House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was norad.


SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. I regret, but time has elapsed. I know that a number of people still want to speak on this issue before the end of the proceedings. The hon. member for Medicine Hat.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is a very important issue which has not received its due yet. The question of whether or not Canada should participate in a missile defence with the United States through Norad has been on the burner for a long time. We have not taken the opportunity to discuss it and debate it in Canada in the way that we should. That is regrettable because it is obviously very important to Canada's future security. It is also very important how we approach this issue and our relations with the United States. We should take more opportunities to debate these sorts of issues.

I have observed today that there has been a real shift in the attitude of the government toward this issue. I am grateful for that because at one point there was no question that the government would even consider talking about this. Now it is saying that maybe it will listen. I would say that it has been mugged by reality a little, but it has a long way to go before it understands that the world is a dangerous place, that there are threats out there, and that it is not helpful when people are reflexively anti-American when we talk about these things because what we are talking about is the security of our country.

When we talk about this, we need to put this into perspective. This is not an issue of Canada's sovereignty. If neighbours agree to look after each other's houses, keep an eye on them, and ensure that nobody is breaking into each others house and that kind of thing, that is a practical way to ensure the security of both neighbours. It does not mean that a person has given up control of his or her house to the neighbour. It just means that neighbours are looking after each other, and that is a practical way of dealing with crime in the neighbourhood.

In like manner, working together with the United States on the issue of securing our borders against attack by ballistic missile is a practical way of ensuring our mutual security. People should look at it that way instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that somehow we are yielding our sovereignty.

Very often when people reach those conclusions, they do so out of insecurity. A lot of times Canadians who are paranoid about the United States are completely insecure and do not have enough faith in their country. They do not have enough faith in the people of Canada and frankly they show little faith in the good will of the people of the United States.

As my friend who spoke a few minutes ago pointed out, the Americans are frequently called upon to participate and lead the way around the world. Obviously people do not always agree with them, but I would rather stake my future with the United States far more so than 99% of the other countries in the world. I am grateful that they are our neighbours and I appreciate very much what they do in this world to preserve freedom and the security of peace-loving people everywhere.

I want to talk about some of the threats that exist. After 9/11, no one labours under the illusion anymore that the world is a safe place, even though for a long time members across the way, the Liberal Party and the NDP in particular, had this naive view of just how safe the world was. That is gone forever. After the twin towers collapsed, after the attack on the Pentagon, and the plane going down in a field in Pennsylvania, the world woke up to the reality that it was a dangerous place.

If we had this debate before 9/11, there would have been a lot of people on the other side who would have argued that the threat was being exaggerated, that we did not have to worry about these things, and that we did not have to worry about some extremist Islamic agenda.

A lot of people would have said that we did not have to worry about that. That it was a myth. Some people would even have said that we were racist if we suggested that. Rather obviously there are people who have a demented view of Islam. They have made it their own faith and have used it to justify incredible attacks on the United States and other countries around the world. It is our obligation now, after having gone through that, to not fall into the same type of thinking when we come to consider something as important as missile defence.

There were colleagues from the Liberal side who spoke not long ago and in a way downplayed the significance of these rogue states. I would argue that they are extraordinarily dangerous. Kim Jong-il in North Korea is a dangerous man. When former United States President Clinton sent Jimmy Carter to negotiate with the North Koreans, what was he doing? He sent Jimmy Carter there to negotiate a non-proliferation type of agreement. He wanted to ensure that the North Koreans did not build nuclear weapons. Jimmy Carter came back and told us we had a deal.

In fact, he even won the Nobel peace prize for his work. Then we find out that the North Koreans were building a nuclear weapon the whole time. We would be extraordinarily naive to think that Kim Jong-il is not prepared to use it. This is a man who starved millions of his own people. Clearly he has absolutely no regard for human life. As legislators, we have an obligation to take that threat seriously. Of course we can all disagree on the magnitude of the threat, but there is a threat there. I would urge people not to downplay that threat. I think most people would agree that there is at least some threat there.

One member said a minute ago that the missile system that the North Koreans have developed will not reach North America. There is disagreement on that. We know that they started to develop some sophisticated missiles that will reach hundreds of miles. Many people believe that they will in fact reach the continental United States. If that is the case and they have also developed a nuclear bomb or perhaps several, we should be concerned about that. We would not be doing our job and we would be irresponsible if we did not take that seriously. I completely disagree with the member for Don Valley West, who spoke earlier, and the member who spoke just a few minutes ago, and their suggestion that we should not take these threats seriously. They are very serious.

I want to address some of the arguments I heard from the member who spoke just a couple of minutes ago with respect to whether or not missile defence is workable. One of the arguments was that if we had a missile defence system which could knock down a missile over the country from which it was launched, that would cause some plutonium to rain down in that country and cause people to be ill. I acknowledge there is a threat of that kind of thing happening.

However, I cannot believe the member did not completely think that through, because if we let the missile take off, land in the country at which it is aimed and there is a nuclear explosion, rather obviously we will have far greater problems caused by that than the problems that would occur if we knocked a nuclear missile down as it was leaving the launch pad. Obviously the member had not thought things through when she made that argument.

The member for Don Valley West argued that we should not be concerned about rogue states. I will set aside North Korea for a moment here. Let us talk about countries like Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan. Essentially what he was arguing was that these countries would never fire a nuclear weapon or any kind of a weapon of mass destruction from their country toward, for instance, the United States knowing that they would face immediate retaliation.

I take that point. It would be difficult for a rational mind to understand why they would do that. I will not necessarily concede that some of these people are not rational. However, setting that aside for a moment, it is entirely possible that these rogue states could work with groups like al-Qaeda. We know from what we have uncovered in Iraq now that al-Qaeda was in contact with Iraq. It is entirely possible that these organizations could work together, to have ships off the coast of the United States or off the coast of Canada with weapons aimed at our country and in some cases with nuclear technology.

We know that Iran is working right now on nuclear technology. Why is it doing that? Is it doing it because it needs the electricity that comes from a nuclear reactor? Hardly. It sits on a sea of oil and gas. It has energy that is the envy of most of the world. The same thing of course was true of Iraq when it was building its reactor and the Israelis went in and blew it up. Even now nuclear materials are still being uncovered in Iraq. Clearly Iraq was not building these facilities to produce electricity. These countries were building them and are building them for the purpose of developing weapons. I do not think there is any question about that.

If these countries work with a terrorist organization and they fire a weapon from a ship, no one is the wiser as to who was involved in this. Therefore it is not automatic that there would be retaliation because we would not know the origin of the weapon and who was working in concert to necessarily fire that weapon.

