moved that the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented on Thursday, March 3, 2022, be concurred in.
He said: Mr. Speaker, today we are asking the House to agree to the report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration recommending that Canada implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada, including by the rapid issuance of electronic travel authorization and by increasing staff so that the existing immigration backlog is not further impacted by this crisis.
This motion was passed at committee with the support of all opposition members. I hope the government will support this necessary step, as it voted against it when we brought it up at committee.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
We are all horrified at the events unfolding in Ukraine. The unprovoked Russian invasion of a sovereign country and a friend of Canada is disgusting. In this time of need, Canadians across the country have organized to provide aid. They offer their homes to Ukrainians who come to Canada and they raise money to support people in refugee centres in Europe and those who arrive here with almost nothing. That is the generosity of Canadians. Ukrainians fleeing war are looking for safety and a place to work and live where their kids can be kids.
Countries next to Ukraine, such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, have taken in millions of refugees. UNHCR estimates that the total number of refugees is now over 3.8 million, and over 6.5 million people are internally displaced in their own country. Poland is at a point where its infrastructure cannot take much more, yet these countries continue to open their homes and communities. They provide aid and military assistance to Ukraine, all while standing up for freedom against Russian aggression.
This refugee crisis is on a scale that the world has not seen since World War II. The gravity of the situation is not lost on anyone. We see the images of bombed-out cities, bodies of women and children lying on the street and the war crimes committed by a regime wanting to recreate the Soviet Union. Back in January, the member for and I wrote to the , asking him to prepare for the invasion and the refugee crisis. We reiterated the Conservatives' call for visa-free travel for Ukrainians and their families. I will note that the Bloc and the NDP support this measure and have been calling for it as well.
With all of the pain and suffering that Ukrainians are going through and the pressure building in neighbouring countries, the current immigration system and the pathway need to change. The Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel has not improved the situation for Ukrainians. It is no secret that people applying for a temporary resident visa through this program are still stuck in IRCC's historic Liberal-made backlog of almost two million applications. I am hearing stories from Ukrainians and their families who are completely frustrated by the red tape and bureaucracy affecting people hoping to come to Canada. The new program is based on the existing temporary resident visa program. That means people still need biometrics and need to apply for a visa online. In their time of need, the current government asks Ukrainians to meet the same standards as an immigrant coming to Canada from a country without war. People who do not have computers or access to the Internet or who have limited access to those things are not in a position to have to deal with IRCC and its bureaucracy.
Look at what happened in Afghanistan. When the government opened up special measures, people had to submit everything electronically. In the middle of the Taliban taking over, refugees had to go to an Internet café, pay, print out documents, fill them out, scan them and email them. After Kabul fell, NGOs such as Ark Salus set up safe houses for people to do this paperwork, but to date, thousands of Afghans who worked for the Government of Canada in Afghanistan or as interpreters with the Canadian Forces are still stranded and in harm's way.
The government's lack of foresight, planning and coordination was on full display in Afghanistan. In the letter to the , we asked him and the government to develop a response to Ukraine that coordinated with national defence and public safety. The government failed to plan for the fall of Kabul, and Ukrainians cannot afford to have the Liberals make the same mistake Canada made in Afghanistan. When the government finally released its new program for Ukrainians, I knew the did not listen. He did not listen to the official opposition, the Bloc, the NDP or even Ukrainians who are here in Canada.
Visa-free travel is a simple ask that we are all making. We knew that if IRCC left a bureaucratic process in place, it would be like watching August 2021 all over again.
Canada is home to over 1.4 million people with Ukrainian heritage. Thousands of Canadians have family who are or were living in Ukraine. Our country is home to the second-largest diaspora of Ukrainians in the world. That means many people who are escaping the war and want to come to Canada are friends and family of people already here.
When I moved the motion calling for visa-free travel from Ukraine, the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration said no, giving security as the reason, but if Russian sympathizers or spies were trying to come to Canada, our biometric system would not catch them anyway. The minister said so himself at committee on March 3, 2022. The minister said that about 80% of applicants caught for criminality are caught because of biometrics. The member for asked the minister if that means that 80% of pro-Russian Ukrainians are detected through biometrics, and the minister said, “No.”
If biometrics are not as useful as the government wants everyone to believe, why force Ukrainians to go through the bureaucratic mess that the government created? Anyone coming into Canada who is not already a permanent resident or citizen still has their name checked against international and criminal databases. In addition, they still have to submit their passport to get an electronic travel authorization, and everyone entering Canada has to go through customs. That is not to mention that the vast majority of Ukrainians who have left the country are women, children and seniors who cannot stay and fight.
Then the story changed. The minister said he did not do visa-free travel because it would take too long. He said:
I realized that certain regulatory changes would need to be made. ...The timeline to implement that would take 12 to 14 weeks, and I didn't think we had 12 to 14 weeks. We'll be able to stand up a new system much faster.
That statement has come back to bite the government, especially now. People applying for visas are waiting anywhere from three weeks to six months to get a biometrics appointment at a visa application centre in Europe, let alone have their application even processed.
Mike O'Leary, a Canadian ex-pat, fled Ukraine with his family into Poland. He has been trying to bring his family back to Edmonton but cannot, because an overloaded system is holding up his application.
Tetiana is a former military interpreter who worked with the Canadian Forces before the war. She is in Poland and is waiting to do biometrics. She got the letter from IRCC with instructions on how to schedule an appointment. Still, she can find free spots in neighbouring countries only for July of 2022. Her friend applied on the first day the new program was opened and could only get an appointment for April 5, three weeks after she applied.
Konrad, a Ukrainian Canadian, contacted my office about his family in Ukraine. They were under siege in the south of the country. His family and their neighbours lost everything. His family managed to leave and get to Bucharest. They applied for the new program the day it opened and could only get an appointment for April 28, 2022, over a month from the day that they applied. He asked, “What is the meaning of 'emergency' in the title of this measure if the refugees have to the use the same procedure as study permits, regular economic immigration, work permits and tourist visas?”
He has a point. Why are Ukrainians stuck in a system that is already nearly two million people deep in backlogs when they are just looking for safety from a war inflicted on them?
That is why I brought this motion to the immigration committee. That is why I stand here today asking that the government not leave our friends and family trapped in red tape. We need to have visa-free travel for Ukrainians fleeing war, and they need it now.
I want to thank the hon. members from the Bloc and the NDP who voted to pass this motion at committee. I urge all members in this House to do the right thing for people escaping the Russian invasion and vote in favour of visa-free travel.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to be able to participate in the debate on this Conservative motion for concurrence to take a number of measures related to immigration required to support the people of Ukraine, and, in particular, to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada.
I will start by saying I recently joined the immigration committee. It has been a pleasure to work with colleagues from all sides on the immigration committee, especially the member for , our shadow minister, who has so much passion in this area. As he mentioned in his speech, he was privately sponsoring refugees as a private citizen before he was elected to the House of Commons or anywhere close to that. We need more members who take this area very seriously and are able, independently of the spotlight and outside of their elected lives, to actually be willing to put their money where their mouths are.
Before I get into the immigration measures, I want to speak to the situation unfolding in Ukraine overall. There has been a great deal of debate in the House on this previously. It is important that we do not let up and allow it to drift out of the headlines. We cannot stop really thinking about the ongoing situation and conflict.
When I spoke earlier on the situation in Ukraine, I said that I believe Ukraine will either be Putin's Afghanistan or Putin's Czechoslovakia. Of course, we know the sad history of Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the Second World War when the world kind of just let it happen. It negotiated the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and allowed Hitler to take over Czechoslovakia. That was a step to further aggression and violence.
On the other hand, we also know the history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, where, as a result of significant support from the west that allowed people within Afghanistan to fight back against the Soviet invasion and to have the equipment they needed, they were able to drive out the Soviet invaders. That ultimately played a critical role in changing the tide of history in the aggressive agenda that had been pursued by the Soviets up to that point.
