Hon. Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, human history is littered with examples of our capacity to inflict great evil upon each other. There are also times when humanity has shown its capacity for great compassion and love.
The greatest failures of humanity have occurred when opportunities for us to exhibit our capacity for compassion are presented but we choose instead to turn our backs. These would be the times when we justify that it is too difficult to do something, that it is not our place, that we are already doing enough, that it is too risky, or that something cannot be done. Simply put, the greatest failures of humanity occur when we self-justify our failure to prevent the infliction of evil upon others when we know it is occurring.
Unfortunately, as we near Canada's 150th anniversary, our country has many examples of these great failures. We allowed the Komagata Maru affair to happen. We allowed the Chinese head tax to happen. We interned Japanese Canadians during World War II. We allowed the residential school system to happen. The most shameful thing we as a country could do is to forget the lessons of these events, to dismiss them as in the past, to think that they could not possibly happen again, and then to repeat them. Today, I believe we are at risk of doing just that.
In 1939, the MS St. Louis, carrying more than 900 refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution, changed course for Canada after being denied entry to the United States. A group of Canadian academics and clergy tried to persuade Mackenzie King to provide sanctuary to the ship's passengers, but an immigration official, a bureaucrat, persuaded the prime minister not to intervene. These refugees were turned away and sent to face genocide.
I would like to imagine that I do not know any of the excuses this bureaucrat used to justify Canada's failure to show compassion and love. However, I suspect they sound a lot like the excuses being delivered by Canadian federal immigration officials today, as many of us in the House across party lines seek to find ways to help the Yazidi people who are facing genocide. Frederick Blair was the name of the immigration official who persuaded the prime minister to turn away the MS St. Louis. In 2000, his nephew apologized to Canadians for his shameful record.
I have two charges today, one to my elected colleagues and another to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada bureaucrats.
The first charge is to the immigration bureaucrats who are sitting in the government lobby right now watching this speech, nervously hovering over government MPs, and handing out department-written speeches designed to obfuscate the fact that Canada has done nothing to help the Yazidi people.
This charge is directed to junior bureaucrats who write up the briefing notes to the minister for their bosses, which tell him that it is too hard to help these people, that the Turkish and Greek governments' policies are too hard to navigate, and that Canada cannot possibly help.
This charge is to the IRCC official who has the job of watching this debate right now and writing up the key points in summary for the bosses, so that media talking points can be written, instead of seeking to help the Yazidi people.
This charge is to the ADMs and DM of IRCC who have spent more time in the last two years, across two governments, coming up with reasons as to why we cannot help the Yazidi people, instead of finding innovative ways to do so.
My charge for them is this. In the decades ahead, will their families have to apologize for their being so stuck in the mire of a bureaucracy that they were unable or unwilling to help a people facing genocide, or will they push forward and find innovative approaches to help these people?
My second charge is to my elected colleagues. We are elected to make decisions on behalf of the people we represent, not these officials. They carry out our will and, in doing so, the will of the people of Canada. For two years, we have sat in committee meetings, briefings, and caucus meetings listening to reasons why we cannot help.
In the meantime, thousands of Yazidi women have been raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. Right now, Yazidi children are being trained to become suicide bombers after being stripped from their families. Right now, tens of thousands of Yazidis lie in mass graves. Right now, Yazidis in refugee camps in Greece and in Turkey know that they can never go home or they will die. Right now, these same refugees are being persecuted and beaten in these same refugee camps.
A deputy director for research at Amnesty International has said, “The international community must translate its shock and horror at IS crimes...into concrete actions”. Yet, we listen to the advice of bureaucrats when they say that Canada cannot do anything.
Groups that have raised money to bring these families to Canada and have identified them are being told by bureaucrats that there is nothing we can do to help, that it is too hard, that it is really not Canada's place, and that we are already doing enough. That is all false. It needs to stop, and it needs to stop today.
My charge to my elected colleagues is this. We were elected to bring hope and change to Canada. This is one of those moments in our parliamentary careers when we have the ability to impact change and bring hope. I will not stand in this place, on the eve of Canada's 150th anniversary, and allow us to repeat a great failure in our history. I implore my colleagues, if for nothing else than for the sake of Canada's honour, to do the same.
Now to the motion before us today. The motion asks the government to take immediate action to support Yazidi victims of genocide. It asks us to first recognize that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people. This is a fact that is well established and should be formally recognized in a vote in the House, which has not yet been done. This is our opportunity to do so.
The motion then asks us to acknowledge that many Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive by ISIS as sexual slaves. Again, this is a fact. Our acknowledgement of this by supporting the motion would send a message to the international community that this is a great atrocity and that we are compelled to stop it.
The motion also asks us to recognize that the government has neglected to provide the House with an appropriate plan and the corresponding action required to respond to this humanitarian crisis. I do not want this debate to become about who did less for the Yazidi people, our former government or the present government. However, I feel that this is where we are at, and we have to move past it.
This component of the motion is included because if we do not acknowledge our shared failure, we can never move forward in helping these people. This part of the motion is included because when our former government asked IRCC bureaucrats to establish ways for Canada to prioritize persecuted and ethnic religious minorities in our refugee system, we were stymied.
The reality is that Canada is dependent upon the UN to provide the names of refugees to Canada, and the UN is not delivering Yazidi names to us. We need to innovate to stop this spiral of uselessness.
For my Liberal colleagues who will retort and say that Canada should in every instance turn a blind eye to religion and ethnicity in the prioritization of refugees, I would disagree, as these factors sometimes are the key contributing factors to the reason people are refugees to begin with. However, for today, let us put that aside and look at the fact that with the Yazidi people, we are dealing with people who are facing genocide. This is a separate category of persecution, and it carries with it a different level of responsibility when it comes to the protection of these people, because their very survival as a distinct group is threatened. The United Nations has even explicitly asked Canadians to prioritize Yazidis in its report.
This component of the motion is here because, to date, the government has failed to acknowledge that the Yazidi people need to be prioritized in Canada's refugee system, let alone put in place a plan to help them.
We could argue that the government's retraction of our CF-18s from the fight to contain ISIS did not help the Yazidi cause, given that it is widely acknowledged that the coalition air strikes have greatly aided Iraqi ground forces in taking back key ISIS strongholds. That aside, I will give the House three specific instances of when the government has had an opportunity to show a clear action plan to assist the Yazidi people but has failed to do so.
First, I have asked the Minister of Immigration many questions in the House about what he is doing to accelerate Yazidi refugee claims. In one of these recent exchanges, he said, “we do not know how many Yazidi refugees have come to Canada.... What I do know is that we have admitted more than 30,000 Syrian refugees”.
In his reply there is no acknowledgement that we need to prioritize Yazidi genocide victims in our refugee system. While the government has certainly admitted more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, the reality is that departmental officials told a parliamentary committee that only nine Yazidi refugee cases have been processed. Further, many Yazidis are not Syrian refugees. Most of them originate in Iraq.
After being slow to acknowledge the genocide of the Yazidi people, the minister's response was a punch in the gut for many organizations in Canada that are working hard to bring Yazidis to Canada.
The government has failed to show a plan to assist Yazidis. Operation Ezra, a multi-faith group, which has fundraised over $250,000 to bring Yazidi families to Canada, has been, politely put, given the runaround by the minister and his bureaucrats for over a year now. They had Yazidi refugees identified who are in camps outside of Iraq that are accessible by UN and Canadian officials alike.
When one of the organizers of this group, a Yazidi woman herself, approached the minister at a citizenship ceremony in Winnipeg last week, at the Museum of Human Rights, no less, about the families they had identified, he said that it was in the hands of the bureaucracy and that there was nothing he could do. For the love of God, he is the Minister of Immigration. If there is nothing he can do to help Yazidis, then maybe we need a new immigration minister, because that is his job.
The third failure of the government to present a plan occurred when the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship presented its sixth report to Parliament a little over two weeks ago. Our committee held emergency summer meetings regarding the Yazidi genocide, and Nadia Murad, a UN ambassador and a survivor of sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS, testified, as did other Yazidis and organizations that are working to help the Yazidi people. We heard hours of damning testimony about the inability of the international community to help the Yazidi people.
We also heard concrete and smart recommendations that Canada could examine to develop a plan to help the Yazidi. The report that was submitted after all that work contained exactly zero recommendations to help the Yazidi. Instead, the government opted to issue an op-ed in the Toronto Star in which it listed the following reason why it could not help the Yazidi. It stated:
|| Yazidi society is based on a caste structure...
|| Although this tradition has been questioned in recent years, it remains firmly in place. The result is that members of the morid class could be overlooked, even though their predicament may be far worse than that felt by shaikh and pir elites and their families. This is not a certainty, but it is a possibility and should give us pause.
Instead of seeking to help the Yazidi, a Liberal member wrote an op-ed about why their religious structure should exclude them from being refugees to Canada. I highly doubt that the member talked to any Yazidi families about this or sought understanding. He simply made assumptions about their religion and then used it as an excuse for why Canada should not help. This article is perhaps one of the most embarrassing pieces of garbage I have ever had the misfortune of reading. It tarnished the reputation of a government that has welcomed many refugees to Canada. The government needs to clarify whether this is in fact the real reason it is not helping Yazidis.
All this said, I am willing to amend and remove this component of the motion if the government will commit to immediately helping the Yazidi. To me, saving the lives of these people is more important than an argument about who did less when.
A plan, with a very short timeline for action, is what matters now. The plan should include ways to address items (d) and (e) in the motion, which are to support recommendations found in the June 15 report, issued by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, entitled “They came to destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”, and to call upon the government to take immediate action on the recommendations found in sections 210, 212, and 213 of said report and use its full authority to provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 30 days.
The recommendations in the UN report present a clear, non-partisan, concrete path for the international community to protect the Yazidi people and should also be reflected in Canada's action plan. These recommendations are the following: strongly encourage rescue plans targeted at Yazidi captives; encourage coordination between local and international armed forces where military operations target ISIS controlled regions where Yazidi captives are held; use all means available to ensure that Yazidis held captive by ISIS and Syria are rescued during ongoing military operations; put in place a protocol for the care and treatment of Yazidis rescued as areas are seized from ISIS; recognize ISIS's commission of the crime of genocide against the Yazidis of Sinjar; and for those states that are contracting parties to the genocide convention, engage with article VIII of the convention and call upon competent organs of the United Nations, including the Security Council, to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations to prevent and suppress acts of genocide.
Further, provide expertise, on request, to assist in the preservation and documentation of mass grave sites; provide further funding for psychosocial support programs, with increased emphasis on trauma therapy for children, noting that Yazidi children have suffered different violations, depending on their sex; provide funding and expertise to support the training of psychologists and social workers in Iraq and Syria; provide funding for the reconstruction of Sinjar and expertise to allow more efficient clearing of improvised explosive devices; accelerate the asylum claims of Yazidi victims of genocide; and ensure that the provisions of the genocide convention are enacted in national legislation, as contracting states are obliged to do under article V of the genocide convention.