To me it makes abundant sense that we would have some kind of a weapons system that could knock those types of missiles down. The technology is currently available to these countries both to build nuclear weapons--and again, the Iranians are working on that and North Korea has already developed one or two bombs and others are working on that type of technology--and certainly to launch missiles, especially for short hops of 50 miles or 100 miles with no problem.They can do that. We saw in Iraq that it had the capacity to fire weapons farther than with the old 1950 Scud missiles, so that is not even an issue. That capacity exists already.

The problem with rogue states is that they will provide those types of weapons to terrorist organizations that are doing their bidding. There is no question that it is not only possible but likely. Again, we uncovered evidence of that in Iraq when British and Canadian newspaper reporters actually found documents linking al-Qaeda to the Saddam Hussein regime.

Canadians need to understand how good a deal Canada has in Norad as it currently exists. A number of my colleagues and I have been there. I know government members have been there. Members from all sides of the House have visited Norad. Once we have been there we cannot help but come away impressed because of the technology and how amazing it is that people can sit in one location and have surveillance of the entire continent. That is very impressive. And what is more impressive is the fact that Canada and the United States work seamlessly together on that project. Canadians have a very good deal.

I do not think many people recognize that we have joint command of North American air defence right now. It is because we struck a deal many years ago that allows Canada to pay a small part of the bills for that, but to play a large role, essentially an equal role with the United States in defending North America's shores. I am encouraged that we are starting to look at other ways of participating with the United States in our joint defence. I think that is very important.

However I think we need to aggressively pursue the next step, which is to talk about ballistic missile defence for the entire continent. We need to work with the United States.

Another objection was raised and it had to do with the actual motion, which reads:

That this House affirm its strong support for Norad as a viable defence organization to counter threats to North America, including the threat of ballistic missile attack; and support giving Norad responsibility for the command of any system developed to defend North America against ballistic missiles.

The problem the member had was with the word “any” as in “any system”. He went on to say that the Americans were aggressively pursuing the weaponization of space, which of course is a term that they love to throw around because it scares people.

I want to make a couple of points. First, I would like to ask the member a rhetorical question. If his concern is that the Americans will pursue the weaponization of space, that they will put a defensive system in space to protect their interests, is he under the illusion that if Canada does not participate that will not go ahead? Of course it will go ahead. It will go ahead one way or another.

I am sure the Americans will have a debate about it. I am sure it will be an issue in the elections in the fall and an issue in the next presidential election. If they make a decision to go ahead and do that after they have a big debate, guess what? Our non-participation in Norad will not affect their decision. It will have no impact on that at all.

However if we were to participate in Norad and the Americans went the next step where they had a defensive weapons system in space, we would at least have an influence on it. We could play the role that Canada used to always play when it came to the United States, a privileged friend of the United States, someone who shares a border with the United States and has a long and good history with the United States. We could be there to temper them and make them aware of their obligations in the world because we would have a privileged place at their elbow.

However after the rantings of the Prime Minister and, unfortunately, some members on the government side over the last number of months, we have lost the ability to influence our friends, in fact to the point where I think they are questioning how sincere government officials are when they say we want to work together.

I would argue that if Canada wants to continue to influence the United States and have a positive influence on a country that somebody said was a hyper-power, and maybe that is a pejorative term, but certainly it is the world's only existing super power right now, then let us participate in these bodies with the Americans and have the ability to influence them. We will not influence them if all we do is stick our finger in their eye at every opportunity, insult them, run them down, attack them politically, do all the things that, unfortunately, our Prime Minister has done as recently as yesterday and has done repeatedly over the last number of weeks.

I hope government members see this as an opportunity to use our good reputation in the world to influence the Americans and turn this opportunity into a way to bring about some of the ends that the people of goodwill on the other side really believe in. If they are concerned about the weaponization of space, then we should at least participate with the Americans in Norad and help them understand that point of view. If they are worried about the United States being a lone cowboy in the world, as they might say, then we should work with them and enter into multilateral agreements with them in NATO and a bilateral agreement in Norad and then they are not working alone. We would be there to temper their actions.

I encourage my friends across the way to not be reactionary any time somebody talks about working with the United States. I encourage them not to assume that it means we are giving up our sovereignty. I encourage them to be secure enough about being Canadian that we can use our influence to work with the Americans, as we have done so many times in the past, something I think we forget about. Ultimately, we must remember that this is about protecting Canada's sovereignty from people of ill will around the world. We can do that if we take a responsible, mature approach to this and work with our American friends.

I will simply wrap up by saying that this is a pivotal time in the history of Canada-United States relations. It is the perfect time for the government to send a positive signal about its friendship toward the United States by supporting the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great intent to the member for Medicine Hat.

I would question a number of premises that he put forward in his speech. The member's first premise is that we somehow have to belong to a club to have an opinion on the whole issue of a national missile defence system. In fact, the member stated that if the Americans want to engage in the weaponization of space we have no influence over that, and that the only presumed way we can get influence is to join the club, the club to pursue the weaponization of space.

This all seems very absurd to me. It assumes that there is only a one track system for influencing the United States and that is by joining organizations which it purports to use to pursue its foreign policy.

I believe there are many other fora out there to which Canada belongs where we could influence the United States, rather than joining clubs which purport to support its theory and foreign policy. Indeed, this argument that by joining this missile defence system we would get a seat at the table, seems absurd to me.

The reality is that even if we were to have a seat at the table I do not think we would have very much to say. We are sort of going into it on a premise. In fact, the member stated that we did not have any influence over the United States if it wants to pursue the weaponization of space. What is the purpose of having a seat at the table if that is the orientation? It makes no sense to me.

The member's premise is that the world is a dangerous place. I agree with him. The real question is: Will a national missile defence system make it a less dangerous place or a more dangerous place?

The member went on to talk about North Korea. There is a tremendous parallel here. The United States did not invade North Korea, it invaded Iraq. It invaded Iraq because Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. It will not invade North Korea because it has nuclear weapons.

It would seem to me that there is a certain reward system for those countries that pursue a nuclearization policy. Yes, there has been a failure in curtailing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yes, we have to work more diligently in these areas.

On the strategic side of this issue, how can the member say that we would be protecting the security of Canadians if a warhead with biological weapons targeted for the United States were shot down over Canadian territory? Could the member tell me how that would improve the security of everyday Canadians?

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, in a sense I think the last question is pretty naive. For instance, we know that terrorist organizations will attack targets of opportunity. They did in Bali, Indonesia. Terrorists do not just wander around looking to necessarily attack the United States everywhere they go. They attack their allies, which is what they did in Indonesia where they killed many Australians. I think we are naive if we think that cannot happen in Canada.

This would also benefit Canada. If someone were to point a weapon at Canada then obviously this system would knock that weapon down. The idea is to knock the weapon down before it gets to Canada.

