An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Maria Mourani  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 25, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the National Defence Act so that when a foreign military mission includes or might include an offensive facet, the Minister must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 18, 2008 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-513 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

The House resumed from June 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2008 / 6:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for the wonderful speech she delivered earlier in favour of this bill. Once again, I invite all of my colleagues to reconsider their position—in particular, those who have declared that they will vote against the bill—to change their minds and vote in favour of this bill.

I believe that every person here is morally responsible any time our troops are sent abroad on an offensive mission. It is critical that the House be involved in making these decisions each time Canada wants to go to war. We cannot leave it up to the government's whim. We must entrench the government's obligation to obtain the consent of the House before deploying troops abroad in the National Defence Act. As I said, this applies to offensive missions only.

Unlike what my Conservative and Liberal colleagues said, if this bill is passed, the government will still be able to deploy troops in case of an emergency. It is not true that the government's hands are tied. This bill provides for some exemptions related to emergency situations. However, if some members still have concerns, I urge them to vote in favour of Bill C-513 anyway so that the bill can at least be amended in committee. It is very simple. The bill at least needs to be debated in committee.

War is not child's play. We are not playing with toy soldiers here. War is something serious, something fundamental in the life of a people. And I would like to say that in war, there are no winners. There is never a winner. There are only losers. The winner is usually considered to be the one who loses the least. So war is very important. It is not something minor. We are not voting on bills that, as my colleague mentioned, deal with small amounts of money. Aside from the fact that millions and millions of dollars are being invested—just look at Afghanistan—we have blood on our hands. We must never forget that.

When a government decides to go to war against another country, everyone in this House is responsible for the blood that will be shed there. Unfortunately, we cannot even decide on that, but we have the moral responsibility to bear that burden, and that is unacceptable.

In conclusion, Bill C-513 will enable Canada to show the world that democracy is not just a word; it is something that plays a role in all aspects of our institutions, as well as in the decision to go to war.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2008 / 5:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Harvey Conservative Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today.

The bill before us proposes significant changes to the way cabinet exercises one of its most important responsibilities, which is deploying troops as part of foreign military missions.

I am opposed to Bill C-513. The fact remains that the process we currently use to deploy our troops internationally works well.

As the parliamentary secretary said earlier, the current process helps ensure parliamentary transparency and oversight. There is nothing worse than taking something that is working well and making meaningless changes.

Aside from the fact that the bill does not recognize the extensive parliamentary oversight that currently exists as part of the government's commitment to hold a debate in the House on deployments of the Canadian Forces, this bill is rife with serious technical problems.

The bill requires that the House be summoned after prorogation, or even when Parliament has been dissolved. If we take the example of Parliament being dissolved, the main technical problems with the bill become very evident. The bill does not clearly state whether to summon the Parliament that was dissolved or the newly elected Parliament.

Another problem is the issue of active service, which my colleague also raised. I cannot overstate how wrong it is to assume that the Canadian Forces have to be placed on active service in order to be deployed abroad. That incorrect hypothesis has been made in Bill C-513.

As my colleague pointed out, and now is a good time to repeat it, placing members of the Canadian Forces on active service enables the Canadian Forces to keep troops on service as needed and enables military tribunals to impose various sentences for a number of military offences. That is why we do not really understand why the opposition member has introduced a bill that ties an active service designation to Canada's participation in a foreign mission.

It is important to point out that the Canadian Forces' regular forces are on active service as per Order in Council 1989-583, April 6, 1989. In fact, all members of the reserves serving outside Canada are on active service.

Before continuing the debate, I want to remind the members of the House about the essential work that our troops are doing on overseas missions, on which they have been responsibly and appropriately deployed by the government, using the existing process.

The Canadian Forces are currently deployed to 16 foreign missions on four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Over 2,900 soldiers, sailors and Canadian air force members are currently deployed to international operations. In addition to those already deployed, some 5,000 troops are preparing to participate in overseas missions or are on their way back here.

Our country has taken on an enormous commitment to support peace and security around the world and to promote Canadian values, such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

If Bill C-513 were passed, it would diminish Canada's ability to be a world leader. Why? Because the bill would require us to determine each facet of the mission quickly and precisely. To know such things, one would have to have a crystal ball.

Our troops participate in all kinds of missions around the world, humanitarian aid missions, peacekeeping missions, combat missions, interdiction operations and state building missions.

When it comes right down to it, foreign missions in which the Canadian Forces participate sometimes defy such simple classification.

Current threats and concerns pertaining to security are often multi-faceted and modern military missions dealing with them can be very complex. Often, they entail more than one type of operational activity at the same time. And most of the time, not only do they involve military personnel but they also require partnerships with military forces, governments and various organizations.

That is the case in Afghanistan, where Canada is taking part in a UN sanctioned mission under the direction of NATO and in collaboration with the democratically elected government of that country. The purpose of our mission is to help the Afghan people rebuild their country and establish a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society.

Consequently, the mission encompasses several types of operations. The country must be rebuilt. To attain this objective, our armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces in Afghanistan, help to provide the security needed to create an environment for reconstruction and progress.

The mission in Afghanistan also has a humanitarian component. It is helping to bring back five million refugees. It is making remarkable improvements in the physical health and the human rights of the Afghan people. It is helping them to build an infrastructure and an economy that were completely destroyed by the Taliban, leaving most Afghan citizens suffering from unimaginable poverty, hardship and suffering.

Canadian Forces personnel on the ground are working with our military allies to drive back those creating instability and violence and also with the departments and organizations of the Canadian government engaged in a whole-of-government approach.

This close cooperation between military and civilian institutions within Canada's mission and the entire NATO operation constitutes a new kind of mission. How would Bill C-513 classify that kind of mission? The answer is that this bill cannot classify this mission, because has been conceived in such a way as to meet the specific needs in Afghanistan and because it is constantly changing, for the same reason.

Bill C-513's attempt to define the offensive facets of military missions whose rules of engagement are not limited to the use of force for defence purposes, whether for the Canadian mission, the population or people placed under its protection, is gross oversimplification.

Some overseas missions in which Canadian Forces personnel are participating are of the same kind that became familiar to Canadians of the previous generation.

Some of them are what we could call classic peacekeeping operations, most of which have been going on for quite a long time. For instance, in the Sinai Peninsula, an Canadian air traffic control unit is contributing to the multinational mission to oversee the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which was concluded decades ago.

