House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was food.


Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will just say that the government has had a terrible record concerning supply management in the last 30 months.

In Canada, we have already seen the dismantling of the call for tenders system for our aboriginal companies and communities, for example. There have been a number of situations where backroom deals took place, where the way in which the government carried out a call for tenders was compromised, and where the participating companies were complaining more and more about the tendering system.

It is up to us, as the official opposition, to pay close attention to what the government does with this free trade agreement.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2008 / 5:15 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-55.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade. The free trade agreement between Canada and the states of the European Free Trade Association, which are Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, was considered by our committee and I would like to make some comments on our findings.

First of all, I think we should look at the trade statistics between our countries which suggest that an agreement with the EFTA countries is of key importance to Canada.

We should note that the EFTA countries are the world's 14th largest merchandise traders and Canada's fifth largest merchandise export destination. They are key players. Two-way Canada-EFTA non-agricultural merchandise trade amounts to $5.6 billion. Canadian exports to EFTA totalled $5.1 billion in 2007 and include nickel, copper, pharmaceuticals, machinery, precious stones and metals, medical devices, aluminum, aerospace products, pulp and paper, organic chemicals, autos and parts, art and antiques. It covers a wide range of exports affecting many different areas of our country and affecting many different sectors of our economy.

Canadian imports from EFTA totalled $7.4 billion in 2007 and include mineral fuels, pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, machinery, medical and optical instruments, and clocks and watches.

Canadian foreign direct investment in EFTA was $8.4 billion in 2006. EFTA foreign direct investment in Canada amounted to $15.6 billion in 2006.

This is certainly an agreement to be reckoned with.

I would like to go back to the considerations of our committee in our study of the agreement. I will give some of the history on this agreement.

In January 2008 Canada signed a free trade agreement with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The group is collectively called EFTA, the European Free Trade Association.

The Canada-EFTA agreement is the first agreement to be tabled in the House of Commons under the federal government's new policy of allowing members of Parliament the opportunity to review and debate international treaties by tabling those treaties in the House of Commons for 21 sitting days.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade took this opportunity to conduct its hearings on Canada-EFTA in order to contribute to these discussions.

It has been actually 10 years since a Canada-EFTA trade agreement was first proposed with formal negotiations beginning in 1998. Unfortunately they hit an impasse in 2000 on the issue of treatment of ships and industrial marine products. These issues are still of concern to some in this country.

Concerns were expressed then over the possibility that free trade with EFTA would require Canada to remove its 25% tariff on ships and expose the Canadian industry, which was already struggling with excess capacity to increase competition from subsidized Norwegian producers.

It should be noted, however, that in the time since those concerns were expressed, Norway reported that it has stopped subsidizing its shipbuilders. In fact, His Excellency Markús Örn Antonsson, who is the ambassador of Iceland to Canada, noted that several attempts were made to break this impasse but negotiations did not resume until 2006.

In June 2007 the two sides announced that negotiations were completed. In January 2008 the agreement was formally signed in Davos, Switzerland.

The Canada-EFTA free trade agreement is rather modest in scope. It is a first generation free trade agreement focusing on tariff elimination and trade in goods. Unlike NAFTA, for example, CEFTA does not include any substantial new commitments to investment services or intellectual property. These issues, as well as most safeguards, anti-dumping and countervailing duties will continue to be addressed by the World Trade Organization. However, as the committee heard, there are provisions within the agreement to allow for these issues to be revisited after three years, should the two sides wish to do so. As a consequence, it is not as controversial as some of the other free trade agreements we have dealt with.

The CEFTA is comprised of four linked agreements: a main trade agreement and three bilateral agreements on agriculture between Canada and Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, respectively. Liechtenstein is covered in the Canada-Switzerland agreement. Under the terms of the main agreement, tariffs on all non-agriculture products will be eliminated immediately upon entry into force of the agreement. The only exception is Canadian ship tariffs. Tariff reductions in agriculture are country-specific, as will be discussed later.

With respect to ships, boats and floating structures, the committee heard that the Canada European free trade agreement provides the Canadian shipbuilding industry with one-way protection by which Canadian shipbuilders gain immediate and full access to the EFTA market, while certain protections are maintained in Canada. It is not an unusual type of provision.

For Canada's most sensitive shipbuilding products, there will be a 15 year phase-out of Canada's existing 25% tariff. For less sensitive products, the total phase-out period is 10 years. In all cases, however, there will be no reduction in the import tariff for the first three years of the agreement.

The sole exception is for post-Panamax sized cargo ships, so named because they are too large to navigate the Panama Canal. According to officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, no Canadian shipyard claims to be able to lay down a hull of this size. The Canadian tariff on ships of this size will fall to zero immediately upon entry into force of the agreement, which makes common sense.

Moreover, the CEFTA also includes a safeguard mechanism which offers additional protection to the Canadian shipbuilding industry. If imports from EFTA are found to be causing injury to Canadian shipbuilders within the 10 to 15 year phase-out period, then the tariff rate can revert to the pre-free trade rate of 25% for up to three years. The committee also heard that the CEFTA does not oblige Canada to modify its buy Canada procurement policy for ships.

Addressing the issue of agriculture and agri-food products, which is another area of concern, certainly the content of the three bilateral agreements on trade and agriculture differ from one another, reflecting the unique sensitivities and priorities of Canada and the individual EFTA countries. Under all three agreements, most agriculture and agri-food products will be traded tariff-free. However, each country gained and/or limited concessions on certain key agricultural and agri-food industries.

For example, the committee heard that Canada did not make any over-quota tariff concessions on supply-managed agricultural products, but did grant to Switzerland tariff-free in-quota access to the Canadian cheese market. Canada also gained improved, but not tariff-free, market access to certain sensitive sectors in EFTA countries. These include frozen french fries in Iceland, frozen blueberries and durum wheat in Norway, and durum wheat and horse meat in Switzerland.

The committee heard that the expected economic gains from tariff reductions under this trade agreement will be modest. Tariffs on many non-agriculture products are at perhaps what I would say are nuisance levels, 2% or less, and many other products are already traded tariff-free.