I am not quite sure what the point was of the second question, the point about North Korea being rewarded because it built a nuclear weapon. I do not know that we could say that it is being rewarded, but the fact is that North Korea has built a nuclear weapon which, of course, is why, and the member is right, the United States was not going to march in and risk a nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula. That would be ridiculous.

However the very fact that North Korea has that nuclear capacity should make us all nervous. We should be thinking of ways to prevent it from using that weapon. It does not mean that we no longer have diplomacy in the world. It does not mean that we do not use the United Nations to address these sorts of things. Of course we do, but we should not rely on them exclusively. If we place all our faith in those bodies I think we would be completely naive.

We should remember that no body that sits arm's length from a particular country can guarantee that the country will not fire a weapon at somebody else. Of course we would take measures on our own to protect our people. That is common sense.

With respect to the point about the weaponization of space and the point about influencing our friends, I ask my friend across the way to consult his own experience. When we work with people they have an influence on us. If people are opposed to us, if they are a gadfly, an annoyance, we do not really want to hear what they have to say. We ignore what they are saying and in fact sometimes we might do completely the opposite to annoy them back. That is human nature.

I would argue that if we sit and work with people and try to be constructive, we will accomplish things and influence those people. If my friend across the way doubts that, I ask him to consult his own experience and ask himself how it works in his own family. That is precisely how it has worked for 50 years with the United States before we began this period, under this Liberal government, of setting out, it seems like very often, to intentionally annoy our neighbours.

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4:45 p.m.


David Pratt Liberal Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to a good portion of the hon. member's comments and I appreciate where he is coming from with respect to his support for the motion. Frankly, I support the motion as well. However some aspects of the motion are somewhat unclear.

I will be voting for the motion but I think some aspects of it which are unclear could be improved, with perhaps a little bit of doctoring, to the point where a lot more members in the House could support it. I am referring specifically to the wording in the motion where it says “any system developed to defend North America against ballistic missiles”.

That does have some implications. Some people have read space based weapons into this. One could also, I suppose, go back to the 1960's system that we had in the country in terms of dealing with the old bomber threat where we had Bomack missiles that were tipped with nuclear warheads. We would not want to see a nuclear tipped warhead anti-ballistic missile system. I do not think anybody on any side of the House would like to see that sort of thing happen.

Would the hon. member perhaps make a suggestion to the mover of the motion that what we should be looking at in terms of possible changes to the wording would include something to the effect that: --and support giving Norad responsibility for the command of the proposed ground based anti-ballistic missile system developed to defend North America against ballistic missiles, or something along those lines?

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think that is a reasonable criticism of the motion. However I do not think anybody is suggesting or that anyone would believe that it is plausible to argue that if we pass a motion like this that somehow we are bound as a sovereign country to participate in a weapon system, which, I think the member would acknowledge, is not likely to happen, where we would have nuclear tipped missiles that would be used in a defensive way or even when it comes to space based defensive weapons systems, that a sovereign country would be bound to participate in that.

I take the member's point. I think it is a valid concern. I will certainly pass it on to the mover the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Art Eggleton Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Davenport, although I suspect we may have some divergent views on the issue before us.

I do support the ballistic defence missile program that our government has now decided to sit down and discuss with the United States.

However I think the member for Don Valley West, who spoke earlier, had a valid point when he took on the word “any” in this resolution. His concern was that this might open it up to the question of weapons in outer space. I would counsel the member who is the sponsor of the motion and her party to consider an amendment that would say “excluding weaponization of outer space”. That is already the policy not only of the government but it is a treaty we have signed.

Surely we will not abrogate our treaty or create some confusion about that treaty. We are simply, as per that treaty and as per government policy stated on many occasions, against the weaponization of outer space. Getting involved with this program does not, I would suggest lead us to that other program.

There are those who will say that it is a slippery slope. I do not buy that argument. We just decided on the campaign against terrorism to draw a line. We said that we would go to Afghanistan. We said that we would fight terrorism in many different respects. However we did not agree with the position of the Bush administration with respect to Iraq. We made a decision that we felt was right for us.

We know when and where to draw the line. Weaponization of outer space is something that we should continue to oppose and that word “any” will create some confusion, and we could well clear up this confusion with an amendment.

I will get to the main substance of what we are talking about, which is Norad and a ballistic missile defence system that would operate from the ground or from water perhaps, but certainly earth based as opposed to space based.

I believe we should go this route. Why? We are dealing with the safety and security of Canadians. We are expected to do what we can to defend our country and our safety and security.

Is there a threat? Yes, there is a threat. It may not be imminent. It may not be something that is immediately around the corner. These things take time to plan out. They are still testing the system of being able to hit a missile with a missile. We are looking at perhaps a few years down the road where this threat could become very real.

What are the signs that this is the case? The signs are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If we look at the statistics, many more countries are possessing these kind of weapons nowadays and with technology advancing as it is, it is possible for this technology to spread around.

There was concern when the Soviet Union broke up that many of the scientists were spreading their capabilities and selling their capabilities in many different parts of the world. We cannot take that lightly. It may not seem like it is around the corner or that it will happen today, but we have to plan these kind of defences out in advance.

Indeed let me point out that it is a defensive system. This is a non-nuclear missile that we are talking about, totally defensive, totally for the purpose of knocking down an incoming weapon that may have a warhead of mass destruction, and doing that quite far out from the atmosphere of the earth so a disintegration of the weapon occurs.

If we can develop such a weapon or be part of the United States developing such a weapon, why would we not? It is an entirely defensive matter. It does not lead to what is called star wars at all. We make a decision based on this project and its merits alone. That is really what is before us at this point in time.

There is more testing that needs to be done. People may question that. However I can state that the technology is feasible. They will get through the testing. They will be able to make this happen.

What is being asked of us in this regard? We are not being asked to contribute any of the capital costs. We are not being asked to contribute land. We are being asked if we would support what the United States is doing. Since it is in our interest, because the Americans are talking about defending the continent, I believe we should be a part of it.

In fact we have a logical bilateral institution that should be taking responsibility for the operations of this system, and that is Norad. Norad already has the responsibility for detecting anything that comes into North American air space, whether it be a missile or a jet fighter, a bomb or whatever it may be. Also, it already has the responsibility to intercept, except the inventory of what it has to use to intercept will not cover every such possible intrusion in future. Jet fighters will not stop an ICBM if one should be coming into our continent.

Even if it is not aimed at our country, there are a lot of border cities that one has to consider could be at risk. If there is an accidental launch or a rogue regime launch, maybe not likely at this point but could happen somewhere down the road, who is to say the accuracy would be so great that we could be sure it would not come into Canadian space?

