House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.

Topics

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Chair, I am going to ask my colleague a question that I asked the member for Mississauga—Erindale earlier, who basically refused to answer it and went on about what he felt the government had done. That was with respect to Rights & Democracy.

The member for Mississauga—Erindale mentioned that although the government was not supporting Rights & Democracy anymore, it was supporting religious rights and freedoms and there is an organization in the process of being put together. Rights & Democracy has been a great Canadian institution and has been promoting human rights protection and democratic development. It is already familiar with the groundwork and has already proven that it can do the job. Why would the government cut the funding and undermine its capacity given the fact that we have seen over and over again, especially in the past few years, the crises that have been occurring in places like Syria?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Chair, if my hon. colleague thinks that if Rights & Democracy had been around it would have prevented this from happening, she has another thing coming. If my hon. colleague thinks that Rights & Democracy ever had a mandate to intervene in a catastrophic situation, she has another thing coming. This whole notion that Rights & Democracy plays into this situation at all is absurd.

We are debating a very serious situation, a catastrophic event that continues to unfold and is victimizing the Syrian people. Bringing a partisan argument into this is more than foolish. It would be better left unsaid.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, the situation in Syria is serious and it seems that things are only getting worse, if the daily clashes in violation of the Annan plan are any indication.

The geopolitics in the Middle East have become a real powder keg in which the interests of the states are intermingling. Russia and China do not seem to want to co-operate and we are getting further and further from a peaceful solution. But we must not give up hope.

Canada has an honourable tradition as a reliable mediating power. That is often the lot of middle power countries that border the major geopolitical players of this world. It is an expertise of which we can be proud.

However, for several years, we have been seeing our international standing deteriorating. We could have been a mediator of choice at the UN Security Council to try to resolve the conflict in Syria, but we do not have as much clout as we once did, perhaps because our foreign policy is too focused on purely economic and self-serving interests.

Short-sightedness and a general withdrawal have been what we have been seeing since 2006. Canada appears only rarely on the international scene and has basically become disinterested in the outside world. For many Canadians the hardest blow was when we failed to obtain a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

What kind of leverage do we have now? And what do we have to do? The Bashar al-Assad regime has lost all touch with reality. It strikes with impunity, it commits massacres and snubs its nose at the mediation attempts by the UN and the Arab League. And then came the bloodbath in Houla, as if to validate al-Assad's insanity and our powerlessness. Those who are old enough will remember the Markale massacre in Sarajevo, when the west decided to help the Bosnians under siege in Sarajevo.

But Syria is not Bosnia-Herzegovina. We do not believe that there is a military solution to this conflict and with good reason. For the time being, the efforts of Kofi Annan and the Arab League are our best hopes for resolving the conflict. If there is a solution out there, they will be the first to find it. We have to follow their progress closely, even if the process is long and cumbersome.

More specifically, what can Canada do? The answer is “little”. But “little” can still be useful.

Last week, Canada responded by following the example of European nations and expelling all Syrian diplomats. Literally, all ties with Damascus have been cut off. We have nothing to lose by severing those ties. Our interests in Syria are negligible. Syria is a weak economy that is barely staying afloat thanks to its nefarious and illegal tricks with unscrupulous countries that put up with the regime in Damascus in order to sell weapons and other basic amenities to third-world countries.

Despite a few timid attempts by the al-Assad regime since 2006 to liberalize the economy and encourage the growth of foreign investments, the results have been very disappointing. Encouraged by Turkey, whose economy and opportunities for the future are very optimistic, al-Assad tried to get a little closer to the west and seemed to want to play the game for a while. When the Arab Spring happened, it soon became very clear that we were dealing with an unscrupulous tyrant.

Since the uprising began, the Syrian economy—which was already faltering—has been in a free-fall. The country's domestic deficit has reached record lows. Syrians have lost all hope for their safety, their future and their honour, and are therefore either fighting or leaving.

According to some sources, 130,000 Syrian citizens have already fled the country to the four neighbouring states. If Canada must intervene, I think that is where we should focus our efforts.