There are many more good recommendations under this section, and that is why these recommendations are included in the motion today. They come from the UN. They are non-partisan, and the UN hopes that the world will act on this.
Given that the government is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council, in addition to saving Yazidi lives it should show international leadership in advancing UN directives by supporting the motion today.
When the Prime Minister posed for a photograph with Nadia Murad in New York, I hope he recognized Canada's covenant to do her and her people justice by championing these recommendations.
The motion also includes a special reference to Yazidi women and girls, not to the exclusion of Yazidi men but as an acknowledgement that there are many survivors of sexual violence who need to be supported in our country. Germany recently accepted over 1,000 Yazidi sex slave survivors and their families. There is no reason Canada cannot do the same.
Moreover, we need to put a deadline on a plan for action. It has been nearly two years since the massacre at Sinjar, and every day that passes, more Yazidis die. In the 2015 election campaign, the government said that bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015 was only a matter of political will. The government was sworn in on November 4, 2015, yet it held firm to its year-end commitment.
Today is October 20, 2016. If the government could commit to focusing on bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada in a similar time period, surely it could commit to doing what the motion asks, which is to assist Yazidis within a 30-day period, after having had a year to already so.
Further, the government has the benefit of hours of committee testimony and the recommendations contained in the dissenting reports of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The time for committees and reports has passed, and the time for action is now. The government needs to act today. Frankly, even 30 days is too long.
For my colleagues today who have speeches prepared by departmental officials that say that we cannot help Yazidis because it is too dangerous to travel to Iraq, keep in mind that figuring out how Canada can help internally displaced Yazidis and helping Yazidis who have made it to camps in Greece and Turkey are not mutually exclusive. Yazidis in these places still face persecution, which often hampers their ability to find employment and stay in camps for any length of time, and they cannot go home, because the religious majority in the region is likely to kill them if they do so. As well, many Yazidi villages have been razed and simply do not exist anymore.
Testimony at our committee also showed proof that Yazidi refugees are being discriminated against by UN screening agents and are not making the lists that are given to Canada for the selection of government sponsored refugees. For these reasons, Yazidi refugees in these camps should absolutely be prioritized, and they should be the first people Canada helps.
Canadian departmental officials who say that this cannot be done simply are not being encouraged strongly enough by elected leaders. For this reason, many Yazidis will be listening to the speeches given here today to see if we are courageous leaders or bureaucrat followers.
I implore members to support the motion. In the words of author Ken Harbaugh, who recently visited a Yazidi refugee camp in Greece:
|| In every other camp I have visited, refugees talk of one day going home. That can never happen for the Yazidis. The brutality that drove them here was utterly complete. Their homes were burned, their worship houses were defiled, their faith vilified. When ISIS targeted their ancestral lands in northern Iraq, the Sinjar mountains became the Yazidi's last stand. The world watched as ISIS closed in, intent on finishing the massacre begun in the villages....
|| Now, their culture hangs in the balance. Its survival depends on an ancient woman who can neither see nor walk, but can remember it all too well. It depends on a saint like Nadia Murad, who wanted nothing more than to become a school teacher in the shadow of Mount Sinjar and now carries the weight of her people's grief. And ultimately, it depends on us, on whether the world awakens to the suffering of the Yazidis, or lets it count for nothing.
Let our actions here today count for something. Support the motion, support the Yazidi people, and show Canada's capacity to stand for good in the face of great evil.
Mr. Arif Virani (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important debate.
I first want to acknowledge the advocacy on this issue by the member for Calgary Nose Hill. She has put a very important motion on the persecution of minority groups in Iraq and Syria before the House. I think I can safely say that everyone in the House, across party lines, is outraged by the despicable attacks on minority groups by Daesh.
As a member of this chamber who has had the opportunity to prosecute genocide at the Rwanda war crimes tribunal with the UN, I can say that I am personally horrified by genocide whenever it emerges. It is indeed an issue that members take seriously, none more so than I do, as someone who has participated in taking action on the very types of genocide we are discussing today.
Genocide is clearly the most internationally reprehensible crime known to law and is something to which the international community should respond. Canadians in general have expressed their horror at the murderous actions of Daesh against groups such as the Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims, women, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Since 2014, we know that the actions of Daesh have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, and many more innocent people have faced persecution. These terrible acts have appalled governments and people around the world, not only for their cruelty but also for how they have contributed greatly to the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
In addition to the refugees in other countries, more than three million people are internally displaced in Iraq. The Government of Canada recognizes the need to protect Yazidis throughout this region. We have a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it the most. We are a key contributor to international efforts to address protection issues in the region and, indeed, a hallmark of our government is that we believe in engagement with the international community, not isolation from it. That is what Canadians expect of their government. That is exactly what this government has been doing in the first year of its mandate.
Canada has always provided refuge to the world's most vulnerable people. We have welcomed generations of newcomers, who have helped us rebuild our society and economy. We have learned through years of experience that when Canadians come together to welcome and integrate newcomers, it strengthens our communities and contributes to our country's prosperity.
We see this unfolding now as we continue to welcome the some 32,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived since November 4, 2015, in addition to the thousands of other refugees from other populations. In respect of Iraq, the Government of Canada has fulfilled its commitment to resettle 23,000 Iraqi refugees alone. This was accomplished through both the government-assisted and privately sponsored refugee programs.
Following the comments made by the Minister of Immigration in the House a short while ago, I can confirm to the House that departmental officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have very recently completed a visit to northern Iraq. In addition to having interviewed a very large number of Syrian refugees, these officials also met with key partners to gather as much information as possible on the situation on the ground.
Given the security situation in Iraq, we need to consider these next steps very carefully. The region's continuing instability presents very significant challenges to accessing persons who are being persecuted by Daesh in order to identify, select, and interview them, not to mention getting them out of Iraq, while ensuring that our immigration officers, members of the Yazidi community themselves, and other vulnerable groups remain out of harm's way. Moreover, recent military activities in northern Iraq present even greater challenges to the safety of Canadian personnel, as well as aid agencies and partner organizations working in the area.
As well, with the massive displacement expected as a result of the activities that are ongoing right now near Mosul, close to a million internally displaced persons are expected to be on the move and seeking shelter from violence. Some of the very partners we need to work with in the region will be consumed with this mass movement of people, making discussions and coordination with local governments and agencies even more difficult.
Let me underscore that the refugee resettlement we undertake is not Canada's action alone. We do it in concert with partners, such as the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Without their co-operation and their ability to act on our behalf, operations such as the current refugee resettlement or future operations relating to the Yazidi people simply cannot occur.
The feasibility of any program assisting these vulnerable groups in northern Iraq is going to be assessed in light of the challenges that I've just been describing.
We are also aware of the fact that there is a vulnerable Iraqi population in Turkey, which includes the Yazidi people. We would like to explore working with the Turkish government and the UNHCR to look at the best possible resettlement options for that group.
When choosing which refugees to welcome, we rely on our partners, as I mentioned, such as the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, to help us find vulnerable individuals. The UNHCR independently identifies and refers the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement, including people with severe medical needs, survivors of torture or violence, children and adolescents at risk, and women and girls at risk.
In all of its humanitarian programs, including resettlement, UNHCR prioritizes those who are most vulnerable without making distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class, or political opinion. That is an important mandate and it is one that we believe should continue in order to facilitate the responsible resettlement of refugees to this country and to other countries throughout the world.
Such prioritization naturally results in programming that addresses the protection and assistance needs of victims of attacks and abuses, including those who are attacked on ethnic and religious grounds. It is important to underline that persecution based on religion is a consideration that is already assessed by a visa officer but the government does not track cases based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
However, referrals by the UN Refugee Agency and other referral organizations and private sponsors mean that Canada is well-positioned to provide protection to the most vulnerable refugees identified by our partners, including religious minorities like Yazidis. We know from anecdotal information that some Yazidis have been successfully resettled to Canada. For that, we are thankful. However, we are unable to provide the specific number of Yazidis who have been resettled because we do not track refugees according to their ethnicity or their religious affiliation.
I must also note that there are limits to what our dedicated visa officers can achieve in places such as Iraq and Syria, where the safety and security of all who are there continue to be at significant risk. Indeed, our recent trip was undertaken under top secret classification, and it is only now that I am able to report that it has concluded. The region's instability makes it extremely difficult to reach these vulnerable Yazidis in order to identify and interview them in an effort to get them out of Iraq. We have to ensure that we do not endanger them or other vulnerable groups or place our immigration field officers in harm's way.
With respect to what we have been doing in the region, I would highlight the efforts we have made with the Syrian population, which has captured the attention of the world. We have heard this referenced this morning already.
Canadians and permanent residents of this country have stepped forward in a compassionate, tolerant, open, and internationally engaged manner to sponsor and welcome Syrian refugees under various programs, including the private sponsorship program. We have witnessed a truly national effort in this regard, collaboration by government and non-government actors, service provider organizations, the private sponsors themselves, the public and private sectors, and people from literally coast to coast to coast. Those efforts have attracted the attention of many countries around the world, attention that has added to our country's long-standing tradition of a well-respected international reputation for generosity and humanitarianism.
In respect of that tradition, members of the House agree that this type of issue is an important issue that needs to be addressed. If there is an opportunity wherein we can work collaboratively with parties across the aisle to come up with a non-partisan approach to how we can best assist the Yazidi people, that is exactly the type of opportunity we are looking to explore. This includes welcoming persecuted and vulnerable groups, whether from the Middle East, Iraq, or elsewhere, including those fleeing war zones and those in need of legal or physical protection.
Canada resettles refugees to save lives and to provide stability to those who are fleeing persecution.
This past year has been our most ambitious year ever, in terms of refugee resettlement. The compassion and fairness that we have seen is justifiably a source of great pride for Canadians, the Canadian government, and all parliamentarians. These values are at the core of our refugee program and our resettlement assistance program, which have been praised by the United Nations Refugee Agency as recently as the summit in September in New York.
We will continue to provide protection to individual cases with compelling protection needs around the world. Once again, I believe all of us can agree that the actions of Daesh, as have been witnessed and as have been documented by the UN and other actors, are brutal, are unjustified, and should be soundly condemned.
The member for Calgary Nose Hill referenced in her comments the actions taken by the House of Commons Standing Committees on Citizenship and Immigration with respect to a study on internally displaced people and vulnerable groups, which included the Yazidis, among other groups.
The fact that the study was undertaken under the leadership of the chair of the committee and by the members of three different parties who sit on that committee and there was a unanimous decision taken about pursuing that kind of study, that is exactly the type of non-partisan collegial co-operation that we need to see more of in the House in addressing this kind of issue. When we are dealing with genocide, partisanship has no place in the discussion. I firmly believe that and I believe my colleagues opposite firmly believe that.
We heard from many witnesses that day, including Ms. Murad on behalf of the Yazidi people. She testified before our committee. She has been around the world talking about the Yazidi people. She testified at the United Nations in September. Her testimony was compelling. It was moving. It was a call to action.
