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House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not accept what the member is saying, that Canada does not have a position.

The minister spoke a few moments ago in this debate and very clearly outlined the concerns of Canadians, the concerns of the government for the safety of people in Egypt, the need for democratic reform, the need for democratic institutions, the need to move quickly, and the concerns for Canadians there who are trying to find their way home. Canada is acting responsibly in this.

When the member says we need to align ourselves with the democratic movement going on there, I am not sure what he expects us to do at a time of instability. Does he expect Canada to condemn the outgoing government and somehow pour oil on the flames, as it were, and ignite a situation that is very delicate?

Canada is taking a responsible position in pursuing democratic reforms. I take exception to the member implying that we are not taking a position at all.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, most people would view the comments and statements of the government as being lacklustre at best.

It took the government a while to have a statement. Initially the statement was to tell both sides to remain calm while protestors were being shot at with water cannons and tear gas.

I made that comment because it happened. That is what we are living with. It is important that the government be declarative to support democratic development and democratic aspirations. That means when things are happening, not just when it is convenient for the government to use it for its own political purposes. That is what I meant.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8 p.m.

Calgary Nose Hill Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy ConservativeMinister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, the Liberal critic for foreign affairs, who initiated this important debate in the House tonight, because the situation in Egypt has riveted many Canadians. They are following these events closely and it is helpful that we in the House provide perspective and some sense of where Canadians and Canadian legislators stand on the events that will surely change the face of at least one very important country.

I would like to take a different perspective on these events because I have just recently been appointed as Minister of State of Foreign Affairs with particular responsibility for consular services. It may be of interest to people following this debate if I talk about consular services. We saw in Egypt as the situation became more unstable that our government, through its consular services in Egypt ably assisted by personnel from other missions in the region, sprang into action to support and assist Canadians who wanted to get to a safe haven.

I am splitting my time with the member for Newmarket—Aurora.

To set the stage, Canadians should know that millions of other Canadians are abroad at any given time. Canadians live, work and study in other countries. Canadians actively travel to other countries.

What do Canadians need to know as they travel abroad and as we saw in recent days they can be caught up in unanticipated events? First, we recommend that Canadians who are travelling abroad consult the website. The Department of Foreign Affairs puts up a website named simply travel.gc.ca. This website gives advice about unexpected situations that Canadians might face in a particular country.

It also allows someone travelling abroad to register on a website called “registration of Canadians abroad”. Why should anyone do that? If a person goes missing or gets caught up in some violence and nobody knows where he or she is, it is very hard for our consular people to make contact and give assistance. In Egypt, we were able to call or attempt to call those who had registered even though communications were down and offer services to get people to a safe haven.

In the case of Egypt, we had about 6,500 Canadians, who were living, working, or travelling in Egypt. However, less than 1,400 were registered. Only a fraction of people register and it is very helpful if they do. Every minute of every day, the Department of Foreign Affairs receives two requests for assistance at some point in the consular service landscape.

In 2010, over one million Canadians received some form of assistance and in the last five years demand for consular assistance has actually increased by 32%. In budget 2008, we put more resources into these services to allow us to better support Canadians.

These funds were partly used for the construction of a new emergency watch and response centre. That was a new initiative. Also, my appointment and the addition of consular duties to this particular portfolio is a new and heightened emphasis on providing good consular services.

There are two main categories of consular services. One is prevention and education and one is assistance. Of course, we hope that knowledge is power and if people have the knowledge they need they will not need assistance. We try to provide people with information and advice as they travel in order to prepare them to handle emergencies that might arise.

Of course, people who decide to travel assume a certain risk. There are things we can do to prepare ourselves. One is to take note of the emergency consular telephone line. It is staffed 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. That number is 613-996-8885. Through the number of calls received from Egypt, this line somehow crashed. That helped us to realize we needed backup for the technology. We are going to be prepared for that kind of eventuality.

