Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to a large crowd at the Tết 2015 Festival in Toronto in February. In his speech, the Prime Minister announces Canada’s intention to pass the “Journey to Freedom Day” Act. Photo via Vietnamese Association of Toronto
The Government of Canada is in the process of passing a new law commemorating the arrival of the Vietnamese “boat people” refugees to Canada after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Known as the “Journey to Freedom Day” Act, or Bill S-219, the legislation honors all of the Vietnamese people who escaped South Vietnam in the wake of the Communist takeover. If passed, April 30 will be known every year in Canada as “Journey to Freedom Day,” an official day of remembrance, recognizing the courage and sacrifice of the Vietnamese boat people and their incredible journey to freedom.
Originally put forth by Canadian Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, the law has already been passed by the Canadian Senate in December 2014, and has since been referred to the House of Commons for further consideration.
According to Senator Ngo’s website:
“I am extremely honoured to announce that Bill S-219, known as the Journey to Freedom Day Act, passed the Senate on December 8, 2014, and has now been referred to the House of Commons.”
“The bill regarding Journey to Freedom Day, alternatively known as Black April Day by the Vietnamese-Canadian community, establishes a day to commemorate the thousands of refugees who fled Vietnam in pursuit of freedom, and it pays tribute to Canada’s humanitarian tradition of welcoming thousands of refugees during and after the Vietnam War.”
“For the past 39 years, Vietnamese-Canadians have gathered on April 30 to remember a new beginning and to thank Canada. In 2015, the Vietnamese-Canadian community will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the boat people’s resettlement in Canada. I envision the Journey to Freedom Day Act as a way to mark this milestone year, to thank Canada for saving our lives and to commemorate the Vietnamese refugees’ new-found freedom.”
As expected, the Vietnamese government in Hanoi is not happy about this development. According to The Globe and Mail, Nguyen Tan Dung has written directly to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in protest of the new bill. In Dung’s letter, he claims that the legislation presents “a distorted version of Vietnam’s history,” and will likely “damage the bilateral relations both countries have worked so hard to build.” Moreover, a Vietnamese diplomat in Canada claims that the new bill “hurts” Vietnam, as April 30 is described by Hanoi as a day that marks the end of the war and “the beginning of reconciliation.” The Communist government has also accused Senator Ngo of “dredging up the past” in introducing Bill S-219, among the aforementioned and other similar complaints.
In response to Hanoi’s objections, members of the Canadian government have stated clearly that this is a private member’s bill, and does not signify Canadian foreign policy. Furthermore, Senator Ngo reaffirms the fact that the Journey to Freedom Day bill has nothing to do with Vietnam’s current regime, but rather with the Vietnamese refugees, and Canada’s warm welcome of these refugees after April 1975.
Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Minister of Multiculturalism, and Member of Parliament, explains that he supports Journey to Freedom Day because it celebrates the 60,000 Vietnamese who “risked their lives in search of freedom and found it in Canada.” Mr. Kenney also adds that, “Canada continues to have respectful relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Senator Thanh Hai Ngo sums up the purpose of the bill in a simple statement: “Freedom is not free, and the boat people paid for their freedom with their perilous journey.”
There are many reasons to support this bill, it delivers a positive message and commemorates that incredible and terrifying journey which made today possible for so many of us. It also celebrates the significant role that overseas Vietnamese have played in building up their new home countries after leaving Vietnam in 1975 and the years onward. This bill may be introduced in Canada, but the significance is not just in Canada alone. Across the western world, Vietnamese refugees have braved the ocean waves in their search for freedom.
As Vietnamese people who love freedom, democracy, and human rights, and this includes not just those of us in Canada, but also the U.S., Australia, Europe, and everywhere else, it is important that we support this bill and what it represents. This law marks an important epoch for people of Vietnamese origin living overseas, and can set an example for other nations if they so desire to pass similar legislation in the future.
To my readers in Canada, if you haven’t already, please take a moment to sign this petition and share it with your family, friends, colleagues, and anyone who may be interested. The petition is put forth by MP Jason Kenney, and lets Canadians show their support for “Journey to Freedom Day,” also known as Bill S-219.
It only takes a second to sign, and every signature counts.
Let’s make this happen!
Joan Bryden (The Canadian Press), Kim Mackreal (The Globe and Mail), Member of Parliament Jason Kenney, Prime Minister of Canada, Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, Senator Thanh Hai Ngo (2), Vietnamese Association of Toronto