That kind of call to action has been answered by this government in the past, whether it was Hungary, Vietnam, or Uganda. Parenthetically, I am a by-product of that kind of call to action because I came here as a Ugandan Asian refugee in 1972. We have heard a call to action for Kosovo. We have heard calls to action for Syria. We have responded to those calls to action. With co-operation and with a collaborative approach, I am confident we can address the call to action here.
There are great challenges, as I have outlined, in terms of offering Canada's protection to people in danger and turmoil. What I can do is assure the House that the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is actively exploring options to respond to these challenges. The trip that was recently taken into northern Iraq is a testament to the action that is being taken.
What we are trying to do is support the basic needs of those most affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, to support the stabilization of areas that are newly liberated from Daesh, and to bolster the investigative and judicial processes so that perpetrators of atrocities are held responsible. We have also taken action on the international development front. As the Minister of International Development has stated:
|| Canada’s assistance will help meet the urgent health, shelter, protection, education and food needs of hundreds of thousands of affected civilians. Our assistance will also support organizations responding to incidents of violence and sexual abuse, particularly against women and girls, who have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis.
Over the next three years, Canada will be contributing $840 million in humanitarian assistance and $270 million in development assistance, in addition to the $145 million already dedicated to counter-terrorism, stabilization, and security programming in the region. That is on the monetary front. There is significant diplomatic engagement. There is significant co-operation with our allies, both at the UN and among nation states, which we are also engaged in. We will continue to provide protection to individual cases with compelling protection needs around the world.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important topic. It is something that is personally meaningful to me as a former war crimes prosecutor. It is something that is inherently meaningful to everyone in this chamber, because when we are dealing with genocide and there is a call to action, a collaborative approach is required and Canadians and parliamentarians need to speak with one voice.
Ms. Hélène Laverdière (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by informing you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver East
The Yazidis are a proud and ancient people. What has happened to them and what is still happening to them is absolutely horrendous. They are being tortured and killed. They are being taken into slavery and sexual slavery. The women are being separated from the men. Children are being taken from their families, often so that they can be trained for combat. It is a genocide and we are not the only ones saying so. The United Nations also agrees.
We need to take action. It is urgent and important. It calls upon our humanity. These people need help. That is why we are going to support the motion before us today. It is a very important motion and I thank my colleague for moving it.
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development heard some very troubling testimony about the situation of the Yazidis. I know that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration also heard some moving accounts. What is happening here today is partly the result of the extraordinary work that the committee has done in this regard, and I hope that more will be done. Following the study in committee, the NDP issued a series of practical recommendations. In a case like this, we need to be practical to determine what measures can be taken.
We therefore made very practical recommendations with regard to relocation, for example. We think that the Government of Canada, through the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, should use the discretionary power granted under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and take immediate action to bring Yazidis who are fleeing the genocide to Canada. To that end, credible organizations on the ground would identify and select the genocide victims who would be relocated to Canada. These measures should build on the policies and initiatives already in place.
As far as humanitarian assistance is concerned, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the Minister of Foreign Affairs should ensure that humanitarian assistance levels are increased and they should work more closely with credible groups on the ground to ensure that the humanitarian assistance gets to those who need it.
The processing delays are a major issue. The additional oversight provided by Canada, in other words, the additional interviews conducted by Canadian officers, cause inexcusable and unacceptable delays in the current context. We urge the government to ease up on this additional oversight and bring to Canada the Yazidis selected for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. If the government is not on board with this and decides that additional oversight is necessary, although it is not clear why, then there are some mechanisms that can be used for this purpose. For example, it could use a process similar to the one used for family reunification, whereby additional oversight may be used in cases that raise red flags. Otherwise, the government could proceed the way it does for family reunification.
Refugees selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could obtain a temporary visa to enter Canada and then get permanent resident status once the next stage of the screening process is done here. We know that generally speaking this group of people does not pose any significant threat.
We must use our imagination to find ways to accelerate the process given the terrible situation in which these people find themselves.
We must give them asylum, but we must also give them justice. That is important. These people have a right to justice, but in addition to that right and the importance it could have for them, it would serve to prevent further genocide. Failing to deal with crimes of genocide could result in them being repeated again and again. We must prevent them on the ground, and we must prevent them by ensuring that justice is served when a case such as this arises.
Justice does not just happen. People do not just find themselves before the International Criminal Court or other tribunals where decisions are rendered. It requires evidence and detailed analyses on the ground.
I am now appealing to the current government. Largely due to our efforts, in 2015 the Conservative government agreed to allocate a little bit of money, or just over $1 million, for what is known as transitional justice in Iraq and Syria. I believe we should be doing much more than that, but at least it was a first step. That was in May 2015, and we have not heard much since then. I would like to know if the program still exists. I would also like to strongly encourage the government to invest in the program and, naturally, to work with our partners so that this matter is presented to the International Criminal Court and all other similar bodies.
Finally, we must fight those who commit crimes against humanity. The Yazidis have suffered a tragedy in a context where the abuse of human rights is generalized, and not just by ISIS. We must never stop pointing out that the Bashar al-Assad regime is blatantly attacking its own citizens and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, we are seeing too many such crimes.
Everyone knows we sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, and apparently the Saudi coalition is committing crimes against humanity in Yemen too.
I do not have enough time left to delve into all of these issues, but I do know for sure that we must act, and that includes providing humanitarian aid. We have to stop the flow of arms to those regions. We have to cut financial lifelines to the whole region, with our first priority being to impede those who are perpetrating genocide against the Yazidi people.
We also need to keep in mind the need to rebuild not only cities and roads, but communities, and hopefully soon. That will be key to ensuring lasting peace.
I would like to close with a quote from the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, whom I believe was absolutely right when he said that over the longer term, the biggest threat to terrorists is not the power of missiles; it is the politics of inclusion.
Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am compelled to rise in the House today to speak to and support the motion of the member for Calgary Nose Hill.
This summer, members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration approved holding an emergency meeting for a study on protecting vulnerable groups.
The declaration made by the United Nations Human Rights Council in its report released in June of this year, entitled “'They came to destroy': ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”, explicitly stating the ongoing crime of genocide being committed, was certainly the impetus for this study.
While the committee had the opportunity to hear about vulnerable groups and internally displaced persons from a number of countries and regions, the testimony regarding the still ongoing situation facing the Yazidi people was nothing short of harrowing.
The Yazidi people follow an ancient religion believed to have been founded in the eleventh century and are a historically misunderstood group. One of the major points of this misunderstanding is Tawsi Melek, the peacock angel. The reverence for the peacock angel, a fallen but forgiven angel, has led them to be misconstrued throughout history as “devil worshippers”. Tragically, this gross misunderstanding has led to the Yazidi people being subjected to more than 70 genocidal massacres since the 18th century.
Today, the most recent attempt to exterminate the Yazidi people is happening before our eyes.
The UN Human Rights Council report and individuals appearing at the citizenship committee have provided heart-wrenching details of the crimes against humanity being perpetrated against these innocent people. To quote the UN report:
|| ISIS has sought to destroy the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community, and erasing their identity as Yazidis.
After the release of this report, the Minister of Foreign Affairs delivered a statement in the House of Commons echoing the declaration of genocide against the Yazidis. Unfortunately, despite this recognition and Canada's historic key role in the establishment of the international doctrine, “responsibility to protect”, the government has thus far failed to take any concrete and direct action to provide humanitarian assistance to the Yazidi people.
This report in turn served as both the impetus and foundation for an urgent, intensive study that was undertaken by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which took place from July 18 to 20, on immigration measures for the protection of vulnerable groups.
The committee had the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from both survivors of trauma and those working on the ground to extract vulnerable people from suffering.
We received many thoughtful recommendations from individuals and organizations on how Canada can best position itself as a world leader in addressing the extreme suffering facing vulnerable people in the world today.
As a result of our committee's study, I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Nadia Murad, both through her appearance at committee and in a separate meeting.
Ms. Murad is a Yazidi genocide survivor. Her strength, resilience, and dedication to her people after facing such incredible atrocities, which attempted to strip away her humanity, are nothing short of astounding.
Ms. Murad was enjoying her summer vacation from school when ISIS attacked her peaceful village in Sinjar. She was preparing to enter grade six and focus on getting good grades. Horrifically, the next time she was at school was a moment she will never forget. As she explained to our committee:
|| I was in the village, along with more than 1,700 individuals, and we were seized for two weeks under the control of ISIL. We asked for help from all sides because we knew that our destiny would be for the men to be killed and for the women and children to be taken hostage. We asked for help, but unfortunately we did not get help. On August 15, they gathered us at the village school, they separated the men from the women. They killed our men. More than 700 men in a matter of two hours were killed in the village of Kocho. We saw our fathers, our brothers, and our sons getting killed at the outskirts of the village.
The atrocities did not stop there. Ms. Murad detailed what she and thousands of other Yazidi women and girls were subjected to. She said:
|When they took us, the girls and children, we were not simply held prisoners, but they committed crimes against us. They forced us to change our religion. They raped us. They sold us. They leased us. This continues today against more than 3,000 women and children in Iraq and Syria.
In a show of unbelievable resilience, Ms. Murad was eventually able to escape ISIS enslavement. During our committee's study, I stated that this study was perhaps one of the most important moments of the work that we would do here at this committee, so for that reason, we needed to focus on solutions.
While much of the testimony we heard was of tragedy, the atrocities committed, the cataloguing of mass graves, and the discrimination that Yazidi people can still face, even within a refugee camp, we did hear that not only were there ways Canada could help, but these actions were already being taken by some countries.
Mr. Murad Ismael, the executive director of Yazda, spoke to the committee about the decision made by Germany. The German government acted quickly, formed a committee that was sent to Iraq, and engaged in an expedited process to bring 1,100 Yazidi women and children to Germany within a few months. Mr. Murad also informed us about project Yazda, which has been working with the Australian government to resettle Yazidis. We were further informed that they have registered about 200 people and believe about 300 in total will be resettled in Australia. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Australian government bypassed the UN system, bringing these people directly to asylum in Australia.
Mr. Murad stated that his organization alone has a detailed database of 900 Yazidi women and children who have gone through similar atrocities and traumas as Ms. Murad, of which 600 are still in Iraq. Additionally, Mr. Mirza Ismail, from Yezidi Human Rights Organization International, noted that “In total there are about 3,363 Yazidi refugees in Greece”. There are also thousands currently in the Turkish camps.
Precious time has already passed since the summer when the committee met on an urgent basis. Action needs to be taken now. I implore all members of the House to recognize what we are talking about in this motion. It is genocide, and as Canadians we have a duty to act. Protecting human lives in the face of genocide is not something that should be done if it happens to fit within our “immigration levels plan”. This is an exceptional situation that requires exceptional action.
I laid out in my letter to the minister, as well as in my supplementary report for the summer's committee study, a series of recommendations for immediate action that can be taken. One such recommendation is included in this motion: to immediately act on the UN report's recommendations 210, 212, and 213.
