Mr. Chair, thank you for your excellent chairing of the events tonight in this incredibly important discussion and debate.
It is obvious that not only the people here on both sides of this chamber but people around the world are consumed with the frustration that surrounds this whole situation related to Sudan and Darfur. My frustration hit a peak when I was at the United Nations in a former iteration as opposition critic for foreign affairs a number of months ago. I was consumed and distressed by what was happening in Sudan and Darfur.
I had the opportunity, after a session where a number of us were presenting, to speak to the representative from Sudan, the representative from the Khartoum regime. I thought this would be a great opportunity. Obviously I knew I was not going to make a huge impact on his life with my plea for sanity and for opening things up for the African Union and other things. I was not going to insult him. I was not going to attack him. I was just going to make a plea from my heart, in a respectful way, for a consideration of sanity in terms of what was going on.
I approached him, introduced myself and simply said, “Do you have any thoughts on what we can do about the crisis?” He simply said two words that summed it up, in my view. He said, “What crisis?” He was the representative of the Khartoum regime.
So it is not difficult to tap into this vein of frustration that we feel around the world and here in Canada. I know what it is like to stand outside in the rain with students, as many of my colleagues have, as we have called out, certainly to the government of the day, but we were speaking out to anybody who was listening in terms of saying that something must be done, and to stand with people who stand far taller than I ever could in this debate, people like Justin Laku and others who continually go to that area of the world and come back with these distressing reports.
The frustration is extreme because of the déjà vu quality of what we are seeing. We are haunted by words. We are haunted by previous incidents, by our own General Dallaire in Rwanda begging the world community, saying, “Please, we have to do something or a genocide of untold proportions will unfold”. To see the United Nations paralyzed then and not able to do anything, and now to see this whole bad movie starting to circulate again, it is a tremendous, heart-rending anguish that is felt throughout the world community.
The will is there and the resources are there, but to this point, though we are recently encouraged and we hope there is going to be some substance to give us ongoing encouragement, it has been a very distressing time for the world community, although nowhere near as distressing as it has been for the four million people who have been displaced, for the families of two million who have perished in this conflict. We have no idea of what that is like.
Our nation, quite rightly, comes to a standstill when four of our young men return in coffins from a foreign field. We shudder to a stop at the thought of four lives being lost, and rightly so. It shows that we have no understanding and no concept of what happens to the soul of a country when two million have died, when four million have been displaced and they cry out to the world and all they hear are those deafening and excruciating sounds of silence. We have no idea of what that must be like.
It is important that we reflect on this. I would like to read a couple of quotations for members. One is a quotation that came in from Don Cheadle, the gentleman who played in the documentary movie Hotel Rwanda. He says, “Not since the Rwanda genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of slaughter, rape, starvation and displacement as is happening right now in Darfur”.
He goes on, stating, “In Darfur, government-backed militias, known collectively as the Janjaweed, are systematically eliminating entire communities and ways of life. Villages are razed, women and girls raped and branded, men and boys murdered, and food and water supplies targeted and destroyed...Hundreds of thousands have died. Millions more are at risk”. It defies our imagination.
In terms of Canada's contribution, we have done things. Over the last few years there has been about $170 million in aid, to go to some of the most basic things such as water wells and nutrition centres. And yes, we have been there with equipment, valuable and needed equipment for observers and forces to use. On a grand scale, $170 million is still a lot of money, and on the other side of the equation in terms of what may be appear to be smaller amounts, we have done things.
I would like to acknowledge tonight two RCMP officers, RCMP Corporal Barry Meyer, from the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. He was deployed to Sudan on April 19. He will be joined by one other RCMP member, Sergeant Richard Davis from Ottawa, who will be deployed to Sudan in mid-May. We have to imagine this. We have to picture this: a grand total of two RCMP officers going to Sudan to somehow be involved in trying to have some influence on the policing forces in that particular regime. They are two Canadians of whom we can be proud. They are going into dangerous territory.
Two people is better than none, but two thousand would be better than two. That is why we are encouraging governments everywhere to respond as best they can. It seems there is finally some agreement from the Khartoum regime that the African Union can be acknowledged to come in there with resources: yes, with support and life-giving resources, and yes, we also have to face this reality, with troops.
I want us to pause for minute here, because some of the prevailing conditions in Sudan are not totally unlike what has been happening in Afghanistan. The order of magnitude is much greater in Sudan and Darfur, let us make no mistake about that, but some of the underlying conditions are the same. It is an incredibly oppressive regime, a regime that deprives people of their rights, a regime that kills and slaughters those who stand in its way, and a regime under which a people cries out to the world, asking us to please come and help them.
As Canadians, we realize this has to be a combination of food, water, teaching and policing. How are we going to react if we are also called upon for troops? The conditions are about the same, though on a greater magnitude of scale, let us acknowledge that, as they are in Afghanistan. Are we going to be willing, should it come to that? Should things go sideways, as they can in a situation like this, will we be willing to stand with not just our troops but our RCMP officers and others as they face what will be one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century?
I believe that Canadians will rise to the occasion. I believe Canadians want us to do this. I am encouraged that our Prime Minister is greatly burdened by this, along with our Minister of Foreign Affairs and colleagues on all sides of the House. This is not a partisan issue. We must act. We cannot let this go unnoticed. I will close with a quote from Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, referring to victims of the Holocaust. He said in reference to this, and some members may have heard his comments recently, “Let us remember: What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander”.
Let us not be bystanders.