Madam Speaker, I asked the question in the House of the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning the legislation passed by the Russian parliament disenfranchising religious minorities. It is an affront to those who believe in religious freedom, democratic values and human rights.
To his credit, the minister raised the issue with representatives of the Russian government and expressed Canada's dismay at the passage of the legislation. Coincidentally, the Prime Minister was in Russia on that very same day trying to get President Yeltsin to sign on for the land mine treaty and to stand up for the legal rights for Canadian investors in Russia.
News reports disclose a potential $70 million loss on a Canadian investment despite international and Russian judgments in favour of the Canadian investors. News reports also disclose the climate of fear and intimidation to the Canadian employees and investors of that company.
Despite the Prime Minister's intervention, President Yeltsin had the nerve to complain that Canada was not investing enough.
Is there a connection between the abuse of religious minority rights and the abuse of investors' legal rights? I would submit that the two are inextricably linked. Religious minority rights in particular but human rights in general are the canary in the mine shaft.
A country which abuses its religious minority rights will abuse other legal rights as well. Abuse of religious minority rights and abuse of other legal rights go together.
When Canadians contemplate investments in countries which routinely abuse minority rights, they put their investments at risk. It is part of the bottom line and should be part of the government's advice to Canadian companies contemplating investments in countries whose human rights' records are somewhat dismal. It is as important a consideration as dollar fluctuations, interest rates and workforce skills. Losing one's investments is the most significant cost of doing business.
We need to move to the protection of religious and human rights from the fringe agenda to the concerned and make it part of the business agenda. The only language that Russia and other nations that abuse religious minority rights understand is money. If the investment money dries up, there may just be an incentive to provide a legal framework for the protection of those citizens and the international investors which will lead to prosperity and protection for all.