Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to take part on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party and to express first our deepest sympathies to the families of those who died and those who disappeared and whose whereabouts are unknown.
We acknowledge the profound sense of tragedy and numbness that all of us felt as we witnessed the horror of what took place on September 11. I know many of us have personal stories.
I listened with sadness to the comments of the member for Mercier, who spoke of her son.
We all have our personal stories of close friends and family members whose whereabouts we did not know and the fear, the anguish and the uncertainty that all of us faced. In some cases we know that they died in that terrible tragedy.
I want to pay particular tribute to the firefighters and the police officers who put their lives on the line for the rescue and the attempted rescue of the victims of this terrible tragedy. As a Canadian, I was very proud of the response of Canadians in this time of anguish and pain.
Canadians opened their hearts and their homes from coast to coast to coast to receive those who had been stranded in aircraft. They made a huge difference by donating blood and contributing funds through many different organizations.
The Vancouver emergency measures team was ready to contribute, and I thank the federal government for its support of that very important team.
We owe it as well to recognize that among those who died, those who assisted in the rescue, those who supported the ongoing struggle to recover bodies, were many Muslims and Arab Canadians.
As my leader and my colleagues on all sides of the House have said, it is incredibly important that we recognize that their community was affected just as profoundly and that the terrorists in this instance were not in any way representative or reflective of a particular faith community or religion. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, spoke very eloquently of this when he said:
The reality is that Canadian Muslims are grieving as deeply as everyone else. In fact, we grieve a double tragedy. For even as we mourn the loss of lives on Tuesday--including people of all faiths--we are also forced to look over our shoulders. After Tuesday's terrorist attacks, we live in fear of being found guilty by association because of North America's prevailing ignorance about our faith.
I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister and the leaders of all parties in the House making a very powerful plea for an understanding that no faith group in any way should be targeted, least of all the Muslim and Arab Canadian group.
It is incumbent upon us after we grieve, and of course we continue to grieve, to decide how to respond effectively to this profound tragedy as a nation that is a close friend of the United States, as a neighbour that also lost citizens ourselves and as a member of the community of nations.
At the domestic level I agree with the leader of the Conservative Party, or whatever it is called these days, the progressive conservative democratic representative caucus. I agree completely that parliament must be fully engaged and examine a number of key issues that have come up in the wake of this tragedy that include border screening and the whole question of airport security.
My colleague from Sackville has pointed out the importance of restoring a strong federal government role through Transport Canada in airport security. We New Democrats say that is long overdue and it must happen now.
Unfortunately we are seeing the results of an era of privatization and deregulation not only in Canada but in the United States as well with respect to airport security.
We must not yield to the call of some that we harmonize our policies with the United States with respect to immigration and refugees or least of all our foreign policy.
Our grief and anger must not in any way lead us to a diminution of the most fundamental and most important civil liberties and human rights. Those who flee from terror themselves tragically must not be victimized now by the call from some, including those in the official opposition, to implement draconian new measures on immigration or refugee policy. As Tom Berger has said “our freedoms are fragile indeed”.
It is precisely at times such as this, when we respond in anguish and deep grief, when we must be most careful. We have heard the parallel of Pearl Harbor. Let us never forget what followed Pearl Harbour: the internment of Canadians and Americans of Japanese origin and the use of the ultimate outrage, the atomic bomb.
In 1970, in response to terrorist groups, the War Measures Act was used, which represented a powerful threat to civil liberties with over 300 Quebecers arrested and imprisoned.
We must be particularly vigilant at this time not to allow in any way our most basic and fundamental rights and freedoms to be trampled on in the name of the fight for security or against terrorism.
However, the most important issue I want to address in the few minutes that remain to me is the question of Canada's response, the government's response, to a possible request by the United States or NATO for military action. We have heard what I think are deeply troubling words from the solicitor general and the foreign affairs minister today during question period. I was pleased with the tone that the Prime Minister set in his comments today, but disturbed by the suggestions of some of his colleagues that we are indeed prepared to walk every step of the way with the United States. I believe that is what the solicitor general said. I do not believe that Canadians are prepared to give our government that kind of carte blanche.
I have been disturbed by the talk of war. I would appeal to our government to resist that talk. As the Belgian foreign minister and the Norwegian foreign minister have both said clearly, this is not war, with all of the horrible consequences it brings. So too must our government take that position. Retaliation is the call, but it must not lead to the death of innocent civilians. There must be full respect for international law. The Prime Minister was not yet prepared to commit to that.
Any response that Canada makes must be in the context of a multilateral response respecting international law and not simply within the framework of NATO. Part of that international response involves the whole issue of extradition. We must attempt to strengthen the International Criminal Court as well. We must also recognize that we have to deal with the root causes that lead desperate people. As Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, said “Why do they hate us so much?”
We must recognize that the causes of hopelessness and despair, for example, must be addressed, particularly in the Middle East. We must not allow this to lead to Canada supporting national missile defence, which would have had absolutely no impact whatsoever in this context. We must appeal to the government of Israel in particular at this time not to in any way exacerbate the situation there, to return to peace dialogue, to respect international law, to stop the attacks on Ramallah and in the occupied west bank and to end the settlements and respect international law.
Finally I suggest that we listen to our children. In closing I want to quote from a letter which I received from a young constituent. I am going to just take a minute here, with the indulgence of the House. She sent me a copy of a letter she wrote to the Prime Minister. Kimberly Peabody, a high school student, said she was very worried about the future of the world right now, and she wrote:
President Bush said “We will hunt down the people who did this and make them pay.” That is completely the wrong way to react to this. He shouldn't be reacting in this “we'll get them back” way. He should be thinking about what he did to make them so mad... Besides if he keeps thinking about “getting them back”, you know more innocent people are going to die. We were always taught in elementary school not to fight back right away but to take a few minutes to calm down and that way you will act more rationally.
In closing I appeal to our government to respect international law, not to add to the toll of human suffering and martyrdom. Let us do whatever we can to bring the perpetrators of this outrage to justice, but in a way that respects and reflects the Canadian values that are so precious and so dear to all of us.