It is up to us to look at this situation and ask if we are going to support the people of Ukraine, so Putin's experience in Ukraine will be like the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, or are we going to allow the invasion to happen in the way similar to how the world kind of accepted the takeover of Czechoslovakia? That is the choice, and it requires our active engagement, our significant support for Ukrainians and our persistence in that enterprise.
Of course, we know that there is a lot of discussion in the news about possible negotiations and a possible back-and-forth dialogue happening. What is critical for us, as external actors, is to say that, regardless of negotiations taking place, we will not let up in sanctions and in holding Putin accountable unless he withdraws from all sovereign Ukrainian territory, respects the sovereignty of Ukraine's government, and respects the ability of Ukrainians to express themselves through democratic elections and make political choices about their future. Our role is to continue to apply significant sanctions. That is what we on the Conservative side have been saying is required, including significant increased lethal aid and other forms of tactical support to Ukrainians, tougher sanctions and, as our leader has called for, very importantly, air support for humanitarian corridors.
Speaking of those humanitarian corridors is a good transition point to talking about some of the immigration issues. While many Ukrainians are staying and fighting, heroically standing in the way of the Russian invasion, there are many people, such as women, children, the elderly and those who are not able to fight, who are desperate to get to safety. The UNHCR estimates that the number of Ukrainians who have fled the country is approaching four million. It is a very large number.
I want to congratulate Ukraine's neighbours, such as Poland, Latvia and other countries in the region. They have done incredible work. Everyday citizens of those countries are welcoming Ukrainians into their homes and stepping up to support Ukrainians in their hour of need. However, other countries that are farther away could play a greater role as well. Those of us here in Canada, with our large Ukrainian community and our close cultural and other ties, can play a critical role in welcoming those who are coming from Ukraine, many of whom, of course, hope to go back after the conflict is over. There is urgency to act now.
With respect to government action, the frustrating thing is that sometimes it seems like the government is solving problems but with such a delay and such a long time scale that things are ending, or past the point when they could best be solved, when the government is talking about it.
For example, it was announced that the government originally said that people coming from Ukraine could stay for two years; now, it is saying they can stay for three years. Obviously, three years is better than two years, but all of us are hoping this will be long over within two years and that people will have been able to go back within two years. We do not know.
It is hard to predict the future of how these kinds of things will unfold, but the government is making a promise about the far end, a time horizon, when what is really needed is to say how we can get people to be able to come more quickly right now, because right now is when we have the problem. I think we can make comparisons to other issues, such as COVID programs, where the government missed the boat and then, after the fact, would say, for example, that it was going to do ventilation in schools two years after this thing started. This is, I think, a problem with the way the government operates, sadly. It is not on top of issues, but then promises to do the thing we should have already done.
When it comes to immigration support for Ukrainians who are seeking to find a place to live and be in safety during this time, we are calling on the government to focus on the urgent immediate action now to help people get to a situation of safety. From this came a committee motion that was designed to really move this issue forward and emphasize to the government what needed to be done. A key part of that was the call for visa-free travel.
I do want to say that, while working on the immigration committee, the spirit of collaboration that exists has been really strong. It was a Conservative motion, but I think it is fair to say to my friends in the NDP and the Bloc that they were enthusiastic and keen about getting visa-free travel as part of this motion as well, and I am very hopeful we will see the same level of support and enthusiasm from other opposition parties, in terms of getting this motion adopted by the House of Commons. I hope, notwithstanding the fact that the Liberals voted against this motion at committee, that the , the immigration and the government will take seriously the will of the House of Commons in this respect. If a majority of the House of Commons votes in favour of saying we need visa-free travel, there is not a formal legal obligation on the government to implement the will of the House in this case, but I think there is a moral obligation in a democracy for the government to take seriously what the House of Commons is saying in this respect.
I do expect, given the positions taken by other opposition parties, this motion to pass, and I think it is a reasonable norm of democracy that, when a government that got a third of the popular vote is told by all of the rest of the parties in the House of Commons that it should take a certain action, the government actually takes that seriously and responds to it.
My colleague who spoke previously mentioned the arguments the government has used against bringing in visa-free travel. We saw them make some of these arguments at committee. They have said there are security issues that require a visa, and I think my colleague has demonstrated well, and the sort of acknowledged this, that to whatever extent there may be individuals who are not actually sympathetic to the Ukrainian side who would try to use this program to get in, it could happen anyway with the provisions the government has put in place.
Moreover, I think the minister has said that it takes too long to pull back the visa requirement, which does not make a lot of sense to me. If the government is so slow in its operations that removing a requirement takes weeks and weeks of delay, that seems like a problem we should try to solve at a more fundamental level, because what we are calling for is not to add additional requirements to complicate the process; we are just asking the government to remove existing requirements. That should be a fairly simple, straightforward thing to do, and for the government to say that the imposition of this whole new program it has developed would somehow take less time than simply removing the visa requirement, I do not think that makes a lot of sense.
In any event, and I have sort of come back to this a few times in different contexts here this morning, I think we should ask and expect the Government of Canada to move faster during critical situations like this. I think we see this across the board with immigration. It is useful to think about how in the last year we had the situation in Afghanistan and now we have the situation in Ukraine. In both cases the government did not plan enough in advance and then told us it cannot move fast enough. It will say that it has all these papers it has to move around and things to sign, and that it is just going to take too long. The effect of accepting that somehow it is okay for these processes to take as long as the government is saying they will take is that it has real costs in human life and security.
The cost of government delays and inaction in the context of Afghanistan was that there were many people we should have gotten out that we did not. The cost in the case of the situation in Ukraine is, again, further delays, and more people being in harm's way for longer than necessary and longer than they should be.
I want to point out as well some of the statements being made by representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on immigration measures. For one, I think their position was actually misstated in committee. There was a member of the Liberal caucus who implied that somehow the Ukrainian Canadian Congress was not pushing for visa-free travel. The same day the Ukrainian Canadian Congress issued a statement clarifying that it does want visa-free travel. It also presented some concerns about the program the government has put in place, and maybe I will get to that in questions and comments.
Madam Speaker, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to rise to address this issue, and to a certain extent it is, but I am somewhat disappointed with the Conservative Party because I believe it is using this issue as a way to frustrate the legislative process, and I do not say that lightly.
All members of the House have been very supportive of the people of Ukraine. They understand the situation and want to do what Canadians as a whole want us to do, and that is to support the Ukrainian people in this time of need. We have seen that in the form of take-note debates. I believe we have had two take-note debates, although maybe one was an emergency debate. I am not 100% clear on that. Members from all sides of the House recognized what is taking place in Ukraine.
It does not take very much to get an appreciation of what is happening. We can go to YouTube or check news channels and see the horrors of war taking place today in Ukraine. Cities are being completely demolished, and people are dying every day by the thousands. In Putin, we see a dictator who has seen fit to destroy the infrastructure of a country, but the people of Ukraine are resisting. That resistance and love for Ukrainian heritage are what are ultimately going to prevail. We know that and we see that.
It was inspiring when President Zelenskyy addressed this chamber virtually and spoke to Canadians through the House of Commons. I believe, as I know my colleagues believe, that the Government of Canada needs to do whatever it can to support Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, and not use the political manoeuvres that I believe we are witnessing today to fit another agenda that is, really and truly, meant to frustrate the government.
If the Conservative Party really wants to have a debate about what is happening in Ukraine today and wants to talk about visitor visas or visa requirements, there are other opportunities. The Conservatives could have approached the government about having another take-note debate. They could have had their own opposition day and a very specific motion to deal with the topic they want to talk about today. They could have done that. There are other ways that the official opposition could have raised this very important issue. There is not one member of the Liberal caucus who would deny the fact that the issue being debated is, indeed, of critical importance. It is the timing of it.
Yesterday, for example, we were looking forward to Bill passing, but Conservative after Conservative stood and spoke. Bill C-8 is the fall economic statement that would provide pandemic relief and support for Canadians in all regions, but the Conservatives have made the determination that they do not want to see that bill pass.
Today we all know we are supposed to be debating Bill : the modernization of the Broadcasting Act.
A great deal of effort has gone into that bill through input from Canadians, the work of the ministry and its department, and the work of the himself. It has been debated quite extensively thus far, and it was supposed to continue to be debated.
