Mr. Speaker, may I begin by saying that I believe it is appropriate for parliamentarians once again to have the opportunity to express themselves on the events that we see unfolding daily in Iraq.
These are matters of profound importance that are of great concern to our fellow citizens. The conflict is painful to watch from afar for all of us, but it must be especially so for those who have family members in the region, either as ordinary inhabitants of Iraq or as members of the armed forces involved in conflict.
To those who are thus affected may I say on behalf of the government that our thoughts and our prayers are with you. We all hope for an early end to this conflict with as few casualties as possible.
It is extremely difficult for us to witness this conflict from afar. Imagine what those who have close relatives or members of their family in the region are going through, whether they are Iraqi citizens or members of the armed forces on the battleground.
To each and every one of those who are affected directly or indirectly, on behalf of the Government of Canada, let me reiterate that our thoughts and prayers are with you. We all hope for an early end to this conflict with as few casualties as possible.
Canada is not directly engaged in this conflict. We stood apart because we believe that it is the Security Council of the United Nations that ought to take the responsibility for authorizing the use of force in international conflict. This is consistent with decades of Canadian foreign policy and it is consistent with the charter of the United Nations. It is consistent with past practice, as long ago as the Korean war and as recently as the first gulf war.
It is for that reason that our diplomats worked in support of UN Security Council resolution 1441 authorizing an intrusive program of weapons inspections with a view to achieving the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime to the end of promoting peace in the region.
We share the frustration of the United States, the United Kingdom and others at the inadequate compliance by Iraq with resolution 1441 as evidenced by the testimony of Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector. It was our hope that by authorizing greater time for inspection, a broader consensus could emerge in the international community that the use of force was necessary.
Our principles have not changed. They are as strong today as they were when our diplomats were working tirelessly toward bringing a new resolution before the United Nations Security Council.
But events have unfolded very rapidly. There is a war going on as we speak.This is not the first time that, when either Canada or the U.S. is at war, we do not go to war at the same time. It happened between 1914 and 1917, and again between 1939 and 1941. The Vietnam war was another instance.
We have remained steadfast allies, partners in NATO and in Norad, sharing intelligence and co-operating in continental defence.
Let there be no mistake, however, as to the sympathies of Canadians and their government at this time. Our friends are at war. Our friends are putting their lives on the line for their beliefs. We watch the nightly news and we share every moment of grief felt by the families of both civilians and soldiers lost to this conflict. We are also outraged by the images of torture and exploitation of captured coalition soldiers, a direct violation by Iraq of the Geneva conventions.
I want it understood with absolute clarity that Canada stands with its friends, even if we cannot engage with them in this conflict. We mourn the losses of their sons and daughters in war. We pray with them for a swift end to the conflict and, yes, for a swift victory.
Our overarching goal to end terror and injustice so that a freer, more prosperous and more secure world can arise remains. We back that conviction with our soldiers in Afghanistan where hundreds of Canadians have fought with Americans and others to put an end to the Taliban and al-Qaeda since late 2001, where some of our young men have died and where Canada will return with a major troop deployment to play a key role in the international security assistance force this summer.
I also want to recognize with pride the 30 plus Canadian soldiers currently on exchange with the U.K. and U.S. armies, some of whom are known to be deployed in the Iraq theatre right now. We back our conviction with the Canadian ships that continue their mission in creating passages of safety in the Arabian Gulf for all who legitimately pass through there, including U.S. ships. The Canadian navy continues to provide the command and control for the anti-terrorism coalition vessels in that area, as well as undertaking a vital interdiction role, stopping traffickers and smugglers from moving their illicit drugs and other goods out of the region.
We back our conviction with our commitment to humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people and our intention to play a role together with the United States and others in Iraq's reconstruction when the war is over and Saddam is gone.
We back our conviction by maintaining a global commitment to development and to human rights, the most important tools of freedom that exist. However we also have to back that conviction by staying united. I can think of nothing to give our enemies greater comfort than watching friends tearing at each other.
I do not want to hear another story about people booing each other's national anthems at sporting events. I do not want to hear about Canadians and Americans cancelling business transactions. I do not want to hear voices of disrespect at any level, and I have said so in Canada many times.
