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.


Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am interested to have heard repeatedly about the issue of the Coptic Christians. As my colleague said in his speech, I understand there is a large community of Coptic Christians in Windsor. I am wondering if he could possibly elaborate on that and tell the House how concerned that congregation is about what the events might lead to. Perhaps he could enlighten us on what he has heard.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question, because I do want to add one additional point.

They are so concerned, and this is farther down the road, one of the inquiries I've had is whether Canada would be there to provide assistance in terms of refugees if the Coptic community became a focused target of some violent extremists within Egypt. I could not give him any assurances that we would.

However, this is one of the areas that we should be prepared to deal with, if the situation turns violent or, if in some of the maneuvering that is going on, there is a fanatical group that somehow positions itself in a position of power and begins to target that community. They are quite worried about that and would like some assurances from the government that, at the very least, we are considering that.

Beyond that, as I said in my opening comments, there is a very deep sense of fear but also a great hope that this may improve their lot significantly.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:05 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the emergency motion that was introduced by the member for Toronto Centre. I listened to some very interesting presentations this evening.

It seems to me that the situation has certainly deteriorated in Egypt and, actually, across the region over the last couple of weeks. I think we might have been slightly premature in proceeding with the motion and the debate today because it seems that as each day passes, we see a different dynamic over there. Nevertheless, we are in the middle of the debate right now and there are a few observations that should be made on this situation.

As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh had pointed out, we are not here to point fingers at the government. We are just making some observations. We recognize that it is in a different role than we are. We are opposition and it is our job to point out inconsistencies that we find, just as it is the government's job to be able to make judgments that, we hope, are correct in a given situation.

The member for Toronto Centre talked about consular services. He saw that an important part of the equation that was not being properly deployed. That may well be. However, once again, the government has a role. It has to be able to make its judgments as to where these services have to be deployed. There are a lot of unstable countries in the world and things can change rather quickly.

In my own experience, a number of years ago, in 1983, I found myself in Grenada just prior to the American invasion, having met with government officials, even the finance minister, the prime minister, over a three-week period there, in the summer of 1983. I had absolutely no inkling of what was to happen. Within a month, we had the situation change dramatically and the end result was one where Ronald Reagan led an invasion of the island of Grenada.

I also found myself in Chile as an election observer in 1989, and then again for the election in 1990.

I can tell members that the member for Ottawa Centre has been in situations like this as recently, I believe, as last year, in his international travels. He knows that a situation can get out of hand very quickly and that it can be very unpredictable when large crowds are involved.

I recall being tear-gassed in a huge demonstration in Santiago just because I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was with a contingent of election observers that included United States senators and politicians from the EU and other places, so I was well taken care of and directed. However, I still managed to get tear-gassed.

When one gets into situations like this, it is very hard to come up with conclusions, whether as the government or the opposition, especially in a country where we are as far away from the situation as we are here. We are taking advice from people in the field. The government is in a very strong position because it actually has an embassy there, it has people on the street, and probably has better information in many respects than we do.

Also, members have pointed out that Egypt itself, and I have been to Egypt a number of years ago, is a fairly poor country. It was mentioned that 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day; the unemployment rate is high; the education system is not what it should be.

This has been the situation since Anwar Sadat was shot, as many in this House will recall, and Hosni Mubarak took over from him. It is hard to believe that was 30 years ago. A leader who can last for 30 years in any kind of environment is quite remarkable.

However, when we look behind the veils, we see that he was not a leader in terms of what we see in a democratic situation. He ran a government that was hardly an example of democracy in action. That is what the people in Egypt want right now. Young people have hit the streets and have made it known they want change in the government.

It has been noted that the United States, which is not normally a leader in demanding regime change, is further ahead than we are in Canada. Canada is being more conservative than the Americans. We know the Americans have a big investment in Egypt for a number of reasons. They have investment in the military support in Egypt. They have a big interest in the canal, the oil fields and so on, so this is a huge interest for them.

Normally we would see the Americans being very proactive, but they are evidently saying that Mubarak has had his day, it is time to move on and replace the regime with one that is more democratic. The Canadian government seems reluctant to draw that same conclusion. We wonder why that would be the case.

At the end of the day, their strategy may turn out to be correct because, as I indicated, it is a fluid situation. We are concerned about a number of minorities in Egypt. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh mentioned the Coptic Christians. He has a number of them in his constituency, as do other members in the House. Especially Egyptian Canadians who live in our country are very concerned for their families back in their country, as well they should be.