Again, we see the Conservatives bringing forward a concurrence motion. To the best of my knowledge, they did not approach the and ask for a take-note debate. To the best of my knowledge, we did not get to the rest of the orders of the day. Conservatives could have brought in an emergency debate on the issue. If they had waited an extra two minutes during House proceedings, we could have had an emergency debate.
I am sure members in the Conservative Party know that the type of debate they are encouraging right now is, in fact, limited to three hours. An emergency debate would have allowed more people to participate. A take-note debate would have allowed more people to participate. An opposition day motion would have not only allowed more people to participate, but it would have allowed the Conservative Party to frame a question to ultimately be put to the House and see whether that could have been supported.
That is the reason I say to the Conservative Party, and those who might be following this debate, that it is shameful of the official opposition to try to take an issue that is important to all Canadians and politicize it. I say shame on the Conservative Party of Canada for doing what it is doing: using manipulation to try to twist something so it can score some political points, or limit or cause more frustration on another piece of legislation.
For Conservatives to try to give the impression that Liberals do not want to contribute to the issue of refugees in Ukraine is absolutely ridiculous. As a government, we want to do whatever we can to support the people of Ukraine. Almost 3.9 million people have fled Ukraine to date. That is the most recent estimate I have heard. Almost four million people have fled Ukraine.
I talked at the beginning about those horrors. Let us take a look at the track record of this government. I will compare it with the record of Stephen Harper. In 2015, we had the election along with what was taking place in Syria. We had about 25,000 refugees to settle, and the Conservative Party was balking back then and asking how we were going to do that.
The Conservatives seemed to be in opposition to it, because I think their number was around 10,000. Do not quote me on it, but it was substantially less than what we said. Not only did we achieve 25,000, but from what I understand, we actually exceeded 50,000. That does not happen overnight. There is a process. To my friends across the way, I ask them to tell me another country, on a per capita basis in the western world, that had more refugees from Syria than Canada did.
Then we have Afghanistan, where the former said we would resettle 20,000 refugees, but then that doubled to 40,000. The Conservatives are already critical of some of the processes regarding processing those refugees. We will eventually get there. We understand the important role that Canada has to play when it comes to refugees.
When I was the critic for the Liberal Party of Canada dealing with immigration matters, we had Stephen Harper and the Conservative minister of immigration cutting back refugee settlement programs.
We do not need to take lessons from the Conservative Party on providing humanitarian support to refugees. I saw it first-hand when I was sitting in opposition and the Conservative Party had no respect for refugees or had minimal respect for providing the supports they required in order to settle in a healthier way here in Canada. Now the Conservative Party members have the tenacity to say that we could be doing better from a government perspective.
An hon. member: You could do something.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Madam Speaker, we are doing something. Those who believe we are not are trying to espouse false information. The Prairies were built in good part because of—
Madam Speaker, someone made reference to the numbers. I think close to 1.4 million people who live in Canada today are of Ukrainian heritage. Taking a look at the prairie provinces, colleagues will find that many pioneers were of Ukrainian heritage. They helped build the Prairies to what they are today.
Winnipeg North, the riding I represent, is an area of Canada with historical meaning. It has deep roots in Ukrainian heritage. Take a look at the beautiful Ukrainian churches that we have and much of the infrastructure. There are 50-plus blocks that I will visit to talk to many individuals who still speak Ukrainian, with very little English, some of them being lovely seniors who will share their concerns and passion for Ukraine. One can see its rich heritage in things such as Folklorama's Spirit of Ukraine and the Kyiv Pavilion. Both pavilions have virtually sold-out audiences on many occasions. We value the contributions made by people of Ukrainian heritage for generations here in Canada. There is no surprise that when something happens in Ukraine it matters, whether it was back in 2014 or today when we see the horrors of war.
The expectation from not only the 1.4 million people of Ukrainian heritage but the population as a whole has been that the Government of Canada would step up. Not only the Government of Canada has stepped up, but we have had, I believe, three rallies at the Manitoba legislature with thousands of Manitobans of great diversity. They showed up at the front of the Manitoba legislature to show their support for the people of Ukraine. I had the opportunity to participate in a couple of those rallies. For people here in Canada, especially those of Ukrainian heritage, even though they may not be in Ukraine and may not even have been born in Ukraine, their caring attitude is there. It is real and it is tangible. We saw that in the tears and the flag-waving in front of the Manitoba legislature.
That was not unique. That is something that is taking place all over Canada as Canadians have stepped up, whether through prayers or donations. The Government of Canada has given considerable amounts, going into hundreds of millions of dollars, but the program I like to highlight is the one through the Red Cross. The reason I like to highlight it is that initially it was for $10 million of matching donations, where the federal government would match up to $10 million of Canadian donations through the Red Cross. That was used up in days. We more than tripled that in terms of those matching dollars. I say that because not only did Canadians as a whole offer their prayers, but they offered money and donations of all kinds. My daughter, who is an MLA, opened her office to receive some non-monetary donations right in her office.
People have responded. Part of that response has been to lobby members of Parliament, MLAs and others, to do what they can to help Ukraine at this time of need.
What has the Government of Canada done? One of the most important things we can do is contribute lethal weapons to support the people of Ukraine. Canada works very closely with our allied countries. In some areas, we have played a leadership role, more than other countries, within the allied forces. In other areas, another country might play a leadership role, but from a financial point of view, even before the war got under way, we saw the Canadian government providing financial support to the people of Ukraine.
Those lethal weapons, along with the lethal weapons from other allied countries and friends of Ukraine, are what have enabled the heroes of Ukraine, those individuals who are staying in Ukraine and fighting the Russian soldiers and Putin. That lethal aid has proven to be successful, as we have seen parts of Ukraine being taken back because of the efforts of those heroes.
Canada is also there with humanitarian aid, going into the millions of dollars.
I want to address, specifically, the issue of those who are being displaced, the 3.9 million people today. I believe it is around that number. Canada has sped up and set into place a special process that enables us to be able to receive an unlimited, and let me underline the word “unlimited”, number of people fleeing Ukraine. Yes, there is a process, a process that is, I believe, reasonable at this juncture and time. If we take a look at what Canada is ultimately providing and the way we are sourcing it, we will see tens of thousands of Ukrainians coming to Canada, whether on a three-year temporary basis or, in some cases, no doubt on a permanent basis.
We have put into place an expedited system that will enable people not only to come to Canada but also to work in Canada and to study in Canada. We have people in our communities who are opening their homes. We have a federal government that is working with provincial governments and other stakeholders to ensure there are settlement packages wherever possible to support those who are fleeing Ukraine. We will continue to be there.
Madam Speaker, I must admit that I am a bit surprised by the direction this debate has taken. Frankly, I was not expecting that there would be so much agreement on this motion. I listened to our Liberal colleague's passionate speech and I found myself wondering what, exactly, we disagree on. I took another look at the motion we are debating today.
It states, and I quote:
That the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration report the following to the House: We (a) condemn the unwarranted and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a clear violation of international law....
Unless I am mistaken, we all appear to agree on this part, so that is clearly not where the issue is.
I will continue reading the motion, as follows:
(b) call on the Government of Canada to support Ukrainians and people residing in Ukraine who are impacted by this conflict and ensure that it is prepared to process immigration applications on an urgent basis without compromising needs in other areas....
It states, “on an urgent basis without compromising needs in other areas”. Perhaps this is where things start to become problematic, but it seems to me that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration set out an important parameter in this second point, so I do not think that should be the case. What then do the Liberals have a problem with?
In the next point, it states:
(c) implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada, including by the rapid issuance of an electronic travel authorization (eTA), and increase staffing resources so that the existing backlog for all immigration streams is not further impacted by this humanitarian crisis.
Before I comment on that, I would like to point out the extraordinary work that our colleague from has done on this file. Unfortunately, he is unable to be with us today because he is being cautious, I would say.
