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Evidence of meeting #13 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was obviously.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Let me speak to that. India is an established democracy with which we share a lot of values--common values. Canada can not allow our territory to be used to promote separation forces within India or terrorism; we feel very strongly about that and will continue to keep a watchful eye on it.

If I could speak to the situation in Sri Lanka, this has long been a significant concern for me personally. I should be very clear that our recent pronouncements on Sri Lanka are not related to electoral politics. There was not significant discussion of this during the election campaign--rather, after. Sri Lanka has accused a lot of political actors in Canada of using it for political gain here, but that is not the case, in my judgment.

We're very concerned about three things. One is the lack of accountability for very serious allegations of war crimes, particularly at the end of the civil war. We are deeply concerned that two years after the civil war we've seen no meaningful attempt at reconciliation with the Tamil minority community. Third, we're tremendously concerned about a growing authoritarian trend by the government in Colombo. This causes us deep concern. At the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, Canada led the discussion on this and expressed our deep concern.

The Commonwealth is supposed to be an institution that has some common values, and I had no hesitation in raising these issues bilaterally with my counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, and then in open session at Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister has said that if the situation is as it is today, he would not attend the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

I'm pretty proud that Canada led the discussion on this at the Commonwealth meeting in Perth. Colombo was supposed to host the Commonwealth this year; it was delayed by two years at the last meeting in Port of Spain. We hope that over the next two years this will be another impetus for some change.

They're coming out with their lessons learned report. I have to say that I was somewhat concerned when their report was supposed to be tabled in September before the Commonwealth meeting but was delayed by two months, until after the Commonwealth meeting. But we'll carefully review that.

I think the United Nations has had many challenges and many problems, but one area where I think we should speak up strongly in support of the UN and the Secretary General is his report on Sri Lanka. The content of that is deeply, deeply disturbing, as is the British television documentary about the human rights.... Frankly, I think there's room for investigation on both sides for human rights atrocities.

Other countries have taken ten years for reconciliation. Other countries never reconcile. But it's incredibly important. When there are allegations of such extreme human rights violations, we cannot turn our back on that, because it sends a terrible message to others in the future. There has to be accountability--and frankly on both sides.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much, Mr. Obhrai.

We're going to move over to the other side again, to Mr. LeBlanc. You have seven minutes, sir.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Minister, Mr. Rosenberg, and Mr. Patel for being here this morning.

Minister, you and I have talked about this over the last number of weeks and again this week. Your government has talked about the need for and the responsibility of Canada to play an important role in building democracy. This follows up a bit on the earlier question of my colleague.

From our perspective, the events in the Middle East this year have been remarkable. Dictatorships have been overthrown. Others are clearly threatened. But the success of this year's events--I hope you'll agree with me--will be measured in terms of whether we've instilled democratic values or helped foster democratic values in some of these countries and actually have instilled and helped build the actual instruments of a functioning democracy. Peace in the Middle East in this region and the security of Israel certainly depend on the success of these efforts of Canada and our allies who share these views.

I'm wondering if you can talk about specific projects or give us examples of specific projects that Canada may have been involved in or is considering undertaking with respect to building some of these democratic institutions in this region, and what Canadian NGOs or other partners the government is working with on these specific projects. I learned in your comments in reference to a previous question about a $3-million fund the department had. I had been informed or understood that there was a START fund, which I think the department has for some of these sorts of quick response circumstances.

I'm wondering if the START fund is another vehicle that you're looking at to help fund some of these democratic institutions. I think the START fund mandate is going to expire soon. I'm wondering if the department is planning to renew it or to extend it. Other than the amounts of money, are there examples of specific projects that we're considering in specific countries, and who would be the partners that Canada would be looking to?

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Let me say at the outset that Canada has a longstanding involvement in the region.

We responded to the Arab Spring by committing $10 million over five years to support a youth unemployment project in Egypt and almost $300,000 to support journalists during the pre-election period. That's important.

We recently approved $300,000 to support Egyptian parliamentarians with legislative drafting support.

