House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firearms.

Topics

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his question. He is absolutely right: the right to choose one's religion is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That declaration is agreed to by every member of the United Nations, and the right to practise one's religion includes the right to choose one's religion. It also includes the right to change one's religion.

As I mentioned in my remarks earlier, one of the things that I am particularly concerned about is that I understand in Egypt every citizen must carry an identity card, which not only must disclose their religion but must disclose whether they have changed their religion. That is a cause of much discrimination in Egypt. I would call on the Egyptian government to eliminate any required disclosure of one's religion in any identity document.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Chair, I am very honoured and hopeful as I rise to speak this evening. The riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard is about one-third francophone, one-third anglophone and one-third allophone. This last group is made up of new Canadians and Canadians who are already active and completely integrated into the community, but who have a different culture.

This diversity in my riding is one of my greatest sources of pride as the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard. I grew up in this riding and this has benefited me greatly. I am bilingual. I had access to a variety of foods and dishes. I do not know if there is a part of the world that is not represented by a grocery store or restaurant in my riding. As a student, a child, a volunteer, a teacher and now a politician, I have had the opportunity to discover the world through the people who live in my riding.

For example, the City of Dollard-des-Ormeaux organizes an event every year, during which people of all cultures are invited to share their food, music and culture with the people of Dollard-des-Ormeaux and to perform for them. It is a day for people to share cultures and educate others.

In addition to discovering the world through my riding, I have been able to get involved in international issues because of this cultural diversity. For example, a benefit dinner will be held soon to raise funds to help a school in Haiti. Many students as well as adults in the riding will be able to participate.

Why am I sharing all this? Why am I talking about my riding? I want to show to what extent cultural communities are integrated into our community and contribute to the life of the community.

I will even give one or two other examples that show to what extent these cultural communities make a contribution to society. Yesterday was Diwali or Bandi Chhorh Divas, and I was invited to a temple. I discovered that the community centre at the temple is open 24 hours a day and that food is provided to anyone who comes to the temple. No matter their religion or origin, anyone who knocks at the door and asks is given food. We also have Anglican churches that provide space to community organizations that fight poverty and Catholic churches that provide free space to Scout groups.

These are but a few examples in my riding. Just imagine what is happening across the country. This lets us see what can be done if we establish inclusive policies, the right to freedom, religious choice, the right to associate and form groups that can become very active and involved in the community, the right to equality before the law, and freedom from discrimination, no matter our origin or beliefs.

Can Canada intervene in a situation that is taking place in another country where a people is subject to discrimination? I believe it can. Of course we still have a long way to go in Canada. Tolerance and acceptance could be improved. Last year, a child was not allowed to wear a turban while playing soccer. He was asked to remove his turban or to not play soccer. In short he had to choose between a religious symbol that was very important to him, and his friends and favourite sport. We still have much work to do in Canada. However, we have managed to establish rights and freedoms that we now take for granted. It is high time Canada took a stand on a number of conflicts, including the one in Egypt that we are addressing today. I will now speak in more detail about the conflict.

Recently, the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that Canada stands in solidarity with all religious minorities in all countries, including Egyptian Coptic Christians. He also called on the Egyptian government to ensure that the attacks stop and he asked that a transparent investigation take place.

I do not want to make this a partisan issue, and I want to congratulate each individual for what we have heard so far. We can see that the commitments made and the concern expressed here in the House today are all in good faith.

What the Minister of Foreign Affairs said is, in many ways, exactly what we are also calling for. First, what we are calling for most urgently is an independent, transparent investigation. We want to shed some light on the situation; we want the most objective view possible. That is something we can do, something we can call for, and we can ensure that the investigation is truly independent. We want to know what role the military, the police, have played in this drama and ensure that we understand the scope of the situation. We feel that this is a first step in defending freedom of religion and ensuring that the discrimination and violence in Egypt end as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, allow me to share my concerns. In 2008, a non-partisan democracy promotion agency was promised. Such an organization has yet to be created. Last year, an ambassador was sent to visit, take a certain stand and share our disagreement with the violence that was occurring in Egypt. One year later, this situation has clearly not been resolved. Now, we are taking a stand, we are making statements and we are demanding an investigation. That is promising. What we have heard tonight brings a lot of hope. However, what I truly hope is that the words that have been spoken and the stands that have been taken do not stop there and that we will not still be saying that were are taking a certain stand and that we are demanding a certain investigation one, two or even five years down the road, but that we will have turned these good intentions, words, visits and investigations into action.

Things are happening and we all agree tonight, no matter what party we belong to, that they are unacceptable and we must take action. I hope these good intentions will turn into action very soon and as quickly as possible, in order to prevent these things from happening again. Whatever has been done so far is clearly not enough, or we would not be here talking about it this evening. What is the next step? I am not criticizing anyone, but I am appealing to all parties. I think we are all on the same wavelength here this evening, or almost. I hope that this will continue and that we will work together in order to really improve the lives of those people who are looking outside their country and hoping for help from all sides.

