House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

A recorded division on the motion stands deferred until February 9, at the conclusion of government orders.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the situation in Egypt.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

moved:

That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is unquestionable that we face an urgent situation in Egypt at the present time. Any Canadian watching the news tonight will be aware of the level and degree of violence in the streets, as it appears that there is active fighting between the forces that are closely tied to President Mubarak and those who are demonstrating for significant change in Egypt.

I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Don Valley East, but there are some events taking place even now.

We have just learned that CBC employees were attacked in the streets and, without the intervention of the Egyptian army, they could have been seriously injured by the physical attacks.

My comments will primarily focus on two issues: the protection of the Canadian government's consular operations—the government's policy in response to the problem and the situation—and the crisis, which is not limited to just Cairo or Egypt and remains a major challenge for the entire region.

I want to say a couple of things in the debate and there will be a chance for questions. There will also be a chance for questions to the government with respect to the activities of Canadian officials and what has happened.

I want to make it very clear that our side recognizes the great hard work of people who work on behalf of the citizens of Canada and the very difficult circumstances in which our embassy officials in Cairo have found themselves over the last several days.

The underlying challenge, and we saw it emerging from the Lebanon crisis, is that Canada consistently finds itself under-resourced, without enough people on the ground and without a sufficiently determined response time from the government in Ottawa. We were behind in our response with respect to the Lebanon situation.

A valuable report coming from the other place refers to some of the difficulties and challenges that we see in this particular instance. Many Canadians had a great deal of difficulty finding out about the circumstances affecting their loved ones, their children, their cousins and those who are part of their families. We also saw those people themselves facing a challenge as they tried to find out information about how they could possibly get out of the country.

The minister took great offence yesterday when I asked a simple question based on facts. The fact of the matter is that Canada faces a problem. Far too many of our personnel are here in Ottawa and not enough of our personnel are working on behalf of Canada overseas. That is a problem and a challenge which must be faced. We are also not always using the most up-to-date technology to get in touch with Canadians or to make sure they are available.

The one thing we know for certain is that this is not an issue about looking back and saying who did wrong and who goofed up. One thing we know for certain is that we will face in the future more of these situations. This is the world we are living in. We are living in a world in which there are either man-made difficulties, political difficulties and challenges, or difficulties involving natural disasters. We simply have to improve our capacity as a government to respond to the critical situation. That is the first point I want to make.

The second point I want to make is that none of us could have anticipated the extent and the pace of change which has taken place in the Middle East. Countries which seemed from the outside to be extremely stable are now profoundly unstable. Deeply repressed, yes. Oppressive, yes. Hierarchical, yes. Virtual dictatorships, yes. They are profoundly unstable because their people are expressing a very simple reality; they have had enough.

More than half the population of Egypt is under the age of 30. It is a young country. It is a country with a 5,000 year old civilization, but it is a young country. It is a young country in which people are becoming better educated, in which people are increasingly learning of all of the challenges of globalization. It is a young country where all of the opportunities are in place. Its people see an economic and social system of which they are taking advantage. The revolution and technology of Twitter and Facebook, and the social media which has taken over the younger generation which allows them to communicate one with the other, allowing people in Tunis to communicate with people in Cairo, allowing people on the street in Cairo to tell others to come out for a demonstration and tens of thousands of people come out.

It is not possible to ascribe what has taken place and what continues to take place to political radicalism or to a particular ideology that is in place, although that obviously has a role and we must recognize that presents us with a challenge. We have to understand that this is a part of the world in which all of the theories about social change and political change are actually being put to work on the street.

Our party, the government and others have made the same point, that it is not for us as Canadians to determine what the outcome in Egypt is going to be.

However, it is important for us to state today that it is very clear that the steps that have been announced by President Mubarak with respect to his own plans and with respect to the plans that he is supposedly putting forward for political reform are simply not sufficient to deal with the extent of the concern and with the extent of popular reaction to the regime.

This is not any form of outside interference. This is a simple statement of the facts. This is a simple statement that what has been done so far is clearly not having the effect that we all want to see.

There is a legitimate concern in stability as much as there is a legitimate concern in democracy because we all know from our own lives that without a degree of stability and without personal security it is not possible for us to see working democracies really advance. However, we do not want to see a time when governments use the security and the stability arguments as an excuse for further repression.

We want to state categorically on behalf of this Parliament that we affirm the dignity of every person around the world. We affirm their dignity, we affirm their human rights, their right to the rule of law, their right to democratic assembly, their right to peaceful assembly, their right to freedom of religion and their right to freedom of expression. We do not see these as being confined to any one country. We see these as values that are indeed universal and they are contained in the documents that are expressed by the United Nations itself in terms of the rights of every person in the world.