And this is not the only example of the Canadian Forces contributing to the implementation of a major peace initiative. Elsewhere, in the Middle East, the Canadian Forces are participating in the UN's Operation GLADIUS, to oversee the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria, which was reached at the end of the Yom Kippur war.

In closing, the bill before us today does nothing to improve existing legislation. It takes a course of action that is working and tries to replace it in a futile, harmful way. It creates confusion and misunderstanding of the current system.

For all these reasons, I urge the House of Commons to vote against this bill.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2008 / 5:45 p.m.
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Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to give my full support to the bill introduced by the hon. member for Ahuntsic.

My colleague has seen with her own two eyes what the expression “war zone” means. She went to Lebanon during the period following the Israeli attacks in the summer of 2006. I believe she knows exactly what she is talking about when speaking about the delicate situations facing our soldiers deployed abroad, especially in armed conflict zones.

I am very proud that my party introduced Bill C-513 and even more proud that it was my colleague who introduced it. In my time as a member of this House, we have had a number of opportunities to debate the relevance, importance and duration of Canadian military missions abroad.

That is how it should be in a parliamentary democracy. In this House, sometimes—let us be honest—we clash on relatively minor issues and we hotly debate bills that involve very small amounts of money. However, it is possible in this country, in this great democracy of ours, to send young people to risk their lives in conflict zones, without any debate in Parliament.

The Bloc Québécois has always defended the interests and values of Quebeckers, but we have always shown the utmost respect for Canadian institutions, starting with Parliament. I would like the government to show the same respect for Parliament and acknowledge that the House should vote on issues as important and challenges as fundamental as deploying our troops abroad.

We often hear that Canadian military missions abroad are geared toward peacekeeping and democracy building. Indeed, that is often the case, but we have to think about applying that rule at home. To do so, the decision whether or not to deploy troops in offensive missions must be made by the public and its representatives, in other words, the elected members.

Sometimes the public is not unanimous regarding its country's military involvement in a foreign mission. That is more often the rule than the exception. In a democracy, it is up to the public to decide on these issues that we cannot leave to the sole discretion of the government of the day.

Let us be clear: it is not a matter of allowing parliamentarians to interfere in the operational decisions of the Canadian Forces. Canada has people who are much more competent and more experienced than parliamentarians to make such decisions.

However, no decision is more important than the decision to deploy soldiers overseas, and that decision must be made by the House.

Soldiers from Quebec and Canada risk their lives to protect local people against attackers, defend our interests or restore and keep peace. We must carefully weigh all aspects of a situation and be sure to make the best, most informed choice possible before sending our young soldiers into harm's way.

We in the Bloc feel that it is important to amend section 32 of the National Defence Act when a foreign mission includes or might include an offensive facet.

Our current mission in Afghanistan is a telling example. Canada decided to join the mission because it is a member of NATO. The objective was to chase the Taliban out of Kabul and capture Osama bin Laden.

When the mission began to go on longer, the federal government began to subtly change what it was saying, implying that Canada was now in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons. Today, seven years later, far more money is allocated to the military aspect than to the humanitarian aspect of Canada's mission, and Canada and its allies are at serious risk of getting stuck in Afghanistan.

Moreover, we cannot ignore the fact that we have unfortunately lost more than 80 soldiers in Afghanistan.

The House held a vote on whether to extend the mission. That is as it should be.

The Bloc voted against extending the mission. We felt and still feel that Canada has done more than its share and that it is another country's turn to take over in southern Afghanistan.

True to their recent form, the Liberals hummed and hawed, deliberated and split hairs until no one in this House or anywhere in Canada understood anything anymore about their confusing and shifting position.

When the dust had settled, Parliament had voted to keep our soldiers in Afghanistan until 2011.

We are talking about Canadian military involvement that is going to go on for at least a decade. That is longer than Canada's involvement in the first world war, the second world war, the Korean war and the Gulf war.

Moreover, that is one of the main conclusions that can be drawn from this Afghan adventure. We know when the mission begins, but we never know when and under what conditions it will end. That is one more reason Parliament should make the initial decision. It is sometimes more momentous than we might like to believe.

Remember the American intervention in Southeast Asia. When the Americans sent their first “military advisors” to Vietnam at the very beginning of the 1960s, they had not idea that the war would end 15 years later, in 1975, with the American embassy staff in Saigon being evacuated by helicopter.

War is a system, a system with its own inner mechanism that is not controlled by those who first set it in motion. History's lessons are clear on this.

My colleague's bill seeks to require that a motion be moved in the House before each foreign mission that includes or might include an offensive facet.

I would like to remind the House that during the two global conflicts Canada was involved in, the House was able to make its opinion known. It was not with a motion, as my colleague's bill proposes, but rather as part of the throne speech, which outlined the measures that the government wished to take.

So even when world political issues were looming large, Parliament took the time to consider the implications of offensive military action.

Despite these two historic votes, nothing obliged the governments at the time to call on Parliament.

Today the Bloc Québécois is using principles and precedence to argue that, for each foreign mission, the minister should table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

I hope that all of my colleagues, from each of the parties represented in this House, will understand the important issue raised by this bill and that they will support it without hesitation.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-513.

In summary, this proposed enactment will amend the National Defence Act so when a foreign military mission include or might include an offensive facet, the minister must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of the intention to place our Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

The bill was introduced by my colleague from Ahuntsic with the best of intentions, a desire to include Canadians in one of the most important decisions that we, as elected officials, can make: the decision to call the Canadian Forces into action.

My riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is home to thousands of serving members, veterans and military families. They are the ones who bear the responsibility of carrying out the mission set out by the government. They do a tremendous job, and we all applaud their professionalism, their dedication and their courage.

A couple of weeks ago we had an opportunity to travel down to Bridgewater for a support the troops rally. Bridgewater is about an hour outside of Halifax. General Rick Hillier, the Minister of National Defence and a number of members of Parliament, including my colleagues from Cape Breton—Canso, Halifax West, Sydney—Victoria and Willowdale came down for the event. We were proud to stand with our Canadian Forces, with General Hillier, with the Minister of National Defence and with the many people who showed their support for the work they did.

My hearts goes out to the families and friends of Canadians who were lost during military service. They are the ones who feel first-hand the impact of choices made by government with regard to the deployment of troops.