It has been mentioned that the government is involved in providing flights. Our member asked earlier why Egyptian Canadians were not being given the same treatment as Lebanese Canadians were four years ago. I knew a person who was involved in the Lebanese situation and the Canadian government paid the airfare. The government has already answered that question by saying there have been a number of Canadian flights already. Canadians have been removed from the country. They have done so at their own expense. Evidently they went in with their eyes open and agreed to pay the $400 and the case is over.

It is possible that we may have to put on more flights, so the government should not just eliminate the suggestion of the member for Nickel Belt offhand because there is an argument to be made for consistency. We had a situation of inconsistency, which I raised earlier this year, when we had the earthquake in Haiti and the government was quick to match funds donated by Canadians. Shortly thereafter, the Chilean earthquake happened and the government refused to do it. A lot of people in the Chilean community and supporters are saying that there is a double standard. It really would not have cost the government a lot of money because there was a much smaller donor base. While the government put out several million dollars of matching funds for Haiti, because there was a large outpouring of support, in the case of Chile it was much smaller because there was not that big a base to donate in the first place.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member's speech. Repeatedly we hear allegations that our government has been slow to direct the events in Egypt.

I have looked at the chronological order of how things have unfolded. We watched the first demonstrations that took place on January 25 and the security forces that exercised unusual restraint. On the January 28, we did not see the army ramp up or use force. Although we are seeing some violence and we are seeing some things that are very disturbing, for the most part, most people would agree that what is taking place is unfolding the way that possibly would be the result of the will of the people.

Would the hon. member care to comment on that and would he agree that what is happening is transpiring in a normal manner? Again, we are very pleased that we have not seen the violence from the army side and that in the end, it is the will of the people that is being expressed. Is that not what is taking place and is that not what is unfolding in today's events and through the previous days events?

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I said the same thing as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. We both have pointed out that we are not here to point fingers at the government. We recognize that our role is opposition. We are asking questions and the government is the government and it has a certain amount latitude, but it has a responsibility. We just wondered why it was not out as far as the Americans were. The Americans are suggesting that it is time for Mubarak to leave.

While I am on my feet, perhaps the Conservatives should look at being a little more co-operative with the opposition. Perhaps daily briefings with the critics might be in order in a situation like this.

I ran into Premier Filmon over the Christmas holidays and I asked whether he had been in contact with the Prime Minister over the years about how to run a successful government, as Filmon did in Manitoba for two years. He said that he wrote the Prime Minister a long email about how to deal with opposition, get the opposition on side and set up committees with opposition members on them to take on initiatives like Meech Lake, but he said he had not heard back. It was a number of years ago when he sent that message.

The government has a lot of learn about trying to make minority government work. We have been reading lots of stories about how successful the Pearson government was in the same length of time and how many things it got through versus how little the Conservative government has accomplished in five years. The Conservatives should learn something before they are not in government anymore.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues we brought up tonight, and we asked members of the government to clarify it, was the issue of passport fees that should go consular fares. For every passport that is purchased, $25 should go to consular affairs. According to the government's numbers, it means over $100 million. That is from a year a go. It is probably more now.

The money is not going there, which it was supposed to. The previous government did not do it and the current government is not doing it. We are seeing problems on the ground and lack of capacity.

Does my colleague think it is about time the government actually takes the money that was supposed to go to consular fares and invests it in consular fares so we have support on the ground for our officials to help Canadians when they are stranded in Egypt or anywhere else in the world?

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent idea. This is not the only area where the government collects money. It collects $25 on each passport for consular services, but is not provided for consular services.

Canada now has the highest airline taxes in the world. Canadians are streaming across the border. Some 50,000 people a year are going to Fargo, North Dakota to fly on American carriers, avoiding Canadian airlines. The government is spending way less than what it is collecting on this tax on airport security.

Once again, if the government is collecting money for consular services, the money should be provided for consular services.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.


Stockwell Day ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member from Chatham-Kent—Essex.

I will not spend a lot of my time repeating the well-intended and well-founded heartfelt wishes that we have heard from members in the assembly. I certainly echo those. It is important to send those well wishes.

I will not repeat the many efforts already put forth by the Canadian government to assist Canadians who are in Egypt. I congratulate all consular officials for everything they are doing there. I join all of my colleagues in condemning the violence that has taken place and may take place in future.

I want to weave somewhat of a cautionary tale here. As we watch what is taking place there on television and on the Internet, there is almost a sense of excitement and a muted euphoria that is inevitable following these very large demonstrations. For the majority of those if not young people then people who are motivated by a sense of hope for something better, there is this sense that there will be almost an automatic transition to a democratic form of government.

