MP Ramsey debates Canada's response to Trump's immigration ban

Mr. Speaker, I want to first thank the Speaker for granting this debate tonight. It is a very important debate.

We all owe deep thanks to my NDP colleague, the member for Vancouver East, for her tireless work on this issue. Indeed, she and I were emailing all weekend long about the impact of this ban in our ridings and in our country. I am proud that we stand here tonight to challenge this ban as a result of an NDP emergency debate. We take this issue incredibly seriously, as it impacts the lives of so many Canadians, indeed all Canadians, because a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

We are here in the House in response to the extraordinary times we find ourselves in. We are here to debate the presidential executive order issued by President Trump prohibiting the travel of all refugees and individuals from seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa. I repeat this because it seems to me that there is some confusion among members of the House as to why we are here and why hundreds of people stood out in the cold tonight to join us in our galleries for this very important debate.

We have to let this sink in for a moment, because prior to Friday, I never imagined we would be watching our closest neighbour and ally descend into such a dark moment, seeing our fellow Canadians and their families who are from one of the seven countries struggling under the weight of this ban, a ban that is nothing short of discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters from the seven countries. We are not here to discount the good work that the government has done to settle refugees in this past year. No one is debating that good work. We are here to discuss action following the very serious recent executive order from President Trump.

Canadians must reject any ban that is based on race, religion, or place of birth. This kind of ban promotes hate and intolerance.

In October 2016, the House of Commons unanimously endorsed a motion introduced by the leader of the NDP, the member for Outremont, condemning all forms of Islamophobia. Some 69,742 Canadians signed the petition and are among those who are now calling on us to follow through this very important step with action. They are likely among the hundreds who are sitting right now in our galleries, or who lined up earlier tonight, those who are at home watching us stand up to this discrimination, and the thousands who have flooded us with emails and phone calls since Friday.

I want to give a quote, because tonight, more is being asked of us. It is a quote from my friend, Dr. Maher El-Masri. He is chairperson of the Windsor Islamic Council. He said,

"It is no longer enough to denounce Islamophobia. The rise of the anti-Islamic sentiment has reached dangerous levels that threaten the very fabric of our society."

This ban will have a disastrous implication for thousands of innocent travellers and refugees. Canada must step up and do its part.

We have heard many members tonight reference their family members, or in their past, people who have gone to fight for this country, to fight for the freedoms we enjoy, those who went and joined the allied forces in World War II in Europe. A debate took place in this very esteemed place where we now sit, and this was not an easy decision, but Canada made a choice to not sit back, but join the fight. We are now being called upon to do our part once again.

My riding of Essex is on the border with the U.S. We are very closely tied to our American friends and neighbours. Canada needs to secure greater assurances for those travelling to the United States who were born in or have dual nationality with one of the seven countries listed.

Our office in Essex has been dealing with a large volume of calls, emails, and messages from constituents, from early Saturday when the very first implications of the ban were taking place at our borders in Windsor and Detroit. Many people have been affected by this ban. Many professionals in our region cross every day to work and to visit family. They feel targeted and uncertain.

In my riding of Essex, and in particular the town of LaSalle, we have many Canadian families and permanent resident holders who were born in one of the seven banned countries.

This weekend, there was a lot of confusion at our border, and the limited information and directions that were given to our local Canadian border agents was not enough. We were notified that the U.S. officials were not providing the Canadian side with definite instructions, and there was confusion about who could cross. Indeed, people were being denied and returned from the U.S. back to Canada.

Meanwhile, our government was silent. We were searching for answers. We were looking for something. We could not find anything on any of the official government websites. I was up very late on Saturday night with my team in Essex going through these phone calls trying to answer people's questions, calling our CBSA chief in Windsor, calling the U.S. trying to find answers because we simply did not have them. It was extremely frustrating for us and very difficult for those in our region who were directly impacted, because they are dual citizens or permanent residents from one of the seven countries.

It was not until Sunday when I heard the new minister speaking at the press conference and I was pleased to hear the things that he was bringing forward and I was encouraged that we were moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, people were being turned back at our border, so no direction was being given. We listened to the minister in that press conference and today again, and we still have no written agreement with our U.S. partner. We do not know what this ban means. We do not know what they intend to do with it, what countries they intend to look at next. We have not sat down and had formal conversations that are necessary between the two countries to ensure that when people want to cross the border, they can do so confidently because that is not the case right now. People are heading across that border uncertain if they will be able to cross, nervous about whether they will be stopped, whether they will be questioned, what will be asked of them. This is not a situation that we can accept at our Canada border or from one of our greatest allies.

As I said, there was mass confusion and in the span of 24 hours we were flooded with individual emails and phone calls from people who were directly impacted. Canada needs additional measures to offer a safe haven for refugees fleeing violence and persecution and who have been shut out by the United States. We saw this across airports. We saw mass demonstrations at airports across the U.S. because people were being refused or detained. I remember watching a five-year-old who had been detained. I watched two senior citizens in wheelchairs who had been detained, because they were from one of these seven countries. To say that this has not had an impact on people yet, it has impacted people in our closest ally, in our neighbour. It will very soon come to impact people in our own country.

However, I hope that we can implement some of the things that we are bringing forward so that we do not have to have someone be impacted, that we can take the approach of being proactive rather than reactive to discrimination. We have all committed to do better. Our constituents and Canadians deserve that.

What can we do? We can lift the 1,000 application cap on privately sponsored refugees and fast-track refugees whose applications in the U.S. were previously approved. We can list hundreds of successful stories of refugees in my riding. I have heard it from all sides of the House tonight, so why not lift that cap and welcome more people into our country who have already been screened and vetted to the highest degree? We can certainly do so with safety. We should partner with our international partners to ensure that this happens. We have private groups that are ready and willing for this to happen.

The government must immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States as we can no longer have confidence that the U.S. provides a safe haven for refugees. The member for Vancouver East has pointed this out repeatedly. This can be done immediately. I have yet to hear a commitment from the government to suspend the agreement to protect the most vulnerable who are caught in this web. These are dark days and we cannot turn our eyes away and pretend that this will not impact us.

In Windsor Essex, as I said, we are very close to our U.S. neighbours and we must stand up for everyone. I want to read a message that I received from one of my constituents:

"This discrimination should not go silent. Canada should be a voice for the voiceless. Also grant entry to those that have already received the rigorous vetting and should come to Canada. Please, like so many Canadians, we call for humanity to come back."

This is the call of Canadians tonight and there are actions that can take place above and beyond what the minister has mentioned so far. Again, we need to push further. This is who we are as a country. We do not sit back and watch this happen to our closest neighbour, to our friends and family. We stand up and say that we defy this ban. It is discriminatory and we will not accept it.