Nevertheless, several witnesses anticipated an increase in trade to result from this agreement. Certain Canadian industries are expected to benefit from improved market access, particularly in agriculture where most of the major tariff reductions are found. Some industrial sectors are expected to benefit as well. These include wood and metal products in Iceland, apparel products in Norway, and cosmetics in Switzerland.

Witnesses also observed that the benefits of the CEFTA may not be limited to lower tariffs. Other potential gains include opportunities for trade diversification, enhanced industrial cooperation, and through increased interaction with the European business active in the EFTA countries, closer economic ties with the European Union.

The agreement will also put Canada on an equal footing with EFTA's other free trade partners, and will give Canada an advantage over countries like the United States, which do not have a trade agreement with EFTA.

The committee also heard that trade agreements have an important symbolic impact.

The vice-president of government relations for Bombardier, George Haynal, when he appeared before the committee, stated that trade deals create a level of confidence among investors, even if, as in the case of CEFTA, investment is not included in the agreement.

Per Øystein Vatne, first secretary to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway, when he appeared before us, observed that the very presence of a free trade agreement creates interest in the business community; the appetite for trade missions to Canada from EFTA countries has increased markedly since the CEFTA was announced.

In fact, many of their parliamentarians appeared here in Ottawa before our committee as the negotiations were going on.

Some witnesses, however, expressed reservations about the deal. There is no question about that. Representatives from Canada's shipbuilding industry, in particular, were concerned about the potential impact of CEFTA on their sector.

Mr. Andrew McArthur, of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada, noted that Norway's world-class shipbuilding industry is not subsidized today, but owes its present competitiveness to generous government support in years past.

For this reason, Canadian shipbuilders wanted their industry to be explicitly excluded from the CEFTA, as it is from the NAFTA. They eventually agreed to accept a long term phase-out of tariffs, but their support was contingent upon a new Canadian shipbuilding policy that included a buy Canada policy for government procurement, and the combination of two existing support mechanisms that are currently mutually exclusive: the structured financing facility, SFF as it is known, and provisions for accelerated capital cost allowances, ACCA.

The CEFTA includes a long term phase-out of tariffs and preserves a buy Canada procurement policy, but no action has been taken on the SFF or capital cost allowances as of yet. As per their submissions to the government, representatives of Canadian shipbuilders and marine workers were adamant that without combined access to the SFF and ACCA, the impact of the agreement would be devastating to the industry and would lead to job losses. In their view, this additional government support was critical if the Canadian industry was to survive increased competition from Norwegian producers.

It was noted, however, that the tariff phase-out schedule, and safeguard provisions, for marine industrial goods was particularly generous. According to the counsel for the International Trade Group, Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, a lawyer who specifically deals with international trade, the 15 year phase-out on sensitive ship products is the second longest phase-out she has ever encountered in her study of 100 free trade agreements. However, Ms. Cherniak also cautioned the committee that this abnormally long phase-out period could meet some resistance at the WTO from other major shipbuilding countries, like China and South Korea.

In addition to shipbuilding, some concern was expressed about the impact of CEFTA on supply management in agriculture. Terry Pugh, executive secretary of the National Farmers Union, suggested that the in-quota tariff cut for supply managed products might weaken the foundation of the supply management program.

Finally, several witnesses noted that no economic impact studies had been conducted to estimate the effect of the CEFTA on the Canadian economy. It was suggested that without such studies, it was difficult to judge whether or not the deal would be good for Canada.

Certainly, we are an open committee and we collaborate very well. I would like to draw to members' attention the considerations of the Bloc Québécois, who were certainly very concerned about supply management and preserving it.

Since the elimination of the 7% tariff provided for in the agricultural agreement with Switzerland will affect only the market segment that is already covered by imports, the impact on our producers would be minimal.

However, this will make it all the more important to vigorously defend supply management at the WTO. A quota increase, coupled with the elimination of the within-quota tariff would expose our dairy farmers to increased competition from countries that, unlike Canada, subsidize their dairy production. Certainly, this is a point that the current government must take into consideration.

The Bloc were also concerned about shipbuilding. It felt that the adjustment period provided in the agreement is quite long, as it is, but it will be helpful only if accompanied by adjustment and upgrading programs for our shipyards. Otherwise, it will slow their decline, but nothing more.

Of course, that hits the concerns of possible subsidization and Norway understood this very well. It began a vigorous industrial policy and built up a health industry--

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst on a point of order.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that we do not have quorum in the House.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I seem to see full quorum.

And the count having been taken:

The hon. member for Welland has approximately five minutes to conclude his remarks.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was a suggestion by the Bloc that Canada has neglected its marine industry for years. Today our shipbuilding sector has fallen so far behind that it will be necessary to work in double quick time to make it up to date, productive and financially healthy when the market opens up to complete competition.

The Bloc was concerned that the government must immediately develop an aggressive marine sector policy to allow our industry to adjust. This policy must facilitate the industry's access to capital, stimulate investment, give preference to local suppliers in government procurements and encourage ship owners to buy vessels here. The policy must ensure that our shipyards can count on a prosperous marine transport sector, both by stimulating coastal shipping and by putting some order into international marine transport.

I would like to make reference to the Canadian Shipowners Association, which unfortunately did not appear before committee but made some submissions subsequently. It is interesting from my perspective because I come from the Great Lakes area and the inland shipping domestic fleet is very important.

The core of the CSA fleet, however, the bulkers and self-unloaders are averaging 35 to 40 years old and must be replaced. A 50 year old vessel, even in fresh water, is at its maximum life expectancy. Typically, these vessels are 730 to 750 feet in length and carry 22,000 to 25,000 tonnes of cargo with a crew of approximately 20 to 22. The problem is that the replacement cost of these vessels is roughly in the $40 million to $50 million range.

Historically, many of these vessels were built in Canadian shipyards that existed in the 1960s and 1970s, but today it is suggested that the Canadian yards are not able to build these vessels required to upgrade the CSA fleet. It is significant to note that the last Canadian-built bulker was completed in 1985. These companies are faced with the challenge of purchasing new vessels offshore either in Europe or Asia.

When these new vessels are imported into Canada for use in the coasting trading, within domestic waters, they are subject to a 25% duty as we have referenced resulting in a duty of $10 million or more per vessel. This is not only a tax on the Canadian ship owners but also the end users of marine transportation. These costs are obviously passed on. Canadian industries and consumers will bear the burden.