I would like to quote Ms. Murad's committee testimony. She said:
|| When I was besieged I heard that thousands of girls had been taken as hostages. I thought, well, maybe they would take me as a hostage, and perhaps I would try to reason with them, try to convince them that I am a human being, that I have done nothing to deserve to be raped, to be sold for nothing. I thought I would try to reason with ISIL because they are human beings, but when they took me away they did not give me any chance to say anything, to say that I was a young girl, that I had the right to live. When ISIL did not give me the chance, did not want to hear from me, I said I was going to talk to the world, and the world would understand me. For more than six months I went to more than 17 countries, talking to presidents, to parliamentarians, and other people, and saying, “Listen up, we're talking about girls who are being raped in the jails of ISIL, people who are dying of starvation in the camps, thousands of children who have been deprived of education.” And they were just simply silent, quiet about it, quiet about our right as Yazidis.
If Canada is back, Canada cannot be simply silent. Canada must match its words with action. I implore all members of the House to support this motion.
Hon. Peter Kent (Thornhill, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
I stand in frustrated and impatient support of the motion by the official opposition. I am frustrated because the Liberal government has so deliberately looked the other way in responding to the Yazidi genocide. First, it refused for so long to recognize what was clear to other democracies around the world, that Daesh, so-called ISIS, has committed the crime of genocide and a variety of crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yazidis.
Then, when the Liberals finally recognized this outrage, they have for four months now refused to act, to consider even the most minimal of Canada's state obligations under the UN genocide convention. Two of these obligations are referenced in the motion before us today: to take immediate action upon all recommendations found in sections 210, 212, and 213 of the UN report, and to provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls.
I am impatient because Liberals, from the immigration minister down, have ignored those recommendations by virtually bragging that Canada does not seek to identify refugees by religious or ethnic groupings, and because Liberals, again from the minister down, have excused their government's inaction by saying they only accept refugees on the basis of recommendation and certification of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That is why the motion has been brought before the House today. That is why we in the official opposition are calling on the Liberal government to urgently, if belatedly, reassess and refocus Canada's refugee program.
I was asked yesterday, when notice of today's motion was given, exactly how many Yazidis live in Canada. I think the implication of that question is unfortunately clear. My answer is not many, maybe 4,000 or 5,000 naturalized Canadian citizens or permanent residents, perhaps not from the government's point of view a major political consideration. However, in my riding of Thornhill and across the country, survivors and descendants of the Holocaust and other genocides share my anger and frustration with the government's deliberate inaction on this tragedy.
Of course, I should recognize here the magnificent work done by the Jewish community of Winnipeg with Operation Ezra, which aims to sponsor privately, rescue, and resettle Yazidi refugees in Canada. Many of my constituents in Thornhill are standing by, again willing to sponsor, but the government is not stepping up and enabling those sponsorships.
Canadians have been pretty much left in the dark since the genocide was recognized by the government, despite, as I mentioned, a wide range of obligations that should have triggered Canada as a signatory to the UN genocide convention. While the government currently defers to the UNHCR to identify refugees for resettlement and literally boasts that Canada does not track refugees by religion or ethnicity, we believe the recognition of the genocide and associated atrocities that have been and continue to be committed should have immediately prompted a change in the selection process and should still, prioritizing the acceptance of Yazidis, particularly women, widows, and girls, as well as other persecuted minorities. In short, Conservatives believe that Canada should, when it comes to the Yazidis, deliberately circumvent the UNHCR process for all of the reasons offered here today.
The independent international commission recommended that all parties fighting against Daesh strongly consider rescue plans for thousands of Yazidis still captive in areas held by Daesh. We know that Canada is not in a position to consider such action. More importantly, we must hope that the allied coalition's Operation Inherent Resolve, now focused on liberating Mosul, will result in the effective rescue of many Yazidi prisoners. However, a rescue dimension could and should also apply to the many thousands of individually internally displaced Yazidi people, so-called IDPs, who are in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq.
We know that more than 500,000 Iraqi Yazidis were driven from Sinjar and other communities, many finding sanctuary of a sort in Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region. However, these internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are not recognized or certified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as refugees.
We heard powerful first-hand testimony from a strong, articulate, young survivor of the genocide and brutalization, Nadia Murad, at a special sitting of the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in July, that these displaced Yazidis, along with other persecuted minorities in Iraq, are caught in a terrible limbo. They often face discrimination, less deadly than from Daesh, but discrimination nonetheless, when they register at UN camps, where they are segregated from the others for their own protection.
Outside the camps, the Kurdish sub-sovereign government tries to provide humanitarian food and health services, but there is precious little funding for these IDPs from the Government of Iraq, which should be doing much more. The situation is somewhat better, but only somewhat better, for thousands of Yazidis who have made their way to relative safety in Turkey. However, we were saddened and again frustrated to learn that, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees tells us that it has submitted Yazidi women from Iraq for resettlement from Turkey, it is for Canada to say if the government is considering taking Iraqi Yazidis from Turkey as part of our refugee program. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has not stepped up.
We can be encouraged by the significant and continuing battlefield successes of the allied coalition against the dark, murderous forces of Daesh, but the liberation of cities and towns previously home to millions of Iraqi civilians of many regions, religions, and ethnicities is coming at a terrible cost. These cities are in different states of destruction and rubble, without basic services, and littered with many tonnes of unexploded explosives and booby traps. It has been estimated that it will take billions of dollars to make these cities safe, and many billions of dollars more and years to rebuild.
We know that however generously welcoming Canada and other developed countries might be during this massive refugee crisis, most of the millions of displaced survivors of the wars in Syria and Iraq, and the genocide, can only hope that one day they will be able to return to try to rebuild their homes, communities, and their lives. That is at best a faint hope for the Muslim victims of these wars, but hope is much fainter for the persecuted minorities who survive the conflict, particularly the victims of the Daesh genocide, the Yazidis.
We have suggested to the government several steps that Canada could take to help this tragedy. We suggested a removal of the cap on private sponsorships of Iraqi nationals. Our previous Conservative government did not have a cap on Iraqi or Syrian sponsorship. The Liberals have still not explained why they have chosen to impose a cap. We also urge the Liberal government to reframe Canada's refugee policy to address the specific Yazidi tragedy, to prioritize the most vulnerable, and to actively seek to identify and process survivors of the genocide.
A year ago, the Prime Minister told us that bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada was only a matter of political will. We on this side of the House hope that, despite the delay, the denial, and the inaction to date, the government will finally be moved to the same demonstration of political will and act to provide asylum and proper resettlement, specifically for Yazidi women, widows, and children.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to take part in this important discussion. I hope that all hon. members are familiar with the tragic situation facing the Yazidi people and Christians in Iraq and Syria.
A genocide is taking place. Representatives of the Yazidi community are here in Parliament. They are asking us to give their people the chance to live in freedom and to continue their way of life. We must respond to the specific and unique situation facing the Yazidis and Christians.
We understand that the situation in Iraq and Syria is very difficult for all communities, but it is clear that the Yazidis and the Christians are in a unique situation. The general violence is having a tremendous impact, but the impact of this genocide is on a whole other scale.
What is a refugee? It is a fairly simple question, but it would seem from what we have heard at certain points from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship that he does not actually know what a refugee is, according to the formal definition.
If the minister goes to the website for the UN High Commission for Refugees, he will find the following definition under the heading, “What is a refugee”:
|| A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
The definition comes from the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees, to which Canada is a signatory.
Under Article I it states:
|| For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who....owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
This convention was updated by a 1967 protocol, to which Canada is also a party, which removed certain temporal and geographic restrictions. However, other than that update, the original convention remains in force, and we remain a signatory. Therefore, for the benefit of the minister and the government, that definition of a refugee is clearly set out in international law to which Canada has assented. The minister should know that definition and should apply it, as he has a moral and legal obligation to do so.
As I stated, the core of that definition is that a person has a fear of persecution on the basis of certain identifiable characteristics, yet the minister has told the House that his government does not even identify or track whether refugee applicants qualify as members of these particular identifiable groups, which might expose them to particular persecution.
On October 5, he said this in the House:
|| Mr. Speaker, we do not know how many Yazidi refugees have come to Canada, because when refugees come to Canada, we do not ask them their ethnicity or their religion. We do not discriminate by religion or ethnicity.
While it appears that the parliamentary secretary said something slightly different today, that is what the minister told the House during question period on October 5. I can only conclude from his statement that the minister is either unaware of or unwilling to apply the UN definition of a refugee. As mentioned, this definition specifically entails an assessment of whether or not that person seeking refugee status faces discrimination in their country of origin on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or some other characteristic. We cannot have a serious refugee system without asking if someone fears persecution in their home country, and if so, on what basis. Even beyond the specific question of Yazidis, this exposes an apparent, very serious problem in the way the minister is doing refugee assessment.
The minister said in his comments that Canada should not discriminate by asking questions about religion or ethnicity. However, as a point of basic principle, the minister seems not to understand the difference between ordinary discrimination and ameliorative discrimination, by which I mean the process of providing compensatory advantages for historically disadvantaged minorities who need protection.
Ameliorative discrimination is explicitly protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in two separate sections. Most centrally, on equality rights, subsection 15(2) reads:
|| Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
The clear distinction is made in our law between traditional discrimination aimed at keeping disadvantaged groups down on the one hand, and ameliorative discrimination aimed at raising the relative position of disadvantaged groups on the other hand. This distinction is clearly understood in our domestic human rights jurisprudence, as well as in international law and practice with respect to refugees.
Beyond the definitions and the question of our legal obligation, there is an obvious practical reason why the definition of refugees identifies those who legitimately fear discrimination on the basis of personal characteristics. It is because Canadians expect that when we set out to help people, we work to help those who need the help the most: the vulnerable.
There are many places around the world where people face death, imprisonment, rape, and other forms of abuse because of those identifiable characteristics. Syria and Iraq are obviously very challenging places for anyone right now, but there are groups and individuals who are being singled out for abuse and who are the targets of genocide.
The UN convention on refugees calls on us to respond to them in a particular way, as refugees. However, the Liberals' approach up until now has been to take pride in their ignorance, to stick their head in the sand and to say that they do not track that. They do so without understanding the basis of every legitimate refugee claim, which according to the UN definition is a well-founded fear of persecution, and without understanding that taking those who fit the UN definition of a refugee and are genuinely most vulnerable requires us to notice and ask about these identifiable characteristics. Of course, our system of intake should be asking about the basis on which people have a fear of persecution in order to assess the credibility of their claim and their relative vulnerability. Again, if the government cares about refugees, it should learn the legal definition of a refugee and apply it.
In the past, some have implied that applying the UN definition of a refugee means that we might not end up taking people from certain groups. They have implied that it might mean not taking Muslims, but that is absolutely not the case and that insinuation in some cases shows a real profound misunderstanding of the human rights challenges that exist.
