Mr. Speaker, on several occasions already we have had a chance to speak in the House on subjects concerning the peace missions. As did the member from the Liberal Party and my colleague from Foreign Affairs, we thanked the member for Fraser Valley East for having given us, by means of this bill, an opportunity to discuss the peace missions.
During the review of Canada's defence policy, the question of peacekeeping missions came up in the discussions of the national defence committee, of which I am a member.
When you look at Bill C-295, as the previous speaker remarked, you realize that there is an all-party consensus on the principle of peacekeeping missions and the humanitarian way. I would like to add that the people of Quebec and of Canada accept the fact that Canada participates in peacekeeping missions.
However, I am far from sure that this bill will remedy the shortcomings that have been noted during recent peacekeeping missions, whether in Rwanda or more recently still in the former Yugoslavia.
In my opinion, the bill-and we support it in principle, as I said-contains certain restrictions that are not spelled out as the Bloc Quebecois has requested on a number of occasions. As well, in the report on the review of Canada's defence policy, the member for Shefford and I asked on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois that criteria for peacekeeping missions be defined. Nowhere, either in the bill or in a statement by the government, is there set out what Canada thinks should be the basis for a clear definition of criteria governing participation by our military personnel in other or possible future peacekeeping missions. And yet Canada is supposed to be a leader in peacekeeping missions.
The government or some of its spokesmen have expressed reservations about the bill, saying that the fact that a peacekeeping mission agreement would have to be discussed in the House would slow down the effectiveness and speed of a decision and that this could be prejudicial to certain categories of mission.
Looking at the current mission, I think that argument does not hold a great deal of water, because ever since the conflict in the former Yugoslavia started, the Canadian government has been havering and wavering and sometimes even flip-flopping. When the Minister of Foreign Affairs told the UN last summer that Canada would be encouraging the UN to set up a permanent contingent and that Canada would participate, the Department of National Defence retorted that Canadian military personnel could not serve under an operational command that was not Canadian, and the whole issue is still up in the air.
In my opinion, with respect to peacekeeping in general and the current conflict in the former Yugoslavia in particular, the views of the citizens who pay for the humanitarian mission with their taxes are not given much attention.
Almost 1,800 of the peacekeepers in Bosnia come from CFB Valcartier, which is in my riding, and I can tell you that the people there are extremely interested in any discussion in this House of peacekeeping missions and also in statements from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister, or the Minister of National Defence. Some of them would like to know how it happened that in April 1992 Canada recognized Bosnia-Hercegovina as a sovereign state and called attention to Serb aggression, when throughout the conflict there seems to have been a certain slackness on the UN's part, recognized on all sides.
I have already reminded this House once that General Dallaire said that more than 200 UN resolutions had never been implemented and that with the amount of dithering going on it seemed possible the Serbs would end up laughing at the UN and the international organization.
The Minister of Defence was also reported recently to have said he was beginning to believe that the Serbs were playing cat and mouse.
I would like to add, because the bill does address the peace missions, that when soldiers return from missions, we hear some strange things. We also hear them from European parliamentarians who say that, since the UN has taken a great deal of time to act and change course-Indeed, several persons have requested either a change in the Security Council or a change in the way its resolutions are actually implemented; some persons are trying to say that at present the peace missions are no longer peace missions but no more than buffers between warring parties. They are even going so far as to say that UN peacekeepers, sometimes against their will, or because of the laxity of the UN, will practically be maintaining the conflict or making it drag on.
Mr. Speaker, you are not unaware-you have certainly heard-that when humanitarian convoys travel in the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia, or the self-proclaimed pseudo-Serb republic inside Bosnian territory, they are stopped at the checkpoints and, often enough, equipment, trucks and even food supplies are seized; Serbian soldiers or sometimes Bosnian soldiers then use the goods-ostensibly requisitioned for checkpoint purposes-to line their own pockets by selling them.
I think that the bill on the peace missions is certainly of value, and we agree with it in principle. I would go farther in that direction and say that it is high time the government made a decision once and for all, some aspects of which would certainly be referred to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs or the Defence Committee. It is high time to specify some basic criteria, before sending off our peacekeepers as part of peace missions without previously defining how far they are to go, how long they are to endure being slapped on one cheek and turning the other, and how long they are to be given equipment; I say "given" ironically, because very often that equipment is seized. Unfortunately-or perhaps fortunately-those things are known.
When soldiers return from missions, they mention the damning facts I have mentioned to you. At that point, the public, which, through its taxes, does send our peacekeepers on humanitarian missions, finds it hard to accept that Canada, the leader in peace missions, does not take the lead at the UN once and for all and make a really valid proposal for change that, I am sure, would be accepted by the parties in this House.
There is far too much hesitation and procrastination. I believe we have reached a point where we must-without necessarily pounding the table and becoming belligerent, something Canada has never been-at least manage to define a clear policy. For some eight or 10 months, since the first debates in this House on the peace missions, the Bloc Quebecois has in fact requested that specific criteria be established regarding the role our peacekeepers are called upon to carry out and also regarding a definition of our participation-military or humanitarian-that can be targeted, not only within a budget, but also within the limits of what is acceptable.
After all, we must not delude ourselves and begin to react energetically when we see hostages taken by the Serbs. People saw that on television screens all over the world. I think that chaining up a soldier as a human shield alone runs counter to every principle of the Geneva Convention governing countries at war. Unfortunately, both Canada and the other UN member countries took that incident lightly and hardly reacted to acts that can only be described as barbaric.
In conclusion, I believe that this bill is essentially a good idea, but it needs elaboration, and I would suggest to the government that it initiate a discussion process, both at Foreign Affairs and in the defence committee, with very precise criteria.