In the last few days we have received almost 14,000 calls on the emergency lines from people abroad wanting to know how to get assistance and perhaps get to safe havens, as well as families and friends in Canada wanting an update on what was available.

The website that I mentioned, travel.gc.ca, receives more than 12,000 visits a day. We know that some Canadians are beginning to use it. It gives reports of over 200 countries where Canadians might want to travel. It talks about the security situation in the country, it provides official travel warnings advising against travel and how to contact the nearest mission. It is a good website for people to consult and register with so the government knows how to reach people in case of emergency. We also have some other products to help educate Canadians, which can be found at Service Canada and other places.

We are proud of the consular services. I visited one of our consular operations overseas in January. One of the officers said something very interesting to me. He said, “We do not consider what we do, helping Canadians, to be a job. We consider it to be a calling”. They are very passionate about supporting Canadians and it was heartwarming.

We have a network of these services. They provide assistance to Canadians 24/7. We are always looking to do better and we want to support and help Canadians, some of whom face very distressing situations abroad, sometimes very unexpected ones.

The earthquake in Haiti and now the situation in Egypt are two fairly recent examples of what can happen when people are travelling and need to reach out to the services that are provided by the Canadian government to support and assist them. We encourage Canadians to be informed, as prepared as they can be and to be alert while they are travelling. That being said, I assure everyone that when Canadians require assistance abroad, as they have recently in Egypt, they will receive it from this government.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important for Canadians to hear some of these explanations, but there is one reality that I hope she will start to address in her new job as Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Consular Affairs. This is the first opportunity I have had formally in the House to congratulate the minister. I did not have a chance to personally say that it is an important job and I look forward to working with her.

One of the difficulties of the Canadian foreign service at the moment, which is not a new phenomenon but one that has not improved over the last while, is we still have too heavy a component in Ottawa and not enough people serving overseas. One of the realities of our time is with the restrictions on government budgets, which we can only anticipate will continue because of the deficit we are facing, it is very difficult for the Department of Foreign Affairs to deal with this problem.

Would the minister agree that when there are more people serving in Ottawa than we have overseas, we are going to continue to have a serious issue with how we can help Canadians in emergency situations?

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know that the hon. member has raised this concern before.

My understanding, if I am correct and I will double-check on this, is that at any given time approximately 60% of the employees of foreign affairs are in the field and about 40% are in Ottawa. People rotate. No posting is forever; it is for three or four years.

People serve abroad and they come back into the policy-making area here in Ottawa. They put to use in policy-making the knowledge and perspective they have gained abroad. Canada is active on a number of fronts. We are well respected on the world stage. We are involved in a multitude of multilateral fora and multilateral programs. We are active in every part of the globe. People who have served in missions abroad in various capacities come back and work in various ways to strengthen our programs, to advance our policies and to advise people like us who have a particular leadership role.

I guess we could argue about whether that 60-40 rotation is the right rotation. It seems to have worked for many years. I appreciate the member raising the issue. I think it is a valid discussion, but that is some background that may be helpful.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the concerns people have raised in the past, not just in the situation with regard to Egypt but in other emergencies, is the support and resources for people on the ground for consular services.

I am sure the minister is aware that when a Canadian purchases a passport, $25 of the fee goes to consular services. This has been an outstanding issue not just with the present government but with previous governments. The Auditor General has been very clear on this. The monies were intended to go for consular services.

The data from a year ago shows we are bringing in roughly $100 million, and it is probably more now. That money is not going to consular services alone. I wonder if the minister could tell us why that is not happening.

Does the minister not think that money should be going to consular services so that there could be better support? We could give people more than a 1-800 number, saying that they should sign the contract and then we will help, which is what happened in this case. In fact, they have already paid a fee for these services.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:15 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a good point.

He should know that we have an overseas network of 260 consular offices in 150 countries that stand ready to assist Canadians.

Not only the amount of money that goes into passport fees but more goes into supporting these kinds of services. As I mentioned, many if not most of our consular people abroad are very dedicated in finding creative and humane ways to help Canadians and also to respond to emergencies like we just saw in Egypt.