Of course, a Shia Muslim from Saudi Arabia would have a well-founded fear of discrimination on the basis of religion, but a Shia Muslim in Iran would not. A Sunni Muslim from Crimea or East Turkestan would likely have a well-founded fear of discrimination on the basis of religion, but a Sunni Muslim from Egypt would not. An Orthodox Christian from Iraq would have a well-founded fear of discrimination on the basis of religion, but an Orthodox Christian from Russia probably would not. A devout Buddhist from China would have a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of religion, but a Buddhist from Sri Lanka would not. Moreover, a Hindu in Sri Lanka might have a well-founded fear of discrimination on the basis of religion, but a Hindu from India would not. I could go on and on.
The point is that it is about vulnerability. The UN definition is not fundamentally about a religious test. It is about a system of ameliorative discrimination, the counter discrimination that exists in the real world. that requires an adjudication of the situation on the ground of the characteristics of the applicant and the credibility of the claim of discrimination on that basis. Again, we have to ask the question.
Through our motion today we are calling on the government to take notice of and to respond to the particular discrimination faced by Yazidis, Syrian Christians, and other minorities who have been marked out for slaughter by Daesh and their fellow travellers. We should be ensuring that we are taking the victims of genocide, escaped sex slaves, and those who truly need our help the most.
I note from some of the comments by members on the government side that we are seeing more agreement today, and I am optimistic about where that may lead us. I will tell the government that we can only take a nonpartisan tone insofar as the government is doing the right thing. It is far too late at this stage, but I am hopeful that we will see the government make a shift on this. The government has to understand and appreciate these basic principles of refugee determination. It is legitimate to ask the questions and critically important that we take those who are the most vulnerable.
If members of the government remain unconvinced, let me restate the argument in somewhat different terms. What we are saying today in the motion is that Yazidi lives matter. The government's response is in some way akin to saying all lives matter, and, of course, it is true that all lives matter, but it is not the correct response to the specific assertion in this context that Yazidi lives matter. The reason that we need to say that Yazidi lives matter is that it is their lives that are particularly threatened in this context.
I think members would accept in principle that if we have a problem with religious or racial discrimination, it is no virtue to put our head in the sand and pretend that we do not notice a difference, on the basis of being colour-blind or blind to religious or ethnic differences. In cases where systematic discrimination exists, taking the time to notice these problems and recognizing the need for ameliorative measures is critical.
No one disputes in principle that all lives matter, but we do need to attend to those whose lives have not been recognized or respected. That is why we need a refugee approach that notices and responds to difference. It should not be that hard for the government to start noticing and tracking these things. When the officials were specifically asked about this in the technical briefing at the end of last year, they responded that they do not have data fields for it. I say respectfully to the minister and to the government that it is time to fix the data fields, because people are dying.
Ms. Pam Goldsmith-Jones (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Markham—Unionville.
I thank the hon. member for putting this pressing issue on the agenda for a more thorough debate. This motion comes at a major turning point in the fight against Daesh. The Iraqi security forces, supported by the global coalition against Daesh, are currently approaching Mosul, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh in Iraq and its last stronghold in that country.
Canada has been a member of the coalition supporting Iraq since 2014. The training and expertise that we provide to the Iraqi forces and their partners will become invaluable in the coming weeks and months, as the fight against this terrorist organization continues.
However, Canada's role in Iraq goes beyond military support. Canada is investing over $1.6 billion over three years for countering Daesh, and responding to the crises in Iraq and Syria, and to address the significant and tragic impact on the wider region. This includes $840 million in humanitarian assistance, which goes directly to trusted partners for immediate work.
When the hon. member of the opposition calls on this House to support recommendations made by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, this government can say with confidence that it agrees, and it can demonstrate that it is already acting on the recommendations raised in the inquiry.
Ours was the first government to formerly call on the United Nations Security Council for urgent action with regard to the genocide occurring against the Yazidi people.
Daesh and its followers have attacked innocent civilians around the world. Its vile message of hatred knows no borders, but its gravest abuses have been concentrated in Iraq and Syria. The majority of victims have been Muslim, though it has also perpetrated crimes against minority groups, including Christians, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Yazidis.
The Yazidis in northern Iraq have suffered the loss of as many as 5,000 members of their community; 7,000 have been captured, mainly in Syria. Women and girls are forced into sexual slavery; boys are indoctrinated and used as child soldiers.
In the face of genocide against the Yazidis, it is most fitting that all parties in the House join together in support of the opposition member's motion. The Government of Canada has recognized Daesh's crimes against the Yazidis. We have called on the Security Council to take action, and we have been, and continue to participate, in collecting and documenting evidence to ensure that those responsible are held to account.
In terms of immediate action, our government is supporting the delivery of critical psychosocial care to victims. Our humanitarian assistance is also helping to meet basic needs and improve the Yazidis' conditions in camps and host communities. Many of these are located within Iraq where access has been extraordinarily difficult. To ensure Yazidis have the option to return to their homes, we are also supporting the clearance of improvised explosive devices in areas of Iraq that have been newly liberated from Daesh.
Last month, the Minister of Foreign Affairs attended the United Nations General Assembly, where the questions raised by the commission of inquiry about Daesh's horrific crimes and the international community's response to these unspeakable crimes were his first priority. The commission's report documents grave violations of international humanitarian and criminal law.
The minister has stayed focused on the evidence, and on taking action to bring Daesh to justice for its genocide against the Yazidi people. Canada is appalled by these widespread abuses, and the sexual and gender-based violence committed against religious and ethnic communities.
Recent exchanges in New York with representatives of the Yazidi community and senior government officials have advanced our understanding of what steps the international community can and should take.
As leaders in the international community on this issue, I would like to update the House on the many efforts made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the fight against Daesh.
With regard to the United Nations, twice, in May and again in June of this year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to the president of the Security Council to urge it to take action on the matter of Daesh's crimes. On June 16, the Minister of Foreign Affairs stood before the House to recognize the atrocities committed by Daesh against the Yazidis of Sinjar and to state, unequivocally, that these crimes constitute genocide. The Minister of Foreign Affairs continues to call on the UN Security Council to take steps to ensure that those responsible for the atrocious crimes perpetrated by Daesh in Iraq and Syria are held accountable.
In July, my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Consular Affairs, met with Ms. Nadia Murad, a member of the Yazidi community of Iraq and a survivor of sexual violence perpetrated by Daesh, to discuss the plight of her family, friends, and community.
Our mission in Baghdad has been active in reaching out to Yazidi organizations and Iraqi authorities.
In September, in New York, the Minister of Foreign Affairs participated in a dedicated session at the UN General Assembly on the subject of holding Daesh to account. At this high-level meeting, the Minister of Foreign Affairs called upon the UN to establish a special commission to investigate Daesh activities, and called for more action from the international community and, specifically, from the Security Council.
With regard to our international partners, we will be working closely with the U.K. and others in the coming months to activate a core group of actors, and coordinate between governments and relevant organizations as we work toward international consensus on which mechanisms are most effective in ensuring accountability for the atrocities committed by Daesh.
I would also like to express the importance of regional and national partnerships in documenting Daesh crimes and holding it responsible. Iraq's participation, in particular, is critical, which is why Canada supports the Iraqi government's effort to improve governance in the country, strengthen institutions, and mend ethnic and religious divides.
The government is undertaking an integrated approach to the crisis in Syria.
To ensure that Daesh fighters are brought to justice and that victims receive healing support, the government is engaged in evidence collection, in support for courts, and in care for victims.
The starting point of justice and holding Daesh to account is securing the necessary evidence. Canada funds work by civil society organizations in Iraq and Syria to preserve critical evidence, which includes the mass graves that continue to be uncovered as territory is re-taken from Daesh.
Organizations we support, such as the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, have developed legal case files focusing on Daesh criminality in Iraq and Syria, including sexual slavery.
In order to pursue Daesh, local governments and the international community will have to determine the right court system to pursue justice. Options that exist include the International Criminal Court, ad hoc international criminal tribunals or hybrid tribunals, state-level criminal prosecution, and civil actions.
Whichever judicial mechanism or mechanisms are pursued, it is critical that the government of Iraq and the international community, in general, be supported and engaged. The international courts only function if they have the necessary international co-operation. Domestic courts need to have the capacity to conduct fair and independent trials. Canada is actively looking at ways in which we can provide capacity-building to support the important elements of the Iraqi justice sector.
As the international community seeks justice for these crimes, it is important that the survivors of these grave abuses be provided with the care they need. In particular, victims of sexual violence and slavery require urgent psychosocial and medical assistance.
Since 2014, Canada has supported experienced humanitarian partners in Iraq, including the United Nations Population Fund.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs is deeply committed to pushing the international community to help alleviate the terrible suffering of the Yazidi victims of Daesh, as well as to lay the foundation for a process of transition in the societies affected by Daesh.
This government can say with confidence that we are actively advancing the issues contained in the commission's recommendations. We have been active in the military fight against Daesh, and we have led in calling on the United Nations Security Council to declare that crimes against the Yazidis constitute genocide. We have engaged international and local partners to be as effective as possible.
From the outset, we have insisted on evidence collection so that, together with our partners, we can hold Daesh accountable for the crime of genocide. We are engaged in assessing an appropriate court system to this end. Throughout, we are providing essential support for the victims who are at the centre of all of our efforts.
In closing, we recognized that the crimes committed by Daesh in Sinjar constituted genocide and we asked the Security Council to intervene. On behalf of the entire House, we are incredibly grateful to the Canadian men and women who work on the ground providing military intelligence, training, and support in the fight against Daesh, as well as ensuring the safety and security of the victims in Syria.
Hon. John McCallum (Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise and speak on this subject. I think that crimes, even genocide, of which we are speaking, are so horrendous that this is an issue that should go beyond partisanship and on which we should be able to find agreement among all parties in the House.
That is partly why I am speaking a little late in this debate, because we have been in discussions with representatives from the Conservative Party to see if we could come to a common understanding on a motion that we could all support. Those discussions are ongoing. I do not think we have come to an agreement yet, but I think all members would agree that it is worth an effort. We have certain differences between us and the Conservatives, and possibly the NDP, but those differences are very minor compared with the overall urgency and importance of the issue that is before the House today.
I would hope that further discussions, which are now ongoing, will lead to some agreement among the parties so that we can all agree on this motion. Whether or not those discussions bear fruit, I would like to single out the Conservative critic, the member for Calgary Nose Hill, for her commitment on this topic and for her willingness to enter into discussions with us to try to find an all-party agreement.
I would also like to single out my parliamentary secretary, the member for Parkdale—High Park, and in particular, the chair of the immigration committee, the member for Etobicoke Centre, for the undying passion he has exhibited on this question of the Yazidi. At the risk of leaving someone out, I would like to also draw attention to other colleagues in the Liberal Party and my caucus who have been very active on this file in favour of the Yazidi. This would include the members for Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, York Centre, Mount Royal, West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, and New Brunswick Southwest. I am sure there are others, such as the NDP member for Vancouver East.
I know that members from all parties have been very active on this issue, because we are shocked and horrified by the atrocities brought against the Yazidi people, but also against so many others, by Daesh and also in the context of the Syrian civil war.
That, of course, is why we did step up early in our mandate to commit to 25,000 refugees within a four-month period, a commitment that we honoured, and I am proud of that.