In a highly competitive commercial environment, where a few additional cents per tonne are very significant, the 25% duty creates a competitive disadvantage for those companies. As a consequence, they would like to see the 25% duty reduced as soon as possible. I would certainly like to reference that because of their inability to appear before committee at the time.

Perhaps I could conclude with a brief summary. CEFTA is a basic free trade agreement covering trade in goods. It includes no significant provisions on matters such as services, investment and intellectual property, but does leave the door open for these issues to be revisited. In terms of market access, the benefits of this agreement to Canada will largely be in the agriculture and agri-foods sectors. Some industrial sectors will benefit as well, although in most cases tariffs on non-agricultural products are not significant.

Shipbuilding was the most contentious issue of the trade negotiations and it would appear from the debate here this evening that it continues to be. It appears that Canada was able to successfully obtain generous phase-out terms giving the Canadian industry considerable time to adjust to increased competition from EFTA shipbuilders. However, concerns were raised about the long term viability of the Canadian shipbuilding sector in the absence of additional government support.

Therefore, the Canadian government must without delay implement an aggressive marine policy to support the industry while ensuring that any such strategy is in conformity with Canada's commitment at the WTO. That is subsidization specifically.

This agreement promises modest gains in trade and could pave the way for an expanded agreement that includes subjects like services and investment. Moreover, the point of several witnesses is that the very presence of a free trade agreement could create interest within the business community to explore economic opportunities in Canada and the EFTA countries.

In addition to reducing the tariffs, CEFTA would also act as a catalyst for increased trade investment and economic cooperation between Canada and the EFTA countries.

We are certainly in support of the agreement, but we want to make sure that the agreement reflects what we heard. That is why we would like to send it back to the international trade committee for further consideration.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:39 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 29, consideration of the motion that Bill C-459, An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have just emerged from a century which was the most tragic in the history of humanity. The 20th century will be remembered as a century characterized by multiple descents into hatreds, xenophobias and totalitarianisms which led humanity into the abyss of wars, famines and genocides.

November 2007 through to November 2008 is the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, the famine genocide of Ukraine's rural population in 1932-33. During this Holodomor, millions, perhaps as many as seven to ten million, were starved to death in the bread basket of Europe.

As a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, I am humbled to speak to Bill C-459, An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide. I am humbled, for I do not believe that I, or any of our hon. members, have the capacity to adequately describe the horrors of this genocide. Perhaps eye witness accounts best recollect this descent into hell.

Victor Kravchenko, a Soviet official who later escaped from the Soviet Embassy in the United States in 1944, wrote in his book, I Chose Freedom:

What I saw that morning...was inexpressibly horrible. On a battlefield men die quickly, they fight back.... Here I saw people dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his own home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables.

Another eyewitness documented that:

To safeguard the 1932 crop against the starving farmers...watchtowers were erected in and around the wheat, potato and vegetable fields...the same kind of towers that can be seen in prisons. They were manned by guards armed with shotguns. Many a starving farmer who was seen foraging for food near or inside the fields, fell victim to trigger-happy youthful vigilantes and guards.

The American traveller, Carveth Wells, who was in Ukraine in July 1932, described the early stages of the Holodomor and the “sight of small children with stomachs enormously distended” in his book, Kapoot:

We ourselves happened to be passing through the Ukraine and the Caucasus in the very midst of the famine in July, 1932. From the train windows children could be seen eating grass.

Another witness wrote:

The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood. Everywhere we found men and women lying prone (weak from hunger), their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless.

Zina, a small village girl, in a letter to her city-dwelling uncle, pleadingly wrote:

We have neither bread nor anything else to eat. Dad is completely exhausted from hunger and is lying on the bench, unable to get on this feet. Mother is blind from the hunger and cannot see in the least. So I have to guide her when she has to go outside. Please Uncle, do take me to Kharkiv, because I, too, will die from hunger. Please do take me, please. I'm still young and I want so much to live a while. Here I will surely die, for everyone else is dying....

The uncle received the letter at the same time that he was told of her death. He said:

I did not know what to say or what to do. My head just pounded with my niece's pathetic plea: “I'm still young and want so much to live....Please do take me, please....”

As the famine raged, Ukraine's lush countryside was denuded of its leaves and grasses as people ate anything that grew. In this denuded grey landscape, one by one, hundred after hundred, thousand after thousand, million after million lay down their skin and bones onto Ukraine's fertile black soils, life extinguished.

Stalin's march towards his communist, imperialist vision was fed by the corpses of millions, and the appeasement of world leaders unwilling to face down evil.

As millions starved, the Soviet Union exported grains from these fertile lands to the west; a west which, apart from a handful of brave politicians and journalists, turned its gaze away while eating the bounty, the bread of these starving lands.

As former Soviet official Kravchenko wrote:

Anger lashed my mind as I drove back to the village. Butter being sent abroad in the midst of the famine! In London, Berlin, Paris I could see ... people eating butter stamped with a Soviet trade mark. Driving through the fields, I did not hear the lovely Ukrainian songs so dear to my heart.... I could only hear the groans of the dying, and the lip-smacking of fat foreigners enjoying our butter....

A half century has passed since Stalin's death and his evil empire has been consigned to the history books of humanity's tragic 20th century.

As far back as UN General Assembly Resolution 96(1) of December 11, 1946, we can list international resolutions, decade after decade, condemning crimes against humanity and genocides.

Yet the Rwandan genocide took place before our eyes. All of our resolutions are nothing more than fine sounding rhetoric unless each and every one of us makes a pledge to act when hatred, conflict or crimes against our fellow human beings occur.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, is a saying we often mention. Nonetheless, today we are witnessing attempts at a genocide by attrition, a famine genocide in Darfur.

As elected representatives in a country with over 1.2 million citizens of Ukrainian ancestry, a common ancestry with those millions starved to death through a genocide by attrition, we cannot allow ourselves to forget humanity's common tragedies, and we must acknowledge our culpability when we do not act when facing evil; all the more so, as Canada is the country which, at the dawn of the 21st century, gave birth to the concept of the responsibility to protect at the United Nations World Summit in 2005.

