Madam Speaker, before I get into main body of my speech, I would like to reply to a couple of items that came up during the debate.
First, in relation to the Senate, Yukon has a tremendous senator. He gives tremendous and careful consideration of legislation and brings forward issues related especially to the rural, northern and aboriginal nature of our area. When we have a constituency larger than virtually any country in Europe and there are only two of us, it is great to have the support of a very hard-working senator.
I believe the Bloc raised a question on examples of Canadian leadership in foreign affairs. The member mentioned that a past foreign affairs minister talked about our diminishing role in foreign affairs. I agree that this occurred. That is why we are so proud of the present Prime Minister. When he took leadership, he had three major goals. One was to reinstate Canada's standing in the world. He has undertaken and been successful in a number of areas, in particular related to heritage, to which I do not think anyone in the House would object.
Not only do we have the bill before us now, but we recently were elected to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. We chair the UNESCO committee mediating disputes over cultural property. We championed the UNESCO convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. The U.K. and Japan have both sought advice from Canada on Hague and UNESCO conventions before joining them. The Canadian Conservation Institute is an international leader in the research and treatment of culture and property. The Canadian Heritage Information Network is an international leader in information systems for cultural collections, including recently providing advice to UNESCO on a new collection management system for the Baghdad museum.
In other areas of creating our place in the world, in respect to the member's question, we have expanded our consulates across the United States. In particular, I am proud of the one in Alaska. We have been one of the leaders in providing assistance to the African Union in Darfur. We have done tremendous work, everyone here would agree, in Haiti. We are taking an even more dangerous role in Afghanistan, moving our troops from Kabul to Kandahar. I have been over there and seen the tremendous work Canada is doing on the international stage and the leadership role it is taking.
We have the new Canada-Mexico Partnership Agreement. We have played a tremendous leadership role in providing money for AIDS in Africa, the Canada Corps in elections in Ukraine and Lebanon and the $70 million global fund for malaria, AIDS and TB. There was a time when the world effort in polio was collapsing. Canada came to the rescue. The Rotary Clubs across Canada have thanked the government for that. We have provided third world debt relief and tsunami relief. We have worked with other institutions like the G-20 in times when the United Nations did not work.
One thing I am most proud of as a Canadian, as I am sure all Canadians are, is when we were at the recent 60th anniversary of the UN. I was there in September when Canada finally got the responsibility to protect agreed to by signatories of members of the United Nations. This is a fantastic achievement. There was a great celebration of the Canadian delegation, the Prime Minister, our ambassador and the foreign affairs minister in New York. Citizens of nations that do not protect them can now be protected with the responsibility to protect agreement. We are now working hard on implementing systems for that.
A member of the Bloc also asked was how well we fulfilled our obligations for preparations of protection of cultural heritage in peacetime. There are a number of areas where we are working during peacetime to provide this protection. We are not waiting for a catastrophe to occur or for something to be destroyed.
I thought it was very important that the member from Winnipeg and some of the NDP members mentioned that the conflicts around the world now are different. They are not always about two nations warring over property. There are religious disputes. There are non-international terrorism types of disputes. There is an intentional targeting of cultural property for the purpose of trying to suggest that a people or their history did not exist. Of course, it does not matter what the cause of destruction of cultural heritage or property is, but these matters just make the problem ever more complex. That is why during peacetime we have to do our duty to get ready and put everything in provisions for protecting this.
What we are doing is that, first, we have disaster preparedness training by the Canadian Conservation Institute. Also, most Canadian museums are now developing disaster plans. The government's new critical infrastructure assurance program of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada will include in its plans the key national symbols, such as buildings and monuments and important heritage property. We also have an elaborate new system of training military personnel in regard to cultural property. As well, the Hague convention is already in place, without need of additional resources.
For years we have been onside with the other efforts related to the protection of cultural property, obviously, and this is not the first convention or the first international initiative. We have always been onside and in the spirit of this. Our military has always been carefully trained. In the training of every member of the military there is included the understanding of the importance of cultural and religious property, buildings and artifacts so that our troops can do their best, first, to be in line with international law and follow international law and conventions, but also simply in the spirit of protecting something so important to the existence of peoples on earth so that the immeasurable loss of property does not occur.
Bill S-37 would basically provide a basis for Canada to go forward in joining the two protocols of the Hague convention. As I mentioned earlier, before Canada joins conventions we always do a legal analysis before we sign to ensure that we have the legal tools in place so that we can implement those conventions.
In regard to this bill, although we have a lot of the items and the resources in place and obviously the goodwill and spirit in place, we do need to make some amendments to the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. We already have a number of provisions in place, some of which I have already referred to, in the National Defence Act and the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, which would help us implement this convention.
One of the major benefits of the second protocol we would be assenting to, as I think the speaker from Oshawa mentioned, is that we would be able to prosecute Canadians. It is a very strong initiative of this bill. We would actually be able to prosecute Canadians when they commit crimes overseas. If some rogue Canadian or organized crime group from Canada were to go overseas and commit these offences against cultural property or try to repatriate them to Canada during a conflict, not only would be able to prosecute them in Canada through the second protocol and the amendments we are making, but we could send that property back to its rightful owners.