I believe when it comes to the defence of North America, Norad is an example of where we work in a cooperative way with the United States. The U.S. puts a lot more money into it than we do. We get a bargain for what we put into it, and yet we are right at the table. The deputy commander is a Canadian general and Canadians are in the operations room. I have been there. I have been in Colorado Springs and in Cheyenne Mountain. I have seen the operational systems and Canadians are very much at the centre of that system. In fact, Canadians were in the control seat on September 11 and on many other occasions. There is a very suitable integration in defence of our common continent between our two countries, and that is the logical institution for control and decision-making on the system on an operational basis day in and day out.

If we decide not to become part of the ballistic missile defence system, I believe Norad will be marginalized because we will have decisions being made only by Americans, which could affect us. I do not believe that is right. We are far better off being inside the tent, as is being said, or inside the room at the table. We are far better off knowing what is going on, getting all the information we need and being part of the decision making that flows back to our government as well as the U.S. government. It works that way today and it should continue to work that way with ballistic missile defence.

It does not solve all the problems in terms of the threats. Obviously, ballistic missile defence would not have stopped what happened on September 11, but that should be a warning and it should also be an understanding of the kind of concern our American neighbours have about the threat to them.

Therefore, let us be a part of a system that is in our security interests.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Lanark—Carleton, The Budget; the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Fisheries.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the former defence minister for his speech. It displayed his extensive knowledge over this issue.

Could he tell us whether he believes that participating in this project would improve relations with the United States and what else could we do to deal with the terrorist threat we all face?

I specifically want to address the issue of fissile material in the former Soviet Union of which there is a lack of control. It is a big concern of the Americans and Europeans and it should be a concern of ours. Perhaps he could enlighten the House as to what his government should be doing to help the United States and other countries get control over these fissile materials, to locate, neutralize and destroy these materials.

Also, could he enlighten the House on the important engagement that has to take place with our country, the Americans and the former Soviet Union countries in terms of the policing and intelligence coordination to deal with the real nexus of evil, which is the combination of fissile materials, corruption and organized crime in the former Soviet Union?

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5 p.m.


Art Eggleton Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, in answer to the first question, yes I believe this will improve relations with the United States. This is an area that we have seen time and time again in the past through Norad where a very strong cooperation exists and adding to it with this defensive system is positive in that direction.

With respect to fissile materials and the whole question of controls, NATO has taken a considerable interest in that. There is a nuclear committee at NATO. I attended many of its meetings over the years as defence minister, and in more recent years since the end of the cold war, this has been the prime topic of discussion. The United States has put considerable time and effort into trying to bring about better controls of these materials. It has worked with the Russians in that regard. NATO and the NATO countries, including our own, have also been part and parcel of that.

However there is no doubt that some of the people and some of the information has gone out and the threat of proliferation has been added to by that very fact. That is part of the reason why this kind of response is coming from the United States in terms of protection through ballistic missile defence. It is not the only means but it certainly is an area that can help in this regard and it is an area of concern given the breakup of the Soviet Union.

However there are substantial controls, as much as there can be, and efforts are being made through NATO and the United States to control those materials and the information involving nuclear weapons.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, some would suggest that NATO is now irrelevant in this year of the great hegemony south of the border. The former minister brought up the interaction between Norad and NATO.

With his experience, what does he feel NATO's role will be in the future in terms relative to our protection and our defence needs and is NATO now irrelevant given the place of the U.S. in the international sphere and also the threats that we face in the future?

SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Art Eggleton Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think NATO still is very relevant. One sign is the fact that many countries have just joined and many countries still want to join because they recognize two things are important for their future prosperity. One is economic prosperity, which they hope to get through membership or affiliation with the European Union. The other, which is basically and fundamentally needed first, is a sense of security, particularly with some of the past conflicts in Europe. The desire to have the sense of security that comes through NATO is very important to them.

NATO is a collective defence organization. I do not think any one of our countries could defend itself against a major onslaught. It would need collective defence mechanisms. We have built up and are continuing to build up an interoperability among the different countries. NATO is itself developing capabilities like the AWACS system or perhaps even a strategic lift that can be used for the member countries on a shared basis. Collective defence is still a very valid thing.

NATO though in future, as the situation in Yugoslavia settles down and becomes much better than it was in the past, could use its rapid reaction forces to help in terms of peace support operations in other parts of the world, either under the UN or some other international banner where it could make a valuable contribution in the future.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that this motion is ill conceived, out of sync and motivated by threat.

It is historically out of sync because, as everyone knows, the Berlin wall came down in 1989 and Norad, which is the main focus of this motion, was created in order to protect Canada when there were two superpowers. Today there are no longer two superpowers. Canada is no longer sandwiched between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union. There is no threat coming from the north and therefore, Norad is moribund, if not dead, in its purpose. Therefore, I am saying that this motion is out of sync with history.

Second, the motion is motivated by fear. I am challenging every member in the House, particularly those in the official opposition, to indicate in this debate who is the enemy of Canada. Tell us, who is the enemy of this country? Whom are we to be afraid of? Then this motion will have a minimum of relevance and significance.

Canada has no enemy in the world. The official opposition is creating an atmosphere of fear and an unfounded sense of insecurity caused by policies that emanate, as we all know, mostly from the White House, which are bellicose in nature and create a tremendous amount of disequilibrium in the world.

What is fuelling the threats in the world today? Everyone should ask themselves that question. What is fuelling the threats in the world today? It is poverty. It is hunger. It is ignorance. It is a lack of democratic institutions. It is civil strife. It is environmental degradation, a lack of water, desertification. Just name it. It is pandemic diseases and gross economic inequalities. Those issues are causing the tensions in the world today. It is not the existence of rogue states, which is the terminology the official opposition has bought from the White House.

Libya is mentioned. Imagine Libya sending missiles to North America. It is ridiculous. It is absolutely absurd what the official opposition is coming up with in this debate. Those members ought to be ashamed of themselves because they are creating the impression outside the House that there are enemies of Canada. Name them. Where are they? Who are they?

There is this other little notion being put forward by the opposition that we must be under the tent, that we must be at the table with Norad under the illusion that by being at the table we will have a say. Does anyone really think we could have an influence in the determination of a missile defence system if we were to follow it? Does anyone think we would have any weight in Washington? This is not our agenda. We are not going to pay a penny for that system. It is the piper that plays the tune, is it not? Canada will be listened to politely, but we will have no weight. This notion that it is important to be part of the discussions under the tent, at the table is so naive it almost makes one cry.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

It is ludicrous.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

It is ludicrous, as the member for York North has suggested.

Then we come to another reason that we should be very careful with this kind of business. It is the one that was raised, and quite rightly, by the member for York Centre when he said that we should not be engaged in any activity that would lead to the weaponization of space. That is a very important consideration.