I want to put out some cautions to that and a couple of tests. As Canadians, we fully understand that we only have a limited ability, as do other countries, to directly intervene and that there are cautions related to that. There is even international law related to that. However, we can send encouragement. We can offer what we know about democracy and how to establish that. However, at this point, a warning should be among the assistance we send.

This moment we are watching is not like East Berlin and people getting on the freedom train riding to freedom, which we all knew was inevitable once the wall finally came down. This is not even similar to the Orange Revolution. At least in those two cases there was some form of movement toward a platform of understanding of democracy. Historically, Egypt has not had nor does it have such a platform.

The historic caution here is, if we think back to Iran in 1979, there was a great sense of euphoria once the Shah was out. I have heard similar comments here, “Get Mubarak out. Just get him out and everything is going to flow in a wonderful way”. That may not be the case. The Shah was out and a moderate came in, Mr. Bakhtiar. He was there for less than six weeks and the entire democratic hopes were taken over by the ayatollahs, and we know the rest of the history that flows from there.

As Iran has shown, it is a country where the polls show that the majority of the people want freedom and democracy. However, if there is an element in control that is vicious enough and willing to do anything to suppress people, then millions of people who want something better can in fact be intimidated and controlled.

I am concerned by comments I have heard, and not necessarily in the House, that the Muslim Brotherhood is renouncing violence and that the Muslim Brotherhood can be trusted. If there is a message that we can send along with our message of encouragement, it would be our observations and an understanding of history. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted. There are already stories coming out, intelligence reports, where it is somewhat involved in some of this movement. It has not renounced violence. It took that particular course though. It was renouncing violence some decades ago and what resulted after that when Anwar Sadat would not follow its way was his assassination.

We have seen flowing from the Muslim Brotherhood the movement that is known as the Islamic Resistance Movement a.k.a. Hamas. Hamas still has in its charter the destruction of Israel. There are Middle Eastern proverbs that say people can be judged by who their friends are at times. These types of friendships, whether we are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas, or a charter to destroy another country, are things of which I would encourage our friends to take great cautions toward.

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna talked and wrote in a very intelligent and articulate way about the necessary use of terrorism when the time came. He talked about using politics and he talked about using propaganda.

President Nasser tried to work with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Al-Ikhwan as they were called, up until they tried to assassinate him. Then he used very repressive means, driving many of them into Saudi Arabia. When they fled to Saudi Arabia, we saw that joining of the Saudi-Wahhabi and the Muslim Brotherhood Salafi group, leading to the modern terrorist Islamist movement. I am not talking about Islam, I am talking about the modern terrorist Islamist movement today.

That is what is existential in Egypt now as we speak. From time to time the Muslim Brotherhood speaks against violence, as they did in 1998 with the embassy bombings. But in reading further in their denunciation, it was only because Muslims were killed not because others were killed.

As recently as 2008 their supreme guide, Mahdi Akif, praised bin Laden as a Moujahid. He called for jihad in Egypt. That was as recently as 2008. Their motto is still that “Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

This is the Muslim Brotherhood. I would encourage our Egyptian friends not to be fooled, not to be led down the path by some of the academic attainments of some members of that Brotherhood. Their goals have never changed.

It is something in the DNA of those of us in the west that we incline ourselves to appeasement before, at times, the most evil forces. That is regarded as a weakness. That part of our DNA is actually based on hope. We try to appease, hoping that rational minds will prevail. It is actually a virtue, I believe, of western civilization, that particular hope.

Hope without reason can lead to great catastrophe. I am concerned about that. There should be a couple of tests that I hope and encourage our Egyptian friends would put before those who would want to be involved. We have already heard that there has been what looks like progress.

Mr. Mubarak has said that there will be a new constitution, and there will be elections for a prime minister and a president. There is some hope there.

As we have heard other people say, trust but verify. I would encourage that if there is any Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a new government or a new constitution, they absolutely and completely renounce violence in all its forms, including their intended violence towards Israel. Would they be willing to do that?

In the area of freedom of religion and the expression thereof, and I am not just thinking of the Coptic Christians who are feeling greatly threatened at what might be the new governing power in Egypt, but those who are Christians themselves or of other religions. We know often that their fate in Egypt has been martyrdom and death.

The mark of a society that really embraces human freedom, is to embrace freedom of religion. From freedom of religion comes freedom of speech. We have heard about the importance of freedom of association. There will be freedom of association. There will even be freedom of the media.

These are some tests that I would encourage our Egyptian friends to put to those who want to implicate themselves into what we sincerely hope will be a true democratic movement and one that respects all human rights.