Of all the countries that share a border with Syria, Turkey is the most directly affected by this civil war. The Turkish state was already deeply engaged with its neighbour from an economic and strategic standpoint. I am talking about Turkey's “zero problems with the neighbours” policy. The chaotic situation these days is creating challenging instability in the border regions and the Turkish government has to constantly adjust its position and struggle to restore order.

Among the pressing issues is the influx of refugees.About the Syrian refugees who choose to be flee to Turkey, we have to seriously consider the following. First, we have to consider the welcome they receive once they reach the border. Then, we have to consider the real or perceived impact of their presence on Turkish soil. Finally, we have to consider the long-term consequences to displaced persons and the local populations. Those are three very important elements that speak volumes about what we can expect in the region in general. Let us start with the situation in Antioch.

There are currently 120,000 Syrian nationals in the Turkish province of Hatay, where the city of Antioch is located. The Turkish government has put up temporary facilities for many of them, people of all ages. However, many are young children who were attending school before they were forced to flee with their parents. For them to return home when things get back to normal, they have to be able to continue receiving their education in their language. There are also seniors who require medical supervision and drugs.

The local population is doing its best to manage the arrival of these Syrian families which, for the most part, must rely on the kindness of their hosts to survive.

Most of the people streaming towards Antioch originate from Aleppo, which is only a one-hour drive from the border. Many of these new arrivals are already familiar with the city because they have been there many times before. Consequently, some Syrians have moved to Antioch where they are trying to lead a normal life. Naturally, others are taking advantage of the freedom in Turkey and have engaged in political activism among their fellow citizens.

Antioch has a population of about 200,000. The arrival of so many refugees, longstanding neighbours or not, has been trying for all communities. Just imagine tens of thousands of poor and desperate Americans suddenly crossing the Detroit border and settling in Windsor. What would we do to give them the semblance of a normal live and the moral and social support they would need?

Turkey is one of Canada's allies and we should be sensitive to its needs in these difficult times. However, we must realize that the Syrian crisis has contributed to the destabilization of power in Ankara. We learned this lesson with Yugoslavia 20 years ago. When things happen suddenly, sleeping dogs are woken, and Turkish border areas are not immune to the ghosts of the past.

At one time, the Hatay province was the Sandjak of Alexandrette, and its transfer to Turkey under the Treaty of Lausanne, soon after the end of the Great War, was strongly challenged by Syrians. Indeed, 100 years ago, the province was very predominantly Arab. We can imagine that the massive influx of Syrian refugees is stirring century-old fears and ethnic disputes. That is precisely the kind of disputes where logic and quiet reasoning account for very little.

This brings us to a potentially much more serious problem.

Everyone knows that the Kurdish issue is the most problematic and important one for Ankara. The Kurds form the largest ethnic minority in Turkey. There are between 13 million and 18 million of them and, in the past, that relation has often degenerated into violence. We must think about the potential exodus of the 2 million Kurds from northern Syria to Turkish Kurdistan. Ankara quickly anticipated the potential risks and, again, this threat, perceived or real, is the prime reason why the Turkish government in engaging into very active diplomacy.

However, after cutting ties with Damascus, Assad, who now knows he has his back to the wall and who no longer owes anything to his former friend, made concessions to the Kurdish labour party, the PKK. So, there is really a worrisome Kurdish dimension and its impact could be catastrophic. Let us not forget that, as in Yugoslavia at the time, Syria is lacking everything except weapons. The combination of all these conditions could create a perfect storm. Canada must always keep that in mind in the days to come. We must support our Turkish ally, but we must also be aware that it is under great pressure.

Here is my understanding of the dynamics at Syria's northern border. I do not want to sound like a doom and gloom bird, but if even Turkey can feel some destabilizing effects, just imagine what could happen west of that country, in Lebanon.

That country is well-known for the fragility of its multifaith social contract, and everyone is familiar with the long civil war that literally ravaged it during the 1970s and 1980s. Syria's ethnic and religious make-up is similar to Lebanon's. Incidentally, that country has historically been part of the Syrian cultural mosaic. However, because of the tragic events of the 20th century, the relation between these two modern entities has deteriorated, and their political destiny is now separated.

