Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to add my comments to those of my colleagues in the House on this motion.
The motion before the House begins by calling on the House to condemn the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 as crimes against humanity. Certainly everyone in the House will agree with that aspect of the motion. As many of us have pointed out, the most unfortunate acts referred to were crimes not against a nation or a government but were crimes against every right-thinking moral person in the world. It goes without saying that humanity itself was a victim of these crimes.
The motion then calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice in accordance with international law and within the framework of the United Nations. Again I think the entire House will be in total agreement with that aspect of the resolution.
Just as there can be no moral or practical justification for the indiscriminate mass murder on September 11, there can also be no justification for an indiscriminate, intemperate or ill-informed violent response. However, there is considerable latitude within the terms of the motion for responsible nations to act decisively and forcefully against the perpetrators of terrorist acts.
United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 reaffirms “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” as recognized by the charter of the United Nations.
It also reaffirms “the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the charter of the United Nations, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”. To say that any action taken against terrorists and in particular against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks must be taken within the framework of the United Nations does not significantly limit the scope of measures available to any individual nation or alliance of nations. Moreover, the motion leaves the door open for an individual nation or alliance to take measures against countries that harbour terrorists, which is quite appropriate.
Resolution 1373 reaffirms that every state has the duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting, or participating in terrorist acts in another state, or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed toward the commission of such acts. Taken together with “the need to combat by all means...threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” and the inherent right to individual or collective self-defence against terrorism, this clause gives approval to actions taken by a state that has been victimized by terrorism against states that sponsor terrorism.
Paragraph (b) of the motion before us endorses the objectives of resolution 1373. Many of those objectives are exactly in keeping with what the official opposition and many other members on this side of the House have called for not just recently, and not just in response to the tragic events of three weeks ago, but rather for a considerable length of time.
Given my limited time today, I will dedicate the remainder of my speech to one particularly important objective of resolution 1373. I refer to the clause in the resolution which calls on all states to work together urgently to prevent and suppress terrorist acts, including through increased co-operation and full implementation of the relevant international conventions against terrorism.
Many nations took significant steps toward realizing those objectives long before resolution 1373 was passed. For example, the United Kingdom and the United States have already undertaken joint measures to locate those responsible for the September 11 attacks and to bring them to justice, as we all hope will happen. All 15 countries of the European Union have agreed to joint measures to combat terrorism. NATO has reaffirmed section 5 of its charter, which binds all member countries to act in defence of one another. All of those actions were taken urgently and all of those actions were taken together as the resolution calls for.
Unfortunately in our case it has been the inability of the government to demonstrate by more than words its commitment, which other nations have demonstrated already, to the battle against terrorism, such as for example, military commitments or the seizure of assets. Unfortunately there has been very little togetherness with other nations and even less urgency in the government's response to the terrorist threat.
The government seems to believe that safeguarding Canadian sovereignty consists of distancing itself or openly opposing any policy supported by the United States, even if it means also opposing the desires of Canadians.
The Liberal government has seized every opportunity for many years now to differentiate Canadian foreign policy from that of the United States in its effort to appeal to the insecurity and the envy with which some Canadians too often regard our southern neighbour. This is not a sign of confidence in our own sovereignty or in our own nationhood. The deliberate and overblown divergence of Liberal foreign policy from that of the U.S. has served the domestic image of the Liberal Party well at times. What the Liberals do not appreciate is that on September 11 those feelings of insecurity and envy were supplanted in the hearts of Canadians by feelings of kinship and feelings of obligation toward the United States.
The government's position has been one of vacillation between initial denials that there was anything wrong or that Canada had any involvement, complicity or responsibility in any way as articulated by the solicitor general and by the Prime Minister himself, to gradual and begrudging foot-dragging commitments to certain action which should be undertaken.
When questioned in the House the immigration minister denied there was anything that needed to be done in addition to what she had already done. Outside the House she declared there was tough new legislation on the way, which of course as we know is neither tough nor new. The reality is somewhat different from that which has been portrayed by the immigration minister.
The Prime Minister refused to outline here in the House any specific military commitments, or other commitments in fact, which we as a nation would be making in support of this battle, but was pleased to make an announcement of our willingness to commit in a military manner on a United States cable program hosted by Larry King. This is the kind of disrespect and vacillation of which Canadians grow weary. Just as the war on terrorism is a different kind of war for the United States, the issue of Canada's role in ensuring North American security presents a very different kind of war for the government of the day.
Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Canadians believe that Canada should be fully engaged in the fight against terrorism on all fronts at home and abroad. By deliberately responding to American calls for a more secure North American perimeter and by failing to adapt its foreign policy to reflect the zero tolerance attitude which Canadians have toward terrorists and those who harbour them, I believe the government has demonstrated that it has lost touch with public sentiment. For example, when American authorities suggest common standards for the admission of new arrivals in North America, the Prime Minister's immediate response is to tell Canadians that such an approach would require the sacrifice of Canadian values. Either he does not understand that immigration policies can be at once rigorous and generous or he believes wrongly that Canadians' tolerance of cultural diversity extends to would-be murderers. Either way, he is clearly out of touch with the attitude of Canadians.
