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 scientists.

Topics

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, in fact, with respect to the Security Council, the difference between Iran, China and Russia is perfectly clear. Iran has no veto and cannot impede action by the international community against Syria. This is a rather major difference, because Iran cannot block international action, unlike Russia and China, which have done so on several occasions.

As my colleague from Saint-Jean mentioned, we are beginning to see some receptiveness by China and Russia to the idea of putting pressure on Syria. However, I fully agree with the government. Last week, we had the same type of debate about the situation in Iran. I was here, in support of the government, condemning the Iranian regime and the support it is giving to Syria. However, the difference is absolutely clear, and I do not believe that the Government of Canada’s approach to Russia and China should be the same as its dealings with Iran, because their role on the Security Council is not the same.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, my colleague focused on China and Russia in her speech and mentioned Iran. We have parliamentary secretaries and ministers in the House. What does she think of the idea of having even one of the parliamentary secretaries as a special envoy to be sent to places like China or Russia to ensure the message is clear? I suggested in the House that the Minister of Foreign Affairs should go to Russia, which the foreign affairs minister for the U.K. did, and we should send envoys with that message. The government is negotiating a trade deal with Russia right now and many of us would like priority to be focused on Syria.

We have all these parliamentary secretaries. Maybe we should be sending them directly to China or Russia to deliver the clear message that we want them to be involved in supporting the UN's initiatives.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, it is indeed very important. As I was saying, it is not a matter of choice, but one of necessity.

For many years, we have been repeatedly told by the Government of Canada that it is negotiating various free trade agreements. According to the government, we have become an economic power. That being the case, it is high time that it shouldered its responsibilities and used this influence to put pressure on other governments.

It is true that humanitarian aid is important, that diplomatic pressure is important and that all possible actions to prevent these atrocities from being committed and ensure that human rights are respected are important. However, there is no point hiding the fact that it is through economic relations with other countries that a government, a country, can function and exist.

Canada has the opportunity and the chance to exert this influence on Russia. My colleague did not mention it, but Canada is also in negotiations with China for a free trade agreement. It is therefore important for Canada to show world leadership, not only in terms of humanitarian aid and diplomatic pressure, but also in terms of the economic pressure it can exert, given its influence on other countries, to make it possible for the international community to intervene and prevent the Syrian regime from continuing to commit atrocities.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate this evening in this very important debate.

Canadians, like freedom-loving people around the world, have been absolutely horrified by the ongoing brutal violence committed by the Assad regime against the people of Syria. The most recent appalling example of this regime's blatant disregard for humanity and decency was seen on May 25 in the shocking massacre in Houla that left scores of civilians dead, including 49 innocent children. I do not think anybody here will very soon forget the picture of that three-year-old little girl with a bullet hole in the side of her head. This is the kind of horror that we have not really seen since the Second World War.

We are deeply concerned that despite repeated calls for peace and despite pressure from the international community, Assad's reprehensible campaign of terror continues unabated. We continue to call for the immediate implementation of and adherence to the Annan peace plan, which has been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League. We fervently believe that Assad must step down now and allow the Syrian people to build a better, brighter future and to live in peace and security.

As if the consequences of the crimes within Syria itself were not horrible enough, we are now facing the deeply troubling regional implications of this crisis. To begin with, the UN estimates that more than 70,000 refugees have fled Syria to seek shelter in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

There have been incidents of violence along the Syrian–Lebanese border as well as in the border regions with Turkey. Moreover, in Lebanon we are now increasingly seeing violent confrontations between pro- and anti-Assad factions within that country itself. In a region with such complex and interwoven political, social and economic fabric cutting across national borders, a protracted struggle in Syria carries the risk of dragging other countries into sectarian conflict and proxy wars, exacerbating the existing regional tensions and further victimizing civilians throughout the Middle East. For these reasons, we believe it is imperative that a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis be found.

I will highlight in more detail some of the implications of the conflict for Syria's neighbours, as well as the complex interests and relationships that tie Syria's fate to that of others in the region, including Iran and Israel. This will give even further evidence of why we must work to end the conflict as quickly as possible.

Of all the countries in the region, Turkey has welcomed the largest number of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. More than 22,000 Syrians are currently registered with the Turkish government, which has established 10 separate locations to deal with the influx and has appealed to NATO, the UN and the EU for international assistance in addressing their needs.