For me, it hit home, on March 2, 2006, in a very personal way. In returning home from Ottawa that Friday morning, when I arrived in Halifax, we received word that Corporal Paul Davis had been killed in Afghanistan, one of the first Canadians to be killed in Afghanistan. His father Jim is a great friend of mine, and Jim and Sharon showed great courage through that whole time. They have continue to support the troops and insist that Paul's death was not in vain.

Listening to the concerns and feelings that Canadians have about the choices we make is very important. It is our job as MPs. We have been elected to represent our constituents.

With the best of intentions, I still do not feel that we can support the bill. I cannot support it and I will tell the House why.

The bill would require the Minister of National Defence to table a motion in the House to approve the deployment of troops overseas. If Parliament were in session, such a motion would be debated on the next sitting day of the House for three hours and then put to a vote. If introduced on a Friday, this would mean the vote would be delayed until the following Monday, again, that is precious time. Even worse, if Parliament were to be adjourned, prorogued or dissolved, it would be recalled within five days for debate and vote.

In terms of rapid response, a week can be a lifetime. Waiting for five days is sometimes simply not an option when we are talking about protecting innocent lives and doing the work that needs to be done. Canadians are justifiably proud of our DART team, which responds to humanitarian crises around the world in an astoundingly short period of time.

Although the bill specifies that in order to be put to Parliament, the mission would have to include an “offensive facet”, that term is poorly defined. I am concerned the bill could unintentionally affect our humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

I am also concerned that parliamentarians would be unable to make a fully informed decision on some occasions. Currently cabinet makes the decision whether to deploy Canadian troops. It has access to classified information that most members of Parliament do not, and I think that is important. Much of the information surrounding national security and defence, especially concerning military ops, alone or in cooperation with other countries is classified for the safety of military or other citizens abroad. We need to have access to all relevant information when making a decision of that magnitude.

I am concerned that the definitions in the bill are not complete. The bill specifies that it would only apply to foreign military missions containing an offensive facet, but the definitions of those terms are not clear. The nature of a mission may be different than originally thought when troops actually arrive on the ground or may change when it is in progress. These definitions do no reflect what actually happens in reality during a military mission and would be difficult to apply.

As we have seen in the case of the mission in Afghanistan, there was debate about whether to enter into the conflict. There was no debate in Parliament initially, but there have been two full debates since on the continuation of the mission and the role that the Canadian Forces play in Afghanistan.

There have also been many other debates on specific aspects of the mission as well as reports released by House of Commons committees. As we know, a special committee has now been set up to deal specifically with this mission.

Parliament does participate in these decisions by investigating the issues. There are important ways of bringing our constituents' voices forward, such as by studying these issues in committee and initiating debate in the House. I simply do not think it is practical or desirable to delay military missions that may require a quick and decisive start to be effective. I would suggest that guidelines for regular debate on continuing overseas military operations might be a better way to ensure that Parliament is getting sufficient input into these important decisions.

We could set a timeframe for a regular debate, for example, one or two years into a continuing mission, and mandate that there be a special joint committee of the House and Senate set up for any mission that lasts longer than a certain period of time. We could require that the appropriate ministers update the committee regularly on issues related to the mission.

Parliament has an important oversight role in terms of our military operations overseas. I think we all agree with that. I argued strongly that Parliament should debate the Afghanistan mission. Parliament has this oversight role and it is critical that we exercise it over Canada's military, but in my view, this bill just goes too far.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.
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Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice to this debate.

As the House knows, this is a government that is firmly committed to the principles of accountability, transparency and openness. We recognize the important role that Parliament plays in upholding these principles.

Parliamentarians, representing Canadians from coast to coast, form the fundamental building blocks of our democracy, which is why, from day one, the government recognized the value and importance of engaging the House.

Through rigorous debates and informed discussions, we have demonstrated our belief in Parliament's relevance. We have shown time and time again that we are committed to strengthening the role the House plays in decisions affecting Canada and Canadians.

However, the government is not prepared to support Bill C-513.

My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, has already eloquently outlined the many negative implications that the bill would have on the relationship between government and the Parliament of Canada in important areas related to national defence and to our ability to act effectively and rapidly in Canada's interest abroad.

My colleague reminded us of the dangers that the bill would pose to the Crown's prerogative in vital areas of foreign policy and defence. He reminded us that the bill would severely diminish Canada's standing as a reliable ally. He reminded us that the bill would severely compromise Canada's capacity to play a leadership role on the world stage.

Perhaps none of this should surprise us. The Bloc is not in the business of putting Canada first. In contrast to the Bloc, which seems to try everything possible to weaken Canada, our government does everything possible to strengthen Canada. That is why we oppose the bill.

In addition to the countless glaring problems with the bill, which my colleague outlined during the first hour of debate, I will use this opportunity to discuss the technical flaws that plague the bill. In this respect. I wish to speak to three key technical problems.

First, Bill C-513 would require the Minister of National Defence to table the declaration of intention to place Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons and would require the minister to table the declaration to place the Canadian military on active service for a foreign mission, which might include an offensive facet.

In requiring a declaration of intention to place Canadian Forces on active services, the proposed legislation fails to recognize that an order in council already exists that places all deployed Canadian Forces personnel on active service.

By virtue of OIC, PS.1989-583, April 6, 1989, the regular force component of the Canadian Forces is already on active service in Canada and abroad and reserve armed forces serving abroad are on active service. Moreover, the Canadian Forces, its components, units, elements and members can be deployed internationally without being placed on active service. They can be placed on active service without being deployed abroad.

Indeed, the placement of Canadian Forces members on active service has consequences, though upon discipline and the Canadian Forces' ability to retain a member at the conclusion of their service engagement.

For the benefit of the member opposite, it may be helpful to explain what it means for a member of the Canadian Forces to be on active service.

Placing a Canadian Forces member on active service merely allows the Canadian Forces to retain members in the service, if required, and allows service tribunals to impose more severe sentences in respect of some service offences.

The second technical flaw in my colleague's bill is that she fails to define clearly what she means by an offensive facet. The reference “offensive facets” implicitly suggests that offensive and defensive facets can be easily distinguished. One again, the member opposite has it wrong. Bill C-513 has it wrong. To distinguish between offensive and defensive facets of a mission is artificial, meaningless and misleading.

