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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was actually.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River (Ontario)

Lost her last election, in 2015, with 22% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Drug-Free Prisons Act April 21st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, following in a similar vein to my previous question, we know that mental health is a significant problem in our communities across the country. In the intake interviews with prisoners, there is quite a significant number of prisoners who go into our prison system with identified mental health issues.

Instead of complaining, I would like to hear proposals or propositions of how we could make changes. What should we do as responsible legislators to ensure that the occurrences of mental health issues and concerns with our prisoners as they exit the prison system can be reduced, rather than increase or stay the same. According to many studies, mental health continues to be a problem, rather than being resolved or worked on while our prisoners are in the system.

Drug-Free Prisons Act April 21st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is always intelligent when he helps people.

The NDP has been steadfast in our support for measures that will make our prisons safe. Meanwhile, the Conservative government has ignored recommendations from Correctional Service staff and the correctional investigator that would decrease violence, gang activity and drug use in our prisons. Multiple stakeholders across the country agree that this bill would have a minimal impact on the drugs in our prison system.

Recently the Conservatives cut $295 million to the operating budget of Correctional Service Canada, which likely has impacted the already small portion of the funding that is dedicated to core correctional programming. Meanwhile, they have invested $122 million into failed interdiction tools, even after the stakeholders and experts in the field have said that drug-free prisons are not achievable. Experts have said that we need to invest in rehabilitation programs for our prisoners and the Conservatives have shown that is not something they are interested in doing.

My colleague said that we needed to invest in more programming to support our prisoners, so when they left the prison system recidivism would be lowered rather than maintained at the same rate. Could my colleague comment on that?

Petitions April 21st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of many people from all around Scarborough. They are calling for the creation of a Canada public transit strategy. Canada is the only OECD country that does not have a national public transit strategy. It is estimated that over the next five years there will be an $18-billion gap in transit infrastructure needs.

The petitioners are calling upon the government to enact a Canada public transit strategy that seeks to provide a permanent investment plan to support public transit; establish federal funding mechanisms for public transit; work together with all levels of government to provide sustainable, predictable, long-term and adequate funding; and establish accountability measures to ensure that all governments work together to increase access to public transit.

I know in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, this is very much needed.

Public Safety March 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we cannot sacrifice the fundamental freedoms that are central to Canadian society in the name of bolstering public safety. We can and must protect both. The government must listen to the experts who testified before the committee on public safety who warned against Bill C-51 and the overarching attack on fundamental freedoms. The experts agree with the NDP that the bill gives broad and new powers to CSIS, without enhancing oversight, including provisions that could impact legitimate dissent, and does not produce a plan to counter radicalization in Canadian communities.

My main concern is the vague definition of what constitutes a terrorist in the bill. Being born as a Tamil in Sri Lanka, I have experienced what a broad definition of terrorism can mean for an entire people. I have seen and heard from innocent people who have lost everything because of vague definitions of “terrorist”.

As a Canadian parliamentarian, I demand oversight and a clear definition of what is a terrorist and what is legitimate protest. I will stand with the NDP to defend our charter of rights for our fundamental freedoms and for what makes us a strong nation.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act March 23rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Québec is exactly right. Instead of a sensationalized bill that does not actually get to the root of the problem, the minister should commit to widespread and meaningful consultations with community groups and experts so that the real issue of gender-based violence is addressed in a meaningful and effective manner.

The government should actually increase its investment in organizations that provide services such as safe and affordable housing, counselling, and support in navigating our very complex systems and services. Immigrating to a new country can be very traumatizing for a young women if this is the first time she has ever left her home country. Ensuring that she has every support she needs in a manner she can comprehend and digest is very important.

I really wish, from the bottom of my heart, that the government would actually take some interest in investing in resources and the agencies that are providing these much-needed services, mostly with volunteers and with very weak budgets.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act March 23rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would support the entire short title being deleted completely. I think that is the best way to fix the title.

Even within the Conservative team, this is what Senator Andreychuk said in a media article about the title:

“...if you wanted barbaric cultural practices, which probably wasn’t going to be my choice, but if you wanted that, I wished you had added something like violence in there...”

I laud Senator Andreychuk for realizing that the root problem here is violence against women and it is prevalent in all societies.