This is a momentous time. We do watch, but as we watch and see these things develop, let us not be fooled into thinking there is going to be an immediate transition to the type of democracy that has taken 150 to 200 years to develop in Canada, and which still, which we admit among ourselves, has its weaknesses even in the House.

We are willing to send what we have learned. We are willing to send our diplomats. We are willing to send our academic people. We are willing to send our parliamentarians to help and to assist. We will also send our prayers for those people at this time and we send hope. We encourage them to move carefully, to not rush into a place where they may have some deep regrets and to apply these tests to those who would want to be a part of what we hope will be a great new democratic movement in Egypt.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:30 p.m.


Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the President of the Treasury Board for a thoughtful presentation tonight. He was speaking from the heart and speaking with a great deal of realism as well as a sense of idealism that inspires all of us.

I hope the government will look at what I see as an absence in our foreign policy and the whole area of governance which is really what we are talking about. We are talking about applying tests but we have to have the capacity to really assess those tests. Right now the governance area falls in between DFAIT and CIDA. In between the foreign affairs department and CIDA there is a bit of a black hole which used to be filled with some efforts that were made in governance that were paid for on both sides.

The minister talked about how he was prepared to send members of Parliament to Egypt. Many of us are prepared to go. Many of us are interested in engaging with our Egyptian friends and there are other ways in which we can do this.

The government has to understand that the governance revolution is not over, that the process of change in the Middle East, which many people thought would not happen in this way, is clearly under way. What we saw take place in the post-Soviet period, which was different but which also had its governance challenges to which Canada responded, is one which we now still continue to have to respond to.

I know the minister will think of this as being some kind of special pleading but I am really saying that when we look at the area of how we help countries deal with these challenges, and he put it on the table something which I thoroughly agree with, that we should go into these situations with our eyes wide open, with a sense of our own historical experience as he has described it, the experience of appeasement, the experience of Iran, and we can go back further with the experience of other revolutions which have gone awry and have not worked to the benefit of the people. We know that.

There is no room here for a kind of naïveté on our part as we look at the demonstrators on the street. If the government is going to take this approach, which I hope it does, that it realizes it is going to require a modest shift in terms of resources and look at how we can deal more effectively with this challenge of governance at the international level.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:30 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the observations of my friend, the foreign affairs critic for the Liberal Party.

We have been in a position in other situations to offer that kind of guidance where asked. I am sure my friend will recall the great participation of Canadians in what we now refer to as the orange revolution and the re-establishment of more proper elections following that.

I meet on regular occasions, as does our Prime Minister who takes the lead on this, with those from other countries who want to have and simply desire, as the Latin expression talks about, a better country. They come to Canada and say they see something in Canada that they do not have. They ask if they can send their officials or have an exchange, whether it is us sending our judicial experts to places like China. The head of state of Mongolia recently asked Canadian officials to help his officials in terms of establishing processes within the public service. Canada gets many of those calls.

Recognizing slight partisan differences here, not to any detriment, I hear what the member is saying. I believe under our Prime Minister we have demonstrated that and we have an opportunity to continue to demonstrate that. A lot of it is if we are asked. These are sovereign issues of other countries. The past and the present clearly shows that Canadians at a variety of levels are ready and willing to do that.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:35 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's excellent speech, maybe for the first time in the debate tonight, pointed out to members of the House the urgency and possible dangers. I am very thankful that he laid that out so clearly for us tonight.

I want to return to the topic of the consular response to the Egyptian crisis by our government. Our government and Canadians are gravely concerned with recent developments in Egypt. Although the desire for a political change is a positive one, security deteriorated sharply after the initial mass demonstrations. Shops and businesses have been closed for several days, leading to difficult conditions for Egyptian residents and visitors. We deeply regret the violence and loss of life that has taken place and we continue to call on all parties to use peaceful means to work toward a constructive solution while respecting freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

On Tuesday, February 1, President Mubarak announced his intention not to stand for the next election, but it remains to be seen whether the Egyptian people will accept his offer to lead the transition.

As the situation in Egypt remains unpredictable, the safety of Canadians is our number one priority. We have been quick to take action. On Sunday, January 30, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that the Government of Canada was offering chartered flights to Canadians wishing to leave Egypt. These flights take them to safer destinations, such as Frankfurt, Paris or other European cities. Canadian citizens will make their own onward travel plans. Standing by at these locations, Canadian consular representatives are present to provide further assistance.