I applaud his work. Point (c), which calls on the government to “implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada”, was the initial proposal. My colleague from Lac‑Saint‑Jean and our Liberal colleagues, among others, added “including by the rapid issuance of an electronic travel authorization”. Rather than eliminate visas entirely, this at least maintains the requirement for an electronic travel authorization. That does not seem to be good enough for our Liberal friends, who were the only committee members to vote against the motion despite the requirement introduced by our colleague from Lac‑Saint‑Jean.
Point (c) goes on to say: “increase staffing resources so that the existing backlog for all immigration streams is not further impacted by this humanitarian crisis”.
Are we to understand, based on our colleague's fiery speech, that the Liberals have no intention of increasing resources? Are they saying that they think we have enough staff to handle this kind of situation?
If so, that is worrisome, to put it mildly. The outcome of the federal government's efforts to welcome Afghan refugees is a clear indication that performance has been underwhelming so far.
The Liberals promised to welcome 40,000 Afghan refugees. Fewer than 10,000 have made it to Canada so far. This means that, despite the best intentions, if the means and resources are not there, those intentions will not translate into concrete results.
We do not need to wait another three months to reach this conclusion. We already know that. We only have to look at what happened with the Afghan refugees to realize that not deploying the necessary resources means that we will not achieve the objectives set. Exactly the same thing is likely to happen with Ukrainian refugees.
What, then, is the government's problem? Is it related to the call for visa-free travel, while maintaining the compromise and fallback proposal made by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean, namely, maintaining the requirement for electronic travel authorization?
Is that the problem on the Liberal side, or do they have a problem with the second part of point (c), that is, the call to “increase staffing resources so that the existing backlog for all immigration streams is not further impacted by this humanitarian crisis”? Frankly, if that is really the sticking point, then that worries me, to say the least.
The and the quite rightly recognized that my colleague from is working very hard with them on this file. He is our citizenship and immigration critic, and from the outset, he was prepared to find solutions, collaborate and co-operate.
The Liberals are not really used to that. The stated that things have been very tense in Parliament and that it is paralyzed, unresponsive and dysfunctional. However, what the Prime Minister may not have understood is that since the election, the Bloc Québécois has constantly repeated that it is willing to work constructively with the government. That is what motivated our colleague from Lac‑Saint‑Jean to respond proactively to the significant humanitarian crisis under way in Ukraine. He came up with proposals.
His first proposal was a three-year extension of the work and student visas of Ukrainians already in Canada. The government acted quickly on that point. We commend and applaud it. That is wonderful. This was a Bloc Québécois proposal that quickly received a favourable response from the government. When this government is determined to act and takes its head out of the sand, it can do things quickly.
The second proposal put forward by my colleague from Lac‑Saint‑Jean was to drop the visa requirement. This suggestion did not go anywhere and quickly faced obstacles. We then realized that the government did not really want to drop this requirement.
As the leader of the Bloc Québécois pointed out, thousands of people are entering via Roxham Road without presenting any travel document, visa or biometric test whatsoever. During the entire pandemic, it was proven that it is possible to close off that route. The government has now decided to reopen the floodgates and has no security concerns about doing it. People are streaming in, no problem. The is rolling out the welcome mat for them.
However, the same does not seem to apply to the poor Ukrainians who are fleeing their country, which has been unjustly invaded by Russia. The government said it would speed up the process, but it took weeks just to announce that accelerated process, which, by all accounts, is not that much faster anyway.
Let us put ourselves in the shoes of these poor Ukrainian women, who are the most likely to have taken refuge in Poland, Moldova or Romania. They would love to come to Canada and get as far away from the conflict as possible.
Canada is asking them to fill out an application for a temporary resident visa, which, according to experts, can take up to three hours for someone who is proficient in English or French. These people are unlikely to be proficient in English or French, but they are still required to fill out the form or else they will not be allowed in.
Then, these people need to set up a meeting at one of the visa application centres to submit their biometrics. I remind members that this is an emergency and we need to get a huge number of people here, but they are being asked to show up between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. if they want to be able to come over here.
On top of that, they are required to pay $185 in fees, even though some are destitute. They are still being asked to cough up the money. The government says that it will refund the fees, but these people still need to pay up front without knowing when or how the money will be refunded.
These are the documents that the government requires: bank statement, official ID, passport and travel insurance. However, I am not sure that people took the time, especially if their house was destroyed, to collect all their documents thinking that the Canadian government might ask for them. Will these people take the time to search through the rubble of their homes for their passports and bank statements? What the government is asking the Ukrainian refugees to produce so they can access the fast-track procedure is not necessarily possible.
I will point out that, to date, of the 40,000 Afghans we promised to take in, we have only welcomed 8,580 so far. There is therefore cause to worry about this fast-track procedure when it comes to visas because, in any case, it has not worked that well so far, whatever the measures implemented by the government.
As for visa-free travel, there seems to be a security concern eating away at the government: It is afraid that some nasty Russians could sneak in. I figure that those who sneak in will not be on site to fight the Ukrainians, but that is another story.
The government is very concerned about security. However, no fewer than 91 countries are allowing Ukrainians to cross their borders without a visa. I guess these 91 countries do not have the same security concerns as Canada.
Also, the government told us that it could not really lift the visa requirement because it would take 12 weeks to adapt the IRCC’s computer system. The IRCC minister said that himself. Perhaps if it had started earlier, it would be about ready to remove the visa requirement.
I would like to point out that, like Canada, Ireland normally does not authorize Ukrainian nationals to enter the country without a visa. However, Ireland was able to lift the requirement in a few hours, rather than a few days or weeks. How is it that Ireland can do in a few hours what Canada can only do in 12 weeks?
Rather than working on allowing visa-free travel, IRCC has worked very hard for weeks to implement the fast-track process I just described. Perhaps it should have gotten off its butt and worked on immediately lifting the visa requirement? I think that would have been the right thing to do.
The government seems to be paralyzed by the security issue, so we proposed another approach. Since the government thinks the biometrics are absolutely necessary for security reasons, we wondered whether we could avoid doing the biometric scans over there, quickly and safely bring the refugees to Canada, and then do the biometrics here. This still seems to be too complicated, though, since the government flatly opposed this other proposal from my colleague from .
Since the Bloc is always in solution mode, we proposed a humanitarian airlift. We figured that we could ask Canadian airlines for help and they would be only too happy to oblige. For instance, Air Transat has already raised its hand and said it was prepared to send planes if the Government of Canada was interested.
The told us that his government wants to charter flights for medical assistance, instead of using Canadian Armed Forces planes. Air Transat raised its hand and asked what it could do. We do not know what the holdup is, but we are still looking for the answer. There is no holdup anymore, since Air Transat is prepared to volunteer. It said so publicly. The government has not yet understood that Air Transat is prepared to do it, free of charge, believe it or not.
However, there seems to be some issue with the idea of arranging a humanitarian airlift by chartering planes to Poland and flying them back full of Ukrainian refugees who could quickly find refuge and safety in Canada and Quebec.
I guess some people are wondering whether the planes are going to fly there empty. It would be expensive for them to fly there empty and return to Canada with people aboard.
My colleague from had a brilliant idea. He said that we did not have to fly the planes empty because the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is working like mad to collect essential supplies. It has gathered tons of supplies from all over the place, and it is running out of room to store them. We are asking that it charter flights to ship the items to Poland and neighbouring countries.
We could organize a humanitarian airlift by filling the planes with the supplies gathered thanks to the generosity of Canadians and Quebeckers. We could fill these planes up, send them to Poland and bring them back full of people. We could fill them with Ukrainian refugees. However, apparently, that is still too complicated. This was another proposal made by my colleague from , and it got a flat no.
So far, the Canadian government has ignored the proposal to set up a humanitarian airlift, yet I find this proposal extremely reasonable.
The government is losing nothing by waiting, since my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean is still looking for positive proposals. It can rest assured that he will continue to make proposals in the coming days and weeks. He will not give up in the face of the government's indolence. I had the opportunity to chat with him before coming here, and I know that he is looking for new solutions, that he is not done suggesting ideas.
I am having a hard time understanding our colleague's inflamed, even incensed, response to the Conservatives' proposal. All in all, it is a very reasonable proposal. Personally, I see it as the Conservatives making an effort to reach across the aisle. The Bloc Québécois is always reaching across the aisle.