We want to work with the Conservatives, but I would point out that in terms of resettled refugees, we are bringing in three to four times more in 2016 than was the case in 2015. I am proud that Canadians from all walks of life stepped up to the plate so forcefully in favour of the Syrian refugee effort, and I am also grateful to all of the opposition parties, which professed their support for this initiative from the beginning.
It is also true that other countries have shown great support and admiration for what we have done; so much so, in fact, that we launched an initiative at the United Nations to basically export our model for private sponsorship of refugees. Thirteen countries have already expressed an interest, including the United Kingdom and the United States. Canadians can therefore be proud of our efforts to help refugees.
However, we are talking more specifically about the Yazidi today, so let me report, as the parliamentary secretary has already said, that a group of officials from my department has recently returned from Iraq. We could not discuss this before they returned, because there are very dangerous conditions on the ground there, and indeed, that is one of the constraints on quick action in that part of the world. Not only is it dangerous, but there is a war going on, as we speak, in Mosul, which is not too far from where our officials were just recently.
That is one of the reasons why it is not easy to quickly address this issue. I have yet to receive a full debrief from my officials. They have just returned, but I know that they had a twofold mission. One was to interview Syrian refugees located in Iraq, and the second was to confer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, or the UNHCR and the IOM, on options regarding assistance for Yazidis and the opportunity to bring more of them to Canada.
I might mention that the IOM and the UNHCR are absolutely critical to our efforts in this area. When we brought all the refugees from Syria, it was the UNHCR that provided the names of the vulnerable people, and the IOM provided indispensable help in terms of logistics.
In terms of the Yazidi issue, it is Canada working with those international parties that will seek to bring to Canada many people who are victims of Daesh, including the Yazidi people, who have been subjected to unconscionable aggression in the form of genocide.
I can report to the House that my department is working very actively and very assiduously to come up with a solution to this issue as soon as possible.
I might just say in closing, more generally, that in terms of the refugee crisis the world is facing, I think Canada did step up to the plate. I think we can be proud of our efforts. In terms of the numbers we took in, it may be three times more than in 2015, but it is still just a drop in the bucket compared with the millions of refugees around the world, and this is a worsening crisis. It is a crisis that is tearing apart various parts of the world, including the European Union. It has become an issue in the United States. I think we can be proud of what we have done, but it is obviously a major crisis for the world as a whole.
I think there are really three parts to the solution to this.
One is miliary action to end the war in Syria and to defeat ISIS, or Daesh. Members know that Canada is involved in that in an important way. The attempt to liberate Mosul is playing out as we speak. That is an important part of the overall solution.
The second important part is humanitarian relief. My colleague, the Minister of International Development, has announced assistance in the hundreds of millions of dollars for the region.
I know from my visits that front-line countries like Jordan and Lebanon have had a huge burden imposed upon them, with as much as one-quarter or one-third of their populations consisting of refugees. It is as if in Canada we had some nine million or 10 million refugees in our midst. The burden they are bearing is enormous, so a second part of the operation is to provide assistance to those countries.
Finally, last but not least, is to receive refugees, and we have done our bit. However, it would be desirable to extend the number of refugee-receiving countries beyond the usual performers: Australia, Canada, the United States. Possibly other countries around the world could be induced to do more in terms of receiving these refugees.
This is not a simple issue; it is very complex. However, I believe that the solution has three basic elements: first, a military component; second, financial aid for various countries; and third, the resettlement of refugees, not just here in Canada, but in other countries as well.
Finally, I do hope that the inter-party discussions will bear fruit and that we will be able to vote as a whole, together, on this motion. Whether or not that happens, I am confident that all of us, in slightly different, nuanced ways, nevertheless support a very major effort to assist the Yazidi in their hour of great need.
Mr. Arnold Viersen (Peace River—Westlock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today in support of the motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Calgary Nose Hill. She has been a relentless advocate for the rights of women and girls, especially on behalf of the Yazidi girls in Syria and Iraq.
I also want to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Shepard.
The motion before the House today focuses on the egregious and ongoing abuses faced by Yazidi women and girls, and identifies these actions as genocide. I want to take a moment to examine the Yazidi people, who have been subjected to this human rights abuse.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that a crime of genocide is committed when a person commits a prohibited act “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.
In the case of Yazidis, they are an ethno-religious group, who identify with both ancestral heritage and shared religious culture. The Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish and practice Yazidism, which combines parts of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and is believed to have originated in the 12th century. Today, the majority of this ethno-religious group can be found in the Nineveh region of Iraq, but smaller communities can be found throughout Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia.
The Yazidi people clearly qualify as a group under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide based on their distinct ethnic and religious characteristics.
I think it is also important to examine why Yazidis, as well as Christians and Shia Muslims, are being targeted by ISIS. Each of these religious communities has faced horrific injustice at the hands of ISIS. However, the Yazidis face a fierce persecution since ISIS has branded them as devil worshippers. ISIS propaganda has shown a particular focus on trying to portray the Yazidis as subhuman.
One ISIS victim testified about her captor, “He told us that Taus Malik”, which is one of seven angels to whom the Yazidis pray, “is not God. He said that Taus Malik is the devil and that because you worship the devil, you belong to us. We can sell you and use you as we see fit.” In fact, an official ISIS ruling encouraged the sexual abuse and enslavement of Yazidi women and girls precisely because they were less than human as unbelievers.
The experiences of Yazidi women and girls, once captured, reflect a level of brutality and horror that is hard to comprehend or portray. Allow me to share the words of 22-year-old Noor, as she and other Yazidi women were enslaved for several months by ISIS:
|| Just imagine for a moment that you wake up one morning and watch as all the men in your family are taken away. A few hours later you hear the sounds of machine guns and screams.
|| Then imagine your terror as you, your grandmother, your mum, your sisters and your aunties, are herded on buses and driven away by the same people who took the men.
|| Imagine then being sold at a slave market a few days later along with your little sister to a man old enough to be your grandfather, who is fat and ugly and stinks of body odour.
|| Finally imagine being raped by this man every day from then on, and when he’s bored with you, being turned over to his six guards to use as their plaything, to be gang raped after they’ve got themselves excited watching pornographic DVDs.
It sounds like the worst nightmare any girl could have, but for her, it was a reality. It was her life for a few short months. This has been the experience of countless Yazidi women and girls, and many more continue to be enslaved.
Last June, the House had the opportunity to denounce the actions of ISIS specifically with a motion “that the House strongly condemn these atrocities and declare that these crimes constitute genocide.”
As a newly elected member of Parliament, I was optimistic that the motion would receive support from all parties and present a strong statement to the world of Canada's commitment against ISIS and genocide, but more important, unanimous support for the motion would have sent a strong message of hope to the Yazidi victims of ISIS that we recognize the gravity of the injustices they have experienced. However, I was ashamed that when we had the opportunity to be united against evil, the Liberal government refused to acknowledge the actions of ISIS as genocide.
To be clear, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines a genocide as the commission of prohibited acts against a group with the intent to destroy. Prohibited acts include killing members of this group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to this group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The UN report on the crimes against the Yazidis found that ISIS had committed every single prohibited act listed on the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Despite the overwhelming documented evidence of genocide, in June the Liberals alone voted against declaring the actions of ISIS a genocide. Conservatives are not afraid to label these crimes what they are, a genocide.
Today's motion is an opportunity for the government to correct its inaction on this important issue and to do the right thing. The Conservatives are calling on the government to develop an appropriate plan and corresponding action to respond to this humanitarian crisis.
As an automotive technician, I know first-hand that if we cannot measure it, we cannot manage it and we cannot improve it. The Liberal government has no plan to assist Yazidi women and girls, even though the Conservatives brought forward numerous recommendations for focusing on three key areas: humanitarian aid, military intervention, and resettlement. For example, we called on the government to act upon the June 16 United Nations recommendation to accelerate the asylum claims of Yazidi victims of genocide, as well as review the selection process used by the United Nations to identify refugees for the government-sponsored refugee stream and encourage changes, if any were necessary.
While many Yazidi men, women, and children have escaped ISIS and now live in refugee camps, they continue to face violence and persecution, as a result of their ethnicity and religion, from other refugees. The previous Conservative government attempted to prioritize persecuted religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities for resettlement in Canada.
ISIS continues to commit genocide against the Yazidis. Thousands of Yazidi women and girls continue to be raped, tortured, sold, and enslaved by ISIS. By refusing to act, the government has failed these Yazidi victims. We must take immediate action and I call on all members of the House to support the motion. This is the first step toward action. From here, we can build and go forward.
Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to join the debate today, both as the deputy critic for foreign affairs for the Conservative Party, as well as the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds. This is a group that I started on Parliament Hill when I first came here. It was actually a promise that I made during the election to non-constituents, people who lived outside my riding whom I met. They told me their stories and those of their neighbours, friends, and family members who lived in northern Iraq, in southern Kurdistan.
I also moved Motion No. 72 in the House, which called on the House to recognize the genocide of the Kurds during the 1980s. This is a region where genocide is simply a way of life. Multiple groups have done it to others. It is a region of the world with very little central control by governments and where the borders are quite fluid.
Next week, I will be hosting Pastor Ray Baythoon of a Christian and Missionary Alliance church from the region. As well, he is the director general of Christian affairs of the Kurdish regional government there. This is something I deeply care about. It is an issue that I have kept myself apprised of and on which I share information with fellow members of the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds group.
We know there have been reports of 25,000 refugees being accepted so far into Canada from Syria. There are nine cases, supposedly, that can be identified as Yazidi. If, as members of the government and government backbenchers have said, this is something of great importance to them, one would think that more than nine out of 25,000 would be prioritized.
As the member for Peace River—Westlock said, this is an identifiable group against whom genocide has been committed and continues to be committed. One would think they would be the ones to be prioritized for entry into Canada. That is what this motion seeks to do. We want to prioritize this group for entry into the country.
Media reports indicate that 25,000 Yazidis live in UN refugee camps in Turkey, a NATO ally of ours. Have we approached Turkey? Have we even asked about taking these Yazidis to assist that NATO ally of ours and reduce its burden? It has many internally displaced persons who come from different parts of Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq. They have crossed Turkey's borders and are seeking refuge in it, and the Turkish government has extended aid to them.
I want to take a different stance perhaps than other members have taken so far. I want to talk about the good work being done by a Canadian and American organization, Samaritan's Purse. It is doing incredible work assisting Yazidis directly in the region. I know Samaritan's Purse has three refugee camps east of the city of Mosul and is assisting people right now fleeing the battle to retake that city, where our courageous allies, the Kurds of the Kurdish regional government, will be playing a major role in liberating the city. It also has camps all over northwestern Iraq providing direct assistance to Yazidi groups. Many of these Canadians have first-hand accounts of assisting Yazidis.