In closing, I hope that our country, which we can be so proud of, will be able to take a stand and influence the situation in Egypt. I also truly hope that an election will be held soon and that we somehow do our part to ensure that the election takes place democratically. The entire population, including women of course, must be able to participate fully.

Thank you for having tonight's debate and thank you for everything that has been said. I hope we will not still be discussing this a year from now, but rather that progress will have been made because we have taken a real stand and real action.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her very passionate and eloquent speech. It was very well done, and she has expressed much of what all of us feel in knowing that these issues are going to be addressed.

I was at the meeting at the end of September for the establishment of the office of religious freedoms. Over 100 groups were in attendance at that meeting, including people from the Coptic community. The focus of that office, as established by our government, says that we are going to focus on advocacy, analysis, policy developments and programs related to protecting and advocating on behalf of religious minorities under threat, opposing religious hatred and promoting Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.

Could the member comment on how she sees those being worked into the issue of addressing concerns for the Coptic community?

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member.

It is great that she is reminding us that many things have already been done by the government and by all the parties together to try to take a stand and develop tools. Now, we clearly all agree that it is not enough and that we have to go further. I think we should take the time, a bit like we are this evening, to sit down together and put aside our partisan differences. This will enable us to talk about how we can integrate what we hope to do with what has already been done and with the expectations and demands of the people who are currently victims of discrimination.

We have to work together practically. We may not come up with an answer within a few minutes, but we might if we truly work together. We have to continue down the same path and make sure we get results.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, this a great and very important subject. We have members from all parties here, and I am just saddened that the Conservative Party has very few members here.

Does the member agree or disagree that this office that has been set up by the Conservatives is an office of smoke and mirrors, with not enough money and not enough teeth, and that it certainly will not be able to do anything?

I am willing to listen to her answer. The three members from the Conservative Party might even tune in.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member.

I get the impression that I have to keep repeating what I have already said. Indeed, intentions have been expressed. Indeed, the positions have been presented verbally. Indeed, a few little things have been done. That being said, it is not enough because if it were, we would not be here this evening. We would not be debating this issue.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

October 27th, 2011 / 9:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. The member for Scarborough—Agincourt needs to come to order. The parliamentary secretary needs to come to order.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, that concludes my response. We truly hope to see more concrete actions. I have hope. We will watch each other very closely to ensure that this takes a concrete form, and we will not settle for what has already been done; we will go much further and respond to this emergency.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for a very passionate and well-put-together speech.

Often when we talk about conflict and persecution, we get caught up with the technicalities and the big picture. My colleague has dealt with children. I want her to talk a little bit about the kinds of impacts this kind of persecution has on children and the kinds of systemic problems it can create, which really point to the imperative nature of our finding a solution to end this persecution.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

Yes, I used to be a teacher, and what I can tell you about it is that the feeling of belonging to a group that is strong and proud, to what you are and to the culture to which you are attached is hugely important. Obviously this is true for people of all ages, but it is particularly true for children. It does not take extensive studies to see that if you feel that there is nothing in place in your country, you cannot get any help and you cannot be proud of who you really are, that can have repercussions on children and therefore on tomorrow’s society. When the children grow up they will be the leaders of that community.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was just Googling the Coptic Christian efforts, and it was nice to see that we have churches here in Canada, in fact in Mississauga, where they are interested in what politicians have to say in regard to this issue.

This evening we are having a good, healthy, challenging debate, and it is nice to see that it goes beyond what is taking place here inside the House. It is also being debated in churches, communities and homes. It is clear that Canadians of all political stripes and different ethnic groups are keeping in tune with a very important issue.

I would like the member's comments on not only the importance of our taking action inside this chamber but also on our continuing to encourage broader education on the importance of picking up the fight and doing the things that are important. Examples would be for the Prime Minister to talk directly to the Egyptian ambassador here, and for people to make calls and write letters to provide support in whatever way we can, including our prayers and so forth, for those Christians who are--

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have to stop the member there to allow the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard a chance to respond.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his comment. The reason we are holding a debate so late tonight, which we will hold for as long as possible, is to focus attention on what is happening, the discussions being held and the commitments being made this evening. As many Canadians as possible have to know that tonight the government is calling for an investigation and we are debating it, that all parties agree that we must not only talk about it, we must take action and make demands. We hope everyone will observe the conduct of the country in the next few days, the next few weeks, and will not stand for inaction. We hope this debate will enable people to encourage the government to do that and to applaud it once it has.

It is important to take a stand for the Egyptian Coptic population and for all cultural minorities that may be victims of discrimination. We will not delude ourselves. Discrimination is not going to be completely eliminated from the world because we are taking a stand today on a particular situation. We have to act now, concerning this situation, but our international policies also have to provide that we will fight for freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Egyptian government, in response to international horror at the attacks on Coptic Christians, has passed a law that makes a crime of religious discrimination or discrimination on the basis of gender or nationality, yet I think we all remain very skeptical that this would be anywhere near enough to protect the lives of Coptic Christians in a systemic response of increased religious intolerance.

I ask my hon. friend, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, what more can we demand of the new government in Egypt?

I hope she would agree with me that we should demand that international observers be present in the elections as they take place.