In Tunisia we provided $100,000 of support for border registration.

Our government also was among the first to respond to the crisis in Libya. In addition to our substantial NATO contribution, we've committed some $10 million for humanitarian assistance to support a gender and legal expert to the National Transitional Council. We're very concerned about the issue of rape as an instrument of war, and we've offered support to assist in that regard. I think that obviously social support and accountability are incredibly important in that regard.

Also, we committed $10 million in October to help recover and secure weapons in Libya. I think by doing so we're standing in solidarity with the National Transitional Council and the people of Libya. The place is armed to the hilt, and obviously it causes us real concern that the state won't be...it will be these militias with a substantial amount of weaponry. There also, of course, are confirmed large stockpiles of chemical weapons in Libya. We'd obviously like to see the destruction of those materials take place as soon as possible, and frankly not just for the security of the people of Libya and the people of the region, but even a small quantity of that could cause great damage in Canada or in the west.

We support the UN Department of Political Affairs rapid response activities in the region to support democratic transitions and the prevention of violence. Our START program is providing support in the West Bank.

Canada has done a great job in supporting the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank on justice and establishing a security system, a court system. I met with Prime Minister Fayyad two weeks ago, and there's a great deal of gratitude for Canada's contribution there. The United States acknowledges the great work we've done there, as does, frankly, Israel. There has been a quiet success story in the West Bank under Prime Minister Fayyad's leadership and the START program has played a small role in that, I think.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

The START program was the source of some funding, you're right. I was in Israel at the beginning of this year as well, and our mission there in Ramallah was explaining the good work this judicial reform program was achieving. Am I correct in understanding the START funding would expire? Governments like to sunset things, as it's a nice phrase that makes people feel good, but it can be menacing to groups that are working on the ground there. I assume you're looking at renewing this funding, or you're not planning to have it all—

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I'm certainly supportive of the projects that are funded in the West Bank and elsewhere.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

In terms of Canadian NGOs, I'm curious as to the kinds of partners, if there are partners, either through the START fund or other funds, that your department is using to deliver some of these democracy-building and capacity-building initiatives.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We would be very pleased to get you a list.

For example, prior to the revolution in Egypt, Rights and Democracy had been involved with the project to support bloggers, about 50 bloggers. Those types of activities were pretty central to the changes in Egypt.

We'll get you a list.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

That would be great.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Frankly, I think on democratic development we're better off in maybe not giving money but giving Canadian expertise directly.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

I agree.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The National Transitional Council requested some legal support. We provided them with a lawyer to assist them in their transitional efforts.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Rosenberg would agree with me that money spent on legal fees is a good thing, of course.

8:55 a.m.

Some voices

Oh, oh!

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The former Deputy Attorney General.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

My final question, as we're running out of time.

Minister, I noticed you made some comments recently about Iran, North Korea, and Syria, and said that Canada's not going to stand by, they shouldn't expect Canada and other allies to stand by. Can you expand on what that might mean in terms of a more robust engagement? I mentioned three complicated places and I was curious. I read that phrase and I thought, I agree with that. I'm just wondering what you meant when you said that.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

If you look at Syria, we've been a very vocal critic of the situation. We have been among the first countries to bring in tough sanctions.

On Iran, we're working with our allies, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, on ramping up our diplomatic efforts against the regime.

In Iran, we're concerned for a number of reasons. One is their deteriorating human rights situation. Canada sponsors an annual resolution against the human rights abuses in Iran. We have a record number of people voting yes, and a growing number of people who used to support, used to vote no, are now abstaining, so we're pleased with that.

We're obviously concerned about significant evidence that Iran was looking at assassinating the Saudi ambassador in Washington by blowing up a restaurant in downtown Washington, and of course the nuclear program causes us deep concern.

Frankly, it's not just an issue for Israel. The fear in the gulf countries and the fear in North Africa and the Middle East about Iran is palpable. Whenever I've travelled, I've been quite surprised at the level of concern, of course.