Samaritan's Purse operates something called the Northern Iraq Community Center. In this community center, there are services for families that have been victimized and traumatized by ISIS, also known as Daesh. They have had programs since October 2015 teaching carpentry skills, among many other things. This gives Yazidis opportunities to learn new and marketable skills, and give them a chance at a better life. Photography, art, cooking and nutrition, and literacy are the next programs to be offered. As the Minister of Immigration said, it is equipping them for future success. Samaritan's Purse is is also offering sewing classes to bring women together to learn to make garments. They are generating an income. As a graduation gift from this program, they receive a sewing machine of their own so they have a chance to become entrepreneurs to rebuild their lives in the region, if they so choose.
Other programs exist to address the psychological needs of many of these internally displaced persons. They have suffered significant trauma from ISIS fighters, as well as from pre-existing conditions that have been worsened by the conflict and the displacement.
There is a new medical clinic that was started by Samaritan's Purse in 2016. It offers doctors, obstetric services, gynecologists, a dentist, and a pharmacy. There is even space for children made available so that the children can come together. They have been broken by the war, with some of their family members having been murdered by ISIS fighters. This gives them an opportunity to be children, to play with other children in playgrounds and to have an opportunity to be safe with people they trust.
We know the impact of this program. In 2016 alone, I am told that 13,800 Yazidi people have been served. It is a $2.5 U.S. million project that is helping people on the ground directly.
Canadians are on the ground in these places and are doing more to help these Yazidis and other displaced people survive than what the government has done so far, compared to the supposed nine Yazidi cases the government has prioritized out of 25,000 refugees.
I got to visit the Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Calgary, just north of my riding. It is an incredible place, with hundreds of staff members who do assistance work and disaster relief work anywhere in the world. They have a unit on 24-hour standby mode. Within 24 hours, they can be anywhere in the world. They have their own planes. They have their own equipment. They provide direct assistance to those who need it anywhere in the world. They are incredibly committed to the most vulnerable in Iraq, especially in south Kurdistan.
I have had an opportunity in the past to meet both missionaries and assistance workers on the ground who have been to northern Iraq and have travelled back to Canada. They have told me incredible stories about these survivors, people who could never have imagined that what happened at Mount Sinjar could continue to happen while the world turns a blind eye.
Just to use some of the terms that have been used in newspapers, the western world has been accused of “negligence” and “silence” at what ISIS has continued to do, including the rape, torture, killing, and enslavement of Yazidis.
In the past Canada has served as a refuge for many ethnic groups from all across the world. This has been a story of Canada for well over a hundred years, whether they be Ukrainian or Polish people, South Vietnamese boat people, the 1999 airlift of 7,000 Kosovo refugees, the 1980s resettlement of 2,800 Baha'i refugees from Iran, and the 1956-57 37,000 Hungarian refugees who fled persecution by a communist regime controlled by the Soviet Union.
To his eternal credit, it was the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Joe Clark, who accepted 60,000 Vietnamese boat people. They have since made enormous contributions to Canada. I am going to underline the contribution of one of these South Vietnamese who first came to the United States on the final airlift out of Saigon.
He is Wayne Cao, the former MLA for Calgary-Fort. He was a refugee then, who came aboard an American helicopter, landed in California, and made his home in Calgary in 1976, where he represented the constituents of Calgary-Fort in the northern part of my riding. He became deputy speaker, earning the trust of his colleagues, in 2008. If he is looking now, I want to thank him for his service to Alberta and Canada. I actually picked up his constituency office in this past election. It is a great office. It serves constituents on the northern part of the riding really well. Wayne has made an amazing contribution to Canada.
Seeing the opportunities that the South Vietnamese have had in Canada, I know that the Yazidis could also contribute to Canada if we prioritize their entry here. They need it. They need this help just like the South Vietnamese needed it; just like the Baha'i of Iran needed it; just like Polish people needed it, who were fleeing the communist Polish regime from 1981 to 1986, which was persecuting people, especially shipyard workers. My father came to Canada in those years and got amnesty then. He got to stay in Canada and was then able to sponsor us here.
Before I finish, I want to move:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “slaves” and substituting the following:
||“(c) support recommendations found in the June 15, 2015, report issued by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria entitled, “They came to destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”; and (d) call on the government to (i) take immediate action upon all the recommendations found in sections 210, 212, and 213 of the said report, (ii) provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 120 days.
Mr. Ali Ehsassi (Willowdale, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood.
In my office, there are two large photographs I see every day, one of former prime minister Lester B. Pearson, a former resident of my riding of Willowdale and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the other of General Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian hero and one of our leading and most resonant and compelling voices on issues of human rights. Both of these Canadian icons serve as constant reminders of the tremendous global leadership Canada should always strive to demonstrate on issues of human rights, human security, the rule of law, and multilateralism. It is in that spirit that I rise to speak to the opposition motion before us today.
As members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, this summer we undertook a special study on the plight of Yazidi refugees and other vulnerable populations. I deeply appreciate the urgency and the tragedy of the situation unfolding before us. This issue resonates deeply with all of us, as I know it does with my constituents and with all Canadians. We recognize the horrific fight facing the Yazidi population and the need for effective action on the international stage. We also recognize the role that Canada, in keeping with our great traditions, must play in ensuring both global and human security. In every instance, however, we understand that in order for Canada to play a significant role in advancing the causes of human rights and security, we must collaborate closely with our allies and fellow international institutions.
In the 12 months since the people of Canada decided that our foreign policy needed a new tone and direction, our government has done much to restore Canada's international standing and reputation. We have recommitted to multilateralism and the international rule of law. We have provided a model to the rest of the world in terms of our intake of Syrian refugees and also drastically increased our contributions toward the coalition to defeat Daesh. In that same vein, our response to the Yazidi genocide, while ever-evolving, demonstrates a similar commitment to responsible, engaged, robust, and multifaceted policy solutions.
Allow me to be clear. Our government unequivocally stands by the Yazidis. Like my colleague opposite, I had the chance to hear some of the horrifying and chilling testimony of Yazidi refugees over the summer, and I understand the urgency to act. In that vein, while I fully respect the motion before us today, it gets ahead of the process.
Dialogue with the appropriate partners, as well as an assessment of the situation in regions where Yazidis and other victims of Daesh are located, must take place to develop a responsible plan. This is not feasible within the time frame contained within the motion. The timeline proposed in the motion demands expedient processing of Yazidis specifically, a worthy goal but one that is operationally unrealistic and dangerous due to the complex security situation on the ground.
As the member opposite is aware, many of the most vulnerable Yazidis live in highly dangerous and inaccessible regions. Fully supporting these vulnerable populations, as such, will therefore require carefully considered legislation, not a rushed and incomplete motion such as the one before us today. It is imperative that we allow the IRCC to complete its analysis of this situation in close collaboration with our allies and partners in order to craft a truly effective course of action going forward.
Furthermore, this motion makes no mention of other vulnerable populations targeted by Daesh, including Christians, Shia Muslims, Mandaeans, Druze, Kakais, Shabak, and many more minorities in Iraq. Again, a more in-depth analysis of the situation based on knowledge on the ground and established best practices is certainly required.
Far from being inactive or passive in response to the Yazidi crisis, our government has taken concrete steps to respond to this significant issue. The Yazidi crisis is a multifaceted issue that requires a whole-of-government approach, with input from Global Affairs Canada, the Department of National Defence, Development Canada, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Indeed, Canada has been highly active both internationally and domestically in responding to the issue before us today.
In the international arena, for example, the Government of Canada has taken the following concrete steps, among many others, to assist the Yazidis. In June, the foreign affairs minister declared in this very chamber that Daesh was guilty of committing genocide against the Yazidi population. Similarly, the minister has continuously and forcefully advocated at the United Nations, including formal correspondence with the Security Council, in calling for greater action in response to the Yazidi crisis. Our government has also committed to increase funding to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to document human rights abuses and violations and to collect evidence and investigate serious international crimes.
Furthermore, working as part of a global coalition to combat Daesh, we have increased our military advise and assist missions and have increased humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in Syria and northern Iraq, including the Yazidis. Our government has also tripled military training, doubled intelligence efforts, and significantly increased aid, all to protect those vulnerable to the threat of Daesh.
Also Canada, through the peace and stabilization operations program, is contributing $3.3 million to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability to investigate violations of international criminal and humanitarian law in Syria and Iraq, including of course Daesh's enslavement of thousands of Yazidi women and children who were subjected to sexual and gender-based crimes, forced marriages, and forced conversions. Finally, Canadian development assistance in Syria and northern Iraq is already helping to provide shelter, food, water, and medical services to families fleeing Mosul; and specialized services for women and girls victimized by Daesh, including women and girls from the Yazidi community.
Similarly, the government has taken significant steps to ensure that our immigration and resettlement policies are adequately responding to this crisis. For example, IRCC is continuing to monitor the situation of vulnerable persons. In response to the Yazidi genocide this month, the IRCC sent a team of observers on a fact-finding mission to northern Iraq. This is something we heard of and, of course, that mission did return to Canada yesterday, as everyone has been informed. IRCC is also reviewing the aforementioned report released on October 5 by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on its study of how Canada can best assist vulnerable groups through immigration measures. Finally, the IRCC officials are engaging in discussions with key partners on the ground, such as the UNHCR, IOM, and local authorities, on the best path forward to assist victims of atrocities perpetrated by Daesh.
I believe that everyone in this House can agree that the atrocities being committed against the Yazidis and other vulnerable populations by Daesh are unconscionable and require swift and determined action by the international community. In cases such as these, Canadian leadership and action are invaluable. I believe that our government's response to this crisis has been in keeping with this tradition of Canadian leadership, and as the situation unfolds I look forward to and expect continued robust engagement by our government.
Hon. John McKay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to engage in this debate. It is similar to the debate we had in June, when we discussed the scourge of ISIS and everyone condemned the atrocities of ISIS, or Daesh, as it is called.
At that time, I indicated that the government and the people of Canada stood together in solidarity with the victims of Daesh. By that I meant all victims, whether they were Yazidis, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Christians, Sunnis, Shias, or others in that particular part of the world.
Canada stands in solidarity with them. Our entire effort is to free them from this scourge.
I would also highlight the fact that the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are both determined to eradicate this threat. Our government has taken substantial and concrete steps to degrade Daesh and to ultimately help the Iraqi security forces defeat this villainous plague themselves.
To no great surprise, I will take a bit of a military focus in this debate.
All members feel that the carnage and slaughter committed against these minority groups and communities by Daesh demonstrates an undeniable evil intent. No words are strong enough to reflect our opposition to Daesh's actions.
Less than a year ago, the international coalition campaign against Daesh was about degrading the entity. We are now talking about dismantling and ultimately defeating Daesh. This significant change of language is proof that the work Canada is doing with our allies, with our coalition partners, is helping to stabilize the Middle East and is delivering results.
As members of the House know, the Minister of National Defence has travelled to the region and has met with his counterparts. He came back convinced that an enhanced presence on the ground and increased engagement with local and international partners were necessary for resolving the crisis and restoring stability in the region. This is exactly what Canada has done.