Canada and Canadians have the ability to shine a light into the dark corners of the globe into countries such as Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe, where tribal and blood hatreds lead to ethnic cleansings.

We have the capacity to be a shield for the defenceless and the innocent who today echo little Zina's plea, “Please, I'm still young and I want so much to live a while”.

Here in Canada's House of Commons, on the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, the famine genocide of Ukrainians, let us pledge to ourselves and to those Canadians who have placed their trust in our leadership two simple words, never again.

[Member spoke in Ukrainian]

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place this afternoon among all parties and in the spirit of those two words, never again--

[Member spoke in Ukrainian]

--at the end of today's debate, there will be an unusual display of goodwill among all parties and respect for the millions who perished. There will be agreement on amendments to the Holodomor famine genocide bill which will allow its passage at all stages so it can be sent to the Senate.

[Member spoke in Ukrainian]

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased, but at the same time very sad, to rise here to speak to Bill C-459. The purpose of the bill is to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide.

I would first like to thank the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake for introducing Bill C-459.

I would like to say that it was an honour for the members of the Bloc Québécois to welcome Viktor Yushchenko, the President of Ukraine, here in the House yesterday. In recent years, he has helped Ukraine become freer, more democratic and more open to the rest of the world. Thus, as citizens of the world, Ukrainians can now participate in community life while respecting individual rights.

Of course, the Ukrainian president was here yesterday in order to promote good relations between Canada and Ukraine, but I also remember the hundreds of Ukrainians gathered yesterday in front of Parliament, near the flame, to commemorate this 75th anniversary of the Holodomor.

We should not be afraid to talk about it, since between 4 million and 10 million Ukrainians lost their lives in that famine, the most important scourge ever to hit Soviet Ukraine at the time. It began in the early 1930s and hit its crisis point in 1933. It was an artificial famine, not the kind of famine we usually hear about following a natural disaster, a drought or a plague of grasshoppers, which are common enough. No, it was a forced famine, artificially created by the communist regime at the time, Joseph Stalin's regime.

Joseph Stalin's regime used unacceptable measures, measures that we have a hard time grasping today, to starve a population, a nation state that had the right to live a national existence, a distinct population that deserved to be recognized. The tactics that regime used, when it confiscated the essential food supplies needed by the populace, must now be denounced in this House.

Grains and food stored in central warehouses were confiscated, shipped directly to Russia and then exported to Europe in order to sustain Joseph Stalin's revolution. This organized, artificial famine put in place by the Soviet regime had major consequences. I will say it again: between four and ten million Ukrainians died. It was essentially a crime against humanity.

We should review some of the history.

First, there have always been colonial links between Ukraine and Russia. Furthermore, at the time, Moscow refused to recognize Ukrainians as a distinct people, a people with the right to an independent nation.

Second, in the 20th century, Ukraine declared its independence six times and lost it five times. The 1918 proclamation of independence was ripped up by the Red Army when it decided to invade Ukraine and return it to the Russian fold. After doing everything to not recognize that Ukraine was made up of a distinct people with the right to independence, they used force to take away its independence.

Third, every expression of national Ukrainian character was perceived by Moscow as the rejection of Bolshevik power and a threat to the Soviet empire.

We have to take these historical facts into account in our analysis of Bill C-459. The famine of the 1930s illustrates Russia's colonial policy toward the Ukraine. That way of doing things, that policy, was neither more nor less than an act to destroy part of a national group. The goal was clear. Russia wanted to take everything away from Ukrainian peasants and take the Ukrainian nation by force through “dekulakization”; to uproot hundreds of thousands of richer peasants and evict them from their homes; to take everything away from those who were the lifeblood of the Ukrainian nation and deport them; and to exile the Ukrainian intellectual elite in order to prevent them from organizing.

The first step was “dekulakization”. Next, Russia collectivized agriculture in Ukraine, confiscating all farm assets and harvests, and storing and centralizing them as they saw fit without taking the people's needs into account. Is there anything more essential to farmers than farming? After getting rid of the peasants who were Ukraine's strength, Russia confiscated all of their goods, transported the goods to Russia and exported them.

Senior communist party officials considered Ukrainian peasants opposed to collectivization to be enemies and sought to eliminate them. Therefore, the Bloc Québécois is very pleased to stand with Ukrainians in supporting this bill.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to rise to speak to Bill C-459. I would like to thank the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake for tabling this very important piece of legislation and also for inviting me to second it. My party and I will be supporting all of the amendments, so hopefully we can get the bill passed in the spirit of cooperation today.

The bill as re-introduced today coincides with the visit by President Yushchenko yesterday. It was an honour for me to be here, as it was for others, and to listen to him. It is because of him and many others in Ukraine that the Orange Revolution was a success.

I have relatives who camped out many nights in Kiev in the hope that finally their country would achieve independence. It was moving to watch and to listen to the speeches yesterday at the flame ceremony commemorating the victims of the Holodomor, this forced famine and act of genocide.

For me it is a very moving time, because I have a personal stake in this. My family also suffered at the hands of Stalin and the ruthless communist regime.

As we know, research has stated that since 1917 millions of people were starved, executed or worked to death by this brutal Soviet regime. The Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn puts that number at around 60 million people. It is hard to imagine all those citizens of the former Soviet Union executed because of this brutal regime.

My family has suffered. My grandfather was a Russian Orthodox priest in the Far East who was taken away and executed. As a girl 10 years old, my mother had to go onto the frozen Amur River to try to find his body before she and her mother and siblings had to flee. Otherwise, they would have been on the hit list. My father was born in Ukraine. He fought in the civil war against the communists, the Bolsheviks, and was evacuated from the Crimea along with General Wrangel.

I first visited Ukraine in 1971. I remember relatives telling me of the horrors, my cousin especially, who experienced going from village to village trying to stay away from the hit squads and seeing big caravans of trucks going by the road. The flaps would go up and he would see piled up, row upon row, the dead bodies of those who suffered during this forced famine.

This is one of the tragedies in the history of humankind that is very hard for us to imagine. Before I go on to describe what has taken place, I would like to mention that there are those today, and I know there are in the Russian government, who do not want to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide and who want to wrap all this in as other unfortunate people who were executed or liquidated.