How can there be a partisan debate on a motion like this one? It is just bad faith to play partisan politics with this issue and reproach the Conservatives for having dared to ask that the House concur in the report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The Liberals see it as heresy, but it is no such thing. I read out the motion. Unless our colleague is saying that he does not want to condemn the unjustified attack or that he does not want to support the Ukrainians, we can only conclude that the problem is that we are asking the government to waive visas, while maintaining the requirement for an electronic travel authorization, which was a compromise, an alternative solution, proposed by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean. The government is unwilling to add more staff to process applications. That is the government's real problem. That is why it reacted in such an inflamed and incensed manner to the Conservatives' perfectly reasonable motion. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of the motion.
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise in this House today to speak to this concurrence motion on the grave situation before us in Ukraine. My constituents in Saskatoon West know that I sit on the House of Commons immigration committee. On this committee, we have been focused on several issues of importance, but none more so than the horrid war in eastern Europe and the humanitarian crisis being caused by Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The motion we are debating today is very simple. The immigration committee came together under the leadership of my colleague, the Conservative shadow minister of immigration, and asked the government to take in Ukrainians visa-free. That is simple enough, right? Unfortunately, every single Liberal on that committee voted against the motion. I hope today that the Liberals will change their minds and support this motion now that it is in front of the entire House of Commons.
This motion was born out of the experience of government failures since August 15 of last year to help Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban. We do not want to see a repeat of what happened with Afghanistan replayed here with Ukraine, and indeed the two issues are very much intertwined. Before I get into detail about Ukraine, I must bring out some context about Afghanistan.
None of us in this House asked for the Taliban to wipe out the legitimate government of Afghanistan last August when Joe Biden removed the last of the U.S. troops from that country, just as none of us in this House asked for Vladimir Putin to invade and wage war in Ukraine, creating the greatest mass exodus of people in Europe since the end of World War II, yet here we are.
As one of the most fortunate and blessed countries on the planet, Canada has a role to play and must step up to the plate. If we listen to the government, we would hear that Canada's response, in the words of the , would be for Canada to be a convenor of meetings. We would send over a few World II bazookas and set up a couple of meetings in Ukraine. Of course, that pales in comparison to the Liberal response to the Taliban, a banned terrorist organization in Canada, conquering Kabul last year. Maryam Monsef, then Liberal leader for women's rights, no less, welcomed the Taliban as “our brothers”.
I first want to put some context to this debate on Ukraine today. That context is Afghanistan. When Kabul was falling to the Taliban, our called a vanity election, hoping to get his sought-after pandemic majority. On that day, the world was in crisis, and all the Prime Minister could see in the mirror was his own vain image. Thousands of Canadian Forces members served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, with the solemn loss of 159 Canadians and military personnel. These brave women and men fought to secure basic human rights, such as girls not being sold into sexual slavery and instead going to school. They also fought to eliminate the threat the Taliban posed to world peace. Of course, it was the Taliban that gave material aid and support to al Qaeda in planning and executing the 9/11 attack.
Thoroughly embarrassed, the Liberals did promise to bring in 40,000 Afghan refugees. This included those who helped our armed forces while they were in the country, but the program established to bring them over to Canada has been a dismal failure. In eight months, the program has brought in less than 20% of the eligible number, and most of those brought in are in Canada because of private refugee sponsorship, not through the clumsy, overly bureaucratic IRCC process.
Last night, I attended the Afghan committee and listened to painful stories from Afghanistan. The Taliban hard-liners are turning back the clock. Girls have been banned from schools after the sixth grade and women cannot even travel on a plane without a male chaperone, yet Canada cannot get its act together.
Here is one example. Friba Rezayee from the Women Leaders of Tomorrow works with elite women athletes. She has 15 female Afghan athletes who have been given full-ride scholarships to respected Canadian universities. The Liberals have denied them student visas because they are afraid that these women might stay in Canada in the long term. The Liberals will not allow elite women athletes to study in Canada because they might not return to a regressive Taliban. I guarantee that we will not see that headline on CBC News.
Today many potential new refugees are currently in Europe, waiting for their go-ahead from IRCC and a plane ticket, but it is not happening. Indeed Greece, Crete and other EU nations are getting increasingly impatient with Canada as they bear the cost of housing and feeding these refugees who are meant for our country.
As an MP and deputy shadow minister for immigration, I am fortunate enough to have been able to meet with many ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general from other regions to discuss Canada's response to the refugee crisis. I had very fruitful discussions with President Biden’s consul general, Boris Johnson’s deputy in Ottawa and the Belgian ambassador. I have also met with the high commissioners from India, Ajay Bisaria, and Bangladesh, Dr. Rahman, to discuss these issues. I hear one unifying message from the diplomatic corps here in Ottawa: Get on with the job and get those refugees settled in Canada.
I want to turn to the specific motion we are debating today. Earlier this month, our committee, led by the Conservatives and supported by the other opposition parties, passed this motion calling upon the government to implement visa-free travel for Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war machine. Unfortunately, Liberal members voted against this motion, going on record with their opposition to allowing Ukrainians coming into Canada. Indeed, the Liberal member for summed up Liberal opposition to this at the March 1 committee meeting when we were discussing this. He said:
…Liberal members who are concerned about the security…concerned about bad people coming to Canada if there is a visa-free entry.
…This is not going to go well, so please consider that and do not support this motion.
Let us remember that we are talking about women and children. Men are not even allowed to leave Ukraine.
Honestly, this is just a smokescreen for the government to slow down the process and keep people out. I know this, because I asked the directly about security concerns for Ukrainians coming into Canada when he came to the committee at the following meeting. Specifically, I asked him if the biosecurity checks that are being done at our embassy in Warsaw, Poland, would add extra processing time to the applications. His answer was that it takes only a few days and added negligible time to the processing of Ukrainians. This is simply not true. The reality is that it is adding up to six weeks to the process.
It is so bad, in fact, that the Toronto Star reported that the Polish prime minister had to take Canadian media aside during our ’s trip to Poland to underscore his frustration that these refugees were not being cleared through our embassy in Warsaw. When the Polish prime minister needs to complain about the lousy job the Liberals are doing, something is clearly wrong.
The Conservative solution is simple: Do the security checks when these individuals arrive in Canada. These are women and children; the risk is very low.
What would our Conservative solution accomplish? First and foremost, it would allow the people fleeing the war zone the opportunity to come to Canada in an expedited manner. Back in Saskatoon, as I talk to people who have family on the ground in Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia or wherever they may be in Europe, the stories they are telling me are of massive delays at Canadian embassies and consulates to get paperwork done, and that paperwork is for visas. It is to get the so-called biometrics done. Basically, it is fingerprinting and criminal record checking but on a larger scale and against a global database. Conservatives absolutely understand the need to keep undesirables out of Canada. However, we can do these criminal checks in Canada. Let us remember that we are talking about women and children. Canada can do better.
On Thursday of last week, the appeared at our immigration committee. I asked him about the dichotomy between the treatment of Afghans and Ukrainians coming into Canada. I wanted know why only 9,500 of the promised 40,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada after eight months. I wanted to know why he was also bragging about bringing in over 10,000 white Ukrainians to Canada in only three months. The minister said back to me, “the vast majority of people who want to seek safe haven in Canada actually [will] return to Ukraine.” Regarding Afghans, he said, “I hate to admit that the likelihood that people who are coming here are going to be able to return is just not there.”
He believes that Afghans will stay in Canada permanently. On the other hand, he has every confidence that white Ukrainians will have no problem exiting Canada when the time is right. This boggles my mind. He basically admitted to his own systemic biases in gauging people by their skin colour.
I am not the only person who caught this either. On Friday last week, The Globe and Mail did an entire news story on my exchange with the . This was its analysis:
Opposition parties says the Liberal government’s streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a two-tiered, racialized system that prioritizes Ukrainian immigrants over refugees from other conflict zones, including Afghanistan.…
[The immigration minister] added that the government opted to offer streamlined immigration measures to Ukrainians, rather than a dedicated refugee program, because European counterparts and the Ukrainian Canadian community have indicated that most Ukrainians who come to Canada will want to eventually return home. This is not the case with people coming from Afghanistan, he said, hence the need for a refugee program.