When the United States and other nations enacted legislation outlawing terrorist organizations and prohibiting them from raising funds, the government answered by outlawing tax deductions for those who donate to terrorist groups. Rather than prohibiting funding for terrorist groups, the government has decided to tax it. This is inadequate tokenism.
The American response to the threat of aircraft hijackings is to place air marshals on all U.S. flights. The Canadian response to the same threat is to seize nail clippers from passengers and replace metal butter knives used during in-flight meals with plastic ones.
While the American president unequivocally states that those countries that do not side with the United States in the war on terrorism have chosen to be on the side of the terrorists, the Liberal Government of Canada sends aid to every country on the U.S. state department's list of states that sponsor terrorism, aid which the Auditor General of Canada said is not well tracked. Recently, aid sent to the Taliban regime, to Afghanistan, was seized by the Taliban regime for what use we do not know, though there is the possibility that such aid would be diverted to purposes not intended by those who offered it.
Our foreign affairs department has indicated that it will be supporting the bid of one of the countries that is most notorious for hosting terrorists in the world, Syria, to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Again the government demonstrates that its deeds do not reflect the good words it says about fighting terrorism and about joining with other free thinking countries to fight terrorism in the world.
Even compared to countries much further removed from the September 11 attacks, the government response has been puny and/or inappropriate. It took the 15 diverse countries of the European Union only eight days to enact tough, joint anti-terrorism legislation. Yet Canada refuses to adopt joint security measures with its closest ally with whom we share the world's longest undefended border, the largest trade partnership and greatest military dependence.
As Great Britain and other European countries deploy impressive military resources to assist the United States on the front lines of the war against terrorism, the Conference of Defence Associations reports that the Canadian forces are “simply not operationally ready to do our part in the defence of North America, let alone in combating terrorism abroad”. What a shame. We know that under the government our military resources have been depleted. We know that our ability to contribute militarily has been damaged. That being said, certainly there are other things we could be doing.
I was pleased to learn yesterday that the government has decided to establish a committee, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs as its chair, to co-ordinate the response to these many issues. I was pleased because I have been heartened by the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs on these issues. I would hope that the committee and the minister can prove that the committee is more than a token effort to appear to be dealing with an issue, but rather it is a genuine effort to co-ordinate a meaningful response to what Canadians believe is a series of issues that require such meaningful response. I do not question the minister's sincerity, though it does stand in stark contrast to the words of too many of his front bench colleagues over the last three weeks.
If the government wants to dispel the impression that we are following the United States, then it should stop following the United States and get in front and lead the United States. Instead of simply refusing to budge on United States initiatives or foot dragging, the government should assert Canadian sovereignty and put on the table specific and concrete offers, whether they are for assistance or in terms of policy changes.
Offers to our allies in their time of need are important, not just to be made, but to be genuinely and promptly given before being asked. The failure of the government to do so does not assert our sovereignty. It is quite the opposite. What it does is it makes us less a nation.
The final recommendation of the motion before us would require the government to table an action plan to fight racism against Arab and Muslim Canadians. Of course any response to the atrocities of September 11 must be appropriately targeted. It must be well informed and judicious. We do not want to overreact as has been the case in our history and in the history of other nations to these atrocities. We want to respond reasonably, intelligently and fairly.
Similarly, those attacks were not carried out by a particular nation or race or religious group. The attacks were carried out by terrorists who do not share our values. We are all naturally disgusted when we see misguided, racist attacks on particular Canadians or on any other person. Simply because people are of the same ethnicity or religion as the terrorists gives no justification whatsoever for such acts. Certainly I was pleased to see other members rise and make testament to the truth of that feeling in the House.
However, it is surely alarmist to refer to a few isolated incidents of bigotry as “a rising tide of intolerance and racism within our country”. The motion is extreme in those words. As tragic as these incidents are, I believe that fortunately they are rare exceptions to the general reaction of Canadians, to the general attitude of Canadians, to the general tolerance that exists within the country. We must not lose sight of that.
The vast majority of Canadians have felt a greater kinship with one another and with other tolerant and freedom loving people everywhere regardless of race, creed or colour in the wake of the attacks in New York City and Washington.
I would pause to question whether a detailed action plan on the part of the government would be useful in combating these instances of racist aggression that might arise. The most effective means of combating such acts is for each of us, for the tolerant majority of Canadians, to be ever vigilant and to bring to justice those who commit crimes of intolerance anywhere in the world.
Under our criminal code we have methods for bringing forward charges against those who exhibit this kind of behaviour. These crimes of intolerance against fellow Canadians are totally unacceptable, just as the international community must be ever vigilant and must bring to justice those who committed crimes of intolerance elsewhere and just as we must all bear in mind the great sympathy and the great obligation we have to act on the basis of the horrible atrocities of just three weeks ago in the United States.