HANSARD: Jenny initializes visa-free travel for Ukraine refugees

House of Commons Debate
Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings
March 29th, 2022 / 12:30 p.m.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to enter this debate today.

As we know, the situation in Ukraine is absolutely horrendous. This unprovoked, illegal war that Putin has waged against Ukraine has shocked the world, and we are all standing united to support Ukraine.

Here we are in Canada, and the question is, what can we do and what are we doing to help the people of Ukraine? I will say that the government is trying. It is trying to do something, but there are lots of issues with the measures it has put forward.

The issue my colleague, the member for Edmonton Strathcona, brought forward is in fact one that the New Democrats had brought forward as far back as 2018. We called on the government then to ensure there would be visa-free travel for Ukraine. The government ignored this recommendation and did not move forward on it, and here we are in this situation. Just imagine what it would have been like if that was in place or even if the government took the time to implement it now, or as early as January, when the Minister of Immigration said the government was moving forward with immigration measures to expedite bringing Ukrainians to Canada. Even if it had done it then, in early January, we would be close to having visa-free travel for Ukraine, but it did not do that.

I urge and call on the government to work expeditiously to bring forward visa-free travel for Ukraine. It is absolutely necessary, even with the special immigration measures in place right now.

I will take a moment to talk a bit about the special immigration measures the government has brought in. I welcomed them when it made the announcement, although I had suggestions on how they could be done better and some questions on how they would be implemented. Here is how they are hitting on the ground: As predicted, the requirements are causing delay after delay after delay.

Just a moment ago, I got an email from a constituent who is trying to help bring his 82-year-old mother to Canada. He flew to Poland and met up with her. She took a bus on her own and left Ukraine for Poland, and they have been stuck there ever since. They went on the portal to make the application and could not get through the process to put forward that his mother has what is called an “internal passport”. It is an older identification document that is more or less equivalent to a citizenship card here in Canada. She is 82 years old, so members can imagine that the document is not new and is, rather, a much older document. On the portal there is zero recognition for those with these internal passports, even though the government's website says it would recognize other national identity documents.

He then sent in a web form, phoned the emergency number and contacted our office. He was told not to worry because the application would be processed, and if his mother qualified, she would be issued a single-use travel document. He was also told not to worry because biometrics would be included in that process.

Guess what? Just now I got an email from him that says the IRCC is telling them they now have to go and get an international travel passport. What gives? They were just told not to worry and that within two weeks they would get that single-use travel document with biometrics. Now they are being told they need to apply for a passport. By the way, with the lineups in the biometric centres, people cannot even get in edgewise to make an appointment. It is taking longer than a month to get processed. That is the reality of what people are faced with.

I get it when the government says that this is all new, it kind of does not know and it is doing the best it can, but guess what? It is not good enough. People's lives hang in the balance. They desperately need our government to get this right. That is what we need to do, and I am more than willing to work with the government.

I wrote to the minister highlighting these issues. I brought it to the minister's attention in question period. He said that he would address these issues, that they would get it right. Why not ensure that the portal immediately takes people with older internal passports to the portal where one can apply for a single travel document? Why not have a space to recognize internal documents? Most of the people who are coming and wanting to get to safety are women, children and seniors. The government needs to facilitate the process so they can get to safety. It needs to fix these problems. That is what is required.

I also want to touch on the issue of people having arrived from Ukraine. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, along with over 500 immigrant-serving agencies across the country, is calling on the government to provide supportive services and resettlement services to Ukrainians. Allowing them to get a work permit is good, but not everyone will be able to work. Allowing them to get a study permit is good, but not everyone will be studying.

They need to survive when they are here. That means they will need health care support, day care support, housing, financial support and so on. I am joining the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and over 500 immigrant-serving agencies across the country in calling on the government to provide exactly that, to support the people of Ukraine here in Canada during this very difficult time.

I know government members will say that they are doing it, that they are trying to negotiate with the provinces, and so on and so forth. How about making sure health care is immediately available through using the interim federal health measure. We do that for refugees. We should be doing that for Ukrainians. The minister has the authority to authorize that right now.

I would also like to add, for Ukrainians who are struggling, that Canadians here want to help. I am sure every MP has received a litany of offers from Canadians who want to help, offering housing, support and so on. The government needs to set up a coordinated system to harness the kindness and support of Canadians. I suggest it create a phone line for people to phone in and say they have a house in Vancouver, or Saskatoon, or wherever the case may be, and that they can house people.