I can assure my constituents in Saskatoon West and indeed all Canadians that they can read between these lines and see that the is basically waving the white flag to the Taliban and saying that, unlike white Europeans, Afghans do not have the drive, desire or love of their homeland and would not return if conditions improve.
I have managed many people over the years, and I have learned that the vast majority want to do a good job. I am sure that the hard-working staff at IRCC want to make Canada proud and do the best job that they can, but there are clear problems. Both Afghans and Ukrainians are being stalled by bureaucracy and piles of rules that effectively stop good people from coming to Canada. These types of problems fall firmly at the feet of leadership: the and his senior staff. I urge the minister to review this bureaucracy and make immediate changes so that those at IRCC can do the work they want to do and make Canada proud.
Marcel, from Saskatoon West, wrote to me after that Globe and Mail article was published. I want members to know what he said, because it is relevant to today's debate. He said, “Thank you for raising this issue...I complained...at election time that it was criminal that getting Afghanis who helped the Canadian Forces had been delayed by the Bureaucrats and the Liberals.... Today's paper states about half of those approved are still being kept out. We should charter planes to bring them here and do the paperwork later. All those who helped the Canadians can be identified by past and present members of the forces.”
Marcel's point was that the Afghans we are trying to get out helped us through the two-decade war. Canada was in that war because we are part of NATO, and the U.S. invoked article 5, which ensures mutual defence. When one NATO member is attacked, we are all attacked.
What is happening in Ukraine has a lot of people talking about NATO and Canada's role in NATO. People in Saskatoon West are asking me what I believe should be done for our defence posture in our budget. To that end, I put a motion on notice in the House just last week. Motion No. 55 reads as follows:
That, given the ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine and the possibility of the war spilling over into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) defended territory, in the opinion of the House, the government should:
(a) make at minimum the NATO requirement of defence spending investments of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in budget 2022 to bring the budget of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) into line with NATO requirements;
(b) focus this funding on expanding Canada’s war fighting capabilities;
(c) authorize the departments of Public Works and Government Services and National Defence to make capital purchases for the CAF on an urgent basis using national security grounds and waving bureaucratic red tape; and
(d) immediately enter into an agreement with the United States of America to use Canadian territory for the deployment of its ballistic missile system and provide funding and operational personnel for such a system based within in its territory.
The first and second parts of the motion are pretty straightforward. When our was in Brussels last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that all member nations have until June to provide their plans to him to reach the NATO target of 2% of GDP for defence spending. Our immediately left that meeting and shot that idea down. The government's coalition partner, the NDP, has said that it will veto any increased defence spending, so it looks like Canada will once again miss this target.
The third part of the motion to cut red tape and authorize the purchase of military equipment on national security grounds is something that has not happened since Prime Minister Harper. When Canada needed tanks or new heavy-lift airplanes for the war in Afghanistan, the government invoked the national security clause and the equipment arrived within months. Today, when we look at what we can provide for the war on Ukraine, we do not have much. Our military cupboard is nearly bare.
When our governments go to buy helicopters, fighter jets or new naval vessels, it takes decades. The process to start building the new naval frigates started in the early 2000s, and not one plank has been laid. The process to buy the fighter jets started at the same time, and only yesterday did the government announce that it would begin the process to buy the planes that Harper wanted to buy in 2006. What about those helicopters? Yes, they are the ones that Brian Mulroney ordered in the 1980s and were cancelled by Jean Chrétien. Then they were reordered and finally arrived only a few years ago. Unfortunately, they are all out of service because of cracks in the airframe, but, hey, that is the government's red-tape military procurement system.
The final section I have in there is on Canada joining the U.S. ballistic missile defence system. Do members know that Canada is the only NATO country not protected against Russian nuclear attack? The technology in this system is proven to shoot down incoming ICBMs. It would not catch all of the nuclear warheads, but it would certainly limit the damage. Why is Canada not a member? The Americans were willing to pay and man the system after all, and all we needed to do was allow them to set up some stations in our Arctic territories. However, under the Paul Martin Liberals in 2005, Canada told President Bush that we thought Putin was a nice guy and would never harm a fly. What I am proposing is that we get back to the Americans, tell them Canada made a mistake, and that if we need to pay and man the stations in the Arctic, a real partnership with the U.S.A., we will do it.
Even with the war in Ukraine, I am not under any delusion that the NDP-Liberal government will support this motion, but I want my constituents back in Saskatoon West to know that I am putting these ideas forward for them.
Saskatoon has one of the highest Ukrainian diaspora populations on the planet. After Ukraine and Russia, the Canadian Prairies are home to the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population. I grew up behind the garlic curtain in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. The Yorkton area has a very large Ukrainian population, which is why I thought that garlic was one of the food groups. Borscht, perogy, holopchi, I ate very well in Yorkton.
I recently learned that my own ancestry is tied to Ukraine. My heritage is Mennonite. My Mennonites started out in the Netherlands; then they moved to Prussia, and then they were enticed to move to Russia by Catherine the Great. She offered them freedom in exchange for their work in developing vast farms, because they were known as great farmers. My grandfather always called himself Russian and labelled his town of birth as Schönfeld, Russia. However, what I recently learned was that my grandfather was actually born in Ukraine. His birthplace, while called Russia at the time, was actually very near Zaporizhzhia, the heart of the current fighting in southern Ukraine. I finally understood my love of Ukrainian food and of Ukrainian people.
Many Ukrainians also live in Saskatoon West. Their families came here when our province was first settled, and the government was providing land to be farmed. Many others had grandparents and parents flee to Canada during the Holodomor, Stalin’s holocaust and mass starvation of the Ukrainian people. Even today, there are many Ukrainians who are immigrating right now. The Ukrainian language is very much alive and well in Saskatoon.
I have had a chance to meet with many constituents of Ukrainian descent over the past several years and to talk about issues common to all Canadians. We talk about taxes and government spending. Inflation is a hot topic right now. We talk about health care, the pandemic, crime and everything in between. It has only been recently, though, that we have begun talking about the old country and their relations and ties back in Ukraine. It is heartbreaking to listen to the stories they relay from the front lines. It is also heartwarming to know that many of them are prepared to do everything possible to support Ukraine against Putin’s war of aggression. Even in Saskatoon, I have spoken with young men who could not wait to find a flight to get back to Ukraine to help fight against Putin.
Oleksandr from my riding wrote to me and said the following: “Hi Brad. I am Ukrainian immigrant. I am in Saskatoon since 2006...I am glad to meet with you (though I am just a journeyman welder in Canada, former Ukrainian engineer. Resident of Saskatoon. I am not a leader of a community or anything like this, so you don’t really need me other than to learn from me about this ridiculous fact of this old vicious attack against Ukraine”.
Oleksandr’s letter told me that he wanted to send a money wire transfer back to his family, but because of the policies of the Liberal government in Ottawa, he was barred from doing so. This is just another example of the Liberals making bureaucracy a priority over the people of Ukraine. What I will tell Oleksandr and all my constituents is that I am in Ottawa and I will continue to fight for you and will continue to stand up against this incompetent Liberal government to ensure that the concerns of Ukrainians are heard.
I do not know what the future holds for Ukraine and Afghanistan. I fear that in both instances it will not be good. Democracy and human rights may once again prevail in both countries, but the human cost will be high.
What is Canada’s responsibility to make sure peace happens? We fought a war in Afghanistan and a lot of Canadian blood was spilled and treasure spent. In Ukraine, the stakes are even higher. Reports put daily military causalities higher than the entire wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inflicted on U.S.A. and NATO allies in two decades. The belligerents of Russia and Belarus directly border NATO countries, while NATO supply lines of military equipment into Ukraine have become legitimate targets for attack. President Biden said the following, “Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent.” Those are scary words, for sure.