I would like to point out that this tragedy was engineered in Moscow. Certainly it was the Soviet Union that suffered, but the tragedy was engineered by the Soviet government, by Stalin, from Moscow, and part of this human tragedy that took place did take place in Ukraine. That was the forced famine to forcibly starve people to death. That is genocide.

I would like to implore the Russian people and their government, in the spirit of solidarity, to recognize that and to move on. Let us move forward and let us ensure that it never ever happens again.

Stalin decided to eliminate Ukraine's independent farmers for three reasons. My grandfather was an independent farmer in Ukraine. I had a chance to visit the old homestead in 1971. He was one of them. They represented the last bulwark of resistance to totalitarian Russian control.

The U.S.S.R. was in desperate need of foreign capital to build more factories. The best way to obtain that capital was to increase agriculture exports from Ukraine, once known as the breadbasket of Europe. The Soviet Union confiscated wheat from the Ukrainians, starving them to death, and at the same time exported the wheat to other parts of the world.

The fastest way to increase agricultural exports was to expropriate land through a process of farm collectivization and to assign procurement quotas to each Soviet republic. It is hard to believe, for example, that anyone caught hoarding food was subjected to execution as an enemy of the people or, in extenuating circumstances, imprisonment for not less than 10 years. My Aunt Lusha spent 10 years in a Soviet labour camp because she wanted food to feed her family.

To make sure that these new laws were strictly enforced, special commissions and brigades were dispatched to the countryside. In the words of one Sovietologist:

The work of these special “commissions” and “brigades” was marked with the utmost severity. They entered the villages and made most thorough searches of the houses and barns of every peasant. They dug up the earth and broke into the walls of buildings and stoves in which peasants tried to hide their last handfuls of food. They even in places took specimens of fecal matter from the toilets in an effort to learn by analysis whether the peasants had stolen government property and were eating grain.

Stalin succeeded in achieving his goals. The horrors go on and on if we look at those war years. I have just had a chance to see a film put out by the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, entitled Between Hitler and Stalin: Ukraine in World War II.

During the war, people in the Ukraine were faced with two evils. Many of them wanted to fight on the side of the Germans in the hope that they could liberate their country from Stalin. All in all, there were something like two million people from various ethnic groups and nationalities in the Soviet Union who were united and ready to march into the Soviet Union with the German army under a Russian general, but the Germans did not allow this to happen. Can anyone imagine people being forced to go with the enemy to liberate their own country?

We have seen many atrocities in history. Often we equate atrocities with fascism. We equate them with the repressive dictatorships that we have seen in various Latin American countries and Asia, but we often slide over this horrible tragedy that took place in the Soviet Union, starting in 1917 and not finishing until the repressive communist regime finally ended.

Part of this tragedy is this forced famine. It is important for us to remember this so that it never happens again. I would like to say to my fellow Canadians, especially those of Ukrainian descent, that as we commemorate this tragedy we have hope for Ukraine and for the future, thanks to people like President Yushchenko and the million or more Ukrainians here in Canada and throughout the world who support Ukraine finally becoming an independent country that will find its way in the world. There are problems, but I have been to Ukraine as recently as two years ago and I have faith and hope in the Ukrainian people.

Once again, it is an honour for me to speak today. My party and I will be supporting this bill and the amendments.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-459, which would formally commemorate the victims of Ukraine's great famine of 1932-33, the Holodomor, by establishing a memorial day and recognizing this tragedy as an act of genocide.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Canadian Identity recognized, on behalf of the Government of Canada, the Holodomor is a genocide. I thank him for the dedication he has shown to ensuring that the crimes of the far left are not whitewashed over by history.

Commemoration of the Holodomor focuses on freedom and human rights, themes important to all Canadians. We owe it to the millions of victims of the Holodomor and to our children and grandchildren to shine a bright light on this terrible event.

As our Prime Minister said last November during the commemoration ceremony for the victims of the famine, “remembering those who died, and why they died, is our best hope against history repeating itself”.

The Canadian people have long recognized that the great famine was a terrible human tragedy. It was a time when food, a basic necessity for life, was used as a weapon in the pursuit of ideological views and goals, with whole villages in rural Ukraine dying by way of slow and painful starvation. Millions of Ukrainians lost their lives as a result of the policies of the Communist regime of Joseph Stalin, designed to punish those who had opposed the forced collectivization program of the 1930s.

The year 2008 marks the 75th anniversary of the great famine and it is fitting that we rise today to support its remembrance. This is all the more important when we reflect back on the efforts to hide what was occurring. While millions starved to death, the government of the Soviet Union claimed to the world that there was no famine, refusing offers of aid from international relief organizations and continuing with exports of grain to the west.

Many western journalists, including Walter Duranty of The New York Times, and the Fabian socialist intellectual, George Bernard Shaw, denied the famine and blamed the stories on anti-communist hysteria. Even today, those who oppose recognizing the Holodomor as a genocide make the same accusations of excessive anti-communism. It is not possible to be excessively antagonistic toward communism.

Eyewitnesses, like Malcolm Muggeridge, whose son, the late John Muggeridge, settled in Canada, and whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren are proud Canadians, was one of the few who told the truth. He wrote:

The novelty of this particular famine, what made it so diabolical, is that it was the deliberate creation of a bureaucratic mind, ... without any consideration whatever of the consequences in human suffering,

Finally, in 1990 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine issued a statement admitting that the famine had been a man-made creation of Stalin's socialist regime.

In recognizing the Holodomor, we do not in any way detract from the heinousness of other crimes against humanity, such as the Shoah against the Jewish people in which six million Jews were murdered under the ideological and racial imperatives of national socialism.

No one who lived before 1789 could have conceived of these terrible crimes that have scarred the history of mankind. In that year, of course, the French Revolution introduced the first genocide to modern history with the murder of the king and with the mass execution of 250,000 men, women and children in the Vendée, the region of France that most strongly resisted the revolutionary terror. Thus began the history of regicide and genocide that was repeated on an even more terrible scale in the 20th century by the creeds of national socialism and international socialism.

