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House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, today we are considering Bill C-459, which calls on the Parliament of Canada to recognize the victims of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 by establishing a Ukrainian famine and genocide memorial day and, furthermore, to declare the famine an act of genocide.

As many Canadians are aware, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the holodomor, an artificial famine created by policies promoting the brutal forced collectivization of agriculture throughout the Soviet Union. The famine affected Kazakhstan, parts of Russia and the Volga German Republic, but was most markedly felt in the Ukraine.

We may never know how many people died from starvation during the great famine in Ukraine. The Commission on the Ukraine Famine, created by the United States Congress, published the results of its research in 1990. The commission's findings, along with research undertaken by Ukrainian scholars in the 1980s, suggest that the number of victims in Ukraine alone--80% of the total victims of the famine--was 4.5 million to 5 million, approximately 15% of Ukraine's population at the time. Some may consider these numbers to be conservative. Ultimately, as many as 10 million deaths in Ukraine during the 1930s may be attributable to the famine.

How is it that this horrific famine occurred in Ukraine, which at least until the breakout of World War I was known as the breadbasket of Europe?

In the decade following the Russian revolution of 1917, Soviet policies were systematically aimed at the elimination of the better off farmers, the vast majority of whom, by Canadian standards, had only modest holdings. Beginning in 1927, increasingly harsh measures were taken against them. By 1930, nearly 250,000 Ukrainians were forcibly deported to Central Asia, Serbia and the Soviet Far East. Unfortunately, many perished in the process.

In spite of the elimination of those thought most likely to oppose collectivization, the Soviet policy of forcibly creating large state-run farms, the majority of farmers in Soviet Ukraine continued to resist. Between 1929 and 1931, an estimated 10,000 party functionaries worked throughout rural areas in Soviet Ukraine expropriating property and livestock, coercing individuals into collective farms, and confiscating grain and eventually all other foodstuffs, including seed stocks.

Agricultural work understandably suffered greatly. Starting in 1931, harvests in the Soviet Ukraine became notably smaller. However, the central government's quota for deliveries did not decrease. By the spring of 1932, famine arrived in Ukrainian villages. By 1933, starvation became the norm in rural Soviet Ukraine.

Soviet officials not only denied the famine but continued to export grain abroad. Furthermore, unlike the famine of 1921-22, outside aid was not sought and indeed was turned away when offered. Some western governments and other observers and journalists, notably Walter Durante of The New York Times, also denied the existence of the famine. It is ironic that Durante was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 1932 for his reporting on the Soviet Union.

While the Soviet Union still existed, Ukrainians were not allowed to openly discuss the events of the 1930s. The Soviets even tried to paint western scholarship documenting the atrocities as propaganda. The suffering during the great famine, however, could not be erased from the collective memory of the Ukrainian nation. Allow me to quote from Robert Conquest, the noted scholar and chronicler of the great famine:

The Soviet assault on the peasantry and on the Ukrainian nation, in 1930-1933, was one of the largest and most devastating events in modern history. It was a tremendous human tragedy--with many more dead than in all countries together in World War I. It was a major economic disaster...[with] hideous consequences.

In Canada, the Ukrainian Canadian community of more than one million citizens was among the first to recognize the need to bring the great famine to the world's attention. Accordingly, Ukrainian Canadians have been at the forefront in ensuring that the famine is recognized for the terrible suffering it brought to Ukrainians. It brought devastation upon the countryside and Ukrainian agriculture, and ultimately it must not be forgotten by future generations.

In Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor, the Ukrainian Canadian community has erected memorials to honour the victims. In November 2007, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress began a year of commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of the great famine, to bring the victims' suffering to the attention of all Canadians and to help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

As is well known, Canada has close bilateral relations with Ukraine. In recognition of this fact and to underscore our abhorrence of this calamity, Canada also co-sponsored a resolution, adopted at the 2007 UNESCO general conference in Paris, expressing sympathy to the victims of the famine and calling upon member states to consider promoting awareness of the great famine through educational and research programs.