In the complex security environment of the 21st century, to describe the military's role as either offensive or defensive is an unfortunate oversimplification.

While the Bloc member may prefer to divide the world into simple dichotomies, French/ English, separatist/federalist, some things defy strict categories. The role of the military in a mission is not always subject to quick and easy classification as offensive or defensive. The issue is not black or white. All Canadian Forces missions are conducted pursuant to a national defence mandate. Offensive actions may be required while in a defensive role.

The third technical shortcoming of the bill pertains to its failures to include a provision on what would happen if Parliament was not in session, what happen if Parliament had been prorogued and what would happen if Parliament had been dissolved for an election.

In any of these cases, there would be a clear delay in order to secure the kind of authorization for which the bill calls. Such deals for a vital emergency military deployment could be disastrous. It is not difficult to imagine the challenges that would have resulted had Bill C-513 been in place in the summer of 2006, when Canada took action to rescue people in southern Lebanon. Would the member's bill require Parliament to have passed a motion to deploy troops to this rescue operate?

Oftentimes in the course of a rescue mission, soldiers may have to resort to the use of protective fire. When this happens, do the forces in this rescue operation still play a defensive role, Or have their efforts become offensive?

When Canadians elect a government, they entrust the government with an exclusive right to deploy our armed forces. To support the bill would be to undermine that trust. The current framework and system by which decisions are taken to deploy forces abroad is not broken. Bill C-513 would take a well-functioning arrangement and would break it.

Canada's Parliament has a long and distinguished history of considering our military deployments. We take these deployments seriously and Parliament's views are sought. We have held debates to ensure that Parliament is kept fully abreast of the actions of the Canadian Forces as they seek to bring peace and order in conflict situations. Whether 50 years ago, when Canadians were deployed to the Suez as part of the United Nations Emergency Force, or today in Afghanistan, Parliament's views have been heard and have been respected by our government.

In conclusion, while we appreciate the principle behind the legislation, serious and fundamental technical flaws mar Bill C-513. In addition to the technical flaws that mar the bill, the proposed legislation fails to recognize existing levels of parliamentary oversight. It fails to appreciate the importance of the government's authority to act quickly and decisively. In so doing, it fails Canadians.

The famed English philosopher, Edmund Burke once stated, that, “Parliament is a deliberate assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole”. I could not agree more. Here in this chamber we consider the business of all of Canada. As Canada's elected representatives, we carefully deliberate on every issue that will shape our collective future.

Today, we are continuing to build on a legacy that stretches back to the earliest days of our nation. I am proud to be a member of this government, a government that recognizes and honours this heritage. At all times, we have worked hard to advance the principles of accountability, transparency and openness.

However, we cannot support the bill. In attempting to fix a problem that, frankly, does not exist, it would risk undermining our government's very ability to carry out Canada's foreign and defence policy.

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2008 / 6:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Ahuntsic, for having thought to introduce Bill C-513.

I am very pleased to speak about Bill C-513, especially because the Bloc Québécois has long been asking Parliament for legislation requiring that Canada's involvement in important missions subject to international treaties or long-term foreign military missions be debated and voted on in the House of Commons.

Just as the House of Commons must ratify an agreement or a protocol with other countries, we believe that in 2008, the House must ratify a decision that commits Canada to a long-term military mission with an offensive facet.

The government must make decisions and choices, but when the decision pertains to long-term military operations where we must deploy men and women to another country and there is a risk of losing lives, we must, as democratically elected representatives, have the right to debate the matter in the House. This is a matter that goes well beyond political partisanship here in this House.

Furthermore, although Bill C-513 amends the two sections of the National Defence Act on sending troops on foreign missions that are deemed offensive, in other words, sections 31 and 32, it recognizes the government's prerogative to place the Canadian Forces on active service.

We are calling on the government to introduce a motion in the House of Commons before deploying Canadian troops on a foreign military mission that includes an offensive facet.

Bill C-513, introduced by my colleague from Ahuntsic, is a step in the right direction for updating the National Defence Act. In the past, there have been historic precedents where the government sought the support of parliamentarians before deploying troops abroad. I will provide some examples in a few minutes.

The wording of the bill is clear. The Minister must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons. In fact, the motion must specify the purpose of the mission, the location and the duration of the intervention. That said, this bill is not about one military operation in particular, but all military operations with an offensive facet.

As elected members, we all have a role to inform our constituents. When we make an important decision on a mission, it is extremely important to inform the public of the issues involved.

The National Defence Act currently stipulates that putting troops on active service is the prerogative of the government in power. We believe this act should be amended so that it is the elected representatives of the public who determine whether or not Canada takes part in an offensive mission abroad.

Since there is nothing in Canadian legislation that stipulates that the government must seek the permission of House of the Commons to pursue a foreign mission, we believe that the amendments to the National Defence Act will help modernize this legislation.

In the case of Afghanistan, the minority status of the Conservative government and pressure from the opposition parties to debate the matter in the House forced this government to introduce a motion in Parliament and hold a debate on the issue.

Bill C-513 would simply require future governments to use more or less the same formula. In case of an emergency or a foreign mission expected to last less than a week, the parliamentary approval process would not apply.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I believe that it is important to hold an emergency debate and a vote on the issue in order to make an informed decision.

To the Bloc Québécois, sending Canadian troops abroad is a very important matter. Such decisions must not be taken lightly. The Bloc Québécois believes that we have to modernize this legislation in order to democratize the deployment of troops to foreign countries.

Currently, the dynamics of the minority Conservative government are advantageous because a majority in the House is needed to make a decision. Canadians and Quebeckers would frown on a government that does not have the support of the majority making such important decisions without the support of a majority of the members of the House of Commons.

I would like to take a few moments to explain why this law has to be modernized. It is for reasons of principle and democratic reform.

All parliamentarians know that soldiers put their lives at risk during foreign missions. These soldiers are Quebeckers and Canadians with families and friends. They risk their lives in other countries because Canada asks them to go there to achieve a set security objective, such as protecting local people from attackers, protecting the interests of Canadians, or establishing peace.

No decision is more important than the one to deploy soldiers to foreign offensive missions. It goes without saying that managing the army and deciding which operations to participate in should be the prerogative of the government in power. It is up to the Minister of National Defence and the chief of the defence staff to decide which offensive actions to recommend.

