Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I want to do so by concentrating really on two aspects of the legislation and on the situation that the member who has just spoken and others have talked to.
This bill causes me a great deal of concern, not because it is illegitimate or inappropriate for governments to be concerned about the security of Canada. In fact that is a primary responsibility of the federal government and a responsibility that all of us take very seriously. However, I am concerned because the methods and definitions used in this bill would significantly impact a number of people who are not smugglers, the term used by the government, but people fleeing for their lives from difficult situations.
In particular I want to discuss, at this point in time, the situation in Sri Lanka because we would not be having this discussion if two boats had not arrived over the last several years on which a number of Sri Lankans of Tamil origin came to Canada. It is important for us to stop dancing around the issue and understand that, were it not for that particular circumstance, we would not be having this debate, we would not be having this discussion and the government would not be presenting this legislation.
To talk about this legislation without talking about what happened in Sri Lanka and what is taking place there today would be a bit like talking about Moby Dick without mentioning a white whale.
As members know, I have spent many months in Sri Lanka over the last several years. Together with a number of other Canadians and international constitutional experts, I was involved in advising in the negotiating process that came out of the ceasefire in Sri Lanka that took place in 2001 and was negotiated by the Norwegians.
In the course of that work, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in that country. I met on several occasions with political leaders on all sides and have had an opportunity since then to follow on a regular basis the events that are taking place in the country.
I am not going to go over the entire political history of Sri Lanka except to say that the period in which I was there, the period of the ceasefire, was a brief interregnum of non-violence during a 25-to-30 year, very difficult and violent civil war in which literally tens of thousands of people were killed, mainly in the north but including civilians in the south. Yes, acts of terrorism were carried out against civilians. Very significant bombing and damage and destruction and death occurred as a result of the war carried out by the government of Sri Lanka as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as they are called, better known as the Tamil Tigers.
The ending of that war was a subject of considerable debate in this House. Many questions were raised in question period about it, not only in this House but in parliaments and legislatures around the world.
There are questions about what actually happened at the end of that conflict. Certainly by any estimation, several thousand people were killed in the last few days. Estimates range anywhere from a few thousand to as high as 30,000 or 40,000. Those numbers are contested and debated by all sides, but nevertheless, it is clear that there was a significant loss of life at the very end of the war.
It is also interesting that as recently as the last few days, Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom called for an investigation into possible war crimes that may or may not have taken place at the end of that war.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has appointed a panel of experts to advise him. It is to look into the question of what happened and what the possible consequences would be with respect to the conduct of the government of Sri Lanka as well as the conduct of the LTTE. That panel has not been welcomed by the government of Sri Lanka. In fact, its very existence has been challenged. It is the subject of considerable debate in Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka has also appointed a commission that is supposed to look into the question of what happened in those last days.
From the perspective of the government of Sri Lanka, the war is simply over. The conflict is at an end. There are still several thousand people in large refugee camps, but many of them have been rehoused and moved out, away from the 300,000 people who were in the camp at the end of the conflict.
At the same time, it is fair to say that political power is being consolidated at the central level. As colleagues will certainly know, the government of Sri Lanka not only has not been particularly enthusiastic about allowing in the members of the panel from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, it also, despite the fact I had a valid visa issued by the High Commission of Sri Lanka, did not permit me to enter the country when I arrived at Colombo airport some several months ago. I am sure other members perhaps in other parties have since been allowed to go, but I regret very much I was unable to go last June.
I must confess, I do not say these words with even a degree of personal resentment at the fact that this took place. Rather it was the fact that when I was not allowed in, it was because I was deemed to be a threat to the security of the country. When I hear others described as a threat to the security of the country, that is what I was called.
I hope people will think through very carefully in trying to understand some of the motivation, some of the issues, the human problems, the suffering, the sense of threat to life and limb that has historically led people to flee a country and to seek refuge and harbour somewhere else.
The minister is sitting in the House. I respect the fact that he is here listening to the debate. I have always respected that approach—