There are people who want to employ Ukrainians, who are saying that they have job offers available for them, but they do not know where to go. They have nowhere to share this information. The government should set up a system so people can register and make themselves available, so their kindness and their compassionate and humanitarian support are put to use, instead of the floundering around they are doing at this time to figure out what to do.

We can also utilize non-profits and the strength of non-profits on the ground and help them coordinate this effort, but they cannot do it without support from the government. This was brought to the minister's attention. He said they are working on it. I hope that the government will actually act.

I also want to raise this point: The minister announced he would be providing extended family sponsorship to Ukrainians, yet I see nothing on the government's website and we have had crickets since he made that announcement. Where is it? I was at an event last weekend at church praying for, supporting and sending Ukrainians strength and our support, and people there were asking me where it was and if the government had announced it. They want to sponsor their cousin, their niece, their nephew, or whoever it may be who they want to bring over. So far there is nothing there. That too is something we need to get on with.

The extended family sponsorship program works. The government does not have to wait and see how it goes. I am a product of that. My family immigrated to Canada under the extended family sponsorship. My aunt sponsored us to come to Canada in 1976. The program works. We can actually get on with it and proceed with this.

I will close by saying that the government also needs to extend these special immigration measures to Afghans and to those in other regions in conflict as well.


Kevin Lamoureux (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the incredible number of people we have working within the department of immigration and the civil service, for they have accomplished a great deal. When we think of 2020, one third of all refugees around the world who were settled were actually settled here in Canada. Last year over a half million permanent residents settled here. The Ukraine crisis has come up, and we have already received over 10,000 Ukrainians. That number continues to grow.

As the member brings up some thoughts and ideas, I would encourage her to continue to work with the ministry and share those thoughts. Settlement is very important. We have announced settlement packages. We continue to work with the different stakeholders, whether they are non-profits or other levels of government.

In trying to facilitate a potentially endless number coming to Canada for safe haven, does the member have anything else she would like to express at this point? This is an open-ended question.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I do, actually. First off, I just wish the government would stop saying how well they have done. It is as though that is an excuse to say that it does not need to do better. Second, what the government could do immediately would be to waive the refugee determination requirement for people in Afghanistan and other countries. It is impossible for them to get refugee determination right now, because UNHCR offices do not exist there.

If we truly wanted to help people in crisis, people who are absolutely desperate to get to safety and flee the Taliban, we will make that happen. Finally, we must ensure the measures are not just restricted to people who are in a third country. We need to allow for people to make those applications within Afghanistan, because if that does not happen, lives will be at risk.


Martin Champoux (Bloc) Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Vancouver East on her speech.

Let me tell the House about Sylvain, a constituent of the riding I represent. His wife Viktoriia hid out in the basement of the school where she taught in the small town of Nizhyn, a little north of Kyiv. After three weeks, she was finally able to leave Ukraine and seek refuge in Poland. It was an extremely traumatic experience. She is currently in Poland, but she is running up against some truly appalling constraints, encountering every obstacle imaginable while trying to reach Canada.

I have often asked the government the following question, but I only get very vague answers. That is why I will ask my opposition colleague the question. Can my colleague explain why it is taking so long to facilitate the arrival of Ukrainian nationals in Canada? Why is it taking so long to call in private airlines to set up an airlift, which would help in sending essential goods over there and bringing Ukrainians here?

I would like my colleague's opinion, since the government is not providing any response on the matter.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I cannot explain why the government cannot get it right. I cannot explain why the government cannot move forward in a more expeditious way. People's lives are literally at risk. They are desperate for help, and there are better ways to do it. In the spirit of collaboration, I am offering my ideas and suggestions on how the government can do better and how it can make the system work far more efficiently. I have outlined all those measures during my speech, but right now, as it stands, I would urge the government to not abandon the idea of moving forward on visa-free Ukraine travel. It should put that in place, as it would be faster and more efficient than the process that is in place right now.


Anna Roberts (Conservative) King—Vaughan, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague.

A few weeks ago, my colleague from York—Simcoe made a trip to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, and he found no Liberals there helping out. Now that there is an NDP-Liberal coalition, how will the member work with her new government to ensure we are more efficient?


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, of course, the situation as it stands with the agreement, which is a supply and confidence agreement, does not mean that the NDP is part of the government. The Conservatives should know that, but they want to conflate the issue, confuse the issue and put out misinformation. All the more power to them, I suppose. What we need to do here in this House is to stop the politics and—



Latest posts

Are you ready to take action?

Constituent Resources
Mobile Offices
Contact Jenny

Sign up for updates