Mr. Speaker, on April 20 of this year, I raised a question of the government's commitment to providing aid to the victims of the conflict in Sri Lanka, which has waged for over two decades.
As everyone in the House knows, violence escalated tremendously this past year. It was not until the third week of May that the government of Sri Lanka claimed victory over the LTTE, which in turn conceded defeat the next day.
This violent civil war has left a path of destruction. In addition to the tens of thousands of people, mostly Tamil civilians, who have been killed, there are reports of as many as 300,000 internally displaced persons living in temporary shelters.
While it is still difficult to get independent accounts, there are credible reports from NGOs of malnutrition, the lack of potable water, untreated injuries and continued violence against civilians, including the rape of women and girls. The war may have ended, but the violence continues.
On February 4, just as the opposition was calling for an emergency debate on the situation, the Minister of International Cooperation announced $3 million in aid. This was significantly less than many of our Commonwealth partners. During the emergency debate, I expressed my disappointment both to the House and to the minister personally. Since then, on February 23, the minister pledged an additional $1.5 million. Then on May 4, after her visit to Sri Lanka, she added an additional $3 million.
I commend the minister for moving the aid in the right direction, but I want to challenge her to keep up the pressure on her colleagues to further our collective commitment to the people of this war-torn country. Canadians need to know that our government has heard the pleas of the people of Sri Lanka and will increase funding to a much more substantial level, not only pledge the money but ensure that it gets to the people who need it the most.
With respect to the amount of money pledged, the government's commitment still represents only about 25¢ per Canadian. Think about this. It is not only embarrassing, but I would suggest it is immoral. We pay our taxes to ensure that those who have much less than we have can share in a fraction of our wealth. Canadians are a generous people and want to hear that their government is reflecting this same generosity.
Canadians of Tamil descent have repeatedly told us the stories of their families and their friends who have been caught in this conflict. They are living this tragedy daily and want to be sure that all Canadians, regardless of our country of origin, our language, our religion, our colour, share in the challenge of feeding and healing that country. The task is quite simple. We need to increase our aid to a much more reasonable level.
However, it is not only the amount of aid that concerns me, it is also about whether the aid is actually getting delivered. I understand the government has chosen four highly reputable agencies to deliver the aid. While I trust these agencies, I have doubts that the Sri Lankan government has a willingness or a capacity to ensure that it is delivered.
Last week, we were all horrified that one of the members of the House, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, was denied entry to Sri Lanka. I was pleased that the government expressed at least some outrage about this affront to all Canadians. The hon. member's expulsion is a stern reminder of the fact that we are dealing with a regime that simply does not understand its obligations and, at the very least, it appears that it has something to hide. Witnesses are critical in a crisis like this. Independent ears and eyes and voices are necessary.
How much more aid can the government give and will it give to that country and how can it ensure that it gets to the people who need it the most?