Our bill does not seek to remove that power from the government. We believe that the decision to deploy troops to foreign countries should have the support of the people. In other words, to deploy troops to offensive missions on foreign soil, the federal government should have a mandate from the people through their representatives.

There are some clearly identifiable historical precedents. We can look at World War I, World War II and even the Gulf war.

With regard to World War I, in August 1914 both Houses of Parliament debated the matter on the occasion of the throne speech. Subsequently, the House adopted a motion approving the throne speech and thereby accepting the deployment of troops.

For World War II, the House also adopted a motion, in September 1939, and the next day the government issued an order in council declaring war on Germany.

As for the Gulf war, in 1990 the House passed a motion to send military members, vessels and aircraft. However, this motion gave approval after deployment. That is the difference.

The Gulf war example is more similar to modern conflicts. In Canada, governments currently make their decisions without true debate, simply by accepting a unilateral intervention sanctioned by an organization such as the UN. Yet, it should be imperative that debate on the matter take place before authorizing the deployment of troops.

In closing, although the Conservatives and the Liberals have advised us that they do not support Bill C-513, I hope that all parliamentarians in this House will take the time to study it properly before voting against such important modernization of legislation.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2008 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate on Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act, introduced by my colleague in the Bloc, the member for Ahuntsic. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the bill, and I commend the member for bringing forward a bill that generates an important debate.

At the very heart of the issue is the notion that there needs to be, to the maximum extent possible and feasible, parliamentary oversight for one of the most serious decisions, if not the most serious decisions a government makes and in which a Parliament either participates in a democratic, constructive way or is shut out. That decision is to send into harm's way the women and men of the Canadian armed forces to serve their country.

No one in this chamber questions the depth of commitment and the severity of the demands that places on what are largely the young men and women of our country and the impact it can have on their lives. I think we all are seized, whatever our particular perspective is on the details of this proposal, with the severity of such a decision. One hopes we are all committed to ensuring that the best possible reflection of the views, desires and wishes of the Canadian people is taken into account when such a decision is made.

In fairness, both the member for Richmond Hill on the Liberal bench and the parliamentary secretary from Edmonton Centre have raised some very practical questions and legitimate concerns about the workability of the private member's bill. However, without equivocation and without reservation, I and my colleagues support the intent of the bill, which is to ensure the Canadian people have, to the maximum extent possible, an opportunity to have their views and wishes on what is agreeably one of the most serious decisions we are ever compelled to make on their behalf as their elected representatives in Parliament.

I am also pleased a Bloc member has introduced this bill, at least bringing into the light of day the real issue about how we exercise responsibility around such issues. I was both surprised and disappointed, as I think a lot of people in Quebec were, that the Bloc, when given the opportunity to vote on the question of the Afghan mission, saw fit to give support the extension of it in what seemed at the time to be a very surprising decision, particularly given how extremely truncated and shrunken down that debate was. I am not talking about the most recent vote, but the previous one,

I remember, with a real sense of horror and dismay, the environment in which that debate took place here. It took place when I and the member for Richmond Hill had been back less than 72 hours from having visited Kandahar and Kabul, having come to the realization that there were many problems with the mission. Not a word was said by the foreign affairs minister at the time, now the defence minister, about the fact that this would be rammed through Parliament on very short notice, with absolutely no opportunity for there to be any real consideration of the implications. Also very little information was forthcoming on the basis that one could make a responsible decision.

Therefore, if this means Bloc members have thought about this and perhaps even have had second thoughts and some regrets about their decision in that context, then I would applaud them for giving it that further consideration. This may be one of the motivations behind the bill.

A great deal would be served by the bill going forward for further detailed consideration.

It did not surprise me but I was disappointed when the parliamentary secretary opened his comments by showing that it has taken the Conservative government less than two years to become every bit as arrogant as the Liberals. I do not want to misquote him but he basically suggested that since the Liberals and the Conservatives are the only parties that will ever govern this country it therefore is only what they think that matters and since both parties think this is a ridiculous idea then we should not even consider it.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how often those words were spoken by Liberals or Conservatives in the provinces and territories across this country where it turned out to be a ridiculous assertion. We just need to look at Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I hope this time next year I can say we can look at Nova Scotia where people said that when I sat alone in the Nova Scotia legislature.

It does not surprise me that kind of arrogant comment is made but it disappoints me in the context of such a serious debate.

I want to briefly quote from Professor David Bercuson, a witness who appeared before the national defence committee in the fall of 2006. I very much agree with his comments. He said:

... there ought to be much greater parliamentary control over troop deployments abroad. I have called for the necessity for Parliament to approve deployments of as small as 200 to 300 troops being sent overseas. I believe this is extremely necessary, not simply because of the forms of parliamentary democracy, but to engage the Canadian people in the debate about whether or not troops should be sent overseas.

That sentiment used to be expressed very often by members on the Conservative bench when they were in opposition, and now it is just like a closed door, not even worth a discussion, and mostly hurling insults at how inadequate this proposal is.

The bill merits further consideration. I think we all agree that this is the most serious thing that we are asked to do. We should be looking at this bill in detail. Other private members' bills have come forward that were inadequate and needed the expertise that comes before a committee. I think of Bill C-293 that was originally introduced as a private member's bill by the NDP and then taken up by the Liberals. It has been worked over both at the Senate committee and at our own foreign affairs committee. The bill has been improved to the point where I hope every member is ready to pass it after a huge investment of time and resources at committee level both in the Senate and in the House.

Private members' bills often start out as good ideas, with good intentions and in response to a genuine aspiration by the Canadian people. It is our responsibility to take those bills into a committee, discuss them, do further research, improve them and then move them forward. This bill is one that I genuinely believe Canadians would support.

I will finish by further quoting David Bercuson who said the following:

The people whom we are deploying abroad are also going in harm's way. By signing up to the Canadian military they have taken up, in a sense, an unlimited liability. They will lay their lives on the line for the people and the Government of Canada if necessary. There is no other citizen in this country, including the police, who has a liability that is unlimited. That is why I think your committee needs to have more power and authority than other committees in Parliament and why Parliament should vote on overseas deployments.

I hope we can move this bill forward and improve it to where it is a genuine reflection of what is needed in this country by way of accountability.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2008 / 6 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate this evening. First of all, I want to salute our forces, both at home and abroad, for the great work they do.

