We must protect refugees and Parks Canada from an omnibus budget bill

On Friday, May 31st, 2019 in Democracy, Issues, News, Parliament, Speeches

Mr. Speaker, knowing that we have very little time left, I want to say it is unfortunate that deletions are necessary at this point. I want to again put on the record the deep unhappiness of many of us seeing, in Bill C-97, the use of an omnibus budget bill to bring in provisions such as the ones I am seeking to delete through this motion today.

I will sketch out that although I did submit a number of amendments, they were similar to some submitted by the New Democratic Party. I strongly support my amendments and those of the New Democratic Party that attempt to remove from this omnibus budget bill fundamental changes to how we treat immigrants and refugees.

The right of a refugee to come to Canada is enshrined in our international obligations. There has been so much said that constitutes misunderstanding about the nature of refugees. The language started cropping up under the previous government that people who showed up here with just the clothes on their backs were somehow “jumping the queue”. I remember having debates on this point with the current premier of Alberta when he was Minister of Immigration.

I used to do work in refugee and immigration law in Halifax. My clientele were such that I might have been described as specializing in ship-jumpers. In those days, the U.S.S.R. still existed. Young sailors from Soviet bloc countries would get to Halifax, literally walk off the ship and somehow find our law office.

Nowadays, as in those days, everyone is assessed. If they claim to be a refugee, they have to prove they have a legitimate fear of returning to their country. We can be critical of how long it takes for people to be assessed, but we cannot assert there is something wrong with people who come to this country and claim to be refugees. They have a right to be assessed fairly and to know what their situation is.

With respect to some of my ship-jumpers, I note parenthetically that I was so happy when, about a year ago, I got a call in my office from one of the young men I had helped. He had raised his family in Ontario and started his own business. He had done extremely well for himself. He wondered if I still remembered him. Well, I remembered Nicola. I am so thrilled that within a week of jumping ship, he had a job washing dishes in Halifax. He was provided housing. It was not great housing, but it was enough for him to find his feet.

The idea now is that we turn people away because of the safe third country agreement, which did not exist at the time. The idea that the United States is still a safe third country for many refugees does not hold water. It does not make sense to stop people who are coming to Canada with just the clothes on their backs. Most of the people who come across the New York-Quebec border have been women with children. People do not know this; people do not necessarily see in the news who is coming here looking for our help.

There are people who really need our help. We have seen children die in detention is U.S. holding camps. We have seen an attitude of the U.S. president that is the opposite of the words on the Statue of Liberty, to send forward “the homeless” and “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…. I lift my lamp”. In contrast, “I will build a…wall” is what the current president says. He does not want “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore”, although these words on the Statue of Liberty are not exactly perfect for refugees.

Setting that aside, the spirit of these words makes clear that this country, our best friend and neighbour, used to be a welcoming place. The U.S. is a country of refugees and immigrants, as are we in Canada, being on indigenous territory. We are a country of immigrants.

We should not sneak restrictive provisions into an omnibus budget bill, claiming there is a loophole, but should instead get rid of them and the safe third country agreement. We should be saying that we no longer regard the U.S. as a safe country. We should not have a safe country agreement with a country that is capable of rejecting people for all manner of reasons.

As my time is almost up, I want to turn to the second package of amendments I submitted. They were were not shared by any other party or MP. They come from my personal experience. I will return to this whenever we come back to debate on Bill C-97.

Provisions that I think others may have missed, in clauses 334 and 335, relate to the Parks Canada Agency.

When I worked in Environment Canada in the 1980s, there was no Parks Canada Agency. It was a branch of Environment Canada, like any other branch of Environment Canada and it was treated as part of the department.

The Parks Canada civil service of the day was sold the idea that it would be better off as an agency. One of the main reasons used was that it would be able to keep money that would otherwise lapse. If it were an agency, the argument was that it could hang on to more of its budget and could build more forward planning.

I do not think the Parks Canada Agency was a good idea. It has not served the interest of making it easier or more integrated in how we treat Parks Canada and its ecological integrity. After all these years, the rationale for making it an agency will disappear if we do not pass my amendment.

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