I have worked with Senator Andreychuk on many issues with respect to sexual and reproductive health rights, and I thank her for the work she is doing. The rest of the Conservative team should listen. It is fine if they do not want to listen to experts, but let them at least listen to members in their own caucus and team.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act March 23rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, growing up in Canada, I was a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence, and this barbaric practice happened in Canada by Canadians, not by any foreigner. Therefore, on this barbaric practice, there are many people who are survivors of violence perpetuated against women, everywhere, and not just domestic violence, but violence towards women all across this country. It is a root problem.

It is a systemic problem for women, who continue to face racism, sexism, and all types of discrimination and violence, and that needs to stop. It is the systemic barriers that the current government continues to support that are the problem, and those are the problems that need to go away.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act March 23rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to this bill. I was on the citizenship and immigration committee when it completed the report detailing how to better protect women in our immigration system. Frankly, I hate saying the short title of Bill S-7, which was created after that study, but I will. It is called the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. It would not do anything to actually protect women from violence, as it claims to do.

It was interesting to hear in the minister's speech that she thought it would potentially protect women when it really would not. Most of the practices that the bill hopes to curb, including polygamy and honour killings, are already illegal in this country, so Bill S-7 would not do anything new, other than focusing on criminalizing other behaviour.

When the citizenship and immigration committee was hearing testimony for its report, experts agreed that women who are experiencing violence need supports, like housing, counselling, and assistance in navigating the complex family, criminal, immigration, and legal systems. The experts also agreed that women coming into this country should be provided with information about our systems before they even come here, or at the borders when they arrive, in languages they can understand, to ensure that women are protected, educated, and made aware of the support systems available in Canada.

We were sad to hear testimony about how conditional permanent residence status had contributed to people being trapped in abusive relationships. Why? It is because the immigration status of the woman is tied to her partner. If she were to report violence in her relationship or to leave that relationship, she would fail her conditional permanent residence status and be deported from this country. That means she could be sent back to a country or situation that is not ideal or safe, or where she could be persecuted or stigmatized for leaving a conjugal relationship or marriage. There are many countries around the world where women are stigmatized, including Canada, for seeking a divorce or leaving an abusive relationship.

In its report about Bill S-7, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario asserted the following:

This Bill appears to extend a trend in this government’s track record to strip permanent residence and deport more and more racialized people from Canada, regardless of how long they have been here.

SALCO'S report continued to assert this:

In the preparation of this legislative and procedural change, they have failed to consult experts in this field about what creates further barriers to accessing safety for women experiencing violence.

The fact is that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration compiled expert testimony on protecting women in our immigration system, and the report did not include all of the good recommendations that came from experts. The committee spent days and weeks studying this topic, and the recommendations in the report are still not addressed in this bill that the government has brought forward through the other chamber.

Let us talk about what Bill S-7 would actually do. It would make being in a polygamous relationship grounds for finding a permanent resident inadmissible in this country. Polygamy has been illegal in Canada since 1892, so what would it really accomplish? Nothing new. Immigration law and policy already contain provisions addressing polygamous unions, so nothing new is being introduced here.

I know the government has asserted that there are hundreds of polygamists already living in Canada today. If that is a fact, then why is the government not enforcing the existing laws? If it wants to get rid of polygamy in this country, why is it not ensuring that the laws that have existed since 1892 are actually enforced?

Moving on to the topic of honour killings, murder is murder is murder, and it is illegal in this country. This bill would preclude a defendant in a murder trial from arguing that an insult to family honour provoked his or her actions.

Canada's courts are sufficiently equipped to sentence somebody for murder, and that is what we have seen happen in this country when somebody has tried to claim an honour killing. We have seen our courts uphold our laws, sentence the perpetrators of these murders, treat them as murderers, and sentence them to jail time. Therefore, I do not understand why the government is pretending that it is creating a new law here when once again nothing is really changing.

Citing data from the South Asian Legal Clinic's study on forced marriage, the bill also criminalizes forced marriages. However, Bill S-7 ignores SALCO's recommendation, which is to protect families and provide adequate support to vulnerable women. Its experts specifically warned against criminalization, as this would be more destructive than helpful.

I am 100% against anybody being forced into a marriage. However, we have to ensure that we are protecting the women who are already in forced situations. We need to ensure they are given the support to leave in a safe way, and ensure that they are safe and secure in the community they are living in.