In Lebanon, over 15,000 Syrian refugees are registered with humanitarian agencies. The UN High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, and partners are working with the Lebanese government and local authorities to ensure that the needs of refugees in the affected communities are addressed.

Beyond this, the escalating violence in Syria has caused security-related concerns for Lebanon, where in recent weeks pro- and anti-Assad factions clashed in Tripoli and Beirut. Lebanon has also been the site of border incursions by Syrian security forces, as well as of several unsolved disappearances of Syrian opposition figures. Meanwhile, reports indicate that weapons smuggling from Lebanon to Syria continues to grow.

Jordan has also welcomed a sizable wave of Syrian refugees. Over 19,000 Syrians in Jordan have registered with UNHCR since March of last year, and the numbers continue to grow. This is a heavy burden on Jordan's fragile economy and its delicate sectarian balance.

Canada is a good friend to Jordan and continues to strongly support the efforts of His Majesty King Abdullah II to implement reforms that will lay a critical foundation for the strengthening of the economy and Jordanian democracy. As a moderate voice in the region that has helped build bridges to peace, Jordan faces many challenges from the crisis in Syria.

Iraq, which is of course dealing with its own internal instability, has also experienced an influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. Close to 4,000 Syrian refugees of Kurdish origin are registered in Iraq with the UNHCR and its partners providing assistance there.

Another serious concern is the infiltration of terrorist fighters from Iraq into Syria. There are reports that some of the most vicious terrorists now operating in Syria, members of al-Qaeda and related groups, came from Iraq.

If the conflict in Syria continues unabated, there is a risk that the flow of terrorists crossing the Iraq-Syria border will grow, raising the spectre of even greater instability and violence in both countries.

This is why the actions taken by the Assad regime have only added to Syria's instability and to an environment conducive to terrorists and extremist actions. It is in everyone's interest to see a stable, peaceful Syria, one that rejects extremism and upholds the fundamental human rights of its people.

What is Iran's role in all of this? Iran provides support to Syria as a means of promoting its own political, cultural and economic influence and interests in the region. Iran, its clients and proxies do not flinch from using violence and abusing human rights to achieve their aims.

Syria and Iran have been linked since the time of Hafez al-Assad. Together they forged an alliance that allowed Iran to project its influence, its interests, its extremism and its rejection of Israel into the Levant right up to Israel's borders. Through its ally in Damascus, Iran was able to build up its proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and a host of extremist Palestinian rejectionist groups, led by Hamas, all of them headquartered in Damascus and sheltered by the Syrian regime. Syria's interest was of course to maintain pressure on Israel to return the Golan Heights and the ability to intervene in Lebanon's affairs to promote its various interests there. Among those who paid the price were Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, and members of his entourage.

Having made a substantial investment in developing this chain of extremist influence throughout the Middle East, Iran is not about to let a bunch of pro-democracy demonstrators put it at risk. Therefore, there are reliable reports that Iranian money and supplies, including diesel for Syrian tanks, technical expertise, and even specialist soldiers like snipers, are aiding the Syrian regime to oppress its own people. The Iranians have helped the Syrian security forces to intercept telephone communications and to track down activists by tracing their Internet usage. These two criminal regimes are co-operating to cause chaos and destruction throughout the entire region, even as they both brutally oppress their own people.

Canada continues to be seized with developments within Syria and their impact on the broader region. The ongoing violence is appalling by itself, but as I have pointed out, the risk it poses to regional security and stability is even more alarming. For all of these reasons, we steadfastly believe that a solution must be found before more innocent lives are lost and before the crisis further threatens peace and stability in the broader region.

We again call on all parties to immediately and fully respect the ceasefire and to co-operate with UN observers and support the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan to resolve the crisis. We call on all Security Council members to come together and adopt strong measures, including economic sanctions, against the Syrian regime. We urge countries with ties to Damascus to use their influence to convince the regime that it must act now to stop the violence. We continue to work with our international partners to isolate the Assad regime and to limit the damage it can cause both to Syria and to the broader region.

Canada supports the Syrian people's hopes for a better, brighter future and is committed to finding a solution to this crisis that will help them achieve it. We hope to see a new democratically elected government of Syria that will respect human rights and the rule of law, including, most importantly, the protection of religious freedoms and religious minority groups, pursuant to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for his speech.

Does he not think that the fact that Canada no longer has a seat on the UN Security Council places us in an unenviable situation in the sense that Canada does not have a lot of weight in the UN decision-making process? In my opinion, when Canada had a seat on the UN Security Council, we had a lot more weight when it came to this kind of decision.