The 1954 Hague convention was a reaction by the international community to the terrible damage inflicted on cultural sites, monuments and buildings during the course of World War II. Of course, there were treaties going back to the beginning of the 20th century and even earlier that condemned the international destruction of cultural sites during war, but the experience of World War II demonstrated that more needed to be done to prohibit and prevent such acts.
Why? Because we understand today that the loss of important cultural heritage is a loss that reaches across time and robs future generations of a legacy that is rightfully theirs.
UNESCO took action and in 1954 adopted the Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. UNESCO celebrated its 60th anniversary this past week. In a speech marking that occasion, the director general of UNESCO said:
What we are celebrating today is not so much the commemoration of a past event but pride in our capacity to respond with courage, energy and commitment to the challenges of our time.
That is also what we are here to do today: to respond with courage, energy and commitment to the challenges of our time. We certainly appreciate the support of all speakers from the other parties in the spirit of international protection of cultural property, the legacy of us all.
In addition to the Hague convention itself, UNESCO has also established two protocols to the convention. The second protocol in particular came about partly because of the changes that we have seen in conflicts and the risk to cultural heritage in the years since the convention was adopted.
We know that the first protocol prohibited the illegal export of cultural property from occupied territories and required the return of such property in the event of illegal export, and it allowed for the safekeeping of cultural property by a state party at the request of another state party in the event of an armed conflict. I believe there are currently 91 state parties that are signatories to the first convention.
As we are all aware, since September 11 the nature of conflict has changed and brings even more complicated dangers to the cultural heritage that is so important to history, to all of us and to the various culture and peoples of the world. We have seen an increase in non-international ethnic or religion based conflicts. These sorts of conflicts have included more intentional targeting of cultural property than ever before.
We saw this during the war in the former Yugoslavia, which included widespread destruction of cultural sites, such as the 1991 attack on the world heritage city of Dubrovnik. To illustrate the magnitude of the destruction that the Hague protocol seeks to prevent, let me turn members' attention to the example of the destruction of the library in Sarajevo. The library contained 1.5 million books and virtually the country's entire national archives. Let us think of a library containing all of Canada's historical documents and all our national archives. That particular library was bombarded for three days in August 1992. The building was gutted by fire and 80% of the collection was destroyed. One witness said that even though it was late August, it felt like premature fall, when, for a period of almost a week, charred bits of books fell like leaves as ashes from the sky.
If there is anything that Canada could do as a nation to make sure that such a terrible event is not repeated, it is our duty as a civilized country to do it.
What have we done? Canada is a party to the Hague convention. We are also a member of other international treaties governing conflict, including the Geneva conventions of 1949, and in particular an additional protocol to those conventions which prohibits the international targeting of cultural property and its use in the support of military operations. As I have said, because of the Geneva convention of 1949, its protocol and our military training, this is another additional step that Canada is taking in the protection of cultural property.
This aspect of international law is deeply ingrained in the training and conduct of our military. Rule 9 of the code of conduct of Canada's military forces is the requirement to respect all cultural objects and places of worship. This is basic training for every member of our military. Additional training on the law of armed conflict and on international humanitarian law, including the Hague convention, is also offered during officer training and to senior officers every year across the country.
In advance of every deployment, our troops are given mission specific training on the law of armed conflict. I do not think I would be overstating the case by saying that Canada's armed forces are among the best trained--if not the best--of any nation's troops when it comes to understanding international laws and obligations that apply to conflict and military activity. Within our military, there is also a very sophisticated legal mechanism within our military checks and balances, which ensures that targets are not chosen in violation of international law, including the Hague convention, which we have been discussing at length today, and of course its two protocols.
Our legal expertise is well recognized. It was a member of Canada's armed forces who led the UN war crimes investigation team investigating war crimes in former Yugoslavia and in particular the attack on the historic city of Dubrovnik. For that act, the former members of the Yugoslav military were recently convicted of war crimes related to the destruction of cultural heritage.
When I was commenting on Canada's recent valuable contributions in international affairs in the world, I should have added the tremendous support and leadership we had related to the international court. Also, several of my constituents have written to me just this week about the great Canadian leadership in the banning of landmines, which have such destructive effects on innocent civilians far past the original conflict.
Canada's commitment to protecting cultural heritage during conflict is steadfast. With the passage of Bill S-37, we have an opportunity to strengthen that commitment even further by joining the Hague protocols, because we know how important heritage is and how devastating the loss can be and because we have a military that is second to none and it has contributions to make.
We are also exceedingly happy that the international world now has progressed to such a level and that there are so many signatories, in the order of 90. It was 91 for the first protocol and a few less for the second protocol. We do not have to worry about states using this against us, using it against freedom loving countries to hide behind, which was the case when the original protocols came out.
Other countries thought that the eastern bloc countries in particular would not live up to the spirit or the responsibility and in fact might use some important historic buildings as a shield to protect themselves, their illicit activities, their oppression and their dictatorships so that no one could attack them, so that we would helping their criminal regimes and dictatorships exist longer because of a protocol that they would inappropriately use to protect certain buildings. There were certain countries whose headquarters for such actions actually did exist in very historic buildings with a long history of important cultural heritage over the generations for those countries, but those buildings had been taken over by particularly aggressive regimes.
Let us respond with courage and commitment to the challenges of our time. I urge us to join the Hague protocols. I appreciate the support of all the parties. Let us clear the way to supporting Bill S-37.