In Canada, our government is embodied in the Crown. When we pass laws, we do so in the name of Her Majesty the Queen in Parliament. This is a very potent symbol of our freedom and independence.

The Crown, which stands for our rights and freedoms as Canadians, for Canadian sovereignty and for our determination to uphold freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, stands as a powerful reminder that Canada was spared the crimes against humanity that afflicted the Ukrainian people and countless other victims. These victims included the Queen's cousin, Czar Nicholas II and his family who were murdered on Lenin's direct order.

Canada has been an active participant in activities of remembrance for the victims of the horrors of the Soviet genocide in Ukraine. The extent of this activity reflects the fact that throughout the long period of Soviet rule in Ukraine, the Canadian government and Canadians of Ukrainian heritage worked together to promote memory of the famine and to ensure that the dream of an independent, democratic and prosperous Ukraine never died. That independence was achieved in 1991.

In the last 10 years, as Soviet archives added to our understanding of what happened under Communist regimes, there has been a renewed interest in commemoration.

On November 7, 2003, to mark the 70th anniversary of the great famine, 25 states, including Canada, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United States of America, co-sponsored a joint statement within the United Nations General Assembly to officially recognize the great famine as the national tragedy of the Ukrainian people.

This resolution expressed remembrance for the lives of millions of innocent people in 1932-33, and equally the millions of Russians and representatives of other nationalities who died of starvation in the Volga River region, Northern Caucasus, Kazakhstan and in other parts of the former Soviet Union, including the terrible deportation of the nationalities to Siberia.

More recently, on November 30, 2007, a joint statement was issued by 32 participating states, including Canada, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to mark the beginning of the 75th anniversary of the great famine of 1932-33. This statement paid tribute to the memory of the victims of this national tragedy of the Ukrainian people. It also underlined the importance of raising public awareness of the tragic events of our common past.

Establishing a memorial day to honour the memory of those who perished in Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union in 1932 and 1933 is part of this process of reconciliation and healing.

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. The Ukrainian Canadian community has erected memorials to honour Holodomor victims in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor.

In light of the special kinship that exists between Canada and Ukraine, the Canadian government recognizes that after decades of suppression and denial, Ukrainians and Ukrainian Canadians want to make symbolic expiation for the dignity that was denied in life to those victims of communism.

I am therefore pleased to support the objective of establishing a day of remembrance as proposed in Bill C-459.

Remembrance is a living memorial to the victims, their loss of life, human rights and dignity, and a tribute to the fact that sometimes, in some places, truth prevails over darkness and denial.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great honour to rise and speak to Bill C-459, An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide.

I have many Ukrainian people in my constituency in places like Estevan, Weyburn and Bienfait, as does the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. We have many Ukrainian people in Ituna and Wishart, and in many towns, villages and cities in the province of Saskatchewan represented by many of our MPs.

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1990, there has been a growing awareness of the incredible extent of the crimes against humanity and the harsh consequences of communism. It has been denied in the west for so many years by academics and journalists who believed in the moral equivalence of east and west.

Light has been shone into Soviet archives that have been closed for decades and we now know more than ever about the crimes against humanity that occurred during the period when the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ruled over an empire that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan.

One of the most horrendous of these crimes against humanity was the Stalinist genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-33, known as the Holodomor, the great hunger or the Soviet terror famine. This strike against the culture, identity and the very lives of the people of Ukraine remains to this day a cornerstone of the collective memory of the Ukrainian people and of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.

Unfortunately, this great human catastrophe remains largely unknown to most non-Ukrainians as well as to some Ukrainians. It is necessary, therefore, to take steps to raise awareness and to shine a light on what the Prime Minister has described as “a dark chapter in human history”. That is why it is so important to have a debate as we are having in the House today, and to have the International Remembrance Flame travelling to some 33 countries to tell the story of this tragedy and to honour the victims.

It also was important to have the President of Ukraine visit this House and address, not only members of the House but also the Senate, dignitaries, diplomats and a full visitors gallery, to speak to the facts of what occurred and to speak openly about those facts and the prospects for Ukraine.

While standing on the steps leading to the Centre Block is something that I will remember and count as one of the highlights of my career as a politician. I think it is important that people know what happened, that the tragic deaths of several million men, women and children does not go unnoticed, and that those deaths in Ukraine by starvation, in a nation that was the breadbasket of Europe, needs to exposed. The facts need to be brought to the consciousness of all communities and nations, never to be forgotten.

I personally had the opportunity to read portions of the book entitled, Ukraine A History, by Orest Subtelny, Third Edition, 2000. I will paraphrase portions of it to sort of bring the reality to the ground, so to speak, of this great tragedy.

“Lacking bread”, he said, “peasants ate pets, rats, bark, leaves”. I add here on my own that they were relegated to do unspeakable things. He goes on to say that “the first who died were the men, later on the children and last of all the women, but before they died people often lost their senses”.

He quotes from a writer, Victor Kravchenko, who makes a fair point. He says:

On a battlefield men die quickly, they fight back, they are sustained by fellowship and a sense of duty. Here I saw people dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause.

The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood

The central fact about the famine is that it did not need to happen. Food was available. However, it was systematically confiscated. Any man, woman or child caught taking even a handful of grain from a government silo or a collective farm field could be, and often was, executed. Even those already swollen from malnutrition were not allowed to keep their grain.

As the Ukrainian Canadian Congress stated in its literature, the region was also isolated by armed units so that people could not exit to search for food. This at a time where, it stated, the Soviet regime dumped 1.7 million tonnes of grain on the western markets at the height of the Holodomor. It stated that at the height of the Holodomor people in Ukrainian villages were dying at the rate of 25,000 per day, 1,000 per hour, or 17 per minute. It stated that the Soviet government refused to acknowledge to the international community the starvation in Ukraine and turned down the assistance offered by various countries and international relief agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. What happened was not reported appropriately, or not reported at all, in the press. In fact, information was suppressed.

What was done was done, so to speak, in a corner, without the greater world and humanity's eye on it. That is why it is so important that it be revealed to many. It was a time where millions perished in the terrible famine orchestrated by Stalin in the pursuit of evil ideology.