I want to read a couple of quotes from the Schlifer Clinic in a report that it issued. It states:

If passed, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, introduced on November 5, 2014, will serve as another example of institutional barriers to marginalized communities reporting violence and having access to support. It will serve as another example of how our government is failing to listen to survivors and targeting racialized communities for exclusion and deportation from Canada.

It continues to state the following:

The Schlifer Clinic has grave concerns about the Act, which would result in the exclusion, deportation and criminalization of families (or of women themselves), which only serves to further harm women experiencing violence.

Therefore, we see from experts on the ground that this bill is not helping women and it is not protecting or supporting them; rather, it would end up doing the opposite.

I said earlier that the first time I read the short title I did not want to say it and that I did not like it. That is because it is xenophobic and reinforces prejudice against certain cultural groups by targeting racial minorities for practices that are found in Canadian society at large today.

I keep coming back to the experts because they are the ones who are doing the research on the ground. Here is a quote from Avvy Yao-Yao Go, who is the clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. She states:

From the very naming of this bill to the various legislative amendments it seeks to amend, Bill S-7 invokes racist stereotypes and fuels xenophobia towards certain racialized communities.

Deepa Mattoo, the staff lawyer and acting executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, stated:

Giving it a shock factor name will not eliminate the issue. Instead it will force perpetrators to take this underground, ensuring the victims and potential victims are isolated from any resources. This causes a greater risk to their safety, not to mention their emotional and mental well-being.

That is another example of another expert telling us how the short title of this bill is xenophobic and that the bill as a whole would be more harmful for women in our country.

While I agree that no woman, regardless of her race, citizenship, status, or religion, should be subject to gender-based violence, including the practices of forced marriage or underage marriage, I do not support making women more vulnerable.

I would like to end my remarks by saying that this bill has not had adequate consultation.

As members will notice, I have many more sheets to go in my prepared remarks. However, I will go back to the experts. There is a media release that was sent out by 13 expert organization groups, and I do not have time to name them all. I want to read a small blurb from its introduction.

It states:

The announcements in the tabled Bill perpetuate myths about practices of polygamy and forced marriages while misguiding Canadians to believe that violence against women is a “cultural” issue and happens in only certain communities. The government has blatantly targeted marginalized and racialized communities through the racist framework used in the intent, wording and announcement of this Bill. This inflammatory language and the perpetuation of racist myths is itself an obstacle to understanding the harmful effects of these proposed legislative amendments. As organizations dedicated to advancing the rights of all women, we are painfully aware of the challenges faced by all women in Canada from all walks of life and backgrounds to find a safe and secure home. In that regard, immigrant and racialized women face additional challenges because of their race and/or their precarious immigration status. Contrary to what the government has stated, the proposed legislative changes will not result in greater protection for women victims of domestic violence, but will have the opposite effect.

Journey to Freedom Day Act March 23rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this bill was introduced in the Senate, a place that is already undemocratic, where there are no elected officials and no real accountability. The bill comes from a place where there is no accountability for the work being done and, specifically, a very biased process.

I will start by giving a little background of the bill. The short title of the bill is the journey to freedom day act. It would establish April 30 as journey to freedom day to commemorate the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975, which ended the Vietnam War and began the emigration of South Vietnamese refugees to Canada.

I started by speaking of what happened in the Senate. That is because people had requested to appear, to be witnesses and provide testimonials in front of the Senate committee but were refused. The ambassador for Vietnam was refused. Anybody who wished to voice dissent and not support the bill was not allowed to speak at the Senate committee, which is a very biased, unfair and undemocratic process.

The NDP proudly recognizes the important contributions of Canadians of Vietnamese heritage and their community in Canada, which includes the people who came to our country as refugees. Tens of thousands more came as economic migrants.

As a responsible official opposition, we want to ensure that any legislative attempt to recognize the contributions of Vietnamese Canadians to Canadian cultural heritage will actually unite Canadians of all backgrounds. It would unite Vietnamese Canadians in our country but also ensure that all members of the community would be included. To that extent, we will seek to include as many opinions as possible when the bill gets to committee and ensure that it is an inclusive process. As the deputy spokesperson for the New Democrats on Canadian heritage and as a member of the heritage committee, I look forward to ensuring that all voices and opinions are heard at committee.