There is a profound movement for democracy that is under way in the Middle East. It is an extremely encouraging and profound movement. It is important for this Parliament to state very clearly to the Egyptian people that we are with them in their struggle, we are with them in their quest for democracy, we are with them in their quest for stability. We say to all the people of the Middle East, and I would say most emphatically including the people of Israel, that we value the peace and stability which has been achieved at such great costs. Canada will stay involved and stay engaged in the peace process to ensure that the democratic change, indeed the democratic revolution that is now under way in Egypt and Tunisia and many other parts of the Middle East, does not take away for one second the need for peaceful co-existence between Israel and all its neighbours in the Middle East.

I appreciate the chance to speak on this debate. I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with the members opposite. I do not see this debate as an opportunity to take partisan shots one way or the other. It is a chance for us as members of Parliament to have a thoughtful exchange on what we think is taking place, on what we think Canada can usefully and productively do to be a constructive partner for peace as well as a constructive partner for justice and democracy.

That is the kind of foreign policy we want to see, a Canada that is deeply engaged in the world because, as I often say, the world is in us and we are profoundly in the world.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for raising this issue in the House. He has rightly pointed out that this is indeed quite a monumental and historical time in the Middle East with the changes taking place and he has outlined the reasons why these changes are taking place.

Canadians have noticed that this government's strong policy has been to promote democratic rights, human rights, around the world, including in Egypt. For that reason I can assure the member that this government looks at Egypt and because it sees all of these things happening it is calling for a human rights transition to a new government, for a transition in the Middle East that will ensure that the rights of its people are upheld as per Canadian values, such as human rights and the like.

I want to tell the hon. member that this government will also stand for human rights around the world.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, let it be noted that is the nicest thing the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs has ever had to say about me and I deeply appreciate it.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to join with others in this place to reflect on what is happening in Egypt.

I want to ask the member a question very directly.

Frankly, many of us have seen how the west has gone from supporting Mubarak to understanding that this is no longer tenable.

This is a very direct question and we hope that the government would join us on this as well. Would he agree with the NDP that it is time to say to Mr. Mubarak that his time is up, that it is time to leave, not in one month, two months or three months, that it is time to leave now?

It is important for all of us to be clear on that issue. Otherwise, we are simply talking about concepts without detail, without conviction.

I would like to know what the member thinks of that.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Ottawa Centre should know that the phrase “your time is up” has been used before and it is not one that I will use on this occasion.

The key point we need to realize about the situation in which President Mubarak finds himself and the situation in which the Government of Egypt finds itself is simply this: the measures that he has announced so far have clearly not had the effect of creating stability and creating a sense of transition to democracy.

When President Obama, for example, last night said very clearly that we expect a transition to democracy to start now, I think that is something we all share. It is very clear to us on this side that, looking at it as we do from the distance where we are, more steps need to be taken and more simply needs to be done.

However, I continue to believe very profoundly that it is up to the political process in Egypt itself to determine what exactly will happen and how it will take place. It is up for us to say that what has been done so far is not having the effect that we would like it to have. I think that is the critical message that has to be received.

It is not up to President Mubarak alone to determine what will be the outcome of his regime. It is increasingly, and rightly so, up to the people of Egypt to make that determination.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I am blessed to have one of the largest Egyptian communities residing in my riding, primarily Coptic Christians who are the largest religious minority in Egypt. I have had the pleasure of attending their mass and been blessed by Pope Shenouda himself.

Many in the Coptic Christian community have expressed frustration and anger over the ongoing religious persecution that has targeted many Coptic Christians and has been escalating over the years, as we saw in Nag Hammadi last year and in Alexandria where 21 were killed and 79 injured. With this growing religious intolerance and sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years and the failure of the Egyptian government to effectively investigate and properly prosecute those responsible, what consideration can--

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member for Toronto Centre.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I had an opportunity three weeks ago to visit the church that was bombed. One thing that many members may not know is that right across the very narrow street from the church is a mosque. The mosque could just as easily have been bombed as the bomb went off in the middle of the street.

The member raises a very critical point. When we look at what a democracy is, a democracy is not just about elections. A democracy is not just about demonstrations in the street. A democracy is about the institutional protection we provide for minorities. It is about the rule of law. It is about the protection of human rights. It is about the recognition of due process and the recognition of ending corruption and dealing with citizens fairly.

Therefore, it is especially important that the needs of the 10 million people in Egypt who are Coptic Christians be taken fully into account in the kind of government and the kind of process that will emerge in that great country.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

February 2nd, 2011 / 6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the important debate tonight on the current events that are taking place in Egypt.The Liberal critic for foreign affairs is a difficult act to follow.

I would like to talk about Egypt from a personal perspective. I have been historically involved in Egypt through ancestors, et cetera, and I find the current situation brings me a lot of trepidation.

Egypt has been the cradle of civilization and the cradle of three of the great monotheistie Abrahamic religions. What is unfolding in Egypt is not a new trend because throughout civilization Egypt has gone through good times and bad times. However, what is happening today is a reaction by people who have been subjugated for 30 years and not being allowed the freedom that they want.