Can the member tell us what Canada has done to try and recover this seat? Having a seat would help us a great deal in the event of global conflicts such as this.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Madam Chair, I have heard this comment about the UN Security Council made by the opposition several times this evening. Frankly, in my personal opinion, anyone who thinks that Russia or China would have done anything differently, whether or not Canada was on the UN Security Council, that is just an absurb statement.

As my colleague pointed out earlier this evening, there are 15 permanent members of the UN Security Council and 190 members of the United Nations. The vast majority of all of those countries have been speaking out against the violence in Syria, urging Assad to comply with the UN peace plan, yet the violence continues.

Russia has a veto. China has a veto. They are countries with a long term interest in Syria, and I just categorically reject that the fact that Canada is not currently on the security council would make any difference in this situation.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Chair, as I listen tonight, I think we are all extremely concerned about the tensions in Syria. We recognize that the potential is extremely high that the conflict will spill into other parts of the region.

We talked about human rights tonight, and my colleague was no different in his speech. He talked about absurdity, about the seat on the Security Council, yet we also have Rights and Democracy, which is a group that actually works very closely on the ground to help protect human rights.

Does he not think it is extremely absurd that the government, in a time of conflict in Syria, turns around and removes the funding to the very organization that is there to assist people in conflict like this?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Madam Chair, our government has made a significant number of statements concerning the violence in Syria from the very inception of that violence. In fact, we have been world leaders in speaking out against the Assad regime.

Beginning in March 21, 2011, the Minister of Foreign Affairs condemned the Assad regime and called for its resignation. We have made, to date, 15 condemnations of the Assad regime.

In terms of sanctions, in early May of 2011 the Prime Minister made a statement announcing targeted sanctions against members of the Assad regime. We followed that with eight escalating announcements about sanctions, each one greater than the last, in the hope that each one would cause the violence to cease and at the same time not hurt the people of Syria. Unfortunately, we have seen that these sanctions so far have not succeeded in ending the violence.

That just shows that we need to convince Russia, primarily, to move off its stand on Syria, and we need to support respect for human rights.

As the member will know, our government is creating the office of religious freedom. That would be very important to the people of this region. We must speak out in regard to the protection of all human rights, including religious freedom, and we hope we will see a new, democratically elected government that will make the protection of human rights and religious freedoms very important in that new government.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Madam Chair, the Syrian community in Canada has repeatedly asked the government to come up with a formula to match funds, dollar for dollar, on what they raised.

Letters have been sent to the Minister of External Affairs as well as to members of the government, but there has been no response to date.

We have seen that the government reacted urgently in Haiti. The Prime Minister even made his own pledge at the Red Cross.

If we have done that with other countries, with Burma and with China, why is the government not doing it with Syria? Is it because there are not enough Syrians in Canada to make their vote worthwhile? Is it because the Conservatives are ignoring them? Is it because they do not know how to read letters?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Madam Chair, that last comment is the kind of absurd statement I would expect from that member.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Which comment—that you won't match dollar for dollar, or that you can't read?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

He will know, if he chooses to look at the facts, that Canada was one of the very first countries to respond with humanitarian aid in Syria. In fact, our government started on March 12, 2011.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 9:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would ask the member who has just raised a question to wait till he is recognized before speaking, if he wants to be recognized again.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

I appreciate that very much, Madam Chair.

With CIDA support, the Red Cross has distributed food and other essential items to 350,000 people and is providing emergency assistance and medical care for the wounded.

The Syrian Red Crescent Society has been able to distribute essentials to more than 60,000 people. The United Nations World Food Programme has provided food assistance to 235,000 people, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is assisting over 73,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, all with the financial support of the Canadian International Development Agency.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Chair, I was delighted to be in the House earlier this afternoon when the hon. member for Ottawa Centre moved the resolution on Syria and it was unanimously supported by the House. It was a great afternoon for all of the parties in the House to unanimously agree on a series of things that we as the Parliament of Canada can do to continue to exert the appropriate pressure through international agencies.

Could the parliamentary secretary tell us how important that is in our Department of Foreign Affairs when we are dealing with the UN or other international bodies to demonstrate that the Parliament of Canada is unanimously united behind resolutions with regard to the situation in Syria? Does it not make a huge difference in Canada's credibility that a unanimous resolution was passed by the House on the actions Canada and others should be taking?