We are always cognizant of the fact that we have the ability to put our forces in harm's way and therefore the bill this evening is very interesting in terms of what it proposes to do. As we know, currently it is a Crown prerogative--that is, cabinet--to determine the sending of troops abroad, or it can be done through statutory powers under the National Defence Act under sections 31 and 32.

Obviously Bill C-513 is designed to enhance the role of the House. Currently we have debates on foreign policy issues, on issues with regard to Afghanistan and on the deployment of troops et cetera, but ultimately the authority rests with cabinet. A similar proposal was made in the United Kingdom in 2005-06 and the same debate occurred as to whether or not that role should be enhanced to give Parliament that ability.

Clearly, although the bill is well intended, the issue comes down to the fact that it would undermine the ability of a government to act quickly or to have flexibility in times of a crisis. The element of surprise of course would be lost as well in dealing with operations with the potential of jeopardizing our troops.

The bill does not specifically say whether or not it includes current missions and whether that would require additional troops; for example, if we wanted to add troops to particular operations abroad. The discretion of deploying troops rests with the governor in council, with cabinet. In my view and the view of our party, we should not try to constrain that.

Obviously there are questions that emerge in regard to the bill. If I may, I would like to address a few of them.

First, there is the definition of “foreign military mission”. I do not think it is workable. Does it include the smallest offensive act, such as, for example, a four man special operations team? Would it include that? Would it include the largest, such as a task force, for example, that we may be sending over?

As it is worded, this definition would include humanitarian missions. It could constrain the development, for example, of our DART capabilities. As we know, the team has responded in times of disaster. For example, it responded in Pakistan during the earthquake of 2005.

It is difficult to send any military force outside the country in less than a week. If we are going to debate it, it does not seem very practical. Clearly if we are sending our forces into a conflict situation, the other side, the enemy, would certainly be assessing what we are doing.

There is also the issue of “offensive facet”. It could be problematic. Again, it is not very practical. What type of deployment is this subject to? Theoretically, rules of engagement do not necessarily define the nature of the mission. For example, the Afghanistan mission could be labelled a defensive mission, but in reality it may require offensive tactics. I think we all understand that.

What falls under the umbrella of “offensive”? Offensive tactical measures are an effective component of a strategic defence.

If Canada is attacked, will self-defence be covered under this bill? Under NATO's article 5, will Parliament return to debate if collective defence is in fact decided upon by NATO countries? Will it be covered under the bill?

Will peacekeeping missions or peace enforcement be covered under the bill? What about warship deployments that can be offensive or defensive or that simply show the flag?

There are many issues. How about deployments of fighter aircraft or armed helicopters to escort humanitarian supplies? These are other examples that I would note.

I do not think that the bill as it is worded is very practical, because a peacekeeping mission can quickly turn into a peacemaking mission. Again, the issue is one of constraints. We have certainly seen examples of that over the years.

There is the definition of “active service”. What does that mean in practice? What does it mean for the regular forces? Are not all overseas missions active service? Therefore, is there a need for such a declaration? Our regular force elements might already be on an active service and require no further designation. With regard to reservists, here too, they have been brought to full time service, on contract, to support our regular forces without any formal declaration of moving to active service.

The intention will not be workable in practice and it cannot, in my view, be supportable. Again I refer to the armed forces parliamentary approval participation under Bill 16 that was done in the United Kingdom. A similar process was gone through and many of the same arguments that my hon. colleague across the aisle and others, I am sure, are going to be making were made at that time.

The regime suggested by the bill would be effective only in a minority situation. In a majority government, it would not be very practical. It lacks the legs to support its intentions. In theory it is a good idea, but again, the practical, workable aspects are not there. Under the bill it would not increase democracy, because certainly if there were a majority government, it would occur anyway.

In weighing the value of the efficiency in reacting versus the value for thorough debate, this bill is unworkable in a number of areas, in my view. The kind of debate outlined in the bill would be more effective if it took place early on, for months rather than hours. In three hours, I suggest, people are not going to be able to make the kind of critical decision that needs to be made. And as I said, sometimes one has to react very quickly to a situation. Parliament may not have all of the information at its disposal, such as classified information or documents of that nature, so sometimes it is going to be a making decision based on only part of the information.

This does not cover all foreign deployment in practice. Obviously that is an issue. In special circumstances that require quick deployment, the government may decide to act in advance of parliamentary debate. Once it is started, obviously these issues are debated in Parliament. The Liberal Party has been in government and knows about the kinds of situations that develop, and sometimes one simply cannot expect to have a three hour debate or a three month debate on an issue that requires a quick response, particularly when responding in concert with allies.

There is a culture and practice already in place in regard to parliamentary debate. We saw that on Afghanistan. It may not be perfect, but it certainly involves parliamentarians. This section does not include emergency offensive foreign military missions. That would have to be revised.

On the Emergencies Act, I note that it was developed to ensure that the Government of Canada can invoke, in exceptional situations, powers to deal with emergencies. This replaced the old War Measures Act, which some of us are old enough to remember.

Examples would include public welfare emergencies, severe natural disasters or major accidents affecting public welfare that are beyond the capacity or authority of a province or territory to handle. Government needs to respond quickly to these. Again, do we need to have a three hour debate to decide whether that should be done?

There are public order emergencies, such as security threats, that are beyond the capacity or the authority of a province or territory to handle, and there are international emergencies, including intimidation, coercion or the use of serious force or violence that threatens the sovereignty, security or an integral part of this country or its allies, again in terms of the response. Finally, there are war emergencies, such as war or other armed conflict, real or imminent, involving Canada or its allies.

Again, the Emergencies Act guarantees Parliament's right to review and if necessary revoke emergency powers. It ensures the government is accountable to Parliament. Ultimately, the government is responsible and accountable to this place. As I wind up, I suggest that this is an important check and certainly also an important balance.

Again, there are issues with the language, which are problematic, and although the bill is well intentioned, there are issues on the operational side that need to be fleshed out.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2008 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, deploying military personnel to trouble spots around the world is one of the gravest decisions that the Government of Canada can make, or any government can make. Like every government before us, we take this responsibility very seriously because Canadian interests and values are at stake, and lives hang in the balance.