We already had this debate in the House a couple of weeks ago. If the Minister of National Defence were asked whether there was the possibility of a weaponization of space, he in all honesty would not be able to deny that eventually there could be a weaponization of space once we enter a missile system. There will be considerable pressure eventually. This is a possibility that we ought to be taking very seriously, as we all do.

Something I learned about this a couple of days ago has troubled me enormously and I believe it was raised in the debate earlier today. It has to do with a decision made by the senate armed services committee in Washington. There is a decision to repeal a ban against developing smaller, more usable nuclear warheads, and the senate armed services committee already has voted in favour of a total repeal of the prohibition which was passed 10 years ago. The prohibition is gone. We have learned from media reports that the Bush administration and many Republicans in Congress have said that the law should be repealed because in a world of dangerous new threats, the United States needs a new generation of low-yield weapons for pinpoint strikes, et cetera. The language always has to be translated into plain English. Low-yield weapons mean having warheads with a force of five kilotons. That is about a third of the force of the warheads used in bombing Hiroshima in 1945 which caused the deaths of 140,000 civilians.

Someone may wonder what the connection is between that and the missile system. It is possible that these kinds of signals of re-armament, these kinds of initiatives which are coming out of Washington eventually will find their way into the weaponization of space. Once we move in that direction in a general policy sense, there is no limit to how far we will go when under pressure in terms of potential threats.

There is a third reason. The first was that Norad is no longer relevant. The second was that there is no enemy of Canada. The third is that the threats are not threats of weapons by some of these states that are in desperate economic shape, including North Korea, but the threats come from other sources. I have indicated many and the ones that I think are particularly important are the gross economic inequalities, the poverty, the hunger and the environmental degradation. To me these are the real threats with which we should be coping.

I was interested in an observation made by my colleague from Medicine Hat, for whom I have a great deal of respect. He said that he was nervous in the knowledge that a certain country has nuclear weapons. I agree with him. We should be nervous about the possession of nuclear weapons by any country. We have to come to grips with deciding who is ethically entitled to be the possessor of weapons of mass destruction. That is a debate which has not even started yet, but the member for Medicine Hat is right to be nervous. We are all nervous but not because it is just one nation in Asia. There are many nations that are in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings, and pursuant to order made earlier today all questions necessary to dispose of the business of supply are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, June 3, at 3 p.m.

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

May 29th, 2003 / 5:15 p.m.


Lawrence O'Brien Liberal Labrador, NL


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the second Sunday of December as National Children's Memorial Day.

Mr. Speaker,this is a very special moment for all those people throughout this great country who have lost their children through violence or other reasons and their children are no longer with them.

I would like to make a special plea to the members of the House of Commons to support my motion. The motion speaks well of all and I am asking them to join with other nations to support a national memorial day for children.

Our children are very precious to us and we love them very much. Those of us who are parents certainly know what our children mean to us. It is quite heart-rending when a parent loses a child. The loss of a child is very painful.

The idea for the motion was originally suggested to me by colleagues, friends and constituents of mine from L'Anse-au-Loup, my hometown in Labrador, Betty and Dennis Normore. Betty and Dennis Normore lost a child, Paula, aged 14, two years ago in a very tragic accident. She was riding a snowmobile. The snowmobile did not make the embankment. She slid back down the hill and very unfortunately slid into a waterhole and under the ice. This happened in the month of January. It was tragic indeed. It is my great honour to stand here in this great House to ask that this day be honoured for children like Paula.

Dennis is a teacher and principal at Mountain Field Academy in Forteau, Labrador and has worked with children all of his life. Betty is a health care worker who works with elderly people in a senior citizens home. We are talking about the great bookends of our society, the children on one end and the elders on the other. However, this is about children.

In 2001 the Normores lost their daughter Paula in a very tragic snowmobile accident. Paula was a bright student. A wonderful young woman was lost to us in that very tragic incident. It reminds us of how precious and fragile life is and the lives of our children.

The loss of Paula was felt by the whole community and certainly by many throughout Labrador. Paula's memory is honoured every year by a benefit fundraiser organized by her family and friends and the community. The people she left behind are building something positive out of a tragic loss.

The national children's memorial day is another way in which parents, family and other loved ones are finding their way through the tragedy of losing a child. This concept originated in 1996 in the United States. Through the strength of the Internet it has quickly spread at the grassroots level and has been promoted by many organizations which help parents and families cope with the death of a child.

The Compassionate Friends, an international self-help organization for bereaved parents and siblings, has been instrumental in promoting this event. The Compassionate Friends was founded in 1968 in England. The organization now has chapters in countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Australia, Russia and New Zealand. It has chapters in 29 countries in all.

The Compassionate Friends is a grassroots organization of and for parents and siblings who are coping with the death of a child of any age from whatever cause. In Canada there are over 50 chapters of the Compassionate Friends providing support to grieving families across the country.

On the second Sunday of December, families come together to remember, to grieve and to celebrate the lives of the children and to help one another. That time of the year is particularly important for bereaved families who have to face the holidays without the child they loved so dearly.

It allows parents and siblings to share their grief, to find comfort, to build strength and to heal, and especially to remember the young life they lost. An especially touching aspect of the day's observation is the “wave of light”. At 7 p.m. local time, in public or in private, in towns and cities around the world, people gather to remember the special children they have lost. They symbolize their lives through the lighting of candles.

This creates a wave of candlelight starting in New Zealand and spreading around the world. Each hour, as the candles burn down in one part of the world, the wave flickers up again in another. The candle flames, like children's lives, are fragile, but by joining with families around the world, every grieving loved one can find strength and healing.

It is a non-denominational, multicultural commemoration that unites families and loved ones from around the world, not only in their grief but in their hope.

While the grief over the death of a child is something that surviving family members must live with every day, the national children's memorial day will give families a special day to come together. It will help whole communities, health care professionals and others to raise awareness of the needs of bereaved families. This memorial day will help families continue to build something positive together out of their own personal tragedies.

In the United States, the Senate has recognized national children's memorial day annually since 1999. The day is also marked in countries all around the world through the wave of light and other acts of remembrance.

This private member's motion would, I believe, be the first case where a national children's memorial day is permanently recognized by a national Parliament. This does not create a statutory or public holiday and does not cost Canadians or the Government of Canada anything financially. It does, however, allow us to recognize and show our support for grieving families and build something positive out of such tragic circumstances.

I would like to commend Betty and Dennis Normore for the strength and courage they have shown after the loss of their daughter Paula. They are helping others in similar circumstances cope in their own way with their own loss.

I would also like to thank them for bringing their valuable suggestion to my attention. It is my honour and privilege to bring it before the House today.

I would like to convey to the House my hope that national children's memorial day will find support from all members of all parties and from all regions of the country. I hope we can work together to help bereaved families and all our communities find strength with one another and honour the memories of the precious children they have lost.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

5:20 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great joy that I participate in today's debate on Motion No. 396, put forward by my colleague opposite, the member for Labrador. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the second Sunday of December as National Children's Memorial Day.

