That this House reaffirm its condemnation of the terrorist attacks against our NATO ally, the United States of America, on September 11, 2001, and affirm its support for Canada's courageous men and women in the Canadian Forces who are responding to defend freedom and democracy in the international military coalition against terrorism; and
That this House hereby order the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs to sit jointly to hold frequent meetings with ministers and officials of the government and the military.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Saint John.
Five weeks ago Canadians lived in a world which felt much safer and more secure than it does today. The terrorist attacks of September 11 literally changed our lives forever.
These attacks took place on American soil, but they resulted in the death of Canadians. These assaults against freedom and order, which are values that are dear to Canadians, put an end to an illusory feeling of invulnerability that may have been more deep rooted here than in the land of our super powerful neighbour.
This attack was also directed against us, against who we are and what we believe in. It is our duty to react, not out of vengeance, but to protect our communities, to comfort and help our friends for whom any feeling of safety is gone, and to prevent a repeat of such terrorist acts.
I commend the Canadian government for now playing a more active role, including a military role, in the common front and common fight against terrorism.
The motion has three purposes. First, we will vote today to reaffirm our condemnation of the terrorist attack.
Second, we will vote to affirm our support for the courageous men and women of the Canadian armed forces who will be joining the international military coalition to fight terrorism and defend free and orderly societies.
Third, we will vote to order the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs to meet jointly and frequently to hear and examine ministers and officials of the government.
September 11 was a turning point in all our lives, an event marked by cruel losses, grotesque images, fear, anger, sleeplessness and helplessness. We have seen the looks on the faces of children who comprehend the anxiety better than we may think and wonder when their lives can be normal again.
This is Canada today. It is a country alert to a profound threat and consumed by an unaccustomed fear and sadness. It is a country that does not often ask for leadership, but Canada wants leadership now.
All of us in the House share responsibility for that leadership. We need leadership both in the short term, in playing Canada's full and unequivocal part in the common front against terrorism, and in the longer term in ensuring Canada has the military strength to meet its responsibilities. In concert with our allies, our intelligence services must be strong enough not to be taken by surprise again. We must ensure that Canada again assumes a leading role in international development.
As my colleague from Saint John will argue, we have let our military capacity run down dangerously and we are paying a price for it now. If public opinion is against military spending we need to change public opinion. Working for peace but planning to fight when necessary is decidedly better than planning for peace and hoping others will defend us when we are in trouble.
No one wants to imagine the kind of situation we would be facing in the world today if the United States had shirked its military responsibilities the way we have tiptoed around ours.
Let us be clear about our immediate obligation. It is to find, fight and stop the September 11 terrorists. The country of Afghanistan is not the target. The ravaged people of Afghanistan are not the target. That is why military strikes and humanitarian aid are being sent simultaneously. The target is the terrorists whom the Taliban regime cultivates and protects. The purpose is to cause the Taliban to surrender the terrorists.
The first attempts were diplomatic. That is why the coalition was so carefully built. That is why Prime Minister Blair was in Pakistan playing the last diplomatic card. We all knew the only argument that might persuade the Taliban was the threat of force, and one does not threaten force unless one intends to use it.
From the public statements of al-Qaeda we can only assume that the terrorists plan future attacks against the men, women and children of North America. The Government of Canada would know because it has access to intelligence assessments of the question, assessments the Prime Minister has refused to share with the House or with Canadians generally. However other governments have been more open with their assessments of the threat we face and they believe it is real.
I have always argued that one of the distinguishing assets of Canada in the world is a moral authority. If we have a moral authority we must use it or risk losing it. In these circumstances our language and our actions must be strong, clear and unequivocal. There is no moral justification for the statements and actions of the al-Qaeda network and Osama bin Laden.
I have been to refugee camps in the Middle East and in Peshawar. I have been to ground zero in New York. The horror of one does not justify the horror of the other. No serious student of the modern world would dispute that poverty, desperation and envy are spawning grounds for terrorism.
There can be no doubt at all that Canada and other democracies have let our commitment to international development and justice falter. That commitment must be renewed in the interest of populations who suffer and in our own interest.
However let us not confuse the conditions which spawn terrorism with the cynical, calculated, cold blooded and deadly determination of an Osama bin Laden to exploit those conditions. These terrorists are professional, well trained, well funded killers. It is clear who they are. They are terrorists. Spreading fear and terror is their motivation. Terrorism is their only real religion.
On September 11 Osama bin Laden and his followers killed Muslims, Christians and Jews. He killed men, women and children. He killed rich people and poor people. He asked for nothing. He made no demands. He put forward no agenda. He accepted no responsibility. He and the killers he recruited and shaped deserve scorn, not understanding. No one in the House or in the country should confuse the conditions which might nurture terrorism with the cold blooded criminal intent to exploit those conditions.
The urgent task now is to catch and stop the criminals whose weapon is reckless terror. That is why it is right and necessary for Canada to play a full and active military role. The motion calls on the government to keep parliament and Canadians informed about the crisis in the same way parliament and Canadians were informed during the gulf war. We propose the same procedure that members of the government argued for and used so constructively during that crisis.
At other times I will argue that the government has a general obligation to inform and involve Canadians. What I will argue today is that informing and involving Canadians is an opportunity to enlarge the contribution Canada and its citizens can make to the campaign against terrorism. Parliamentarians and private citizens must plan responses to the attacks. We need the most basic information about the government's analysis of the threat.
I understand fully the need for confidentiality on sensitive matters. My diplomats moved hostages out of Iran. I briefed the House and its committees fully during the gulf war. What is at issue here is not a matter of national security. It is about the practical value of facts and the advantage of information in helping to mobilize and reassure a free society. That reassurance is important.
Ordinary Canadians are more concerned about their safety and their children's safety than they have been in decades. Each new report of anthrax, crop dusters or outrageous statements by Osama bin Laden and his followers increase that anxiety.
Ignorance feeds fear. Secrecy feeds fear. Facts fight fear. One reason to tell Canadians the truth is that it would help offset the worries that secrecy inspires. Another powerful reason is that getting the facts out would help mobilize the information and insights of Canadians outside government who know things the government does not know.
Let us be realistic. Osama bin Laden did not plan his attacks on a computer or communicate by Internet. The plots began quite literally in some obscure corner of the world which most Canadians do not know and which our security services do not know well enough. They have not kept up to date in Canada or among our allies.
On the other hand, there are Canadians who work in that part of the globe and who know the language, culture and anguish of its inhabitants.
For these reasons, the government should agree to share with parliament and Canadians more of the information that it has.