We are very proud of that. It is a non-partisan issue. Whatever government of the day can take a great deal of pride in the dedication and assistance that consular services provide to our citizens abroad.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:15 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for Calgary—Nose Hill giving me a portion of her time.

In the past week, Canada and the world have witnessed an unprecedented level of political change and civil turmoil in Egypt. Today, to our sadness, we learned that the formerly peaceful demonstrations had turned violent, resulting in more than 400 injuries, some serious, and at least one death. We deeply regret the loss of life and our condolences go out to the family and friends of those injured in these violent clashes. The violence that has occurred is unacceptable.

The people of Egypt have spoken out and demanded profound political change. While hearing the change demanded by the Egyptian people, the world has an interest in ensuring Egypt remains stable and secure.

Egypt has been an important partner for Canada in particular, not just in our bilateral relationship, but also in the pursuit of our shared interest in peace, stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday:

Canada reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future. As Egypt moves towards new leadership, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy these rights and freedoms, not a transition that leads to violence, instability and extremism.

Egypt is at another crossroads in its long and vibrant history. The choices the Egyptian people and their government make in the coming days will be important for the country, the region, and the world. Egypt matters, and Canada is pushing for political and economic reforms that will allow Egypt to continue to play an increasingly positive and constructive role in the world. This global engagement means that the entire international community has an interest in ensuring that Egypt remains a stable and peaceful presence on the world stage, particularly in the Arab world where Egypt's positive influence has been perhaps most strongly felt.

From the onset of our bilateral relationship when Canada and Egypt opened embassies in Cairo and in Ottawa, our two countries have worked together in support of regional stability and prosperity. Egypt, a key Arab and African partner, has been a key factor to stability in the Middle East. A shared commitment to a just and comprehensive peace in the region is one of the core elements of Canada's bilateral relationship with Egypt.

It is in its relations with Israel where Egypt has proven to be a moderate force in the Arab world. Where other countries avoided a politically difficult decision, Egypt's far-sighted leader, Anwar Sadat, took a principled stance toward peace and stability. He became the first Egyptian president to visit Israel and, in 1979, signed a historic peace agreement based on the Camp David accords. This decision to normalize relations with Israel and advocate for peace in the region is something that Egypt continues to do to this day.

The pursuit of this ideal came at an extremely high price as Egypt lost Sadat to hate-filled extremism. It is up to the international community to ensure such a visionary commitment to peace and stability continues to prevail in Egypt over extremism and an ideology of hate.

It is also important to realize that Egypt's role in the region has brought economic benefit to its people. Partnership with Israel yielded $500 million in bilateral trade between the two countries. The peace accord has been a positive factor for both countries since, for example, the absence of a major military threat from Egypt has allowed Israel to cut its defence spending from nearly a quarter of its gross national product in the 1970s to less than 10% today. For over 30 years both countries have been free of the devastating social and economic threat and associated costs of war.

Today Egypt also sells a considerable amount of natural gas to Israel. In 2005 the neighbours signed an agreement to ensure that the arrangement continues for the next 20 years. The pipeline is run by East Mediterranean Gas, an Egyptian-Israeli joint venture. The presence of an agreement has also promoted a great deal of foreign investment in both countries. Clearly, this serves as an example for others in the region to follow, one which can unlock the true potential of a troubled region, a region constantly under threat by extremist elements.

Egypt also plays a role in maintaining stability along its southwest border with Gaza despite relentless efforts by extremist groups to destabilize it. Continuing Egyptian co-operation on limiting arms smuggling into Gaza is essential for regional security.

It is clear that the Egyptian people have made a profound decision. They are insisting on choosing their rules, defining their system of government, and defining the values behind that government's policies, both domestic and foreign. We sincerely hope that in this time of political change both the people and their government will remain true to those values and actions that have made Egypt a positive force in the region and one that has upheld its commitment to peace, stability and security.

