Evidence of meeting #33 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was passport.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Christine Desloges  Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada
  • Lisa Pezzack  Director General, Policy, Research and Communications, Passport Canada
  • Michel Brunette  Director, Resource Management and Compliance, Passport Canada
  • Asha Elkarib  Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

4:25 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

If I can add to that, 7,000 Canadians gave us their suggestions in an open-ended consultation process. It was very beneficial for us because it enabled us to see how we could make our program more relevant to Canadians. That was really critical for us, because when you're in the cost-recovery business you really have to make sure you're aligned with what your clients need.

A huge amount of work was involved in sorting through the feedback we received from 7,000 Canadians in the round tables that were organized and the focus groups that took place across the country. That is also why we're confident we have a robust proposal for the committee to review.

If there were so few complaints and little feedback, it was perhaps because Canadians knew we had listened and we incorporated their feedback into the proposal. We saw that they went to the consultation site. When we put forward the price proposal, 7,000 people took the trouble to look at it. That is not a small number. We used social media to publicize it. There was very little media interest or coverage at that time, perhaps because there were no surprises. We consulted for two years to make sure we were inclusive and had a robust proposal for Canadians.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

To our witnesses from Passport Canada, thank you for taking the time to get us up to speed on what has been going on.

I'm going to suspend the meeting until we get our new witnesses in place. Thank you.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we have our briefing on democracy and human rights in Sudan. I want to welcome today Asha Elkarib, who is with the Sudanese Organization for Research and Training.

Ms. Elkarib, I will get you to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you and your organization. Then I believe you have an opening statement for us. We will have our members ask some questions as we follow up, based on some of the comments you'll have for us.

Welcome. The floor is yours.

4:35 p.m.

Dr. Asha Elkarib Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

Thank you so much. Hi, everyone.

Allow me to thank you all for the opportunity. I am Sudanese, and I live and work in Sudan in Khartoum. I am a researcher by profession, and I am the executive director of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development. Later in my statement I will talk briefly about my organization.

I'm really honoured to have the chance to talk to you today and I thank you for that.

Since July 2011 the Sudan we used to know has split into two countries, following a referendum where southern Sudanese chose separation over unity.

The independence of southern Sudan unfortunately did not lead to stability in both countries, as hostilities started again and will seemingly continue unless more pressure is put on the two countries—the two leaders of the two countries—to resort to negotiations and go back to the negotiation table.

The resumption of hostilities was not unexpected as certain outstanding issues were not resolved at the end of the interim period following the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Those issues include the settlement of the borders between the two countries, the contested Abyei area, and definitely the whole problem of the oil, and the situation of southern Sudanese in the north, and northern Sudanese in the south.

In addition to that, conflict in Darfur, which started in 2003, is still going on. Although it's not in the spotlight as it used to be, it is still going on. After the independence of southern Sudan more conflict erupted in the region of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.

The economic situation in Sudan has deteriorated from bad to worse, and the Sudanese pound continued its fall while prices are rocketing higher, rendering Sudanese people hungry, homeless, unemployed, and sick.

Human rights violations continued where the national security forces act with full impunity and they enjoy full immunity. Human rights activists are frequently arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated. Independent newspapers are frequently shut down, closed, and censored. Women in particular are harassed. Unconstitutional laws, such as legalizing marital rape, girl child marriage, and wife battering, are applied under the so-called Islamic sharia family laws.

The space for civil society is therefore shrinking. Our area of work is also limited to providing emergency assistance and income-generation activities.

Support to non-governmental organizations and civil society groups and community-based organizations decreased significantly since southern Sudan independence. Most UN agencies, international NGOs, and donors shifted their weight to southern Sudan. This move is explained based on the comparison between the two countries in terms of the level of infrastructure and services and the capacity-building needs in South Sudan. Also, the international community assumed that Sudan enjoyed stability and was governed by a so-called democratically elected government.

Both assumptions, stability and democratic government, proved to be invalid. My country is far from being stable, with war covering almost one third of the country and the so-called elected government increasingly practising atrocities and human rights violations, actively working towards effecting an Islamic constitution and building an Islamic state in Sudan.

In 2007, in the midst of the comprehensive peace agreement and interim period, the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development was born as a result of a series of conversations among like-minded civil society activists, who were concerned at the time about the role of civil society in promoting notions of democracy, citizenship rights, and peaceful coexistence. SORD soon started to take its place among the civil society organizations working to achieve those goals.