Canada has a history of being able to react rapidly in support of our allies, our international obligations, in support of freedom and human rights. The only two parties that have ever governed, or likely will ever govern this country, have taken the same basic approach. While this government wholeheartedly supports and promotes vigorous parliamentary oversight of Canadian military operations, this bill goes beyond oversight. Unfortunately, Bill C-513 would fundamentally change the relationship between the government and Parliament in critical areas related to national defence.

At issue here is the government's authority to act quickly and decisively in defence of Canada and Canadians, and in support of international peace and security. Aside from restricting the Crown's prerogative in vital areas of foreign and defence policy, the bill is poorly worded and simply unworkable in the real world. And the real world is where the Canadian Forces must operate.

If this bill were adopted, the safety and security of Canadians would be compromised. Moreover, Canada's standing as a reliable ally and our capacity to play a leadership role on the world stage would be diminished.

The government takes parliamentary oversight of military deployments seriously.

Since we came to power, we have twice held votes in this House on the future of the Afghan mission: in May 2006 and in March 2008.

The Afghanistan issue has also been raised on numerous occasions during oral question period and on opposition days.

At least a third of the members of Parliament from all parties took part in the five-day debate that led to the decision to extend the operation until 2011.

In addition, the committees of the House and Senate have studied the issues related to military deployments, including deployments in Afghanistan. To date, two parliamentary committees have issued reports on the Afghan mission, and a third committee is preparing a report.

The assistance we give these committees clearly shows how important our government believes their work is. Ministers and senior officials regularly appear before these committees.

We have organized visits to Afghanistan so that the members of these committees can see for themselves the extraordinary work Canadians are doing there. The government has benefited from the hard work and thoughtful recommendations of the parliamentary committees.

My colleagues and I are glad that a new committee of the House has been set up to look at the mission in Afghanistan.

I would like to say that in addition to its oversight role, Parliament controls the public purse. Parliament has voted the funds needed for the Afghan mission and, ultimately, any other Canadian Forces operation.

No government could take part in a military operation as important as the mission in Afghanistan without the support of this House.

In short, the means exist for parliamentary oversight of Canadian Forces deployments abroad. And it is important that the tools available for the exercise of oversight be coherent. The proposed legislation does not meet that criteria.

The proposed legislation is unworkable. As written, the bill would require the government to receive Parliament's approval before it could put members of the Canadian Forces on active service and deploy them outside Canada on an operation with an “offensive facet”.

The term “active service” is used incorrectly in the proposed legislation. There is no legal requirement to put Canadian Forces members on active service when they are operationally deployed abroad. The placement of Canadian Forces members on active service simply allows the Canadian Forces to retain members in the service if required and allows service tribunals to impose more severe sentences in respect to some service offences.

Also, from a legal and military perspective, the phrase “offensive facet” is so ill-defined that it is essentially meaningless. When we deploy on an operation such as Afghanistan, or any peacekeeping operation that we have embarked on in the past, we have no idea about whether it is offensive or defensive. We may think we are leaving on a defensive operation, but it may turn offensive in a heartbeat.

In the modern security environment, lines can be blurred between what constitutes an offensive or defensive role. Would we wish to be deciphering the meaning of the term “offensive facet” when a situation arose that warranted the immediate deployment of Canadian troops to defend Canada's interests? I do not think so. I am sure we can all agree that we would not.

The most significant problem with this bill is that it seeks to redefine the relationship between the government and Parliament in critical areas of national defence. If adopted, this bill would require government to seek parliamentary approval before it could authorize military operations outside Canada. This could jeopardize Canadian interests and lives.

What if Parliament were not in session, or prorogued, or dissolved for an election? The delay in securing authorization of a military deployment could be lengthy and disastrous. Delay could cost Canadian lives.

I cannot imagine any country that would want to impose such restrictions, and with good reason. The government must be able to act quickly and decisively in the nation's interests. When there is a crisis, somebody has to be able to make a decision. That somebody is the Prime Minister, who, along with cabinet, can make decisions on behalf of the democratically elected Government of Canada.

If this bill were adopted, the government and the men and women of the Canadian Forces could face impossible challenges. Almost every military operation conducted outside Canada by the Canadian Forces is within a binational or multilateral framework, whether it be the United Nations, NATO, a coalition or NORAD.

Any country whose government cannot take military decisions quickly and decisively is a liability to its allies. A country that has to publicly debate a military mission could risk the operational security of its own forces and those of its allies. It would limit our forces' ability to respond effectively when crises occur in other countries. It would introduce a delay that could mean the difference between saving lives and being too late to do so.

In conclusion, this government supports rigorous parliamentary oversight of military operations. We have engaged Parliament through numerous debates and committee appearances. Members of the House twice have voted to extend the Afghanistan mission after lengthy debate, but the proposed legislation before us is not about oversight.

It is an attempt to fundamentally redefine the powers of the government and Parliament in critical areas related to national defence and it is misguided. It is misguided because it can prevent the government from acting quickly and decisively in a crisis. It is misguided because it could jeopardize Canadian interests and Canadian lives. It is misguided because it could cripple Canada's standing with our allies and diminish our capacity to play a leadership role on the world stage.

I urge all members of the House to oppose the bill. I think that members opposite in the Liberal Party, from their experience in dealing with these situations, would share the same view that the Conservative Party of Canada has had throughout history.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

moved that Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud today to debate Bill C-513, which I introduced on February 25.

This bill has to do with the process for deploying or placing Canadian armed forces on active service as part of foreign offensive missions. This bill would make the process for deploying our troops much more democratic.

We believe that the federal government should obtain the authorization of Parliament before deploying troops in foreign offensive missions. The deployment of troops is a government prerogative under the National Defence Act, but we think this act must be amended so that elected members determine whether or not Canada will participate in a foreign offensive mission. In fact, excluding parliamentarians from this decision amounts to a denial of democratic principles.

Let us look more closely at this bill. It amends sections 31 and 32 of the current National Defence Act, which govern troop deployment during foreign missions deemed offensive.

First, in section 31 we recognize the government's prerogative to place the Canadian Forces on active service. However, we amend this section so that the placing of the Canadian Forces on active service is subject to section 32, which we amend as follows.

First, the government must lay before the House a motion before sending Canadian troops on a foreign mission that includes or might include an offensive facet. This motion must be laid before the House within five days after the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service is issued.

Second, once the motion is laid before the House of Commons, the House must immediately take up and consider the motion.

Third, the debate must not go longer than three hours, after which the Speaker must put the question.