I want us to get serious, Canadians and Americans alike, and remember what we are about, about all that we have achieved in partnership and all that we still need to do together. We have a large global agenda to get on with. We have work to do in so many areas through whatever means our respective countries are best equipped to offer. There are peace and security issues, reconstruction, humanitarian crises, global development, anti-poverty, health agendas.
The Alliance resolution today makes reference to certain statements made outside this chamber by some of its members. May I say that it is regrettable that at a time of conflict disrespect may have been shown for the people, the President or the government of the United States.
Let us remember, however, that members of the House have every right to express their views in a responsible fashion on the policies and actions of this government or of any other government in the world, whether that be Iraq, the United States or another. We live in a democracy in which freedom of speech is one of its most fundamental characteristics. This is surely one of the objectives that coalition forces are fighting to bring about in Iraq.
However it has always been my belief that it was possible to be critical of the policies of another government on the basis of principle without personalizing that criticism while demonstrating respect.
While the war is underway and while young men and women are offering themselves in service of their countries for a cause that they believe in, it is not the time for us to revisit the reasons for the conflict or to offer critical commentary.
There should be no mistaking the sympathy that we have for the ultimate success of the coalition forces. Saddam Hussein should take no comfort for his own brutal regime in the principles that we have espoused at the United Nations. It is time now for Canada and for Canadians to face the future squarely and to begin assuming the responsibility that we have for constructing a better and safer world.
Of course the security of North America must be of primary concern and we must strive to reassure our neighbours on this continent of our full commitment to North American security. I will reiterate this commitment in my meetings in Washington this coming Monday with Secretary Ridge.
We reaffirm our support and commitment to international institutions upon which world peace and security depend.
Canada firmly believes in the essential role the United Nations must play in the aftermath of this conflict as well as in the resolution of any other conflict.
Canada remains steadfastly committed to providing humanitarian assistance now and in the future, and to supporting the reconstruction process in Iraq once the conflict is over.
We reaffirm equally our commitment to our NATO allies and to the community of nations who have joined with us, the United States and others, in the global war on terrorism. Canadian foreign policy has a proud history of engagements in and support for multilateral institutions. These were in many case developed in the period following World War II and proved invaluable in maintaining peace and stability, at least among major powers, during the decades of the cold war.
In this post-cold war era our government believes that international consensus and the resulting legitimacy that flows therefrom is perhaps even more important. Why? We were shocked and profoundly affected by the events of September 11, 2001. Canadians were and are wholeheartedly supportive of the war against terrorism.
In a world in which the United States has emerged as the sole superpower, it is inevitable that it must bear a disproportionate burden in world affairs. It is thus in the interests, not only of the global community but of the United States itself, if the U.S. is not to be increasingly the target of the militant and disaffected everywhere, that multilateral institutions remain strong and proactive and that international consensus be the foundation of legitimacy when decisive action must be taken.
If Canada is to be the true friend and ally of the United States that we surely are then we must remain true to these principles. It is not by blindly following but by constructively supporting that we can be of the greatest assistance to the United States.
We can be reminded of the words of one of Canada's greatest diplomats, Nobel Peace Prize winner and prime minister, Lester B. Pearson who said:
One principle of our relationship with the United States is that we should exhibit a sympathetic understanding of the heavy burden of international responsibility borne by the United States--not of our own imperial choosing but caused in part by the unavoidable withdrawal of other states from certain of these responsibilities.
Above all, as American difficulties increase, we should resist the temptation to become smug and superior: “You are bigger but we are better”. Our own experience, as we wrestle with our own problems, gives us no grounds for any such convictions.
It is to be reminded that Mr. Pearson was the Prime Minister of Canada during the beginning of the Vietnam war.
My colleague, the leader of the government, will soon table a motion in the House that clearly defines the government's position. That motion will read as follows:
That this House reaffirms:
The substantial sense of the House, voted on March 20, 2003, in support of the government's decision not to participate in the military intervention in Iraq;
The unbreakable bonds of values, family, friendship and mutual respect that will always characterize Canada's relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom;
Our pride in the work of the members of the Canadian Forces who are deployed in the Persian Gulf region;
Our hope that the U.S.-led coalition accomplishes its mission as quickly as possible, with the fewest casualties; and
The commitment of Canada to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq.