'Above politics': MPs vote unanimously to bring Yazidi refugees to Canada in 4 months

MPs have unanimously supported a Conservative motion that formally declares ISIS persecution of Yazidis a genocide and commits to bringing Yazidi refugees to Canada within 120 days.

Immigration Minister John McCallum says no set target or time frame in place yet

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border in August 2014. (Rodi Said/Reuters )

MPs have unanimously supported a Conservative motion that formally declares ISIS persecution of Yazidis a genocide and pledges to bring refugees fleeing the violence to Canada within four months.

After the vote, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said he was pleased that all parties in the House of Commons could rise "above politics" on the issue.

"At a time when the world is so divided on the question of immigration and refugees, I think it is wonderful as a Canadian that while we different parties have different views on many things, we share the view that it is right to welcome the vulnerable people to our country," he said. 

McCallum said the government is still working on a concrete plan to meet a 120-day target, and would not offer an estimate of how many Yazidis could be brought to Canada.

Earlier in the day, he said most Yazidi refugees are in Iraq, Greece and Turkey. Bringing them to Canada from each area has its own set of challenges and pros and cons.

Yazidis 'abandoned'

Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said over the last year, Yazidi women have been "abandoned." She called on the government to set specific quotas and to work with the international community to establish "safe zones" for Yazidis facing persecution within refugee camps.

Conservative Immigration critic Micelle Rempel, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum and Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a Yazidi survivor of genocide, speak to reporters after MPs unanimously adopted a motion to help the victims. (CBC)

"I am heartened by this development today, but the government's actions in the days and months to come will be the true measure of the success of this motion," she said.

Earlier in the day, Rempel and interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose held a news conference on Parliament Hill, calling on the government to make Yazidis a top priority in the asylum claim process.

Ambrose said Canada has the resources and the authority to act fast.

"We're talking about a thousand people, maybe more," she said. "But if you compare that to the 30,000 refugees we brought in … we have the capacity to do this, and hopefully after tonight's vote we will have the will to do it by the government." 

Ambrose said because many of the Yazidi women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, Canada must also ensure the refugees receive proper counselling and medical treatment once they arrive.

While the Conservative motion calls for action within 120 days, Rempel said four months is frankly too long.

'Bureaucratic inertia'

"This should have happened a long time ago," she said. "I think it's an embarrassment to our country that the government hasn't acted yet on this. There's really no reason why Yazidis should not be in Canada as part of our refugee program. It's embarrassing. We can not let bureaucracy and bureaucratic inertia be the reason we can't help genocide victims."

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who was abducted and held as an ISIS sex slave, attended both news conferences and thanked Canada on behalf of victims who will be given protection in Canada. 

"They will have a new life where they will have rights, where they will have safety, where they will have a different life than in the hands of ISIS," she said through a translator.

The Opposition motion, tabled by Rempel, called on the House of Commons to:

  • Recognize that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people.
  • Acknowledge that many Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive by ISIS as sexual slaves.
  • Support the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria report and take immediate action on key recommendations.
  • Provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 120 days.

The Yazidis are a religious minority with an ancient 6,000-year-old culture and are based mainly in northern Iraq.

Brutal attacks

ISIS launched brutal attacks targeting the Yazidi community in August 2014.

In June, a United Nations report said ISIS was seeking to destroy the community of 400,000 people through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.

That report said the militants had been systematically rounding up Yazidis, seeking to "erase their identity," a finding that meets the definition of genocide under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion subsequently declared that genocide was underway.