Canada further co-sponsored a ministerial declaration on the 25th anniversary of the famine at the 2007 Ministerial Meeting of the OSCE in Madrid, which underlined the “importance of raising public awareness of the tragic events...of promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, of strengthening the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for prevention of [similar] human tragedies in the future”.

On November 28, 2007, the Prime Minister, at a commemoration ceremony on Parliament Hill, spoke of the famine as the result of Stalin's despotism and squarely laid the responsibility for the tragedy on his brutal policies. In his statement, the Prime Minister honoured those Ukrainians who suffered horribly during collectivization, noting that the result of the collectivization was:

--one of the worst famines the world has ever known, millions of men, women and children--mostly Ukrainian, but also some Kazakhs and Russians--died of starvation. Those who refused to yield were slaughtered.

The Prime Minister went on to say:

We in Canada are bonded to this dark chapter in human history by more than a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many of whom lost loved ones in the Holodomor. And so, all Canadians join us in commemorating this 75th anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932-33.

Our government supports the efforts to remember the victims of the great famine and the reasons behind their deaths as a way to prevent history from repeating itself. We believe that the famine of 1932-33 was a great tragedy which claimed millions of lives in the former Soviet Union, most notably in Ukraine. Canada believes that commemorating this event is one way to ensure that such tragedy does not occur again.

The bill before us seeks to recognize and honour the victims of the great famine. The government concurs wholeheartedly with the need for recognition of the victims and the commemoration of their suffering, to understand the reasons behind this tragedy. Not forgetting the horrors of the great famine is among the best memorials we can give its victims. Remembrance is a living memorial to the victims and their loss of life, human rights and dignity.

The member for Toronto Centre correctly observed the fact that there have indeed been a tremendous number of these events. Our government is working diligently with the Ukrainian community to bring this to a proper, correct conclusion.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, since my March 4 question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, there has been little progress in the government's efforts to have the death sentence of Mr. Mohamed Kohail commuted.

Aside from the serious problems caused by the change in government policy with respect to seeking clemency only in certain cases where Canadians have been sentenced to death in foreign countries, we know that the author of that misguided policy, the Minister of Public Safety, visited Saudi Arabia and talked with officials about Mr. Kohail's case. What good came out of those meetings the minister had is really not known. However, with less than four weeks left before the appeal ruling occurs, there is genuine concern that indeed time is running out on Mr. Kohail.

The entire trial of Mohamed Kohail only took 90 minutes. Moreover, there was no opportunity provided to Mr. Kohail's lawyers to cross-examine the witnesses testifying against Mohamed.

Canada should not only be seeking to have the death penalty against Mohamed Kohail overturned, the Canadian government should also be using every measure at its disposal to engage Saudi authorities.

Mr. Kohail's life hangs in the balance, and that is why I ask the hon. member if he can give this House his assurances that Canada will indeed do all it can to display to the Saudi government that Mr. Kohail deserves to have his life spared and the original guilty verdict overturned on appeal.

I also want to remind the hon. member that this is not a partisan issue. The life of a Canadian citizen is at stake. I believe that Canadians expect their government will do all it can to save Mr. Mohamed Kohail's life. I would like to believe that the government is engaging the Saudis and that our embassy is actively using its resources to this end.

There are just a few weeks remaining before the ruling on Mr. Kohail's appeal occurs. We have to ensure that this remaining time is indeed used wisely.

We are not lecturing the Saudis. We are not questioning their judicial system. Canada must, however, stand up for its citizens. I ask the hon. member to ensure that that is exactly what is being done in the case of Mr. Kohail in these few remaining days that are left.

6:45 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East for his comments in the House on the case of Mohamed Kohail, a young Canadian citizen sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. I share his concerns very much, and I can assure him that the Government of Canada is doing everything possible to seek clemency for this young Canadian.

