Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Bloc Québécois motion on this opposition day. I would like to reread the motion:
That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally [the word “unilaterally” is very important here] extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.
What are we supposed to think about the change in the Conservative government's position now? In its 2006 election platform, the Conservative government told us the following:
A Conservative government will...make Parliament responsible for exercising oversight over...the commitment of Canadian Forces to foreign operations.
In the 2007 Speech from the Throne, the government reiterated its intention to let the House of Commons decide. In 2008, the House voted to extend the mission, but until 2011 only. We could say that the Conservative government is somewhat like St. Peter, who denied Christ three times by breaking his word three times. The military mission in Afghanistan will continue without debate, except for the debate raised by the Bloc Québécois today, and without a vote in the House. In our view, excluding all parliamentarians from this major issue is denying the democratic principles that should underlie all the work in the House.
The former chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Forces, General Rick Hillier, stated that it is impossible to train soldiers without monitoring them on the ground, meaning in the combat zone. It seems that the so-called new Afghan mission will not focus on humanitarian or training activity, but rather military activity, which we are opposed to.
Is there such a thing as training without combat? The Conservative government announced that it will keep a contingent of 950 soldiers in Afghanistan to train the future Afghan army. It was quick to say that Canadian soldiers will not be involved in combat during their training activities. Can we trust the government? Is it telling us the truth?
General Hillier, who is after all the former chief of the defence staff, said that to provide training, our troops will have to go into the field of combat. We think the government’s argument is window dressing. It must not be forgotten that General Hillier has a great deal of credibility. He led the NATO troops in Afghanistan and is very familiar with the reality in the field. I am strongly inclined to believe what he says about the operational requirements for military training. We can trust him because he has been there and has led the troops.
As one telling example, French troops present in Afghanistan are engaged in military training. That has not prevented them from suffering loss of life. What can we learn from the French forces' training mission? This is an important example to take into consideration now that we are obliged to make such a serious decision.
Since 2002, France has participated in training the Afghan national army. This initiative is called Opération Épidote, and its purpose is to train Afghan officers, battalions and special forces. This is what Canada is about to go and do. As part of this operation, teams of advisors and instructors embedded in operational units of the Afghan army coach and advise the Afghans in all of their combat missions and instructions.
How many French soldiers have died? As of October 15, 2010, 50 French soldiers had died in Afghanistan. In August 2010, two French soldiers were killed in Afghanistan while participating in the joint counter-insurgency operation with the Afghan army. On June 19, 2010, another soldier was killed by insurgent artillery fire while at a combat post. A French parachutist was killed on June 7, 2010, during a NATO mission. Nine other NATO soldiers were killed during that mission. On January 12, 2010, two French soldiers were killed while patrolling the Alasay valley. They were taking part in an international mission coaching the Afghan army.
I do not think anyone can tell me that there is no risk involved in these coaching missions.
On September 6, 2009, another French soldier was killed by an explosive device while participating in a reconnaissance convoy.
All of these examples illustrate the crux of the problem: how dangerous is a training mission? A training mission on a battlefield is dangerous and deadly.
The Bloc Québécois humbly suggests the following position to the House: the Bloc believes that Canada has done its part on the military front and that its role can be taken up by allied countries. As a state participating in the London and Kabul conferences, Canada must oversee a transition that is as peaceful and safe as possible to full assumption of control by the Afghan state. We are not shirking our responsibilities, for we are stakeholders in this, but not at any price.
The Bloc Québécois therefore proposes a three-pronged approach: first, support and training for the police forces and assistance in establishing the penal and administrative justice system; second, review and maintenance of official development assistance; and third, reconciliation and integration.
When we talk about military presence and technical support, what do we mean? We mean that the combat group must terminate its combat mission in July 2011 along with the provincial reconstruction team. That team of soldiers is responsible for protecting the NGOs. However, the majority of NGOs want the provincial reconstruction team to withdraw because they believe that the presence of troops is incompatible with their humanitarian mission.
The training of Afghan police officers has taken a back seat to the training of Afghan soldiers. However, a strong police presence is crucial to the proper functioning of society. The Bloc Québécois therefore recommends sending a contingent of 50 police officers to train Afghan police forces.
As for creating a modern judicial system, we believe that trust in that system is one of the fundamental elements of a lawful society. NATO has taught us that the Afghans prize the system’s notion of fairness and prefer the use of the informal system, as the formal governmental system is perceived as highly corrupt. To ensure adequate training and proper functioning of the Afghan judicial system, the Bloc Québécois proposes sending a delegation of Canadian legal experts to support and promote the modernization of the judicial system. These are some training aspects that are not military in nature.
We must also support the prison system. By all accounts, the Afghan prison system has some serious shortcomings, as demonstrated by the Afghan detainee issue and allegations of torture in Afghan prisons.
According to NATO, by western standards, conditions in many detention and correction facilities vary from inadequate to extremely poor in some places. We suggest that the directors of Afghan prisons be supported by Canadian deputy directors. We therefore recommend sending 50 civilians from our correctional system.
Lastly, we also propose the creation of a public service. A public service like the one we have in Quebec does not exist in Afghanistan and must therefore be created.
The take-home message is that we need to hold a vote in the House on the government's decision and proceed democratically. That is our main message.