If Syrian nationals go into the mountains of Lebanon, it could reopen old wounds. Even this week, the conflict seemed to echo Tripoli, where there were confrontations. This is extremely worrisome, because you would need eyes in the back of your head to measure the impact. There are weapons stockpiles everywhere and there are old, hardened hatreds. If civil conflict were to suddenly resurface in Lebanon, we would be taking a 30-year step backward.

Need I add that if Lebanon were destabilized, Israel would be next in line to be affected?

The Syrian civil conflict is probably a powder keg. If the Middle East were to flare up in every direction, we would need to be ready. Fortunately, it has not yet happened. It is essential to seriously consider the risks before us. Diplomatic efforts need to be redoubled, and if this means through Moscow, then we will go to Moscow.

However, I wish to remind you that if Canada wants its involvement to be effective, meaning able to control part of the chaos, it will be by helping its allies in the region to remain calm along their borders. We need to deploy generous efforts to help those who are fleeing from violence. We need to do everything possible to limit the damage being inflicted by Assad's tyrannical and criminal regime.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I recently had the opportunity to travel with my colleague to the Ukraine. I found her a very interesting and delightful travel companion when we were there with the foreign affairs committee. I know she is a thoughtful person.

I have heard her comments about Russia tonight and what the international community should do to put pressure on it. We have heard about free trade.

Could she go beyond that and tell me if she is suggesting that perhaps Canada and other countries should contemplate some kind of economic sanction against Russia if it does not the right thing with respect to Syria?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleague the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for his question. I very much appreciated my recent trip with him and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. It was extremely interesting.

As for Russia, it is absolutely critical for Canada to play a leadership role and to make every possible effort to have Russia play a much more active role in the current conflict and for it to take very clear steps to stop the Assad regime.

It is difficult to understand Russia's current position and its Security Council veto. It is truly important for Canada to play a leadership role on this front.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, I have two questions for the hon. member.

First, this situation started in January 2011, a year and six months ago. Along the way a request was made for us to have an emergency debate and members of her party declined it. That request was made on October 18, 2011. What has changed from now till then, that her party assumes we should have the debate now but not back then?

Second, she said, “the Middle East is a powder keg and we need to be ready”. That is her statement word for word. What exactly does she mean by that? Does she mean ready to go to war? Does she mean boots on the ground, military intervention? Could she please explain that for me?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, first of all, I do not know exactly how it was translated, but in what I said, it was very clear that the current situation in Syria and its neighbouring countries is extremely complex.

It is very important to take action in a calm and measured manner, because it is not simple. It is complicated. Everything that happens there has immense repercussions on the whole surrounding region. It is truly a very sensitive situation. That is what we must keep in mind every time we discuss this conflict.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Chair, I warmly congratulate my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent on his speech.

In conflicts like the one in Syria, international law requires ongoing and constant protection for non-combatants. Turkey's role in this conflict has been mentioned this evening on several occasions. Turkey is currently taking in a lot of refugees. To date, Turkey has spent over $150 million on refugee camps.

Will my colleague elaborate on her ideas on this issue? Should Canada play a more important role in this specific situation? What role are the neighbouring countries playing in this conflict?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for his question.

As usual, he has a firm grasp of the issues and the difficulty with which we are faced.

He is completely right. This is an area upon which Canada should focus its efforts and try and help civilian refugees as much as possible. We can do this and, at the end of the day, it is consistent with the absolutely crucial objective of protecting civilians and people who should not have to bear the negative impacts of this kind of conflict. Yet, we know that this is often what happens. It is these people who pay the biggest price when these conflicts break out.

Yes, Canada should get much more actively involved and try and help with the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries, and help these people.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank our honourable colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for her speech. Her very perceptive regional overview demonstrated a clear understanding of the situation and great concern for the neighbouring countries in the region that have already been heavily affected by this conflict.

On this side of the House, we intend to continue to develop a Canadian policy on Syria that takes into account the challenges faced by our allies, our partners in the region, and that supports them as they come to grips with the growing disarray stretching out beyond Syrian borders.