From the outset, I would like to say that I am in favour of this motion, the purpose of which is to keep a promise that, in my humble opinion, Canada should have honoured a long time ago.

There is already a Universal Children's Day, which is celebrated every year on November 20. In 1954, with resolution 836, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that every year, Universal Children's Day be an international day of fellowship, of understanding among children, with activities to promote the well-being of children throughout the world. In 1954, governments were asked to select their own day to commemorate children.

November 20 is the day the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. It is odd that Canada has not responded until many years later, considering it was in 1954 that the United Nations General Assembly asked countries, including Canada, to institute such a day. Today, in 2003, almost 40 years later, we are discussing what should have been obvious since 1954.

Several organizations and groups have had the opportunity to celebrate Universal Children's Day in their own way. What is ironic today, and what we must remember, is that if the government and this House agree to recognize a children's day in Canada then this day should not be simply a national children's memorial day. It should also allow us, as a society, to shed light on and measure all of the government's assistance to children.

We have to remember that there is more to this than just instituting a memorial day for children, we must take concrete action to reduce the problems that plague children.

It is important to remember that it was in November 1989 that all of the political parties in the House of Commons voted unanimously to work to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Parliamentarians as a group said that child poverty was a priority.

But when we look at the results today and when we hear that two million Canadian children live in poverty, despite the fact that the government mentioned the issue in its Speech from the Throne, we have to wonder what happened. It is all well and good to institute a children's memorial day, but that is not what families want from us. We need to come up with concrete proposals and real change.

When we consider that out of 17 other industrialized countries in the world, Canada has the second highest child poverty problem, second only to the United States, that is what a memorial day can do. It can help shed some light on the factors and elements that children fall victim to in order to come up with real solutions. I think that we must expose these problems that are plaguing children.

Compared to 1989, there are now 68% more children living in families who are on social assistance. In 1989, all members of Parliament voted unanimously to fight child poverty. Compared to 1989, there are now 44% more families that have experienced periods of unemployment. Aboriginal children are at greater risk of living in poverty than other children. The annual income of poor families with children is $16,700. These are some of the facts a memorial day could bring to light. It would be an opportunity to show the reality of the situation and better fight this problem.

This day must, however, also allow Canada to fulfill its international commitments as far as children are concerned. Canada has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has ratified a number of other international conventions. But ratification is not enough, they must be implemented as well.

For example, my motion calling for the United Nations Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to be respected was passed unanimously by this House. Canada must play a lead role with those countries that have not yet ratified the convention, since it is so vital where child abduction is concerned.

We know children are affected by many things: war, the burgeoning child pornography networks, abduction, increasing child abuse.

We must, in my opinion, take steps to use this special day to bring together civil society and its elected representatives in order to come up with a dynamic plan of action that will enable us to solve a number of the issues I have spoken of today. The member for Labrador's motion concerning this day, which I support, must lead to an annual stocktaking of what civil society and government have accomplished.

It is not necessarily a day of celebration. It must be a day that offers us a forum for looking at issues and what we have accomplished in connection with those issues, to see whether we have managed to reduce child poverty, child abductions, child pornography rings. That is what such a day is all about.

As I have said, it has been a great pleasure for me to take part in this debate. I thank the hon. member for presenting the motion, and I will personally be voting in favour of it. I am convinced that my party will do likewise. There is one thing we must keep in mind, however: the importance of this day lies in the opportunity it offers us to focus on what is the most fundamental in any society: children and the protection of their rights.

What we must do is to ensure that they live in a more balanced society. Very often, they are considered victims. We have a responsibility to provide them with better choices, choices that will allow us to respect their rights but also, and more importantly, to allow them the total freedom to be the best they can be. In my opinion, this is how we will build the society of tomorrow, a balanced society based on the respect of children's rights.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to speak to this private member's motion, Motion No. 396, introduced by my colleague from Labrador.

As a reminder to those listening, the motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the second Sunday of December as National Children's Memorial Day.

Children and the very special place they hold in our hearts have been used to promote many issues and ideas, some good and some not so good, but this proposal to recognize a national children's memorial day is a very, very good proposal in my view.

Many days are set aside to remember special things. The reason for this is that we recognize the value of those regular times of remembrance, so we have Christmas, Easter, New Year's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Labour Day, Remembrance Day, National Child Day, Literacy Day and so on. The list is really quite long.

A national children's memorial day would be a valuable addition to this tradition of days of remembrance, and since, as I understand it, no expenditure of public funds is necessary to implement this proposal, such concerns should not limit support for this initiative.

Being a memorial day, we know that this proposal is dealing with a memory. It is memorializing something, in this case the death of a child, a very tragic experience. The purpose of a national children's memorial day would be to help people, particularly parents, remember their loss in a special way. It would be a day on which special events could be organized to bring people together who may have nothing else in common except that they have had to deal with the loss of a child and are grieving the death of a child.

It could play a vital role in the grieving process for many families. It would be a way to tell grieving families that society supports their need to remember, even years after the loss of their child. We do not want them to sweep that experience under the rug or out the back door after a few years and forget that tragedy as though it never happened.

Depending on the support system people have, they may receive a lot of comfort in the early days of a loss as people gather around them, but that support can drop off very dramatically long before their own grieving process has worked through and they have stabilized. A national children's memorial day could help remedy that problem.

I think it would be very reasonable to expect that in this place, with our 300-plus members, at least some of us have had our own experiences with the loss of a child. I expect that there would be a lot of personal empathy for a proposal like this.

There are many ways in which we can lose a child. We could have 100 people in a room and they could all have had a different experience. And here we are talking about children, as I understand it, all the way into their teenage years. Just because a child grows up, he or she does not stop being our child. I have a 24 year old son, a 21 year old daughter, a 9 year old and a 3 year old. They are still my sons, my daughter, my children, and will be right through until the day I die.

Some children die in tragic traffic accidents. There is a particular website with respect to this with links on the Internet to where memorials have been set up by parents to remember their children. One tells the story of a boy hit by a car when he was trying to run across the highway. It was a very tragic loss of life. Another memorial was to a girl who, just days before her graduation, died when she fell asleep at the wheel of her car just a few miles from her home.

Other stories involve losses though illness and disease and children who have died from cancer or AIDS or one of many other childhood diseases. One Internet memorial was for a beautiful little girl who died at the age of three. As far as everybody knew, she was born healthy. However, two months after her first birthday, she began to lean to one side when she walked and soon afterwards she was diagnosed with a golf ball-sized malignant brain tumour.