As a research-based organization, SORD has proven itself and gotten recognized through its serious work and engagement in civic education, gender justice, and social inclusion. During the past four years, SORD has successfully implemented programs and projects for civic education, support to community-based organizations, and women's rights. Our work has expanded to include five other states beyond Khartoum, reaching thousands of women and young people around the country.

One of the main umbrella programs that the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development is currently undertaking deals with issues of gender justice and women's rights in Sudan. Under this umbrella program, we are advocating for the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the African protocol on women's rights.

We are working on enhancing women's political and social leadership. We are working on combatting discrimination and discriminatory practices, mainly within the legal framework of Sudan, and we are challenging the existing personal status law between two brackets—the family law for Muslims and providing or proposing alternative laws. The work SORD is doing is making a difference at two levels: increasing the level of public awareness and education, and changing the behaviour and the practice of a huge number of segments of society. We are seeing some potential for changing those laws.

Producing research-based evidence, and using documentary films and women's stories and experiences have helped and give SORD credibility.

Having said that, our work is in a religiously sensitive area such that the family law for Muslims has opened fire on us from the Islamic fundamentalist Salafi groups, which have lately become very vocal in criticizing our work and criticizing SORD—even naming some names inside the organization—saying that we are doing some work that is against Islam and Islamic culture.

However, at the same time, that has provided publicity for our work, and we are getting a lot of demand from different parts of the country, based on these attacks from the hardliners or the Islamic fundamentalists.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Ms. Elkarib, could you wrap it up so that we can ask some questions?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

Dr. Asha Elkarib

Yes, just one minute.

I would like to end with an appeal on behalf of the democratic civil society in Sudan. We still need support from the international community and governments. The work we do is very important in maintaining the values of human rights and democracy, and in resisting religious hegemony and fundamentalism.

Finally, I would like to say we very much appreciate our partnership with Inter Pares, a Canadian organization supported by the Canadian Partnership Branch, and I hope that Canadian government support for women's rights defenders in Sudan, for women in particular and youth groups, will continue because we know some governments have pushed their way to the south. We know that is important, but staying in the north is equally important.

I thank you so much, and I'm ready to take questions.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're going to start with Mr. Dewar.

April 25th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you.

Thank you to our guests for appearing before our committee.

Actually, just before the last election here in Canada, we did a report on Sudan. We pushed for it because we were concerned about doing a report on Sudan before the referendum.

It's interesting to note that what we heard before the referendum were concerns around Abyei, concerns around oil fields, and concerns around what would happen to southerners who were in the north, particularly women, and of course there was some mention about northerners who were in the south. You come to us today and present us with all of those issues. Many of us were hoping that after the referendum there would be peace flowing like a river, but we understood that in fact it was not going to happen, particularly when the talks broke down around Abyei, for instance.

My question to you is a geopolitical one. Then I'm going to hand this over to my colleague, Mr. Saganash.

We've heard in the last number of days very disturbing language coming from President al-Bashir. He is using language that certainly concerns me when he speaks with regard to members of the south and the military as bugs that can be squashed. We do not have to go back too far in history to see that when people start referencing people as other than human, this is a warning for us to be seized with. I read today that former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has talked about maybe having a UN peacekeeping presence there.

So clearly there is a need for the world to pay attention. That's not a question. My question for you is, in your opinion, what do you think the world, and obviously Canada, should be seized with when it comes to our ability beyond helping you as an organization—I'll let my colleagues get to that a bit more—but in general terms?

What should the UN be doing? I know that there have been the usual discussions at the UN. But very specifically, what would be your recommendation to the UN as to what should be happening to quell the violence and to deal with some of the outstanding issues?

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

Dr. Asha Elkarib

Thank you so much.

First of all, allow me to agree with you and say that we are all very much disturbed by and concerned about the statements of al-Bashir, which didn't go by without impact. Immediately after the speech, there were so many other media leaders who started to quote him. Accordingly, some raids have already started. I'm not sure whether you know that a very big church for the southern Sudanese in Khartoum was demolished last Saturday.

That said, at the same time, there are now huge numbers of people gathering, from civil society and from human rights defenders, and they are issuing statements—and political parties are also issuing statements—condemning what al-Bashir has said, and at the same time trying to look at what happened in a more objective way.

I think I said in my testimony that pressure has to be exerted. At the same time, I think this is also because the democratic movement in Sudan has not been well supported, especially during the interim period. It was left to only the SPLM and the NCP. I think it is high time for the international community to pay attention to the counteracting forces in Sudan, the pacific and non-violent movements in Sudan, and particularly the sorts of democratic movements. They have to be supported. Youth groups have to be supported.