As the member stated, we are not interfering with the Saudi judicial system. What we are asking is that clemency be shown to this young Canadian as we are all appalled at the death sentence handed out to this young Canadian.

I would like to assure the hon. member that Mr. Kohail's case continues to be monitored closely by the Prime Minister, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and by myself.

I would like to point out that departmental officials in Ottawa and Saudi Arabia have been actively involved in the case since Mr. Kohail was arrested in January 2007. Our officials have also attended the court hearings. When consular officials were prevented from entering the courtroom to observe a session, our embassy in Riyadh sent a diplomatic note to the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs to protest this exclusion.

Canadian officials remain in close contact with Mr. Kohail's family and legal counsel, as well as the relevant Saudi authorities to explore all avenues available to assist Mr. Kohail, including the appeal of his sentence and the granting of clemency.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has written to his Saudi counterpart to request that the government of Saudi Arabia review the verdict. On a recent visit, the Minister of Public Safety also reiterated this government's position and requested that a review of the decision be conducted in accordance with Saudi law.

The Minister of Public Safety also spoke with Mohamed Kohail and his family to convey his personal assurances of the importance that the government attaches to this case.

The Canadian ambassador in Saudi Arabia is actively involved and has personally met with Mr. Kohail, his family and legal counsel to discuss developments on the legal aspects. Our ambassador also recently met with the Saudi minister of justice to seek assurances that due process will be observed in the appeal.

As demonstrated by all our actions, the hon. member can see that this case is a priority for this government and will remain so until we are satisfied that Mr. Kohail is accorded due process and that his human and legal rights are upheld.

The Government of Canada continues to engage Saudi authorities to ensure that Mr. Kohail's rights are respected and that he is afforded due process. I can assure the member that repeated representations have been made and will continue to be made to senior level officials.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very encouraged by the comments of the parliamentary secretary. I know how hard he works. I realize that he has read part of this and he looks pretty tired, as would anyone who has done as much travelling as he has done. I also know the hon. member is very committed to this issue.

I take it that he will have also taken into consideration the more positive news with respect to Mr. Kohail's brother, Sultan. I am hoping that these positive steps taken by another court to bring in and cross-examine the prosecution can also be suggested, or at least inferred, in terms of our deliberations.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member, who keeps me busy by asking questions every night on consular affairs, but I am very happy that he does, because it shows concern on the part of both sides of the House for Canadians who find themselves in some legal dispute in other countries.

I can assure him that as he keeps the government in line, the government makes sure that our consular services are available and we will do everything possible to help Canadians who have been caught in some kind of a legal problem overseas.

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to a question asked in this House on March 4, on the negotiations at the World Trade Organization and on the fisheries subsidies.

In many ways the minister's response was more than disappointing. I hope today that the parliamentary secretary's response will be a little more encouraging.

Far be it from me to use alarmist language, but the situation today is such that it is reasonable to think that it is important for the government to truly take an interest and develop a fisheries strategy, in light of the negotiations at the World Trade Organization.

Let me explain the situation we are in today. There is a text, a preliminary text, I agree, but a text nonetheless that stipulates that subsidies would be prohibited, in the event the text in question is approved or becomes part of an agreement. Under the text in question, all infrastructure, small craft harbours, would be affected, as well as everything involving fishing vessels, in terms of restoration and repair. This spells certain disaster.

Short of claiming, as the parliamentary secretary will probably do in the next few minutes, that these are preliminary texts, that the negotiations might come to an end, the government is truly burying its head in the sand and avoiding reality. I think that is absolutely irresponsible.

The responsible thing to do in this situation would be to say that a preliminary text has been circulating, that we do not like it, that we will work on it. In the meantime, however, this is an admission of failure. The text is circulating because we did not manage to get our point of view across. In our view, countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United States and others, that want to completely cut or eliminate certain subsidies from the fisheries are going down the wrong path.

