On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from the United States for at least the next 90 days. The countries included in this ban are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Also included in the executive order are an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and a four-month ban on the admission of any refugee or refugee claimant.
These edicts have sent disbelief and shock waves throughout the international community. I, for one, can say this: in all of my life, I never thought that I would witness a ban based on race, religion, and place of birth from any democratic country, much less from Canada's closest ally and neighbour.
Since the immigration and travel ban has been made public, I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from constituents who absolutely reject these racist policies, policies that so clearly violate many international refugee and human rights legal obligations, including the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the convention against torture. It is therefore our duty as their elected representatives to respond to these extraordinary events.
How ironic it is that the Trump executive orders were made on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Honestly, have we learned nothing from history? A ban against individuals, based race, religion, or country of birth simply cannot be tolerated.
I rose in this House yesterday to propose this emergency debate, and I would like to acknowledge and thank the Speaker for granting my request. It is my utmost sincere hope that we will have a productive and non-partisan discussion about what action Canada needs to take in light of the Trump administration's immigration and travel ban. Canadians cherish their role as global citizens and are staunch defenders of human rights, both at home and abroad.
Over the weekend, the Prime Minister tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength”. When Canadians heard these words, we could not help but feel a sense of pride, for they reaffirm our Canadian values. Now it is time for us to give meaning to these words with an action plan. Exceptional situations require exceptional actions. This is one of those moments. Canadians are loud and clear that they want us to step in. The unprecedented outpouring of support, fundraising, and activism on the part of Canada's refugee sponsorship community has not faded.
As a first measure, yesterday I called on the government to immediately remove the 1,000 application cap on privately sponsored refugees. Canadians have overwhelmingly shown their generosity and compassion by stepping up to provide private sponsorship in the Syrian refugee initiative. Instead of stifling this incredible spirit of compassion and kindness, Canada should be facilitating this gesture of hope by lifting the cap on privately sponsored refugees.
Second, in addition to this measure, I am also calling on the government to show leadership with a special measure to fast-track the refugee applications that have already been successfully screened and processed for resettlement in the U.S. or those that are near completion but are now caught in this ban. These individuals are now left in a devastating limbo, and that is simply unacceptable. We all know that women, children, and families who face violence and persecution caught in this ban will be left out in the cold, and Syrian refugees will be refused indefinitely. How can that be?
To date, the government's response has been to simply say, “Stay the course”. We must remember that the current course of action proposed by the government was what was in place before the Trump ban on immigration and travel. If we do not modify our current immigration plan and policies, then we are just bystanders in the face of these intolerable, discriminatory polices.
Sadly, the Prime Minister's words will then ring hollow, rendered as meaningless rhetoric in this important moment in our history. None of us want to see that.
Third, given the severe and serious implication of the ban, Canada must now determine whether or not the American refugee system can be deemed to be providing a safe haven for those who face persecution. A number of organizations, including Amnesty International, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and the Canadian Council for Refugees, amongst many others, have called on the government to suspend the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.
The principle behind the Safe Third Country Agreement is that Canada should be able to rely on another country, a safe country that a refugee claimant has travelled through, to provide a fair hearing, an effective protection should it be warranted rather than allowing the individuals to continue to Canada to make a claim. At the heart of this, Canada must be confident that the other countries' record for refugee rights and human rights is both adequate and equivalent to that of Canada.
Given these troubling developments, it is simply not possible to suggest that the U.S. currently reaches these standards. Canada can no longer have confidence that the American refugee system is providing a safe haven for those who face persecution. The New Democrats are therefore calling on the government to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Finally, the Canadian government must take immediate steps to ensure that Canadians are not impacted by this executive order, and to reassure Canadian dual nationals and Canadian permanent residents that they can travel safely.
Since the signing of the executive order, there has been a troubling amount of confusion and concern as to who is impacted by this ban. The confusion and concern have been expressed not just by Canadian dual nationals but also by the Canada Border Services Agency, as little information has been given about how they would enforce this issue.
During the government's press conference over the weekend, representatives of the CBSA made it clear that they were not being given adequate information as to how to handle this executive order. They stated that they would be watching what the executive order means in terms of details, so until they have that level of understanding, they do not know; they are confident in their current screening system processes.
Despite verbal assurances that the ban did not apply to Canadian dual nationals and those with permanent resident status in Canada travelling with passports from one of the seven countries impacted by the ban, there are media reports that at least one individual is already being denied entry into the United States.
Dr. Reza, an Alberta biomedical engineer born in Iran and a Canadian permanent resident, was denied entry into the United States on Saturday while travelling with a group of colleagues to a San Francisco biomedical engineering conference. It was reported that he was told that, because he was born in Iran, he could not pass through the airport.
Many members are concerned. There are many issues with respect to this. As the NDP critic for immigration, refugees, and citizenship, I am calling on the government to act. We need to give meaning to the Prime Minister's words and to take action. Canada can do this and Canada must do this.
George Washington once said:
...happily, the government of the United States...gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance....
If the Trump administration will not live up to the wise words of Trump's predecessor, then Canada and the international community must step up and stand united with a clear voice and offer a clear path forward.