The minister claims that she wants to have an efficient immigration and refugee system. Then why has she failed to fill 58 IRB vacancies, resulting in the tripling of pending refugee claims?

The minister claims that she is pro immigration. Then why has the Conservative government accepted 36,000 fewer landed immigrants into Canada?

Citizenship and Immigration April 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, we still do not know how the minister will decide which types of people will be able to immigrate to Canada, and which will not.

Could the minister give us some concrete examples of the new categories she will create to help decide who will be told, “Welcome to Canada”? Specifically, what are the categories?

Citizenship and Immigration April 7th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the discriminatory reform of the immigration system gives the minister the exclusive power to choose who can enter Canada. The new rules do not directly apply to the backlog.

Could the minister explain how she will use her full powers to determine who will appear on the first list, who will appear on the second list, and who will have the door slammed in their face?