We absolutely have to have a government that truly defends the fisheries, instead of simply navigating through murky waters without trying to correct the situation.

That is why I said that the minister's response was more than disappointing. I hope the answer we get today will be more encouraging.

6:55 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend and colleague for his interest in this issue. I am pleased to be able to provide some clarification about these WTO negotiations, which began in 2001.

Since roughly 85% of the fish and seafood we harvest is exported, there is no question that Canada needs free and fair trade. The reduction of subsidies and tariffs that are affecting our access to world markets is precisely what we are trying to obtain in these negotiations.

In addition, Canada has made it clear that it is against global overcapacity and overfishing, which result in part from irresponsible subsidies for deep sea fleets.

The chair introduced the first draft text at the end of November 2007 on his own initiative as an attempt to get countries to bring their diverse views together. When the chair of the negotiating group introduced his draft text, he indicated that he did not expect participants to agree to his text at this early stage but he wanted it to be used as a basis for discussion. The chair invited WTO members to accept all, or some, or none of his text.

The chair's first draft is unacceptable to Canada and virtually every WTO member has major concerns with one or more areas of the draft text. It includes aspects that we had thought from general discussions would be excluded. This could include income support, such as EI, and port infrastructure, such as small craft harbours. Canada has stated repeatedly that social safety net programs do not belong in the mandate of this negotiating group because they do not contribute to overfishing and overcapacity. As for port infrastructure, Canada has strongly objected to prohibitions in this area.

The chair also neglected to include certain exemptions, including an exemption for small programs which would have little implication for global overcapacity and overfishing, especially on the high seas, but which are indeed important aspects of domestic policy. Important programs for aboriginal and inshore fisheries would be included here.

In five WTO meetings since the release of the first draft text, Canada has repeatedly insisted that the chair issue a new draft text as soon as possible. The chair has in turn insisted that a first reading of the entire draft text must at least be concluded. That is still under way.

Even though some people have implied that the government is taking a laissez-faire approach to these negotiations, I can assure you that the interests of Canadian fisheries have been and continue to be actively defended in these negotiations. In addition, a huge effort has been made to ensure that the stakeholders, including the provinces, the territories, the first nations and the industry, are kept informed about what is happening.

Notwithstanding misinformation circulating that there is an imminent end to these negotiations, there will be no subsidy agreement until all agree. Decision making requires consensus, not just on fisheries subsidies but on all other aspects of the general subsidy regime.

In conclusion, there are aspects of the draft fisheries subsidies text that Canada supports and that advance Canada's trade and conservation interests, but Canada will only agree to a regime that is acceptable to us and we will continue to work hard to ensure this.

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, on his efforts to speak French. Bravo. I acknowledge his effort, but unfortunately, it did nothing to allay my fears about what is now happening.

As I understand it, my colleague supports an approach that is even worse than laissez-faire. I might even call it indifference with respect to what is going on right now. The minister's response in March and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans' response today did not suggest strength of will to not only protect but also promote the development of the fishery in Quebec and the other jurisdictions. I did not sense that in his answer.

Rather, what I sensed was that he does not care about what is going on. If I had to make a prediction, I would say that if attitudes do not change, the fisheries sector will be in danger because of the current government's indifference.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised by that response.

This government supports the efforts that are being made in this round to liberalize trade in the fisheries sector.

These negotiations are also making it possible to eliminate the subsidies that contribute to global overcapacity and overfishing. On November 30, 2007, when the chair presented his preliminary proposal, he clearly indicated that he expected each party to find some things appropriate, others less so, and still others totally unacceptable.

Canada is clear that the chair's first draft proposal is unacceptable. A second draft must be produced and include more acceptable language.

Finally, the Doha round will not be over until all the negotiations in all areas, including fisheries subsidies, are concluded to the satisfaction of Canada.

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 7:01 p.m.)