Terrorism cannot prevail. Extremism cannot prevail. Hate cannot prevail.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague on her appointment and her elevation to the Privy Council. We had a chance to share some thoughts about that in committee this afternoon.

We on this side of the House share the concern with respect to the question of the relationship between Egypt and Israel. It is important to get those issues on the table.

The concern that a number of us on this side have, and we have expressed it as strongly as we can, is that the steps President Mubarak and the regime around him have taken so far have not had the effect of getting the demonstrators off the street. They have not had the effect of convincing Egyptian public opinion from what one can tell that they are really serious about making the changes that need to be made.

I wonder if the member could tell us, in her new role as parliamentary secretary, what additional steps she thinks Canada and other countries, because we will not be doing it on our own, could be taking to make sure that we are doing everything possible to encourage the kind of change we believe needs to happen in Egypt.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's kind comments and good wishes. I look forward to my new role with respect to international co-operation.

Like all Canadians, we have been watching closely the events as they have unfolded in Egypt. We are very distressed at how things have turned violent today. We do encourage all Egyptians to take a deep breath. Hopefully they will be able to manage this within their country.

We are going to continue to be a staunch supporter of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These principles are the foundations of our political system and they will continue to guide our foreign policy.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a constant refrain from the government that it supports freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and I get that. Most people understand that and support it. The problem people have is that this regime was repressing the population in Egypt. It was not following the rule of law. We did not see any support for real democratic development in any way and yet we see a regime that is hanging on. The government seems to be reluctant to say it is time to go.

I wonder how the member could square that when the government says it believes in these things, yet there is a regime that does not believe in these things and the government supported it. When it is time for that regime to move on, the government is reluctant about whether or not it should go. I wonder if my colleague could help us figure that out because it is confusing for many. One day we are supporting a repressive regime and the next day we are supporting freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. It is confusing to me and to many people.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government has long been engaged with Egypt both diplomatically and politically. We believe it does need to bring about these reforms, but we recognize that Egypt is a sovereign country. Canada will stand by and participate as we are asked, but it is a sovereign country and we do hope that it has the opportunity to resolve these issues.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre.

I am pleased to participate in this evening's debate on the situation in Egypt, a debate called for by my colleague, the hon. member for Toronto Centre.

I am especially pleased to take part in this debate because my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard is home to many Canadians of Egyptian origin, a community that is very involved and very engaged.

In addition, Canada has enjoyed a close relationship with Egypt since the Suez crisis in 1956. Since that time, we have shared a broad range of common interests, and I will mention only a few: trade relations, the Francophonie and most importantly, the desire for a fair solution in the Middle East.

But what happened so suddenly that caused all of Egypt to erupt? To understand the current situation, we must not forget history. There are many well-known causes, including youth unemployment, food shortages, the unchallenged domination of the National Democratic Party, President Mubarak's party, and the fact that during the next election, one of the president's sons, Gamal, might run for president.

But the success of the uprising in Tunisia was certainly the trigger. When he saw the scope of these protests, President Mubarak responded by shuffling his cabinet. However, the opposition forces rejected this change and called for the president to step down. I should note that in response, for the first time in 30 years, the president appointed a vice-president, Omar Souleiman, who, according to the Egyptian constitution, would become president, in the event the current president stepped down, until the next election.

In the meantime, the alliance of all of the opposition parties has asked Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to negotiate a transition with the president's regime. Mr. ElBaradei has received extensive media coverage abroad but is relatively unknown in his own country. Jean-Noël Ferrié, the director of research at the CNRS, feels that he is not the right man for the job because he is “too alone and too absent”.

But what does the opposition want? In short, it wants to see the president gone. What would happen then? The new president, Mr. Souleiman, would temporarily take over the presidency for a transition period, during which both houses of parliament would be dissolved and the constitution would be revised with a view to presidential and legislative elections.

But would this scenario be acceptable to the coalition? Members must remember that this coalition is very divided and has opposing goals and visions. We must remember that these protests were initiated by the April 6 Youth Movement, led by Ahmad Maher. This group was started during a workers' uprising in the Nile delta in 2008. Mr. Maher is calling for not only political reforms, but also social and economic reforms.