Let me finish with these inspirational words from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy when he addressed this Parliament two weeks ago: “We are not asking for much. We are asking for justice, for real support, which will help us to prevail, to defend, to save lives, to save life all over the world.… Please expand your efforts to bring back peace to our peaceful country. I believe that you can do it and I know that you can do it.”
These are inspirational words. Let’s heed them. Peace to Ukraine. Slava Ukraini.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for . I want to start by giving everyone in the House a picture of what the conflict in Ukraine has meant for the people of my constituency of Edmonton Strathcona.
As many will know, Alberta is the homeland of many Ukrainian-Canadians who chose to settle in our country. Edmonton Strathcona is the home of many incredible Ukrainians and also many Canadians who are not of Ukrainian descent, but who desperately want to help the people of Ukraine right now and feel a deep connection to the Ukrainian people.
It has been said many times in the House that Canadians have a special relationship with the people of Ukraine. We are the country where more people from Ukraine have settled than anywhere outside of Ukraine and Russia. I have seen that impact in my community over the last several weeks. I have seen it in the commitment from all sorts of Edmontonians to help Ukraine. At a tattoo shop in my riding, if someone gets a tattoo the shop makes a donation to Ukraine. At a garden shop, if someone buys a plant a donation is given in support of the people of Ukraine.
The support we have seen has been unparalleled. I am so proud of two Albertans: former premier Ed Stelmach and former MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who chartered a Polish Airlines plane to go to Poland and assist Ukrainian refugees fleeing violence to come here. The efforts that Albertans have put forward to help the people of Ukraine warms my heart.
As all of us are horrified by the war crimes being committed by Vladimir Putin, crimes against humanity that are being committed against the Ukrainian people through no fault of their own, I think it is important that we take a moment in this place to recognize the kindness, generosity and beauty that we have seen from the Canadian people as they push to support Ukraine and Ukrainians.
I can say as well that, as parliamentarians and as the government, we need to do everything we can to help the people of Ukraine right now. On February 24, the world changed. We need to respond to that. The New Democratic Party has been calling for things such as humanitarian aid. I have been calling for immediate and long-term humanitarian aid, because we will have to help Ukraine rebuild when this conflict is finally over. We have been calling for complete sanctions to be properly enforced and to do everything we can, as fast as we can, to make Putin feel the pain of the actions he has taken. We have talked about the need for us, as Canadians, to give Ukrainians the tools they need to defend themselves. We need to assist them as they try to protect their sovereign country.
What we are talking about a bit more today is that we need to help Ukrainians come to Canada. We need to help Ukrainians flee the violence in their country. I have heard many times today that the people fleeing Ukraine right now are seniors, women and children. Just a few weeks ago, I was able to go to the Polish border. I was able to meet with some of these seniors, women and children who have been fleeing the violence in Ukraine. Colleagues will not be surprised to hear that it was utterly heart-breaking. It was utterly horrific to hear the stories of what has been done to the Ukrainian people.
I have a son who is 14 years old. I have told this story before, but I want to tell the people of the House about meeting this young boy who was 11 years old. He was with his two younger sisters and his mother. He was trying to explain in broken English, and with some help in translation, how he was going to take care of his family because his father had told him that he was the man of the house now and he needed to take care of his mother and sisters.
He was 11, and he was holding a stuffed animal. I struggle not to break down when I think about that, when I think about what it would be like if my son had to be in charge of taking care of his family and was not given the tools to do that, nor the help from the global community to do that.
We know we need visa-free travel. We know we need to do everything we can to help the people of Ukraine as they are fleeing violence right now. Visa-free travel is a big piece of that.
In 2018, the person who represented Edmonton Strathcona before me, Linda Duncan, called on the government to implement visa-free travel for Ukrainians. Let all of us in the House think about what the scenario would be for people trying to flee violence in Ukraine if the government had listened to the New Democratic Party in 2018 and had put in place visa-free travel in 2018 for our very special friends in Ukraine. We would not be in a situation where we have to argue about biometrics. We would not be in a situation where we have to say what is possible and what is not possible. We would be able to help the women, children and seniors in Ukraine get to Canada faster and more effectively right now. However, we did not do that. We did not do that in 2018, so we have to do it now. We have to take the action now that we should have done before. We have to move faster. We have to do more.
There is another thing we have to do for Ukrainians, who have been traumatized by war, have fled their country, have had to witness things they should never have had to see and have had to leave their fathers, husbands or brothers behind and do not know if they will ever see those people again. We need to support them once they get here.
When Ukrainian refugees come to Canada, they do not have access to health care supports in this country. Right now, Poland has accepted 2.3 million refugees from Ukraine. Poland does not have the size or the financial ability of Canada. It has accepted vastly more refugees than Canada has, and it is providing resources for Ukrainian refugees to access health care. Let me repeat that. Poland is taking in 2.3 million Ukrainian refugees and offering them limited health care supports. Canada is not doing that. Canada is blocking the ability for Ukrainians to come here and is not protecting them and not helping them as we should be once they get here.
That is shameful. That does not reflect the relationship we have with Ukraine. That does not reflect the words we hear from our , who says we are doing everything we can for Ukraine. Clearly we are not doing everything we can for Ukraine. Clearly there is more we could do.
I ask this to all of us in the House, in the government and in opposition: How can we work together? How can we find solutions not just to help the people of Ukraine, but to help the people of Ukraine who are trying to flee the violence, to help the people of Afghanistan who are trying to flee the violence and to help the people of all countries in the world who need help from Canada right now? How can we work together to be the country that we strive to be, to be the country that protects human rights, that protects people's lives and that helps people come to our country and contribute to our society?
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 , 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 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.
Madam Speaker, I would like to speak to the debate on the report from the citizenship and immigration committee.
Essentially, the report does three things. It condemns the unwarranted and unprovoked attack on Ukraine by President Putin and the Russian Federation. It calls on the government to support Ukrainians and people residing in Ukraine who are impacted by this conflict to ensure that there is a process to process immigration applications on an urgent basis without sacrificing the department's ability to process other applications. Finally, it calls on the government to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada, including the issuance of electronic travel authorizations and increasing staffing resources so there are no additional backlogs in other immigration streams.
I support this report because we, for some time, have been calling on the government to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada. In fact, we have been making this call for over a year. It is similar to other calls we have made to the government to assist Ukraine and Ukrainians in the last year. We have, for some time now, called on the government to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, something it resisted up until recently. We made the call for lethal weapons over a year ago, asking the government to come to Ukraine's assistance, as we were anticipating some of the threats we are now seeing unfold from the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
Up until February 14, the very same day that the government invoked the Emergencies Act, the government resisted the call for visa-free travel and the call for providing lethal weapons to Ukraine. In fact, it said that with respect to providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, the solution would be a diplomatic one, not a military one. On February 14, on the very same day it announced the invocation of the Emergencies Act, it did a 180° on the policy of not providing lethal weapons to Ukraine and announced the government would, in fact, be providing some 9 million dollars' worth of lethal weapons to Ukraine. However, it did not reverse course on our long-standing call to implement visa-free travel to Ukraine.
That is why this report has come to the House. It is because the government has still not addressed the problem of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. It has still not done enough to ensure that Canada plays its part in assisting Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and those in the European Union. Ukraine is a country of some 45 million people. About a quarter of the country is now displaced. Over 10 million Ukrainians have been forced out of their homes. Some of them are now internally displaced people. Some seven million of them are now in Ukraine, not at home, fleeing the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas we are seeing being perpetrated by the Russian Federation. An additional three million Ukrainians have fled Ukraine into the European Union.
It is those Ukrainians who have fled that we feel Canada can do a better job of assisting. Right now, the burden is falling disproportionately on member states in the European Union, particularly member states in the eastern regions of the European Union, places like Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states.
While the Government of Canada has said that it is processing visas for Ukrainians to come to Canada, the problem is that there are the backlogs and long wait times to apply for a visa to come to Canada. In fact, we are getting reports that it is taking up to four months just to book an appointment to get biometric scans done in order to begin the application process for a visa. Ukrainians in eastern Europe who have family members here who could take care of them have been applying for these visas to come to Canada, but the websites are indicating that it would be up to four months from now before they can get the biometric scan that would allow their visa application to be processed. After the biometric scan is completed, who knows how much additional time the department will take to process their visa applications?