Does she not agree, however, that the most destabilizing factor, the factor which is most likely to leave the Syrian population without protection, is the actions of the Assad regime, and the presence of this individual at the head of the Syrian state? Does she not agree that despite the efforts being made in the region to help neighbouring countries deal with the situation, Canada's priority must be measures to force Assad to relinquish power, and to increase pressure from the international community so that the Kofi Annan action plan can be implemented?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, for his question. I have great admiration for him. I know that he clearly understands this issue. In comparison, I still have a long way to go before I will be able to grasp it all.

I think he raises a key point. We think it is very important to reiterate that we fully support the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League. It is of the utmost importance that the United Nations continue its concerted efforts. I think that this is where Canada and its allies should focus the efforts that the international community is prepared to make in order to resolve the situation. It is true that Assad's continued presence certainly undermines efforts to find a solution.

I really think that it is through the United Nations that this problem will ultimately be resolved.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Madam Chair, it is my pleasure to rise this evening to participate in this very important and timely debate.

From the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Canada has taken a firm and unequivocal stance denouncing the violence against civilians. Sadly, this is violence all too frequently perpetrated by the regime itself against its own people.

The government, with the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, is committed to supporting the Syrian people in their aspirations for freedom, the full exercise of fundamental rights, the rule of law and representative government.

This conflict springs from the frustrations of people who for decades have been deprived of good government and proper outlets for their dreams and aspirations.

Canada supports Kofi Annan's efforts to mediate a political solution to the crisis. Mr. Annan's six-point plan offers steps to addressing the needs and aspirations of Syrians. Therefore, the government strongly supports the work of the UN supervision mission in Syria, which is monitoring and reporting on adherence to Annan's six-point peace plan. That is the focus of my remarks this evening.

The Annan plan demonstrates the international will to support a peaceful political transition in Syria. It lays out a basic framework for that process.

As members may recall, Mr. Annan is acting not only as special envoy of the UN Secretary General but also as the special envoy of the Secretary General of the Arab League. I note this in order to stress that the plan has strong regional backing in the Middle East in addition to the global support of the international community.

The goal of the plan is to bring about an inclusive Syrian-led transition to a democratic state, one that represents human rights and lives in peace with its neighbours. Canada has contributed $250,000 to Mr. Annan's work as envoy, a concrete expression of our support for this process.

Unfortunately, despite its commitments to date, the Syrian regime has shown bad faith by failing to implement the terms of the Annan plan. It has failed to withdraw its military services from populated areas and it has failed to respect the ceasefire.

The horrific massacre in Houla on May 25 confirms the current Syrian regime's apparent contempt for international law and its seeming disdain for the safety and rights of civilians.

We hold President Assad and his government accountable for the deaths of the 108 victims, 49 of whom were children. We hold them accountable for attacks carried out by the Syrian army and the so-called shabiha militias of pro-government thugs. The fact that civilians are deliberately killed through artillery shelling and close-range executions is shocking and shameful, and that it is done on the orders of their own government is a monstrous crime.

In order to respond to this crisis, the international community must draw on many tools. We must work incrementally by offering a variety of incentives and exerting various forms of pressure on those responsible for the violence in order to stop it.

Canada has imposed eight rounds of sanctions against the Assad regime. These sanctions deliberately target Assad and his allies instead of the people of Syria. They increase the pressure on Assad to end the violence as quickly as possible. Many of our key allies, including members of the Arab League, have imposed similar sanctions. However, gaps remain. We are urging all members of the international community to join us in imposing similar measures. In particular, the time has come for the UN Security Council to fulfill its responsibilities and impose binding sanctions against Syria for the sake of international peace and security. Only in this way can we truly ensure that the Assad regime does not have access to the resources and means to continue its campaign of terror, death and destruction.

Despite the challenges, more than ever the channels of communication between all parties to the Syrian conflict must remain open. For that reason, we must give Mr. Annan every opportunity to continue to fulfill his mission as envoy.

The UN supervision mission in Syria is a tool for pressuring the parties to seek a solution while containing the violence. An international presence within Syria helps to hold the regime and others accountable for their acts of violence. The work of the mission gives unbiased assessment of the facts on the ground, preventing the Assad regime from hiding behind lies and misinformation.