Another party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is prohibited by the government, is still represented by a number of independent members of parliament. This party is a big question mark and is a very big concern for Israel. Furthermore, there are 20 or so political parties that make up the legal opposition, including the Nationalist Party, the New Wafd Party, and the El Ghad Party, created by Ayman Nour, a candidate who lost in the 2005 presidential election.

Where does that leave us today? The coalition is continuing to put very strong pressure on the current government through massive demonstrations. People are speaking out around the world. Catherine Ashton, the head of European diplomacy, has called on President Mubarak to act as soon as possible to carry out the political transition. The British Prime Minister told the British Parliament that this transition should be urgent and credible and that it should start now.

On this side of the Atlantic, President Obama has said that an orderly transition must be significant and peaceful and must begin now. Canada is closely monitoring the situation. The crucial role of the army should not be forgotten because, since 1952, all Egyptian presidents have come from the ranks of the army. Furthermore, only the army has veto power with respect to presidential succession. Is the army prepared to give up this veto during future negotiations on constitutional amendments?

I believe there is no turning back. Through diplomacy, Canada must play a much greater role than it does at present in searching for an equitable solution. After 30 years of unchallenged rule, future negotiations will be arduous, long and very difficult. That is where Canada must make a contribution.

Every effort must be made to ensure that human rights and freedom of association, movement and religion are guaranteed not only in the constitution, but in reality.

The violence must stop and Canada must now play a role not only in the establishment of meaningful dialogue, but also in the reconstruction of such a beautiful country.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard who is very much aware of geopolitical issues and knows Egypt well.

Like the other members of the House, my thoughts go out to Sylvain Castonguay, the Radio-Canada cameraman who, unfortunately, was attacked while accompanying Jean-François Lépine. We hope that all is well with them.

I would like my colleague to tell me a little bit more about Egypt's constitutional situation. Basically, we have two key concerns. First, we want to ensure that Egypt can have a democracy; we stand in solidarity with the people. Second, we need to think about the major impact such a climate of instability and the domino effect may have.

I would like my colleague to explain the significance of the appointment of a vice-president. Will this help to solve the problem?

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

February 2nd, 2011 / 8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

Under the Egyptian constitution, the vice-president must become president. However, in the 30 years that Mr. Mubarak has been in power, there has never been a vice-president. When Mr. Sadat was assassinated, there was no vice-president. All presidents have the fear, in the back of their minds, that if they appoint a vice-president they will be killed. I was told that this was one of the ways of thinking in Egypt. As a result, there have been no vice-presidents.

Mr. Mubarak sent a very clear message by appointing Mr. Suleiman. First, it means that the presidency will not stay in the Mubarak family as expected; it was thought that Mubarak's son Gamal would become president after his father. Second, Mr. Suleiman truly brings stability to the region because he is the first negotiator for Israel, Palestine and the wider region. Mr. Suleiman is a very competent individual. Even Mr. ElBaradei, who is acting as a negotiator for the opposition parties, welcomed the appointment of Mr. Suleiman. They are prepared to work with him.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard on his speech and comments.

This issue is very serious and troubling. I am concerned about the fact that the Egyptian people, the protestors, have said they trust the army. I hope that their trust is justified and that the army will keep the peace and accept the protests and not try to stop them by force. It is also clear that the people were not satisfied with yesterday's comments from Mr. Mubarak. They want change and they want it now.

I would like to hear my colleague's comments on that.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

Change will not happen overnight. The first part of change is knowing that change is coming, since there has been very little for the past 30 years. That is what is most important.

I am not saying that the army is either on the government's side or that of the people, but from the reports on television, we see that the army is remaining very silent right now, which is to the people's advantage.