These wait times are not acceptable. The government has had some time now to fix this process and ensure that biometric data can be collected more speedily and that processing of the applications can take place more speedily.
That is why we have put this motion in front of the House today: It is to put some pressure on the government to fix this broken process, and this should come as no surprise to the government, because this has been going on for some time. We saw this only last August when we went through a similar problem, to the shame of this country, in Afghanistan.
In the months leading up to the fall of Kabul on Sunday, August 15, of last summer, the opposition had been calling on the government to take expeditious action to bring to Canada Afghans with an enduring tie to Canada in order to protect them from being attacked and killed by the Taliban. We made that call in a statement we issued in early July of last summer, more than a month before Kabul fell. It was reiterated by the then leader of the official opposition, who wrote a publicly released letter to the at the end of July that called on the Prime Minister to take expeditious action to help Afghans who were vulnerable to attacks from the Taliban and Afghans who had an enduring tie to Canada.
These are Afghans who assisted Canadian soldiers in the field during the war in Afghanistan, one of our most significant commitments in the last two decades. These are Afghans who served as translators, advisers and other local experts on the ground who assisted Canadian soldiers in the field and who no doubt saved countless Canadian lives, and without their expertise Canadian soldiers would have been operating in a much more dangerous and much less information-rich environment.
We made these calls leading into the fall of Kabul on August 15 because it was clear from quotidian reports that were being published almost daily by reporters on the ground from reputable newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian that the Taliban were making advances quite rapidly through the first six months of last year. It was clear that the Government of Afghanistan was not able to contain the Taliban advance, and it was clear that Kabul was going to fall a lot earlier than many people had expected when American withdrawal from Afghanistan was confirmed by President Biden earlier last year.
Despite these calls, the government did nothing. It could have easily evacuated some 6,000 or 7,000 Afghans whom we needed to evacuate, those who had these enduring ties to Canada. These 6,000 or 7,000 Afghans were made up of about 1,000 or so Afghans who served as interpreters, advisers and local experts for Canadian troops in the war in Afghanistan, as well as their families. Afghan families can often be quite large, and so there were about 6,000 or 7,000 individuals we needed to evacuate and had a duty to evacuate, because they put their lives on the line to protect Canadian soldiers and assist Canadian soldiers in the field and because they believed in the mission that we had embarked on. This was a mission, I might add, that was commenced by the then Liberal government of Paul Martin in 2005 and was continued by the subsequent Harper government when it came to power in February 2006. However, despite these pleas, the government did nothing.
The government could have easily evacuated these 6,000 to 7,000 individuals on Globemaster flights. These are immense planes that can easily hold 400 to 500 people. In fact, during the chaos of the fall of Afghanistan on August 15 and the days around that fall, there was a report of a Globemaster that took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport with some 850 people on board. We could have evacuated these 6,000 or 7,000 Afghans to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, to whom we owe our honour, on about a dozen Canadian Globemaster flights in an organized manner in the weeks of July and early August before the fall of Kabul.
The government then went into a panic about trying to do something at that point in time. I feel that is really where we are at right now on the crisis in Ukraine. The government is now belatedly scrambling to figure out how to address the bureaucratic inertia and the immense backlogs that have sprouted up in the last several weeks when in fact we have known that this was going to take place for some time.
As with the Afghanistan situation, the government seems unable to fix the process that is leading to these delays in biometric scans and visa processing and come up with a much more efficient and much quicker process to process applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada. Canada can do better.
We know we can do better because it was under Clifford Sifton, one of the former Liberal ministers of the Crown under Wilfrid Laurier, that the government opened up western Canada to literally hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians a century ago. The west was settled by these Ukrainians through an ambitious immigration program. It was an open doors program that during the 1920s saw Canada's immigration rise to some of the highest levels in our history. Many of those immigrants came from Ukraine and settled in the western prairies of this country. They broke sod and laid the foundation for modern western Canada. Some 1.3 million Canadians today trace their roots back to those waves of Ukrainian immigration a century ago. We can do better because we have in the past done better.
The motion in front of us today is a call on the government to do better when it comes to addressing what is currently one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world. Ironically, it ties in to the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today, which is the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is facing the biggest humanitarian crisis. Shortages of food, energy and so many other things are putting millions of Afghans at risk of starvation and severe deprivation in the coming months. There too, as in the present situation in Ukraine, the Canadian government, while it is doing a number of things to address the situation, can do a lot better, especially considering the immense wealth and the fortunate circumstances we have in this country in not being directly affected by war and conflict, as both Afghanistan and Ukraine are. Part of what I hope comes out of this debate today is the government's understanding that parliamentarians are seized with this issue and that we believe that the government should do a better job in helping Ukrainians flee from Ukraine and helping Afghans flee from Afghanistan.
The situation regarding Ukrainians in eastern Europe is arguably much easier for the government to address than the situation in Afghanistan today, for the simple fact that Afghanistan has become a closed-off society with a government that we do not recognize, a government that is listed by the Canadian government and other western allies as a terrorist entity. It is a government with which we should not and cannot be doing any business, whether directly or whether indirectly through humanitarian aid groups on the ground.
However, that is not the situation with Ukrainians in eastern Europe. There are some three million of them that we could be assisting today here in Canada. All it takes is for deputy ministers and central agencies to figure out what the roadblocks are, shorten the wait times for biometric scans from four months down to four days or so, and figure out what we then need to do to shorten processing times for visas down from an uncertain amount of time now to several days or so.
That would ensure that we can start admitting Ukrainians in the numbers needed to relieve pressure on our NATO allies in eastern Europe. We have done these quick things before in our country's history, and the urgency of the situation today requires us to do the same now. It is in our interest to do this. These are things that we have the resources to do and the capabilities of doing. If the issue is a concern about security, as the government has indicated in recent weeks, then surely we can work more quickly with the European governments and the European Commission to exchange the data necessary to ensure that bad actors do not use the cover of a humanitarian crisis to sneak into Canada and continue their nefarious work.
My God, we live next to one of the largest countries in the world, the United States of America, where some 300 million citizens have the right to visa-free travel into Canada. I can assure colleagues that as is the case in Canada, there are a lot of bad actors south of the border whom we do not want admitted through our Fort Erie-Buffalo border crossing, our Niagara Falls border crossing, our Queenston-Lewiston border crossing or the dozens of other border crossings that dot this great land, so we have put in place information-sharing systems to ensure that CBSA officials at the border can interdict individuals from coming into Canada as soon as their passports are swiped, because we have information from U.S. intelligence and from U.S. law enforcement about which individuals should not be coming into Canada and vice versa. I am sure there are individuals here whom the Americans do not want to see entering the United States, and on a daily basis they deny entry too.
We should be putting in place similar systems expeditiously, right now, between democracies in the European Union and Canada, because the European Union member states have already done exactly that in order to ensure the protection of their own citizens. In fact, the European Union implemented visa-free travel some time ago between Ukraine and the European Union. The three and a half million Ukrainians who have fled from Ukraine to the Schengen zone of the European Union have done so without visas. That process was in place well before the advent of the war. The European Union felt comfortable putting in place that visa-free travel because they had put in place security systems to ensure that bad actors did not take advantage of visa-free travel to enter the European Union zone and do their nefarious work.
We should be able very quickly to get the security data and the other intelligence data to ensure that we do not allow bad actors into Canada. It is the job of political leaders to do that expeditiously. It is the job of the ministers responsible and the 's office to direct central agencies, to direct the department, to establish a task force among departments, central agencies and the political leadership to unstick what is stuck so that we can do our fair share to help Ukrainians to flee Ukraine, help Ukrainians currently in the European Union and help alleviate some of the pressure some of our eastern European NATO allies are feeling as a result of the influx of millions of Ukrainian refugees.
I hope what comes out of this debate today is a real sense of urgency on the part of the Government of Canada to do better when it comes to helping Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and in the European Union.