All members of the House debated Canada's response to the crisis in Iraq and Syria back in February. Indeed, over 98 members of the House took part in a five-day debate. I consider that to be an outstanding show of parliamentary engagement and a notable exercise in the democratic process. We did this following a careful and comprehensive review of our options.
On March 8, we voted on a motion. Our collective view was unequivocal: Daesh has to be stopped and defeated.
The situation on the ground has evolved. It has become quite clear that we will only be successful in our efforts to counter the threat posed by Daesh through a combination of security, diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and development.
Our air task force has remained active, conducting more than 2,507 sorties since the beginning of operations in 2014. Of those, 583 sorties were completed by our Polaris refueller and a further 600 were by the Auroras.
As Canadians are also aware, our government refocused the mission after the parliamentary debate, placing additional emphasis on training, advising, and assisting Iraqi security forces in their efforts to degrade and defeat Daesh. Subsequently, we upped our commitment to training, assisting, and advising by threefold and doubled our commitment to intelligence missions. In addition, we made available, to support the coalition, further intelligence and headquarters personnel.
The goal has been to enable the Iraqi forces to conduct their own offensive operations to reclaim their territory.
Members will recall that just two years ago, when Daesh started to take over Iraqi territory, Iraqi fighters were paraded in their underwear on their way to their own execution. That is against the rules of international combat, but in addition, it was a terrible display for all the world to see. It is not as if those soldiers were not brave people, but they were poorly trained people. Canada, along with our coalition partners, set about rectifying that so that now, when they are approaching the area of Mosul, they are much better trained.
As of this month, Daesh has lost approximately half the territory it once dominated in Iraq. The 40% of Iraq it dominated is now down to approximately 10%. That 10% is largely centred on Mosul. Members will have read in this morning's papers about the attack on Mosul. They are going about that attack in an organized, disciplined military fashion. We have, with the assistance of our coalition partners, upgraded the quality of the Iraqi security forces—
Mr. James Bezan (Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton. It is indeed an honour to speak to this motion brought forward by my friend from Calgary Nose Hill and amended by my colleague from Calgary Shepard.
It is unfortunate that we have to have this debate today, knowing that so many Canadians understand the atrocities that have been committed against the Yazidi people. When we look at what happened two years ago in Sinjar and Iraq, ISIS targeted the Yazidi community, and carried out one of the most brutal genocides that have been witnessed in the world's recent history.
We saw men executed at gunpoint. We saw children crucified by ISIS. We saw Yazidi people being trapped on Mount Sinjar. Many perished from dehydration. The elderly collapsed and died, and ultimately, after the execution of men over the age of 10, the younger boys were moved into terrorist training and were reprogrammed. They were brainwashed and turned into suicide bombers and terrorists. The women and girls were sold into sexual slavery. Those who refused to convert, those girls and women who refused to be sexual slaves were burnt alive. These atrocities were so despicable that the world pronounced them as genocide.
I would like to remind the House that it was only in June that we had before the chamber a debate on a motion that the official opposition brought forward to recognize the atrocities being committed by ISIS against the Yazidis as genocide. The government, the Liberal Party, voted against it. Only a couple of days later, the UN declared it a genocide. Only then, rather than leading, the Liberals decided to follow the United Nations, when the rest of the world, the British House of Commons, Secretary of State John Kerry in the United States, had already boldly proclaimed it as genocide, as did our former Conservative government.
The sad part in all of this is that we are debating a motion today to look at bringing more Yazidi refugees into Canada. We have a government that is very proud of its record of bringing in, or will bring in, 25,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. The sad part of this is that out of the thousands of refugees that have come to Canada for asylum, only nine of them are Yazidi.
That, in my opinion, is despicable, and I am certain it has to be an embarrassment for the government. I really do have to raise this question, why has the government not brought in more of these poor women and girls who are in refugee camps already in the region, who have been identified by the United Nations refugee organization? Is the government discriminating against the Yazidi people? That has to be asked.
We have people who have been subjected to treatment worse than livestock by ISIS, and largely abandoned by some of the people in the region of northern Iraq.
They deserve asylum. They deserve a place to call home. I know for a fact that organizations across Canada are prepared to privately sponsor them. I know that the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba wants to sponsor these poor Yazidi girls and women, and get them to a safe and secure environment that we offer here in Canada.
We are giving, through the amendment, the government 120 days to act upon the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria report entitled “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”, and implementing articles in sections 210, 212, and 213 of the report.
As my colleague from Calgary Nose Hill, the immigration critic for the official opposition, has already said in a written letter to the Minister of Immigration that he could use section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to expedite the asylum seekers in the Yazidi community who are currently in the queue to come here.
As has already been pointed out, Britain, Germany, Australia, and other countries have been able to bring in hundreds of these girls and women, who have been able to escape the sexual slavery, who have been able to get away from ISIS, as often Jihadists and militants hang on to them as comfort wives. This is something we have not seen since World War II when it was practised by the Japanese.
I am glad we have had the opportunity to at least address this issue in the House today. I do not think most Canadians realize that the government, in its efforts to bring in all of the refugees who have been displaced and targeted by ISIS, had not included the Yazidis in its efforts. I know that when we were in government, it was our intention to go after the ethnic and religious minorities who were the primary targets of the atrocities being committed by ISIS itself.
If we are going to ultimately protect people, if the government believes in its responsibility to protect, then, one, we have to have that military force there; two, we have to provide the humanitarian aid and assistance, which we are going to need right now as the battle for Mosul evolves and 1.5 million civilians are at risk inside the city, as 30,000 coalition troops charge the city to root out and destroy ISIS and its roughly 5,000 fighters in the city.
We have to support the surrounding nations that have those refugee camps, and are providing humanitarian assistance, schools, water, hospital services, medicine, but what about the responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves? What about the responsibility to bring in those who have been subjected to a genocide?
I have talked many times in this House about genocide, and Raphael Lemkin, the wordsmith and author of the UN Genocide Convention back in 1948. He developed it. He spoke of how different state players and different organizations and groups would target minorities to eliminate them. The UN, just this June, agreed again that what has happened to the Yazidi people, specifically, was a genocide.
If there was ever a time for the government to show compassion, if there was ever a time for the government to use its powers under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to expedite the movement of these poor girls and women away from danger and into the peace and security that we offer here in Canada, this is the time.
We are asking the government to do it within the next 120 days, to follow-through on the UN report and recommendations, and to support this motion as it stands before the House.
Ms. Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia—Lambton, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am standing in the House today to speak to the important issue of genocide against the Yazidi people and the actions that we need to take now to react.
Canada claims to stand for a lot of things on the world stage. We say we are a place of refuge for those in the world who are persecuted. We say we are committed to eliminating violence against women and children. We say that sexual assault and rape are wrong and we will stand against it. Therefore, I am here today to plead with the House on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, to ask the current government to have mercy and to take action now to rescue the Yazidis.
The Yazidis are a religious minority from northern Iraq. Theirs is one of the most ancient religions in the Middle East. They have their own religion, language, and culture.
The Yazidis do not have protected person status in their country, which means that members of the religion can be killed, raped, and enslaved with impunity. Refugee camps are not safe havens for Yazidis because they are full of Muslims who are so fiercely opposed to Yazidi religion and culture that the Yazidis fear for their lives.
Many Christians find themselves in similar predicaments. They cannot take refuge in these camps because they fear persecution. Yazidis in refugee camps are not safe and may be segregated because of either security concerns or persecution.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that some Yazidis are considered internally displaced while others are considered refugees. Depending on their status, there can be significant differences in the aid available to them, including access to food, drinking water, shelter, and medical care.
The area around Mosul is full of trapped and terrified civilians, but as Iraqi forces and their allies move to wrest this city from the militants of the Islamic State, one group finds itself particularly desperate and in peril. Scores, perhaps even hundreds of Yazidi women and girls enslaved by the Islamic State more than two years ago are thought to remain captive in Iraq's second-largest city, as the U.S.-backed offensive gets under way in earnest. Activists fear for the lives of these women and children, even amidst hopes that the extremist group's grip on the city could be broken.
Thousands of Yazidi women and children were seized, and men and boys killed or forcibly enlisted in the military, when their traditional heartland was overrun by the Islamic State in August 2015. By a UN estimate earlier this year, 3,200 women and children are still caught in the maw of a vast slave-holding network extending across the group's self-declared but now shrinking caliphate, encompassing parts of Syria and Iraq.
Human rights groups and activists believe that most of the Yazidi captives were sold as slaves or given as gifts to fighters in Islamic State-held areas of Syria. However, some either have spent the duration of their captivity in Mosul or found themselves back in the city after forced journeys between other Islamic State bastions, passed hand to hand like cattle, as their husbands were killed in battle, traded them away, or offered them as presents to relatives and fellow fighters.
Those who have escaped or have been ransomed have described conditions there as grimly similar to other areas where the Islamic State holds sway. Cruel, medieval torments are a feature of daily life, coupled with harrowing sexual and domestic servitude in the households of fighters. Enslaved women are routinely raped and beaten.
Global efforts to help are under way. We have heard about some of those today.
Amal Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, specializing in international law and human rights law, has confirmed that she will be representing Yazidi ISIS survivor, Nadia Murad, and other victims of the Yazidi genocide. Amal will serve as their council in their effort to secure accountability for the genocide, sexual enslavement, and trafficking of Yazidi girls and women by the militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq. Efforts to achieve accountability will include seeking an International Criminal Court investigation and prosecution of the crimes committed against Nadia Murad and the Yazidi community.
Nadia Murad is a 21-year-old victim of ISIS crimes in Iraq and one of the thousands of Yazidi women who were abducted and enslaved by ISIS. She was brutally raped by more than 12 ISIS members over a period of three months. After her escape, Nadia spoke out about her experiences to draw attention to the ongoing genocide.
ISIS attacks began the genocide. The attacks have resulted in the death of an estimated 5,000 civilians, the enslavement of at least 2,000 women and girls, and the displacement of 400,000 people from the Yazidi homelands in Sinjar, the Nineveh plains, and Syria.
When asked why she decided to take on the case, Amal Clooney stated that the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the U.S. government, and the U.K. House of Commons have all recognized that there is genocide being perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidis.
How can it be that the most serious crimes known to humanity are being carried out before our eyes, but are not being prosecuted? We know that thousands of Yazidi civilians have been killed and thousands of Yazidi women have been enslaved by a terrorist organization that has publicly proclaimed its genocidal intent. We know that systemic rapes have taken place, and they are still taking place, yet no one is being held to account.
The situation facing the Yazidi people has also been internationally recognized. In June of this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report stating that the Yazidi people are victims of genocide. The report also outlined possible remedies to the situation.
Shortly after that, the Canadian government formally took the same position on the Yazidi people, but it has not taken any concrete action to date.
Others have recognized this terrible situation and have begun to help. Canada should be helping, but from what we know we have only rescued nine Yazidi families out of the more than 50,000 refugees who have been brought to Canada so far. This is an absolute shame. Most of the Yazidis who are currently being persecuted came from Nineveh. Do you remember Nineveh from your historical studies? This was the place that—