Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Wetaskiwin.
It is with great honour that I rise today to take part in the debate on the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. I take part in the debate, solemnly acknowledging the sacrifices our soldiers make each day in Afghanistan and the extended mission we are asking them to take on.
Canada has lost some of its bravest soldiers during this mission and I feel it is ever more important that we keep their ultimate sacrifices in mind as we consider the motion.
I will be supporting the motion before us today. I note that the motion expressly states that this House believes that Canada must remain committed to the people of Afghanistan beyond February 2009.
It is this statement that appeals to the hearts and minds of Canadians by committing Canada to upholding the very rights and freedoms we cherish. It is this statement that I feel echoes the sentiments expressed by a great Canadian leader who is recognized, among many things, for his pursuit of basic human rights for all people.
While introducing Canada's Bill of Rights in 1960, former Prime Minister the right hon. John Diefenbaker said:
I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
The right hon. John Diefenbaker was committed to ensuring men and women, regardless of age, sex or ethnicity, were free. He was also committed to ensuring that these rights existed for all people, not just Canadians.
I believe his declaration of rights and freedoms epitomizes what Canada has stood for throughout history and continues to stand for today.
From World War II, when we liberated Holland of its Nazi oppressors, to the Korean War, where we stood firm to halt the aggression from the north and maintain peace, and to the current mission in Afghanistan, Canada has been a beacon of hope to millions of people. Throughout it all, we have fought to uphold the rights and freedoms of all people.
It was never a question of whether it was worth it. It was never a question of value. Canada took on these dangerous missions because it was the right thing to do. That is why I am disappointed when I hear members questioning why we are currently in Afghanistan, members questioning the value of this mission.
I was extremely disappointed when I heard the hon. member for Vancouver East, during the debate on Monday, ridicule the Conservative position that Canada is in Afghanistan to defend democracy.
What appalls me is that she made this misinformed statement mere days after six female members of Afghanistan's national assembly visited Canada, and not only thanked Canada for its humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance but urged Canada to continue its efforts to ensure that democracy would survive.
If the hon. member for Vancouver East will not take the government at its word, I hope she will at least acknowledge the legitimate appeals from a female member of Afghanistan's national assembly.
The NDP and the Bloc would have us pull our troops out and leave that country to stand on its own. However, I am grateful that our government and the official opposition believe that it is fundamentally important to ensure the rights and freedoms of all people are protected, including those outside of Canada.
We understand that this cannot be done solely by holding peace rallies and making lofty proclamations. At times, protecting lives requires using force. At times, supporting the quest for freedom, rights, democracy and equality requires intervention and sacrifice.
It is at these times that Canada has always led by example, and our brave men and women in the armed forces have shown exemplary courage.
I would like to move on to an important issue that personally impacts me. March 8 was International Women's Day. I feel it is only fitting, as a female member of Parliament, that I address the inroads that we have made in Afghanistan with respect to women's rights.
I am pleased that Canada is developing a local, field-managed, rapid response fund to help reduce discrimination against women and girls. This initiative will allow for more and more Afghani women to participate in the Afghani society.
It is also important to note that Canada's government has made it a priority to support projects for women in three primary areas: economic empowerment, access to education, and the legal protection of women's rights.
Since 2006 Canada has invested $13 million in the micro finance investment support facility, making it the largest donor. This program provides small loans and financial services to impoverished Afghans to start new businesses, and buy land and animals to support themselves.
What is so important about this particular micro finance program is that more than two-thirds of its clients are women who are being given the opportunity to participate equally in their society. This is astounding progress in a country that under the previous brutal regime prevented women from participating in society and denied them their basic human rights.
I have spoken at length about human rights and women's rights. I would like to speak about one of the most heinous abuses of human rights affecting Afghan women and children today, and that is human trafficking. This is an issue that I have passionately raised many times in the House.
Afghan children are trafficked internally as well as to Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Zimbabwe for commercial sexual exploitation, forced into marriage to settle debts or disputes, forced into begging and debt bondage, serve as child soldiers, or other forms of involuntary servitude. Afghan women are trafficked internally, and to Pakistan and Iran for commercial sexual exploitation. Men are trafficked to Iran for forced labour.
This is something that our government is addressing in Afghanistan. We are working to confront the poverty and underlying issues that cause human trafficking through our development aid programs.
It is important to remember we are in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghans themselves who have suffered decades of oppression and poverty. The values we hold dearly as Canadians, freedom, democracy and human rights, urge us to respond. That is why we must stay. There is much work to be done, especially in regard to human trafficking.
According to the U.S. trafficking in persons report, the government of Afghanistan has yet to meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, it is making a significant effort to do so. The Afghan government has been developing legislation to fight human trafficking over the past year.
Canada is playing a key part in helping Afghanistan develop its judicial system. We are currently helping to reform the Afghan justice system to promote human rights and protect its citizens. We have supported skills development in the Afghan supreme court, attorneys office, and the ministry of justice. We cannot do this if we are disengaged from Afghanistan.
I also want to note that the government of Afghanistan has made modest improvements in its efforts to protect victims of trafficking. In March 2007 the government of Afghanistan provided land to the International Organization for Migration to build a shelter especially designed for child victims of trafficking.
During the past year Afghanistan also conducted a broad public awareness campaign to educate the public on the dangers of trafficking and the resources for assistance.
I strongly believe that Canada can continue to play a guiding role in helping Afghanistan combat human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children, especially through development and diplomacy.
As I mentioned before, the roots of human trafficking are found in inequality and poverty. Canada is working to put an end to these very evils in Afghanistan.
Canada has invested over $50 million in the national solidarity program, which gives rural Afghans, especially women, the opportunity to have a voice in the development process. This process identifies community needs such as: safe drinking water and sanitation, transport, irrigation, electricity, education, health, public buildings, and improvements in agriculture.
These initiatives greatly help to eradicate the widespread poverty and inequality that contributes to the problem of human trafficking. Again, we cannot do this if we are not in Afghanistan.
Approximately a year ago, this very House unanimously passed my Motion No. 153 that called for the condemnation of the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It called on the government to immediately adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the trafficking of persons worldwide.
I would now ask that all members again unanimously support a motion that contains the same sentiments of combating human trafficking worldwide, in this case, in Afghanistan.
We want to continue in Afghanistan because it is the right thing to do. I know that all hon. members in this House are proud Canadians who are free to speak without fear, free to worship in their own way, free to stand up for what they think, free to oppose what they believe is wrong, and free to choose who governs their country.
I hope that they are also the type of Canadians who would pledge to uphold this heritage of freedom not just for themselves but for all of mankind by supporting this motion on Afghanistan that is before us today.