Fourth, the placing of the Canadian Forces on active service takes effect only once the House of Commons has ratified the motion.

Currently, under these two sections of the National Defence Act, the power to place the Canadian Forces on active service is in the hands of the Governor in Council and therefore the government alone. The act also gives the government a great deal of latitude; in fact, the government can make such a decision when it sees fit. Moreover, Parliament has no responsibility for giving prior approval, although Parliament must be summoned within 10 days if it has been adjourned for more than 10 days.

Nothing in the current act requires the government to consult Parliament before deploying troops on offensive missions. I can give a good example of this. We remember the arrogance of the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien, who refused to hold a vote in the House on the deployment of 3,000 Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2006, despite repeated demands by the three opposition parties that the government hold a vote in the House on sending armed troops on offensive missions.

I therefore hope that I will have the near-unanimous support of this House, seeing as how at the time, the Conservative Party, the NDP and the Bloc were calling for a vote in the House.

I could give other examples regarding how the government sometimes consults Parliament and sometimes does not, as it pleases. The Korean war is a perfect example. The government did not seek the consent of Parliament before going into Korea.

Nevertheless, on June 30, 1950, the Prime Minister decided that Parliament could be consulted if new facts emerged. In the end, Parliament never voted on the deployment of Canadian soldiers to Korea. However, if there had been legislation and if there had been an amendment to the legislation, Parliament would have been consulted before the government deployed troops to Korea. Members could have voted on whether or not they wanted Canada to go to war in Korea.

The Gulf war is another example. Because it was a UN-sanctioned multilateral action, like the Korean war, Canada did not have to declare war officially. The House was not able to vote on the matter before troops and ships were sent to the Persian Gulf; it was not consulted. On September 24, 1990, the Minister of National Defence tabled an order in the House to the effect that Canada was deploying troops and ships to that region. On October 23, 1990, the House passed a motion that supported sending military members, vessels and aircraft, but that motion was nothing more than approval after the deployment.

These examples clearly show that whether or not the government consults the House depends entirely on its own whims.

The bill that I am sponsoring today would free the House from the government's arbitrariness, regardless of the party in power. The government would not lose the power to deploy the Canadian Forces. Deployment would simply have to be approved by the House to take effect. After all, the government's power, like it or not, comes from Parliament. Parliamentarians are the ones who passed that legislation, and I believe that parliamentarians also have the power to amend it.

It is now 2008. I think it is high time we modernized this legislation by making it more democratic, by making the process of deploying troops abroad more democratic. Let us not forget that the decision to deploy troops abroad is a serious decision because it puts human lives in danger. Such decisions must not be taken lightly. They have a direct impact on men and women who risk their lives in foreign countries, who risk death.

It also has a major impact on the lives of these people, their families, their friends, their loved ones, and their community, which is directly affected when these people go away. It is not just about leaving a place, about leaving family and children behind. When the troops left for Afghanistan, we saw heartbreaking scenes of men and women leaving their children.

Regardless of the causes and the ideological reasons justifying deployment, we are making serious decisions here in the House when we decide to send the troops to fight in foreign countries.

We must not forget that it also has an impact on the people in the places to which our troops are deployed with their guns and weapons, regardless of the ideology participants are trying to protect. It has a major impact. Civilian populations endure invasions and the presence of foreign troops on their soil. Every day, women, men and children die. We have people being killed, but we also have people living in utter poverty because they are in a state of war.

It is our responsibility to protect our people and our soldiers, but it is also our responsibility to protect the civilian populations wherever we decide to get involved.

When troops are sent abroad to engage in war and take the offensive, there is a risk that these men and women might harm civilian populations. It is our responsibility to consider these casualties, what I would call terrible human losses.

Furthermore, I would say that war not only has a human and social impact, but an impact on society as a whole. We see this quite clearly in Quebec right now. The latest polls show that 70% of the population is completely opposed to our presence in Afghanistan. This has a major impact on the lives of these people, even if they do not have a brother, father, uncle, cousin, or mother serving in Afghanistan. Every day, when they turn on the television they see war and violence. Whether we like it or not we are fighting violence.

I do not believe in fighting violence with violence. It is not a good image for the country in question. I am talking about Canada. Perhaps one day we will be talking about Quebec, but Quebec will not go to war.

It is an image. I want to tell hon. members something. When I went to Lebanon during the Israeli-Lebanese crisis, people told me that Canada is a country of peace and human rights. It is a country that stands up for human rights. They wondered, “What is happening to Canada? Why did Canada take a unilateral position with Israel? What is going on?” We project an image and our troops project an image. But we, as elected representatives, have a message. We project an image and we have our soldiers project that image. If we make bad decisions, it reflects on our soldiers in Afghanistan, Lebanon or anywhere else. They are currently not in Lebanon, but if they were there or elsewhere, it is important to consider what is going on here.

We make the military decisions, but we are not the ones on the ground with the weapons. Other people have to go there with their weapons and deal with the consequences of our decisions. We have to make our decisions properly and democratically to at least have the support of our constituents for the decisions we make.

The people are never wrong. They can be fooled, but they are never wrong. When 70% of people say they do not want Canada to be in Afghanistan, that means something. We must listen. I think it is our duty to have the ability to be humble and realize that, even though we are here, we are not gods and we do not know everything. We are here to make difficult but important decisions and we must make them together. The decisions should not be made by just one side, by the government, and suddenly, we are all at war. No, such a decision should be made by everyone in this House and then we should bear the consequences of that decision together, because it is the people who will also have to bear them.

Sending troops overseas has a major economic impact. I am a caring woman. Since I see I have only a minute left, I will speed up.

Economically speaking, war is very expensive. There is a great deal of poverty in Canada. There are a million children living in poverty. It would be good to use this money to address or perhaps eliminate poverty, instead of investing it in weapons.

In closing, with Bill C-513, we hope to enshrine in legislate the government's obligation to obtain the assent of the House before deploying troops overseas. We think this is a major democratic reform, and I strongly urge all members to vote in favour of this important bill.

National Defence ActRoutine Proceedings

February 25th, 2008 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission).

Mr. Speaker, the bill I am introducing today at first reading would amend the National Defence Act so that when a foreign military mission includes or might include an offensive facet, the minister in question must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

This essentially means that when any government decides to undertake a mission involving a military component, it must table a motion in the House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)