Many parents will carry the pain of these tragedies with them forever, or should I say at least in this lifetime, and it is a real encouragement to them that they do not have to carry this pain alone, that at least once a year we can set aside a special time with others to remember their child. A national children's memorial day could be of real value to those parents as they adjust to that loss and try to cope.

These are not the only childhood tragedies. There are thousands of women and families eagerly anticipating a new baby who have to deal with the tragedy of a miscarriage. As I was going over this, it came to mind real quickly that my sister-in-law, Marilyn, several times had a miscarriage when the little babies were a number of months along the way. My brother Lincoln and his wife Marilyn have had that occur on several occasions. At a point they adopted a special son, Nathaniel, a chosen son, as a tiny baby. Then two other precious children were born to them, Samuel and Tabitha. But it does not completely eliminate that grieving and that great sense of loss they had from the miscarriages of several children.

My wife and I have also had two miscarriages and we are confident that we will meet those two little ones in heaven some day. I think very few people realize how traumatic a miscarriage can be until they experience one of their own. Because of the battle in our society over whether or not an unborn child is truly a child, women dealing with a miscarriage may feel that pain alone. They might feel very alone in that experience and less comfortable in sharing that pain with others believing that they really should not be feeling so much anguish in the first place.

A couple of a weeks ago, I sent a picture to all my colleagues here on the Hill using today's amazing technology. It was an ultrasound of a 56 day old baby, a baby in the first trimester of a pregnancy, not quite two months old. The picture showed how incredibly well defined that baby was, with hands, feet, organs, eyes, facial image and so on at that 56 day stage. I would have to say at this point that in order to legitimize abortion some people still call babies of that age just a blob of tissue, but medical technology has really exposed that deception, that fraudulent claim, when we know it is life. We know it is human. It is a little baby.

Then there is the experience of abortion and the deaths of unborn children. About 100,000 unborn children die in Canada each year by way of abortion. Sadly, the rhetoric and the politics involved in the issue have not allowed people to recognize the emotional trauma women face when it comes to abortion.

For women who do proceed with an abortion, what do they experience afterward? I have had the conversations to know. Many of them feel deep remorse, regret and guilt, but because they are not allowed by society to grieve openly and because of the personal shame so many of them feel over that abortion experience, they turn their pain inward and it demonstrates itself in other destructive and sometimes harmful behaviours. Regardless of what other people tell them and regardless of the circumstances that conspired to bring them to that decision to abort, many of these women know what was destroyed inside of them and know that it was a little baby and they grieve. Many of these women were pushed to that experience by a husband, partner, boyfriend, by a mom, a sister or family member, but they grieve the loss of that little one.

Last week several of my colleagues and I shared the podium at a press conference with some ladies who were talking about their regrets over abortions they had many years ago. One of those ladies, Angelina Steenstra, talked about the destructive lifestyle choices she made in her attempts to deal with an earlier abortion, choices that resulted in a sexually transmitted disease and infertility so that today she can bear no children of her own. Hers is one of thousands of similar stories. These women grieve. Following an abortion, many women grieve their loss. A national children's memorial day could be that valuable time of remembrance for them in their healing process as well.

A number of memorials have been set up in cemeteries across the country and in my province of Saskatchewan, including one in Saskatoon, to remember the deaths of unborn children. I understand that is done across the country and across North America as well. Canadians want to remember the deaths of those unborn children rather than having them dismissed as insignificant and meaningless.

We also need to remember those little ones who are stillborn or those who lose their lives to sudden infant death syndrome. It is a terrible and still poorly understood phenomenon. There is a memorial day in the United States promoted there by groups that assist parents who have lost children through SIDS.

There are children who are murdered. There are children who die in tragic accidents. The cases and examples are endless. What is clear from these many examples is the kind of impact that a national children's memorial day could have on the lives of thousands of people across Canada.

The pain parents experience when their children die is something that cannot be explained in rational terms. The bonds between parents and children involve intangibles that are beyond our understanding.

We need to hope that as members in the House we will recognize this special relationship between children and their parents by establishing in Canada a national children's memorial day. I commend the member for his initiative in this regard.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 396 put forward by the member for Labrador and I commend him for it. His motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the second Sunday of December as National Children's Memorial Day.

I think this is one of the nicest gestures that could be made right now in the House of Commons, considering all the problems we have in Canada that are hardly to our credit. It is truly a nice gesture and the right time to put forward in the House of Commons a motion such as this that recognizes children who passed away at an early age.

I would like to point out that my NDP colleagues and I will support this motion. I would sincerely like to thank the member for Labrador on behalf of my party and on behalf of Canadian fathers and mothers who have had the misfortune of losing a child.

It has already been mentioned that this idea started in the United States. It is a good idea. There may be one problem with this motion and it is something we should look at, that is, whether it should be in the second week of December. Remember that December 8 is the day on which we commemorate the 14 young women killed at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. In addition, December 10 is recognized as United Nations Human Rights Day. In choosing the second Sunday of December, we might have two commemorative events at the same time.

I am sure that the hon. member is aware of that and the House should also be aware and try to make this a unique day, not twinned with another commemoration. Then, parents could devote themselves to the essential, such as a solemn candlelight ceremony or something that would give people an opportunity to remember together as a family. Thus, everyone would have a chance to talk. All of Canada could talk about and recognize this. Because these are sad days for the families; they are not easy days.

Personally, I have been spared such a tragedy; I have not lost any of my children, but it is the last thing in the world I would want, losing a child. For people who have lost a child, it must be something very difficult. For example, one of my brothers lost a daughter at birth. After that, he had six boys. Two of them died in accidents. These are not easy things for parents to face.

However, when a motion such as this seeks to recognize a national day, that occasion deserves this honour. We recognize Labour Day. As other members said, we recognize mothers' day and fathers' day; it is important to recognize such occasions of mourning. How many parents have lost a child, because that child died during the night? This would give us the chance to be a family, be part of a region, a municipality or parish, and we would remember that we must never forget, as the family can never forget. This would remind people who have never experienced such pain what the families are going through. This would bring people together. That is this motion's greatest gift. It helps to unite people who have never experienced such pain with their neighbours, their sisters, their brothers who have. Together, everyone can remember the past. It would be a national day of remembrance for everyone.

Also, we can now address the issue of the number of the children who die from hunger. Today in Canada, the best country in the world, it is sometimes thought that no children die of hunger, but some do. Sometimes the authorities do not release this information. They do not want to publicize this kind of thing. But, sometimes, children die, and perhaps it is due to hunger, as happens in other countries.

Not so long ago, there were reports that there were 1.4 million children going hungry in Canada. Obviously, in some families, some kids might die from illness, but it is perhaps malnutrition that causes fatal illness in young children.