I think that although the international pressure is important, the internal pressure is equally important. The internal pressure needs to be acknowledged and needs to be really supported. It is the only guarantee, in my view, to bring about that balance. At the same time, I feel the same has to be done in this House. I don't want to talk on behalf of this House, but the same thing is happening...yes.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Mr. Saganash.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witness for her presentation.

I was privileged to meet with the delegation that came to Canada some two years ago, I believe, to discuss referendum processes in this country, including with Quebec and the Cree. I raised the same concerns you raised today when I met with the delegation. Having worked in international law and human rights in particular for more than 20 years, I share the great concern you've expressed, as well as my colleagues.

Within the present context—and I'm glad you ended with that part in your presentation—I would like to have at least some idea of what level of foreign aid is required right now. You were crying for help at the end of your presentation, and I'd like to know how we can help.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

Dr. Asha Elkarib

After the referendum we observed, with a lot of concern, the withdrawal of many donors and international organizations from the north to the south. I have, personally, talked to missions from different countries that have decided to move to the south, and some of them have already moved. I think the level of foreign aid to Sudan generally in that area is very small.

That being said, we know that a lot of support for Sudan is coming from different parts of the world. China is heavily involved in Sudan. Some of the Arab groups are heavily involved in Sudan. Certain parts of the country are flourishing. For example, construction in Sudan is flourishing. Certain companies that produce consumer goods are flourishing.

But the services—education, health, infrastructure—are deteriorating. Foreign aid is not necessarily not coming to Sudan; it is coming from certain parts of the world. I think international advocacy has to work on that, because it is no longer only Europe and North America. It is also Asia, and something has to be done about that.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you. We're over time a little bit.

We'll move to Ms. Brown for the next question.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Elkarib, thank you very much for your presentation. Welcome to the foreign affairs committee. We're delighted to have you here.

I was privileged to be in Juba three months ago. I had the opportunity to visit South Sudan with the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. I believe that we were the first foreign delegation hosted in South Sudan. We have a head of office there, Adrian Norfolk, who is managing Canadian affairs there.

Canada still has Sudan as a country of focus for our foreign aid money. I know that we visited several projects going on there. We didn't get into the north, into Sudan itself, so we weren't in Khartoum. But we were in Juba, and we saw a number of projects in Juba that Canada has been supporting for several years, one of them being a hospital and a training program for nurses.

Then we flew to Wau and saw a CIDA project in Wau that is investing in agricultural assistance. We saw a number of programs where women are accessing some microfinance. It was a remarkable opportunity to see some of the country and to become acquainted with people of South Sudan.

My question revolves around the issues of education and health care, though, which I think are probably similar in both northern Sudan and South Sudan. There is an enormous Sudanese diaspora in Canada. I wonder if any of that diaspora has become engaged in both the problems and the good things that are going on in Sudan. Are they assisting in taking some of those positions of responsibility to perhaps bring a different perspective to some of the issues, particularly education?

I saw some of the child brides. I saw some little girls, who were probably not more than 12 or 13 years old, with babies in their arms, and these were their babies. The problem of child brides is something that needs to be addressed. They need education. They need the opportunity for education, because that's what's going to change their lives.

I wonder if you're seeing any recall, I guess, of the diaspora who have migrated to Canada or to other countries. Are they coming back to invest in South Sudan to help mitigate some of these problems?

Let me preface that by saying that my son-in-law is from Ghana. My son-in-law has just finished his Ph.D. here, in science. I don't think he's going back to Ghana, which is a great loss for Ghana, I believe.

Are there opportunities for the diaspora to invest, themselves?

5 p.m.

Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

Dr. Asha Elkarib

Thank you. That's a very important question.

First of all, let me say that the context of South Sudan is completely different from the context in Sudan. Most of the diaspora, particularly in Canada—I hope I'm not taking their name—are here because of political reasons. The political context is the same in Sudan. That is why, although at the level of civil society there is very strong coordination between us and the civil society, and the diaspora here in Canada and in other parts of the world, in terms of coming back and investing in Sudan, given the political context and the legal context, there is no opportunity in Sudan.

For example, on education, it is not illegal in Sudan to take girls out of school. In fact, the law says that a girl of 10 can get married. Even for us inside Sudan, struggling to encourage girls to go to school, the laws are obstructing us. So it is not easy for people to come from outside, from the diaspora, to invest in this area, I must say.

There is a little bit of movement in the area of health, such as supporting some health activities, coming and working during holidays, and doing some operations from the Sudanese diaspora all over the world, but unfortunately, not when it comes to women's rights and girls' rights. That's mainly because of the political context. In the south it is different, because the political context is facilitating that. In Sudan, it is not facilitating that at all.