The first of the Canadian evacuation flights arrived in Cairo less than 24 hours after our government offered to assist Canadians who wish to leave Egypt through voluntary evacuation. Five flights have now left from Egypt over the course of the last three days. The first flight carried 175 Canadians and the second carried 43. A third flight left Cairo yesterday with 131 Canadians on-board. A fourth flight left from Alexandria earlier today with 29 Canadians on-board and a fifth flight from Cairo that left recently carried 81 Canadians.

We also co-operated with other states doing what was right and included other nationals on our flights, including from the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia. In return, these countries are offering space to Canadians on their flights and some 21 of our citizens have been evacuated in this way.

We have been working closely with these like-minded countries, whose plans for evacuation for their citizens are similar to ours. In this way, we expand the opportunities to Canadians who wish to leave Egypt. This collaboration has been valuable and we are grateful to these partners.

At the moment, we, along with our like-minded partners, have been looking at options to evacuate Canadians from cities other than Cairo. The flight today from Alexandria carrying 29 Canadians serves as an example. The safety of Canadians is our priority and we are advising Canadians outside of Cairo to remain where they are rather than make their way to the capital where the protests may put them in danger.

The government is committed to ensuring that Canadians wishing to leave Egypt are able to do so with their families. As such, priority for the government-organized charters is being given to people holding a Canadian passport and their immediate family, defined as a spouse and/or children. Passengers are required to sign an undertaking with the Government of Canada agreeing to repay the costs related to evacuation in the amount of approximately $400.

In order to ensure that Canadians and their families are able to evacuate the country as quickly and easily as possible, staff from Citizenship and Immigration Canada are on hand at the Cairo airport to issue documents to spouses and dependent children of Canadian citizens being evacuated. Non-Canadian family members have been urged to bring all available civil and relationship documents to assist in this process. As I have said before, there has been an outstanding level of service and responsiveness to the situation in Egypt.

In order to deal with the large number of calls and emails we have received from Canadians on the ground in Egypt and their friends, families and loved ones here in Canada, the Minister of Foreign Affairs requested additional staff be placed at the emergency operations centre here in Ottawa and that additional staff be flown into Cairo to better assist Canadians.

The large increase in staff at our emergency operations centre has resulted in an increased capacity to answer and return calls from Canadians and their families as quickly as we can. Likewise on the ground in Cairo and in Frankfurt, we have bolstered our consular teams to assist evacuees.

Canadian missions around the world have stepped in to assist with calls and logistics. We have set up telephone numbers specifically for this crisis. We strongly encourage Canadians to call this number rather than the number of the Canadian embassy in Cairo. It is: 1-613-996-8885. A dedicated team of consular officers is waiting to help. Our government is proud of our professional consular team and of the services that the team provides to Canadians.

I reiterate that Canadians themselves are best placed to manage their own safety. We encourage all Canadians to be as informed and prepared as they can be before they travel and to be alert while they are travelling. I assure members that when Canadians require assistance abroad, they will receive it from this government.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:40 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, like all other Canadians I have been watching the events unfold in Egypt with great interest. Our government's main priority is the safety and well-being of our Canadian citizens. I am certainly proud of the speed and efficiency with which we have acted to ensure their security. Almost 350 people have been evacuated and, as my colleague has mentioned, more than 2,300 have received consular assistance and advice.

I think we would all agree this is a time of unprecedented change and great unpredictability in Egypt.

Today we learned that formerly peaceful protests have turned violent. Sadly, at least one person has been killed and as many as 600 have been injured, some very seriously. As well, a number of journalists and even Canadians have been attacked. We certainly deplore this brutality and we regret any loss of life and the injuries on both sides. We call on the Egyptian government and the protestors to refrain from escalating the situation.

Stability in Egypt is important to Canada and to the world. By virtue of its strategic location, Egypt has long been a bridge between the Middle East and Africa. Egypt plays an important regional role in Africa as a mediator of peace talks in Sudan and as a contributor of the largest contingent of peacekeeping forces to the United Nations African mission in Darfur, as well as the provider of humanitarian assistance, especially in Sudan and Somalia.

Egypt is one of the top five financial contributors to the African Union, which makes it a mainstay of the organization.

In addition to providing troop support for African Union missions, it ranks fifth in the world for United Nations police and troop contributions. It also is home to the Cairo Regional Center for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa. Egyptian and Canadian soldiers have served side by side in many missions, and officers from both countries regularly attend each other's staff colleges.

Two years ago, Egypt hosted the African Union summit, where a range of issues of importance to Africa were discussed.