As reported by Campbell Clark, in today's Ottawa Citizen:

Mr. Yushchenko stated “In this brutal, inhumane way, the Communist authorities were trying to deal a mortal blow to the very foundation and heart of our nation, to the peasants and farmers, and thus eliminate the future possibility of reviving and growing as an independent Ukraine”.

President Yushchenko also stated in this House:

First, and probably most important, Ukraine is a country of full democracy. The leading international organizations recognize Ukraine as a free democratic state.

The breaking point for this was the Orange Revolution in 2004. It witnessed the maturity of the Ukrainian nation, which in critical times stood up for its independence and for fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The Orange Revolution awoke our society and made irreversible and positive changes in human minds. Ukrainians believed in their own strengths and in their [own] ability to stand up for their rights and for their own destiny.

In my mind, he symbolized and personified the fact that despite the best strike of the enemy, good can, and does, prevail.

As I previously quoted from Orest Subtelny, who said, “[Ukraine suffered] a tragedy of unfathomable proportions, it traumatized the nation, leaving it with deep social, psychological, political, and demographic scars that it carries to this day.”

The president bears the marks on his body at the attempt made to strike at the very heart of his being. So does the nation of Ukraine.

What Stalin attempted was to break the will of a people, but could not. The nation still walks today, to be a free and democratic nation, albeit bearing the scars and with a limp; however, with a resolve and a character that has risen to the occasion. A resolve that shoulders the responsibility for democracy and freedom with honour and grace to ensure that the freedom endures and that the lives lost are not lost in vain but, rather, that those lives may be lived through the opportunity that has been bought and paid for, for those of us who remain and those who remain in Ukraine, so that that which was intended for evil may be used to produce much good not only at this time but well into the future.

May it be that not only Ukraine be inspired by bringing these facts to light but that our nation and other nations be inspired to stand with Ukraine, facing the reality of the past and embracing the prospect of a future for Ukraine filled with hope, steady progress, and where there was once lack, prosperity and overabundance.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. As there is no other member rising, I will recognize the hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake for his five minute right of reply.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all hon. members of the House who have spoken to this historic bill over the first and second hour of debate.

I especially want to thank the member for Souris—Moose Mountain who moved this bill at first reading. I want to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior who seconded this bill at second reading. I want to thank the leadership that the member for Kildonan—St. Paul has shown for the Ukrainian community. I want to thank the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie who also helped in drafting the request for unanimous consent on this bill that I am going to present later. Of course, I want to thank the member for Etobicoke Centre for his hard work on behalf of all Ukrainians and for making sure that we get this done today.

I want to thank the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for its support, the League of Ukrainian Canadians which has quite a large Internet wave of support coming from the Ukrainian community through its website, and also the Canadian Friends of the Ukraine who have been with me right from the start on drafting this legislation.

I also want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Right Hon. Prime Minister. His continued leadership on the world stage was evident again yesterday when he hosted a state visit with the President of Ukraine. His devotion to democracy and human rights is always unwavering. His support for the Ukraine on the international stage is appreciated and commendable.

Yesterday, I stood by many Ukrainian Canadians outside this House in memory of the victims of the famine genocide of 1932-33, the Holodomor. They came to watch their homeland president, President Yushchenko, speak to them about the Holodomor.

I want to thank the hon. Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity) who spoke at that event. He has worked very hard on this issue for over two years now on behalf of the government and, of course, on behalf of Canadian Ukrainians and Ukrainians worldwide. He gave a heartfelt speech yesterday in memory of the victims and I thank him for his thorough understanding of this issue and his support for this bill. I welcome the broad support this has received from all parties and I am truly, truly humbled.

I want to once again put this into modern day context so that people understand the atrocity of this crime. As I described in my previous address, if every single man, woman and child in western Canada were starved to death and all their food taken and thrown across the Prairies, off the farms, out of the grocery stores, out of their shelves and fridges, and thrown into Lake Winnipeg, then we would have an equal type of crime to the same extent that the Ukrainians suffered under the communist regime and the Stalin dictatorship.

When I started studying this issue and I listened to the personal accounts of survivors, I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of this atrocity. The individual pain and suffering that people endured is just simply overwhelming. I cannot stress enough the importance of recognizing the Holodomor now as a genocide even though the west sat silent while this took place. This is an important time for Ukraine, for this Parliament and for Canada.

Discussions have taken place between all parties and I would like to move the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, Bill C-459, an Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide shall be amended as follows:

That Bill C-459 be amended by replacing the long title on page 1 with the following:

“An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine in 1932-33 as an act of genocide”

That Bill C-459, in the Preamble, be amended by replacing line 2 on page 1 with the following:

“ocide of 1932-33 known as the Holodomor was deliberately planned and”

That Bill C-459, in the Preamble, be amended by replacing lines 6, 7 and 8 on page 1, with the following:

“Ukraine, and subsequently caused the death of millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933”

That Bill C-459, in the Preamble, be amended by adding an additional paragraph after line 8 on page 1 with the following:

“WHEREAS that forced collectivization by the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin also caused the death of millions of other ethnic minorities within the former Soviet Union”.

That Bill C-459, in the Preamble, be amended by replacing line 28 on page 1 with the following:

“Austria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary,”

That Bill C-459, in the Preamble, be amended by replacing lines 23 to 27 on page 2 with the following:

“WHEREAS Canada, as a party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of December 9, 1948, condemns all genocides;”

That Bill C-459, in clause 1, be amended by replacing line 36 on page 2 with the following:

“Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day Act.”

That Bill C-459, in clause 2, be amended by replacing line 4 on page 3 with the following:

“(“Holodomor”) Memorial Day”.

That Bill C-459, in clause 3, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 3 with the following:

“and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day is not a legal”.

following which, Bill C-459 shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

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

6:30 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak further to the issue of the death penalty and the question I posed in this House on April 4.

On March 12, this House adopted a motion that said:

--the government should stand consistently against the death penalty as a matter of principle, both in Canada and around the world.

The motion passed with a significant majority, with 255 members standing in this place to express their support, including many members of the government.

Given that this motion passed with government support, it is surprising that the government has yet to seek clemency for Ronald Allen Smith, the only Canadian citizen on death row in the U.S.