Popular uprisings and revolutions are fluid by nature and unpredictable as they are more concerned with getting rid of the old than defining the new regime. We have seen many examples. What comes to mind is what happened in Iran in 1979 and what transitioned then. Uprisings promise change but make no guarantees that such change is non-violent in the short term or will lead to pluralistic democratic society in the long term.

A peaceful transition in Egypt will depend mostly on the existing power brokers, especially the military and its political partners in Cairo. It is important that Canada play a leadership role now so that when we help the politicians make decisions we will be clear on what we stand for. We stand for pluralism and democracy. We are not imposing any of our values on anyone. However, we are leading them to where they should be going for free democratic elections.

As has been mentioned, the Egyptian people are fed up. The speed with which the grassroots movement, the civil society, has organized itself has been amazing. For six days there had been no violence. Violence has now started because the people can see no changes taking place.

For politicians to participate and for politicians to ensure that there is a negotiated and a peaceful transition, it is important that the people are consulted and that the opposition participates in the consultations. Having elections where the rule of the majority is guaranteed is important. It is important that democracy takes precedence. It is important that President Mubarak understands that the people will no longer put up with the amount of pressure they had been under.

It is interesting to note that the military has the respect of the Egyptian people and has done nothing at the moment to the people. Hopefully that will not change. What we need to understand is that there are too many factors are at play. The Egyptian police are not liked by the people but the military, which is under the command of the president, is liked by the people. Those are some of the issues that people need to think through before giving advice.

Egypt is at a turning point. If it turns toward a continuation of military dominated leadership supported by the business elite, we will not have seen the end of the turmoil. Popular forces and the opposition cannot continue to be excluded from meaningful participation. One must hope that the transitional government will do the right thing and open up the political arena for full participation and an early and free election.

Yemen, Jordan and Tunisia have recently seen wide-scale protests and we hope that this regional disruption will not lead to greater tension in the Middle East.

President Mubarak said that he would not seek re-election but rejected demands to step down. That is a factor we must consider as we are giving guidance to the country. The 82-year-old Mubarak is a former air force commander and he wants to finish his presidential term which ends in September.

One of the factors that we need to consider as we are talking to them is: what are the permutations and combinations that the Egyptian people will settle for? More than 400 people have been wounded and one person has died in clashes with pro and anti-government demonstrations, which we saw in the streets of Cairo. The Coptic Christian community thinks that President Mubarak may not be the worst but that he is the best at the moment. It is very important that those factors be taken into consideration.

President Obama said that he spoke to President Mubarak who recognized that the status quo was not sustainable and that a change must take place. President Obama has also said that an orderly transition must be meaningful, peaceful and must begin now.

The leader of the Liberal Party has pointed out that Canadians are looking at these events. Egyptians are expressing a desire for democracy and openness, and have grievances and concerns that need to be addressed.

We hope President Mubarak will respond to these legitimate issues in a constructive spirit. No one wants the violence to escalate and we hope the Egyptian government, police and army, and those who are demonstrating will show an equal desire for peace and mutual respect.

Security and stability are legitimate human aspirations as well. We have heard from our foreign affairs critic. I hope that from this emergency debate the government will see an opportunity to take a balanced and intelligent approach to helping the Egyptian people realize their dreams.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:45 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, as I watch the news coverage unfold and listen to the debate and discussion from world leaders and from commentaries across the globe, the subject within this debate, which I believe has been most neglected, is the consequences of this crisis on religious minorities. I speak particularly of the Coptic Christian minority which has been under consistent assault and attack in Egypt for many years. These Christians are being persecuted all over the region. It is the responsibility of human rights supporting people everywhere in the world, regardless of their faith, to speak out against that persecution.

I wonder if the member has comments on how this Parliament and the government can shine light on that subject so that it is not forgotten as we watch the unfolding crisis play out in Egypt.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, in my deliberations I did mention that there were many permutations and combinations that needed to be regarded.

“I quote the Rev. Paul Girguis, who said:

The current situation for the Copts stinks, but [longtime Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak is the best of the worst for us.

I think what Canada can do is show Egypt, which has been a cradle of civilization and understands pluralism, that polarization is not the way to go and that when a crisis occurs a minority group should not be picked on.

I can say from experience that I was a visible minority in Africa and we were picked on because people did not understand pluralism. I think it is important for Canada, when we are using diplomacy, to use the diplomacy of pluralism.

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, is the member concerned, as many are, that this is being seen by many as an either or situation? What we are hearing from people who actually started the democratic uprising in Egypt is that this is not about one choice or another. They are saying that this is about the people actually being heard for the first time in 30 years.

Would the member care to comment on the concern she might share with myself and others that this is being seen as either being with the tired corrupt regime or having something else, when in fact there is another way?

Situation in Egypt
Emergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I think the elephant in the room is the Muslim brotherhood. People are saying to vote one way or the other. It is a choice between this and that.

It is up to the Egyptian people to look at history, to look and at what happened in Iran and decide for themselves which way they want to go. These decisions should be made by the Egyptian people without interference from external forces.