Egypt also contributes to regional stability in Sudan. Egypt regards itself as the natural Arab and regional leader on Sudan and has supported efforts to resolve the conflict in Darfur. For Egypt, Sudan represents a key transit country for almost 95% of its water and most of its illegal migrants. Egypt is concerned about the access to those Nile waters which flow through southern Sudan. Therefore, Egypt, like Canada, has a strong interest in maintaining the stability of the area.

Egypt supported the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan and undertook development projects in the south. Though it did prefer a unified Sudan, Egypt said early on during the voting that it would respect the results of the January referendum on independence. This was an important and positive gesture.

Egypt has invested in building electrical power stations, medical clinics and a university in south Sudan. Egypt is also a major contributor to the two peacekeeping missions in Sudan, with over 2,000 personnel deployed.

Egypt has been a crossroads for trade and culture in the Arab world. Its institutions and its intellectual legacy have left deep imprints and influence in the region's social and cultural development. In the modern era, Egypt has been a bridge builder between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as well, while also taking an active role in building the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Egyptian officials have continued to work hard in promoting unity and building stronger political and economic relations with the Arab Union countries.

Egypt exercises a leadership role in the Islamic world. It is the current chair of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and home to the headquarters of the Arab League. It is also an important member of the African Union. It continues to play a leadership role in giving voice and influence to much of the third world through the Non-Aligned Movement. It is the current chair of that movement.

Egypt has a long and proud history of engagement in international peace and security matters. It is important that Canada and the world encourage all parties in Egypt to work together to usher in reforms that will enable Egypt to continue to make a positive contribution to regional stability.

Egypt has been an important political and cultural component of the international community. Its ancient civilizations contributed magnificently to what is now our common heritage. It is the repository of many of humanity's common treasures. Its history and culture continue to inspire, amaze and instill in all of us wonder and amazement. Egypt's history, culture, education and religious characteristics have had a profound impact on not just the region, but the entire world.

Canada is home to a significant important population of Egyptian Canadians who make major contributions to our society and its advancement every day. As a nation, we are culturally richer as a result of the dedication and commitment of Egyptians to Canada and to Egypt. We wish to see the continuation of stronger ties between our two nations.

In the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, Canada “reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future”. We certainly want to continue to support all the work and efforts of those who stand for peace and reform in Egypt, since accommodating the aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the Egyptian people will no doubt enrich us all.

I would like to offer a cautionary tale. I have been watching with great interest, and as the President of the Treasury Board mentioned earlier, political reform needs to happen. The challenge is how that is going to happen and what it is going to look like. As the critic for the Liberal Party mentioned, part of the process is the things we need to work on and the things we need to be interested in. Just because a dictator is overthrown does not naturally mean it will lead to a democracy.

As we have mentioned, Egypt plays a very important role in the region with some of the peace agreements that it is involved in. We need to be there in the days to come, if Egypt asks for our help, to be part of the process in trying to put political reforms in place, in trying to develop a system that has not been there for many years.

Merely having an election probably will not do the trick. There are institutions that Egypt has not had over the years with a dictatorship and it is important to understand that it will take time for these new institutions to be put in place. I would encourage the world to find ways to help the Egyptian people with their reforms and with their democratic processes. We must understand that helping them get involved in elections again is not necessarily going to change things. We need to help them with their governance and it may take some time for that to happen.

We also want to make sure the Egyptian people will still be involved in the area in a leadership capacity as they have been, working on not only being involved with peace treaties but some of the other things they have been involved with.

We are ready to step in when necessary and we must realize that this process will probably take some time.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:50 p.m.


Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my colleague's comments. In continuation of the questions I have been asking this evening, I find it interesting that members of the government would be affirming the fact that there needs to be a stronger institutional response from Canada. What is striking for me is that the government has not always been consistent in its support for those institutions in our own society that have already been in the field and already engaged in dealing with governance questions in the world.

If we now realize that governance is such a critical issue in this part of the world and indeed in other parts of the world, I wonder what the member would suggest we do as a country to ensure there are not just a series of one-offs as we respond to the Egypts and the Tunisias and the others that may arise, but that we have a more consistent approach to governance. Perhaps we should give the mandate to either CIDA or Foreign Affairs, but give it clearly to one of them and say that this is their responsibility to run with this. It cannot all be run out of the Prime Minister's office, as was being suggested by the President of the Treasury Board. It is something that has to have the stronger institutional support of the Government of Canada.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:50 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was mentioned by the President of the Treasury Board and in committee we talked about this. A number of countries are looking to Canada for help in their civil service, for help in a number of different areas. When we are given the opportunity through requests that come to us, it is important for us to act on them. If a country comes to us and says it would like help with its governance, then by all means we should be involved. We are involved in a number of different projects through CIDA with governance issues around the world. As long as we as a country continue to be asked, we should be willing to step into those situations and help out.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:50 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is the second speaker who has zeroed in on the danger that may begin to play out when this regime change takes place. The danger of course is that we may see a regime that is worse than the last regime.