Make no mistake, it will be held accountable. The UN observers are performing critical tasks by witnessing, recording and testifying to the degree of compliance with the Annan plan. They monitor the cessation of violence. They report from the field on whether and how the parties are adhering to the ceasefire, whether and how the Syrian army continues to use heavy weapons in populated areas and whether or not the military services have returned to their barracks.

The supervision mission reporting confirms for the international community whether or not the parties to the conflict are permitting access to humanitarian relief. They detail whether journalists have freedom of access and whether the population has the freedom to assemble. Their regular reports to the Security Council contribute to informed decision making. They help to corroborate and flesh out testimony from other sources as to the regime's behaviour.

Major General Mood, the UN supervision mission commander, has noted publicly that his team of observers are uncovering execution-style mass killings, calling the practice appalling and inexcusable.

The supervision mission reports from Houla make it clear that Assad's forces are responsible for this latest slaughter.

The Security Council mandated an observer mission, not an enforcement mission, as the mission's personnel are there to observe conditions, but they are unarmed. They are not mandated to use force either to protect themselves or to protect others.

The security situation in the country has deteriorated since April when the UN first authorized this mission. There have been too many reports of aggression towards UN supervision mission observers, including an improvised explosive device attack and direct fire against a convoy on May 15.

The security of the mission's personnel is the responsibility of the host government, yet these incidents show that the Assad regime is again failing to meet its commitments. As a result, and given the volatility of the situation on the ground, we cannot now consider deploying Canadian Forces personnel.

We will continue, however, to track conditions closely as the mission evolves. In the meantime, we call on the Syrian authorities to fulfill their responsibilities by ensuring the safety and access of the UN observers, so that the mission can do its work.

The supervision mission continues to do invaluable work. We do not want to see this work pre-empted or cut short. However, special envoy Annan has said that the conflict is now at a tipping point. Furthermore, Mr. Annan has repeatedly stated that while his plan does not have a fixed timetable, it is not entirely open-ended. In his assessment, the international community must debate taking further action sooner rather than later. Mr. Annan has called on President Assad to take bold steps to end the crisis, and he has called on all parties to stop the violence immediately.

We echo Mr. Annan's calls, as action is needed urgently. This is why Canada is pressing members of the UN Security Council to adopt binding sanctions. It is time for the council to stand up, take action and tell Assad that his actions will not be tolerated by the global community.

The Syrian regime's allies must recognize that now is the time for them to pressure the regime to end the crisis before the situation deteriorates even further into chaos and more bloodshed. Canada continues to work with members of the Security Council to ensure that the Syrian regime is held accountable for its acts.

We will work to ensure that all parties to the conflict cease to use violence. Canada is working to help the Syrian people achieve the political transition for which they have already sacrificed so much.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10:15 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I listened carefully to the speech by the member for Mississauga South. She mentioned a few times that binding sanctions should be adopted by the Security Council.

I wonder which precise examples of binding sanctions could be effective, useful and efficient in that specific situation?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 10:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Chair, when we are talking about binding sanctions and specifically the UN Security Council, it can take the lead from Canada. In fact, we have taken it upon ourselves to lead the charge in condemning the human rights violations. We have done this by eight rounds of sanctions. We have prohibited Syrian imports, expelled all Syrian diplomats, banned all new investments and frozen the assets of as many individuals and entities associated with the government as possible.

This is, in the same way, how we are calling upon the Security Council to join Canada, the EU, the Arab League and the U.S. in terms of binding sanctions, because sanctions essentially handcuff the Syrian regime. We are trying to do it in a way that does not harm the Syrian people or get in the way of the humanitarian efforts. We feel that if the Security Council were on side, the situation would improve. That is why we are calling for those binding sanctions.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, I will focus on one part of the hon. member's speech, and that has to do with the utility of the UN monitoring mission.

Its members are unarmed, of course, and that is appropriate. They are being somewhat manipulated by the Assad regime as they are sent here but not there and in various other ways. They are also bearing witness to some serious atrocities and arguably being used by the Assad regime to the point where they are almost complicit, though that is not the right word, in the atrocities that are being perpetrated on the population. On television we have actually seen pictures, signs and statements by the victim population saying to the UN, “Please don't come anymore; you're actually making it worse for us”.

I would be interested in the member's thoughts as to the utility of continuing with the UN mission in its present format.