I will not spend more time on this, but I simply want to tell the hon. member for Labrador that the New Democratic Party supports his motion. We sincerely thank him for having introduced it in the House of Commons. We will be voting in favour of his motion.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick


Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this motion before the House inviting the Government of Canada to establish a national children's memorial day.

The idea of establishing a special day to pay tribute to Canadian children is commendable. It illustrates Canada's determination to respect children, to never forget them and to pay tribute to them for all they bring us during our lives.

I am happy to note that this idea of the importance of children already received the support of the House when it passed Bill C-371, the National Child Day Act exactly ten years ago. This act designates November 20 of each year as a day to pay tribute to children. National Child Day has a positive impact on their life, their accomplishments and their role in society.

In the last ten years, National Child Day has become an important mechanism in helping communities and families pay tribute to children, and respect and cherish them in the ways they deem to be the most appropriate.

In the next few minutes, I would like to discuss the progress this country has made vis-à-vis children thanks to National Child Day. This important day has helped us better understand the rights that have been recognized for children and has prompted us to strengthen our collective commitment to provide Canadian children with the opportunities they need to develop their full potential.

National Child Day is observed on November 20 in order to commemorate two historic initiatives of the United Nations: the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, on November 20, 1959 and, even more important, the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on November 20, 1989.

The convention is the most complete international agreement on human rights that has ever been negotiated. It establishes fundamental rights for children around the world, and protects these rights by setting standards for the survival, growth and protection of children.

This convention addresses all aspects of the lives of children from birth to age 18, particularly their basic rights to food, housing, and accessible drinking water. It also deals with health care, recreation, education, protection against exploitation and violence, and the opportunity to be heard in matters that concern them.

It is also important to note that the convention assigns an essential role to parents and the family as far as child-rearing is concerned, and provides a framework focussed on parental rights and responsibilities.

Since the United Nations adopted it in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most heavily ratified treaty in the history of human rights.

As a signatory to the convention, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to enforce its provisions within the framework of its own laws, programs and policies. National Child Day is one of the most positive and tangible manifestations of that national commitment.

Since 1994, Health Canada has played a major role in National Child Day by preparing and distributing educational documents on the convention, and supporting special events aimed at raising public awareness of such vital issues as child protection and safety and healthy development.

Just recently National Child Day activities have been combined with another major UN activity, the special session on children held last spring in New York.

In preparation for the session, the Government of Canada took advantage of National Child Day 2001 to invite children and youth to express opinions on issues of concern to them. Their comments were collected in a report called “Your Voice Matters:Young People Speak Out on Issues Related to the UN Special Session on Children”.

One of the salient points of the report was that Canadian children and young people are very anxious to see their environment protected and to be safe from violence.

The opinions of Canadian youth were integrated into the declaration and outcome document of the special session, “A World Fit for Children”.

This action plan supports the principles and goals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and consists of a program outlining goals, strategies and actions in the following four areas: promoting healthy lives, providing quality education, protecting against abuse, exploitation and violence, and combating HIV/AIDS.

In order to have the program reach every household, the theme of National Child Day 2002 was “A World Fit for Children”.

This theme was the basis for wide-reaching activities, including the production of a CD-ROM for teachers on the rights of the child. It was created in collaboration with NGOs such as Save the Children Canada, UNICEF, and the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. It was distributed last fall to a representative sampling of schools across the country. This CD-ROM provides information on National Child Day, the UN Special Session on Children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It also offers creative activities enabling children to learn about their rights, visit educational Web sites and be informed about the Canadian Children's Art Gallery project.

This artistic project led to the creation and distribution of postcards promoting a world fit for children, and to their participation in the activities marking World Child Day in 2002. These postcards were sent all over the country, to schools and RCMP detachments chosen at random.

Among the activities related to National Child Day, November 20, 2002, was an opportunity for Health Canada to reprint a poster for children, explaining the Convention on the Rights of the Child in simple terms.

The department also updated its popular Web site about National Child Day, adding other information on the rights of children and on the United Nations Special Session.

National Child Day in 2002 was also marked by the publication of two important reports on the Government of Canada's progress in helping young children get a good start in life.

The first one, entitled “Report on Early Childhood Development Activities and Expenditures”, sets out the government's progress in supporting young children and their families under the Early Childhood Development Agreement announced by federal, provincial and territorial first ministers in September 2000.

The activities listed included a new folic acid awareness campaign, improved maternity and parental benefits, and projects which were recently subsidized under Heath Canada's Community Action Program for Children.

The second report released on National Child Day 2002, entitled “The Well-Being of Canada's Young Children”, shows that the vast majority of these children are growing up in safe and secure environments. It points out that improvements are required with respect to collecting data on aboriginal children and children with disabilities, two areas the government is currently looking into.

The reports and activities I just mentioned show how important National Child Day is as a yearly reminder of this country's standing commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

The most important message National Child Day sends to Canadians is to do everything in their power to ensure that our children are surrounded by love, sympathy and understanding as they develop, that they are considered as individuals at the early stage of their development and that they are provided with every opportunity to achieve their full potential as adults.

A decade after the National Child Day Act was passed in this House, it is gratifying to see this national day occupy such a special place in the hearts of families, educational institutions, businesses, day care centres, youth groups and community organizations in every part of the country.

I am delighted that the spirit of this motion is consistent with the initiative already taken by our government. We will gladly support this motion which will ensure that we remember individually and collectively the children we have lost.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Lawrence O'Brien Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I extend thanks to my hon. colleagues. I have tremendous appreciation for their support: the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and my colleagues who spoke on the other side, the NDP and the Canadian Alliance. I want to thank them very much.

This is a very appropriate motion, a very appropriate moment, and I says thanks. I am sure all Canadians, particularly families who have lost children, will be very grateful for the debate that has taken place here today. I am certainly looking forward to the vote on this motion, to having this instituted and having it become a part of Canadian society. I think it is tremendous.

As I was sitting here I was reminiscing, and we all can reminisce. I am very fortunate to have two beautiful children. I heard hon. members talk about their children. My children are university students and graduates. I think about a child like Paula Normore or I think about the children of my friends who have known throughout my life.

I have a good friend who I went to see at Christmastime a few years ago. He had a 16 year old child who was violently killed in a snowmobile accident in Labrador City. I thought about the situations of young people killed in violent air crashes in small planes and so on. Then I thought about this moment and how fabulous it was, a moment of which I am very proud.

I am very proud that my constituents put this thought forward to me. I am very proud of my staff who has helped put this into perspective. I believe there will be full parliamentary support for this vote.

With that, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak. I will look forward to the vote. I know Dennis and Betty Normore, together with all parents throughout Canadian society, will certainly welcome this coming to fruition. It is duly worthy that we have a Canadian national child memorial day.

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

National Children's Memorial DayPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed that we see the clock as being 6:30 p.m.?