We have had a lot of criticism and a lot of challenges, especially from the opposition, in regard to whether the government should challenge that government and insist that it step down.

I am wondering if my hon. colleague would agree with me that the position we have taken as a government is to slowly let these things evolve on their own rather than forcing the issue which could result in something none of us want to see, perhaps a regime like we have witnessed in Iran. That technique of pushing the issue may lead to a very unhealthy regime, which is something that none of us want to see. I wonder if he would want to comment on whether that is a concern of his.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:55 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that we do need to be measured in our response. As I mentioned earlier, there has been a dictatorship for a number of years in that part of the world and, quite frankly, the systems, the processes, the institutions or the institutional capacity is probably not where it needs to be.

I believe that President Mubarak needs to work in a transitional period. I do not believe there should be a vacuum. I believe there should be an opportunity to work together, as my critic from the Liberals mentioned, with outside governments that would be willing to participate if they were asked to step in.

I realize that as we look at what is going on, there is no question that the people sense an opportunity. There is certainly a lot of energy on the ground right now but we need to ensure the systems and institutions are there in order to ensure Egypt is able to move forward in the future.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

9:55 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the past week, I, like my fellow Canadians, have been watching the events in Egypt. I have been deeply saddened by the loss of life that has occurred during these demonstrations. We strongly condemn all violence that has turned a peaceful protest into a flurry of violence in the streets. This must stop. All parties must embrace non-violence.

Earlier this evening, I was on the telephone with a friend who had recently returned from Egypt. He spoke in such warm terms of his experience there, of the warmth, hospitality and friendship of the Egyptian people, the strong commitment to family, as well as the very difficult times that these people are enduring, not just in terms of the current unrest, but the difficult economic times that they are facing. He went on to say that a large percentage of the GNP of Egypt is derived from the tourism industry. Obviously, with the events that we are seeing unfold, this will certainly have a very negative impact on that industry and will be a devastating loss for Egypt. It will take many months, if not years, to recover that kind of loss.

As members of this House will know, our government's foremost priority is the safety of Canadians. In fact, earlier this evening the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) gave some very good advice that bears repeating and that Canadians need to be aware of before and when they travel so that we can minimize any potential negative impact on them.

The Department of Foreign Affairs receives two requests for assistance every minute of every day at one of the many points of service. In 2010, over 1.1 million Canadians abroad received some form of assistance. Over the last five years, demand for consular services has increased by 32%. The growing demand for consular services was recognized by this government in budget 2008. We provided better funding to cope with the demand and enable us to reach out to more Canadians to ensure that they were well-prepared before they left Canada.

These funds have contributed to a strengthened consular function at headquarters to support officers in the field, the construction of a new emergency watch and response centre, as well as the recent appointment of our minister of state responsible for consular services. This shows the government's commitment to expanding this service that is so crucial.

Consular services takes many forms but they essentially belong to two main categories: first, obviously prevention and education and; second, assistance. The Department of Foreign Affairs strives to prepare Canadians for international travel by providing information and advice on safe travel to foreign countries and to help Canadians abroad to handle consular difficulties or emergencies.

The Government of Canada's advice and information on travel abroad can be found at This website receives more than 12,000 visits a day and should be the first step for all Canadians planning a trip abroad. It offers travel reports for over 200 countries, gives an overview of the security situation of the country, any official travel warnings advising against travel to a country or regions of a country, contact information for the nearest Canadian mission and much more.

It is through this website that Canadians can also register with Canadian missions using the Registration of Canadians Abroad system. Registering gives the Government of Canada the means to contact Canadians during an emergency. The Department of Foreign Affairs also provides public communication and outreach products to educate Canadians on how to travel safely and responsibly.

Our government has rapidly responded to this volatile situation in Egypt. To date, our government has helped over 375 Canadians leave Egypt. Within 24 hours of recommending a voluntary evacuation, the first planeload of Canadians safely landed in Europe. We will continue to facilitate this until every Canadian who wants to leave Egypt may leave. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was reassured by his colleague, the foreign minister of Egypt, Ahmed Gheit, that they will enable us to do so.

At this time, we have deployed over five charter planes to evacuate Canadians who wish to leave Egypt. We will continue to do that. In addition, we have worked closely with our friends and allies to co-operate and share in each other's efforts. We continue to work with our allies to ensure that our nationals leave the country.