It is especially important to remember that this is a little like what happened in Tunisia. This revolution, on the heels of the one in Tunisia, is still a result of the April 6 movement, which originated in the Nile delta. In that region, people wanted political reforms, but above all, they wanted social and economic reforms. In a large country like Egypt, with a population of 80 million, there are no jobs and the people have no future. That is what people want the most, and I think the fact that President Mubarak appointed Mr. Suleiman means that he is going to step down very soon.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I, like Canadians and many people around the world, am watching and listening in real time to what is happening in Egypt. I find myself reminded of previous conflicts, most particularly the Gulf War where, for the first time, people in the world stayed glued to their television sets as they watched a war being played out before them.

Yet today, it is social media, Twitter, Facebook, which not only changed the way the world learned of the events in Egypt, but was in fact the very catalyst of the demonstrations throughout the region, beginning in Tunisia. I, like many Canadians, have been transfixed and engaged and I expect we will be so in the upcoming days and weeks.

As my colleague from Toronto Centre has said, it is not for us to determine the outcome of events in Egypt, but we are undoubtedly witnessing a powerful movement for change, which underscores the importance of peace, stability and the universal values of free and fair elections, free assemblies, freedom of the press, equality of men and women, freedom for minority groups and, indeed, non-violence.

After the recent peaceful transition to democracy in Tunisia, the world watched with great concern, anticipation and hope as peaceful demonstrations in Egypt progressed. Until today, we saw huge, peaceful gatherings and we were relieved to see an absence of real and widespread violence.

As we all know, today's events, however, have reiterated the importance of an orderly and non-violent transition to democracy that respects the will of the Egyptians and that reaffirms the civil liberties and universal rights of the Egyptian people and all of Egypt's neighbours.

According to some reports, and some of them have been coming through Twitter, three people have died today alone, over 600 have been injured and we have learned that some clinics are receiving 20 new patients every five minutes. There have also been reports of attacks against foreign journalists, including a cameraman for Radio Canada, who was apparently beaten by an angry mob in Cairo. These are disturbing developments and only underscore the need for a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy, which has been the wish of the Egyptian people.

I think all members in the House share the real concern of Canadians, concerns for family members living in Egypt, concerns for family and friends who are among the over 6,000 Canadian citizens who were in Egypt when the demonstrations began on January 25 and a profound concern for the future of Egypt and the region as a whole. We are concerned for the well-being of those Egyptians who have been a part of the peaceful demonstrations. Once again, today's violence must stop and an orderly and peaceful transition must continue.

In terms of Canadian citizens caught in Egypt, as the situation escalated, I was pleased to see that flights were leaving Egypt and that additional consular services had in fact been deployed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was concerning, however, and remains concerning, that the Canadian government failed to move quickly when the crisis began, so sufficient consular service were available to all Canadian citizens who required them. I have heard too many stories of Canadians who were unable to get through to a representative of Foreign Affairs, their phone calls not answered, their emails neglected and great concern about family members in Egypt.

I would hope this is not due to an under-investment in consular services by the government. I know my colleague from Toronto Centre has raised this issue a number of times. If this is the case, it has to be addressed and it has to be addressed quickly. We cannot leave Canadians in jeopardy.

As we go forward over the coming days and as the Egyptian people continue their demonstration, we must emphasize that democratic elections are not enough. The civil liberties of all Egyptians must be upheld. Universal human rights of minorities, of women and the civil liberties of Egypt's neighbours must be upheld through positive engagement and the enshrinement of the peace treaty with Israel.

All members in this House understand the critical role that Egypt plays in the stability of that region, particularly the key role that Egypt's 30-year peace treaty with Israel has played in ensuring stability, not only for the two countries but for the region as a whole. For this reason, it is not only Egyptians but its neighbours who look forward to not only democratic elections, but to a future where stability, respect for the peace process and the promotion of human rights and values are firm.

In this country, it is not time for partisan rhetoric and politics. The issues are too important and the stakes are too high. We must respect the will of the Egyptian people and support a bottom-up, real political reform. We must make clear our resolve that the future of Egypt and of the region must be premised on a continuance of respect of past peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and a continuing recognition of the state of Israel.