We're not just concerned about Iran, but if it acquires nuclear weapons, what other countries in the region will want to follow suit? Regrettably, too often countries that acquire nuclear weapons like to share them with their friends, and they’ve provided substantial support to non-state actors: Hezbollah, Hamas, and others, and that causes us deep concern.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you.

We're going to move back and start our second round.

Five minutes, Mr. Goldring.

December 1st, 2011 / 8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for appearing here, Mr. Minister and gentlemen.

Remaining in the democracy theme of discussion, I'd like to talk a little bit and get your comments on the progression of events that are happening in the Ukraine and former Soviet countries as well. It goes without saying that even among the diaspora here in Canada, the 1.2 million, there's a great disappointment in the turn of events in Ukraine, from the Orange Revolution--the hopefulness of that--showing to the world a peaceful demonstration for democratic change. And following that, we seemingly saw it, because the follow-up elections, both parliamentary and presidential, were deemed to be fair and free and accepted. Even the last presidential election was deemed so.

With the turn of events now, we've seen the municipal elections that were not deemed to be fair and free, and now we have the circumstances of Tymoshenko, who was charged and jailed and she is in jail as we speak. Your comments to that were very much appreciated.

Where do we now go with this? What else can be done? I understand that Ukraine is up for the presidency or chairmanship of the OSCE in 2013, and we have an upcoming annual meeting with the OSCE in July. Normally, we send a group to these functions. Would that not be a good place to also reinforce your message and reinforce disappointment in the turn of events in Ukraine? Because it would appear as though democracy is slipping there.

As well, later this morning we'll be having the Belarus people here, and there are equally some concerns there. In other words, it seems to be turning back toward the old Soviet-style era of political intimidation. This is perceived to be politically motivated. It seems to be to eliminate Tymoshenko's candidacy in the upcoming elections.

Could I have your comments on that, please?

9 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We're deeply concerned about the Tymoshenko case. The clear issue in front of us is the judicial independence of her prosecution. We are now concerned about her health as well. Our colleague, the member for Wascana, both on Friday and yesterday raised this in the House. We are certainly prepared to offer support for her that I think, frankly, is also support for the democratic movement in Ukraine. If she needs medical treatment, she is certainly welcome to travel to Canada. We would facilitate that or, if necessary, see what we could do to provide medical assistance for her there.

This concern about her developing a strange illness is eerily familiar and causes us deep concern. We have spoken up very loudly and clearly on this issue directly to the political leadership in Kiev. I will be attending the OSCE meetings in Vilnius next week, where I'll raise it as well.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

I agree with you.

I spent the entire period of the Orange Revolution, the ten days, in Independence Square, and I experienced first-hand the old Soviet-style intimidation and scare tactics. It was pretty incredible, from blood in my room to other things. So definitely, end the poison scare.

Certainly those were the circumstances then. I have not experienced that since, and it's regrettable that we seem to be slipping back into that old style of intimidation and scare tactics again.

Would the OSCE be a good place to reinforce encouragement for members of Parliament, particularly with Ukraine coming up for the presidency of that group in the following year? What else could we do with the diaspora, with yourself, with other international bodies, to try to communicate as strongly as we can diplomatically our concerns for the area, to shine more light on it?

9 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I think the involvement of members of Parliament would only contribute positively in this regard, and we would certainly be prepared to support you in any way we could. Next week I will be raising this among my colleagues to see what can be done.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Perhaps there will be discussions on trade negotiations. I'm a firm believer that we should remain engaged. That's the way we deal with the circumstances--if there were a possibility or a circumstance for the foreign affairs department to visit and communicate with members of Parliament there, if there are any occasions for some trade discussions to at least put that subtle message forward that, packaged with our trade and international work, we certainly want to send the strong message of democratic engagement as well.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Obviously we're going to be mindful of all our relations with Ukraine in terms of the way the government conducts itself. We've been very clear--

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're going to move back over here to Madame Laverdière for five minutes, please.