Indeed, it exemplifies the contradiction underpinning the question I posed on April 4:

How can the government affirm it is against the death penalty around the world and yet not seek clemency for Mr. Smith's death sentence?

In other words, how can the government affirm one principle in the House and oppose that very principle outside the House? This is a matter of matching words with action in a literal life-or-death situation.

The parliamentary secretary is fond of responding with a citation of how many times I have risen on this question, or conflating the issue of abolition of capital punishment with concern for victims of crime--and we all share concern for victims of crime--or, as that party does frequently, characterizing the debate as a waste of time.

In reality, Canadians, including Mr. Smith, have a right to know where the Conservative government stands on an issue as fundamental as the death penalty.

The problem is that the government's position is as unclear as it is inconsistent. For example, as I speak, the justice ministry's website still states:

In Canada, the abolition of the death penalty is considered to be a principle of fundamental justice.

And Canada has been at the forefront of international commitments to abolish the death penalty.

Clearly a government committed to abolition would have sought clemency for Mr. Smith.

A rather dramatic example of both the lack of clarity and inconsistency in the government's position took place during the actual debate on March 12 on the death penalty motion, during which the Minister of Public Safety said “we are opposing the motion” at approximately 4:30 p.m. One hour later, at 5:30 p.m. when the vote was taken, not only did the Minister of Public Safety, to his credit, vote for the motion, but the vast majority of his party did as well.

The mere fact that the government contradicted itself on its position within an hour is worrisome enough, though its actual voting position was to be commended. However, I remain concerned that even when it seems united on a position and does the right thing in the House, it still does not match what it votes inside the House with its actions outside the House.

Accordingly, while I am pleased that both the parliamentary secretary and the Minister of Justice voted in favour of the motion that “the government should stand consistently against the death penalty as a matter of principle, both in Canada and around the world”, in the over two months since the vote, neither they nor the government have made a statement that clemency was being sought.

On the contrary, they have made statements to the effect that they will not seek clemency.

I would certainly never accuse any hon. member, and certainly not these two hon. members, of something as unparliamentary as hypocrisy, but I would certainly query how one can, in good conscience, affirm one position as a matter of principle, yet then contradict it as a matter of policy.

I would like to close on one point, and that is with regard to the parliamentary secretary's position that he cannot speak on this matter as it is before the courts.

But the government has repeatedly affirmed that it is seeking clemency for Quebecker Mohamed Kohail, sentenced to death in a matter before the courts in Saudi Arabia.

Why does it hide behind an otherwise untenable position in the Smith case but not when it comes to the Kohail case? We support the request for clemency in that case.

Indeed, the government's very contradictory positions on principle and policy not only undermine the principles and policies themselves, but put both Ronald Smith and Mohamed Kohail at risk of execution.

To conclude, I repose the question, how can the government affirm it is against the death penalty around the world and yet not seek clemency for Mr. Smith's death sentence? Why does it affirm one principle in the House and oppose that very principle outside the House?

6:35 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, quite contrary to what the hon. member has said, our government has been abundantly clear on where we stand. I have had an opportunity to state a number of times where we stand on the issue of the death penalty both here in Canada and abroad.

We have been steadfast on the issue to the extent that the Minister of Justice has repeatedly stated, both inside and outside the House, that there are no plans to change the laws of Canada with respect to the death penalty. He has stated that on more occasions than I care to count at this time.

Capital punishment was abolished from the Criminal Code of Canada in 1976, as the hon. member knows, following a free vote in the House of Commons. The last vestiges of the death penalty were eliminated from Canadian law in 1998, when it was removed as a sentencing option from the National Defence Act. The death penalty was last used in Canada over 45 years ago, in 1962, well before its formal abolition.

Canadian law no longer imposes capital punishment for any offence, and as the Minister of Justice has repeatedly made clear, and I have repeatedly made clear in late shows in this House, the government has no intention to change this.

At the international level, Canada's position has been equally clear. Canada has supported and continues to support the abolition of the death penalty and a moratorium on its application.

Since 2005 Canada has been a party to the Second Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All states that are parties to this protocol are required to abolish the death penalty within their respective jurisdictions, something, as I mentioned, which Canada has already done.

As recently as December 18, 2007 Canada voted in support of the European Union's successful resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty. This resolution encourages all countries that retain the death penalty to respect international standards for its use and to stop executing offenders with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Clearly, Canada opposes the death penalty and continues to support the international community's efforts to encourage its abolition. However, we must recognize that states which are not parties to the Second Optional Protocol may impose the death penalty without necessarily violating international law.

The Government of Canada respects the sovereignty of each state in determining its own laws. Nonetheless, Canada continues to encourage the abolition of the death penalty internationally and, as I have stated repeatedly in the House, our government has no intention to change that status of the law here in Canada.

6:40 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has said, and I would agree with him, that the government has made it abundantly clear in stating its position. I would say even further it has been clear in voting for the motion, “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should stand consistently against the death penalty as a matter of principle, both in Canada and around the world”, that it has no intention of changing the law on capital punishment, and I acknowledge that may be its position, and in other matters that he said.

However, the main point, which has been avoided in the response, is that the government states these things as a matter of principle in the House, and yet acts differently outside the House. What emerges is a pattern of a contradiction between statements of principle and actions as a matter of policy. The case study is the government's refusal to seek clemency for the only Canadian on death row in the United States. When it seeks clemency for Mr. Smith, we can then say that the government's actions as a matter of policy comport with its statements as a matter of principle.

6:40 p.m.


Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

The problem here, Mr. Speaker, is that the hon. member cannot take yes for an answer.

We have repeatedly stated the Government of Canada's position, that we have no intention of changing the law with respect to the death penalty in Canada, and Canada continues to support the international community's efforts to encourage its abolition.

As I have also stated, we have to recognize that states that are not parties to the Second Optional Protocol may impose the death penalty without necessarily violating international law.

The Government of Canada respects the sovereignty of each state in determining its own laws. Nonetheless, Canada continues to encourage the abolition of the death penalty internationally.

In short, Canada's position at home and at the international level is consistent. We do not have the death penalty and we continue to work with the international community to encourage its abolition worldwide.

With respect to Mr. Smith, he has instituted proceedings which are currently before the--