I was pleased to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say in the Knesset today:

All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt. An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger.

We support the will of the Egyptian people to transition to democracy but we must keep in mind the critical importance of stability and respect for the peace agreements and for the universal values that we hold dear. Any government must renounce violence and respect and adopt democratic values and norms.

I had an occasion not too many minutes ago to speak to an Egyptian-born relative living here in Canada. I asked him what was happening and what he wished for. He told me of the tremendous longing of members of his family for democracy, for free and fair elections and for a free press. He spoke of the importance of Canada's role in assisting this to come about. Whether it is through diplomatic processes, aid or support for the institutions of democracy, there is a role for Canada and it is an important one. It should be to assist the Egyptian people as they undergo this historical transformation while guaranteeing the civil liberties of all Egyptians and of Egypt's neighbours.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:45 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, we talk about democracy, I think Mr. Mubarak has to leave now. We talk about stability. There may be a domino effect with what is going on right now.

We salute the people of Egypt, like the people of Tunisia, for their democratic revolution. I agree that Canada has a role to play. I do not want to talk about consular affairs. I want to talk about what the role of Canada should be to help the Egyptians and the region accomplish those reforms.

I would ask my colleague what she perceives to be the role of the Government of Canada and what it should do to improve that role.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to answer that question without knowing the realities of the situation and what the country of Egypt will be dealing with.

I think it is incumbent upon Canada to assure Egypt that it is there to assist in the transition to democracy, to listen to the people and to provide the supports that are required, whether they be diplomatic, for building capacity, listening or training. I think it is too early to prescribe what would be required but I think what is needed is an open mind and an open heart to respond to the needs as are articulated by the Egyptian people.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:45 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member about her request for consular services.

Just to preface my question, last Saturday morning I spent the day in my constituency office responding to correspondence and making phone calls. Sometime after I left, a message was left on my answering machine about a young lady from my constituency who was in Egypt and looking for assistance. When we retrieved that phone message on Sunday afternoon, we did respond to the family in question. However, by the time we had responded, the young lady, within 24 hours, had been evacuated by plane to the United Kingdom and was safely on her way back home.

We have seen these situations arise in countries, Tunisia being the first one. No one at the time anticipated that there would be a problem in Egypt. It has developed fairly quickly. How does one predict where extra consular services might be required? Is there a formula we should be using? How do we make those evaluations?

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the young woman who contacted my colleague was able to find her way home back to Canada in a quick and orderly fashion.

It is not for me to prescribe how one predicts. It is incumbent upon the government to ensure that consular services are available both here in Ottawa and abroad when a situation arises. We have heard too many stories of people not being able to get through on phones, that perhaps more people could answer the phone and that emails were not being responded to. The Department of Foreign Affairs has very fine people working for it but it clearly does not have enough people assigned to consular services. Part of the planning for any crisis is an immediate response team, and that clearly was not in place.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona.

This is obviously an evening for delicate debate. The situation in Egypt is, at best, one could say fluid, but extremely risky at this point. The information we are being fed from the ground is that all sorts of maneuvering is going on by the various elements of power in that country. There is really a great risk of a great number of people being injured if it turns violent, more than it has up to this point.

I want to personalize this a bit because of the feedback I have been getting from my Windsor community. We have a fairly sizable Coptic Christian community in Windsor and we also have a large number of members of the Egyptian diaspora from the Muslim community living in the Windsor-Essex county area. Although they have different concerns, there are basic concerns that they both have, and that is very much a fear for the safety of their relatives and friends still in Egypt, particularly in Alexandria and Cairo. Within the Coptic community in particular, there is a desire for change because it is the only way they can foresee any release from the bondage they have been suffering under, the systemic discrimination they have suffered under the current administration, leading, at times, as we have seen, particularly during the last few months, to a number of incidents of murder in the Christian community.