I want to mention that when this bill was studied, there was a strong base of support for it and also voices of dissent. We need to ensure that as responsible legislators, we hear all sides of the story. There is a quote by Mr. Can Le, a former secretary general of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation, who stated:

By approving this bill, Parliament will assure newcomers and future generations of their place in this country and will prove that Canada's inclusiveness is the foundation of its strength and prosperity.

It is great that there were positive comments about the bill and there were many more during the Senate hearings, but there were absolutely no voices heard that spoke against this bill. From what I am learning, there are quite a few, because my office has been inundated with emails and phone calls. I have met with members of the Vietnamese community in Toronto who do not support the bill and are very hurt that their voices are not allowed to be heard. They requested to appear before the Senate committee and were refused. They were not allowed to speak before the committee.

I sent a brief to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that I was given by a member of the community in Toronto in the hope that it would be put before the committee. The brief points out that the bill offends and marginalizes most of the people it purports to honour by assuming that they would join former Saigon military officers in commemorating the fall of Saigon on April 30. The majority of Vietnamese Canadians will never join that commemoration. I read this directly from a brief I was given, which clearly shows there is a divide in the community. As responsible legislators, we need to ensure that all voices are heard, and that did not happen in the Senate. I hope that in the committee phase we will be able to ensure that all voices are heard.

The second main point identified in the brief is that the bill exploits the boat people and the Canadians who helped them by using them to justify having a national day to commemorate the fall of the Saigon military regime, a divisive, partisan, political event that most of them will not participate in. Once again, they outline that there is a divide and that they do not want a bill that commemorates the fall of the regime or commemorates something that only part of the community here wants to be part of. It is important that we hear all voices, and that has not happened at the Senate committee. If I seem a little repetitive, it is because I am purposely repeating the fact that the Senate was extremely biased and did not allow all voices to be heard.

The third main point outlined in the brief is that the bill slights the Canadian Forces by falsely claiming that they were involved in the Vietnam War. The bill does not give credit to Canadian Forces for carrying nearly all of the refugees from Asian camps to Canada.

I tend to agree with that, because Canada was not involved in the war. Canada did not have a participatory role in the war, yet Canada was a country that was a safe haven. Our forces went in and helped people by removing them from the camps when they fled Vietnam and went to other countries. That is not being recognized in the bill.

What I am hearing from members of my community is that the bill is divisive. Why can we not move forward in a way that gives us something that all Vietnamese Canadians can come together around and make sure that it is inclusive for everyone, rather than just a small group of people from Vietnam who live in Canada now, or even many Canadian-born Canadians who are not naturalized Canadians? We are all Canadians, and they are saying they all want to be included.

Further on, the brief mentions that the problem is that there were waves of migrants who came to Canada from Vietnam. The first wave were people who were working for the Saigon regime at the time and fled after the end of the war, which ended on April 30. That date is tied very closely with the war, and many people were affected by it. Whenever a war happens, many people are affected. I know from personal experience. I was born in a war zone and know the personal, lived experience of being in a war. No matter how the idea is spun, life is impacted severely by a war. I am hearing that people do not want this day of commemoration to be about the war or the end of the war; they want it to be about showing gratitude to Canada. That date is not April 30, 1975. They would like to adopt July 27, 1979, because that was the first date that refugees were brought into Canada by the Canadian Forces. Why can we not consider that option?

I wish I had more time to go further into this. I have had petitions sent to my office, and the one I am holding has more than 222 signatures from people all across the country who say that the process was severely biased and seriously flawed because it was undemocratically put forward and there is no transparency in the bill. People suggest that another date, any time in July, be set aside as the date, because that would help the community come together and not be further divided. The community wants to stand together to commemorate and to show their gratitude for Canada.

The bill says it is about giving gratitude, but it is called the journey to freedom day bill. Which journey to freedom does the bill actually talk about? That is the real question.

Business of Supply March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we know that income inequality in our country is spiralling out of control, that incomes in the top 1% have been surging for decades while the typical Canadian, the middle-class Canadian family, has seen income fall over the last 35 years.

I want to talk about the minimum wage because it is a mechanism that is used to lift people out of poverty. We know that, in real terms, the average minimum wage in Canada has actually increased by only 1% over the last 40 years. I want to know if my colleague thinks that is acceptable. I know that we proposed solutions, and I wonder if he can talk about some real, meaningful, tangible solutions.