Their real hope is that if the Mubarak regime is gone it will be replaced by a democratic government that recognizes international human rights standards, including the right for that community to practice their faith free from discrimination and certainly free from the type of violence they have been subject to the last number of months and year, specifically in terms of number of murders that have occurred.

However, they also have, which was expressed very clearly to me, a very real concern that may not be what happens. This brings forth the role that Canada and democracies across the world can play. They need to make it very clear to whatever administration comes in next that those international human rights standards must be respected.

Obviously we want a democracy established there, a meaningful, informed, vibrant democracy that recognizes those international standards. Fear and hope commingle now and into the future for the Coptic community.

In terms of the Muslim community, a good number of people from the Windsor area, as I said earlier, have friends and close family still living in Egypt. They are very worried because many of them have not been able to find out about them.

There is a young woman who was a close friend of my daughter through elementary and high school. I believe she is back. Knowing her and how engaged she was in politics in Canada, she is probably very much one of those young people who precipitated this thrust for democracy in Egypt. I am sure her father is very worried about her, if in fact she is still there, as are any number of other members of the Windsor community about children, brothers, sisters, parents and friends.

They share with the Coptic Christian community the same concern, the hope that Mubarak leaves, the expectation that people will have a right to hope that democracy will be established, that there will be real freedom, a real and vibrant democracy, with the young people in particular having a major say in that. I am not talking of teenagers; I am talking of people in their 20s and 30s who, clearly, have led the way in these demonstrations and in forcing the president to announce his intent not to run again.

Both communities are very worried about what is going to happen over the next 24, 48 or 72 hours, because they are hearing the same things as us. Other groups are moving in and attempting to control the situation, groups that are operating with a significantly different agenda from the young people who created this movement in a very short period of time. If that happens, it will be a tragedy of monumental proportion.

What has happened is that a very large segment of the population, the youth of that country, in the last 8 or 10 days, has had its hopes raised that finally people would be able to live in a free society, a society, a government, an administration in which they would have full and meaningful participation. If that gets usurped by some of the other groups that appear to be attempting to move in now, it will be a tragedy.

This comes back to the role I believe Canada should be playing more aggressively, not just as an individual country. We certainly have to recognize the sovereignty of that country, but at the international level, it obviously begs the question of whether we would not be in a much better position if we had secured that position on the Security Council last year and been able to speak with greater authority from that position. It is water under the bridge, but we still have a role to play.

We have a role in saying to the rest of the democratic world that we have to bring whatever pressures we can to bear to get Mubarak and his administration out, and assisting in whatever ways we can in providing the democratic forces there, representing the Egyptian community as a whole, the opportunity, first, for an interim government and then for meaningful, free and informed elections for both the presidency and parliament.

That is a role we can play and we need to be doing it publicly. That is why the NDP foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre, has been critical of the government for not taking a more aggressive stance in that regard. We have to be able to do that, because if we do not, there is a huge risk not only of more violence, which would be very tragic, but also that the democratic movement there will be lost, even without violence.

I urge the government to consider moving more dramatically than it has been willing to, and for it to provide some leadership at the international level as well.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member made reference to the issue of the Security Council seat, the issue that was dealt with by the government a few months ago. I would ask him to expand on how important he thinks that whole situation was and, had we been successful in getting that position, whether it might have impacted on our situation right now.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is not an evening to be bashing the government for some of its ineptitude in the past, because we still have a role to play at the UN. We still have some credibility there, albeit much less than we would have had we secured that position on the Security Council.

There is no question that at a time of such turmoil in a country like Egypt that is part of the UN, the opportunity for the UN to act as a catalyst to assist in the democratization of that country, the real democratic forces in the country, is quite substantial. A good deal of that, I have to admit, occurs behind the scenes, if one understands international diplomacy and how the UN functions. That maneuvering behind the scenes and the bringing to bear of pressure basically flow out of the Security Council. Thus if we were there and taking the position I advocated earlier in my speech, we could push that position much more effectively than we can now because we are on the sidelines.