While the situation on the ground does pose logistical difficulties, our government is acting quickly to ensure that sufficient resources are in place to assist Canadians. The foreign affairs minister has deployed additional staff in both Cairo and Frankfurt to support the efforts of those staff who are already on the ground.

As well, our government understands the plight of the friends and families of Canadians who are currently in Egypt. We understand their concerns and their desire to have access to the latest information and advice. We have added capacity to our 24-hour emergency operations centre to take more calls from Canadians who are looking to access help.

The emergency operation centre has fielded over 14,000 calls. In addition, it has placed a large number of outbound calls to those who have registered on the registry of Canadians abroad. We continue to monitor the volume and will reallocate the proper resources to ensure that we meet the demands. Again, I want to stress that we cannot urge strongly enough that Canadians should register with our embassy whenever they travel abroad and, especially at this time, register with our embassy in Cairo.

Canadian missions around the world have stepped in to assist with calls and logistics. We have set up additional telephone numbers. A dedicated team of consular officers is always waiting to help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Canadians themselves are best placed to manage their own safety when they find themselves in trouble but we are there to help. We encourage all Canadians to be as informed and prepared as possible before they travel and to be alert while they are travelling. I can assure the House that when Canadians require assistance abroad they will receive it from this government.

I would like to take a moment at the conclusion of my time to report how pleased I was as a member of Parliament during the Haiti crisis to have regular contact by way of my staff and consular officials, to see the diligence, the hard work and dedication that these staff members had to their jobs and the personal care that they provided to Canadians who were in Haiti and needed assistance. Members may recall that the very first Canadian victim of the Haiti earthquake to be identified was a Canadian from my area, so I was deeply immersed in the tragedy at that time.

I want to take this time to acknowledge the great work that our consular officials give in the service of Canadians who have travelled abroad or may be working abroad.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:05 p.m.


Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my voice to this emergency debate on the crisis that is occurring in Egypt.

I too condemn the violence that has occurred and extend my condolences to the families of the victims and pray for peace and stability. I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

This is a time of opportunity, not just for one country but also for an entire region, a time of opportunity that is unprecedented. It is also a time of great risk and great uncertainty. All sides must share in the priorities of peace, and Egypt must continue its leadership role in the peace process in the Middle East.

Following President Mubarak's announcement that he will not seek re-election, Canada reiterated its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to a new leadership and a promising future.

As Egypt moves towards new leadership and a new regime, 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 the rights and freedoms we enjoy here in Canada, and not a transition that leads to violence, instability or extremism.

Canada must strongly support an open transition to democratic values and governance in Egypt. The Egyptian government must respond now to the people's demands. There needs to be freedom of expression and assembly, free and fair elections, and freedom from persecution for religious minorities. This is not just about economic and social change. There must be a fundamental change in the manner of governance, proper elections and other steps towards democratic values and respect for human rights.

Canada must also strongly support the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully, and we call on the Egyptian government to reverse the steps it has taken to crack down on such expression, including restoring social media and cellphone service.

We respect the Egyptian leadership's longstanding support of the Middle East peace process, its support in fighting terrorism and its opposition to the Iranian threat. But we will not support or abide the use of force against legitimate dissent and the use of extrajudicial means against the people.

We are encouraged by the army's pledge not to use force against the people.

At this time, not all details are clear, but there are concerns that the government is involved in fomenting the clashes. If this is true, it must stop, and they must start helping to control the violence.

Egyptians themselves will determine the outcome of these historic events. However, we are concerned, as all parties, governments and actors should be, about the possibility that a change in government could bring forth a government that is, in whole or part, averse to peace in the region or that would want to abrogate the longstanding and historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Egypt has been the linchpin of Middle East peace, and all governments and parties should make the maintenance of peace a top priority for the wellbeing of all of the region's citizens.

I would like to discuss the rights and freedoms of members of my community, rights that have been abrogated in Egypt, and how we as Canadians must be vigilant in standing up for the rights of minorities. I am blessed to have one of the largest, the third largest in fact, Egyptian communities in Canada residing in my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville. These Egyptians are primarily Coptic Christians, who are the largest religious minority in Egypt. The Copts are the native Egyptians Christians, a major ethno-religious group in Egypt.

Christianity was the majority religion in Roman Egypt during the 4th to 6th centuries and, until the Muslim conquest, has remained the faith of a significant minority of the population until the present day. Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10% of the Egyptian population. Some officials estimate that these Christians represent 5% to 10% of a population of over 83 million Egyptians.

Members of the Canadian diaspora conclude that there are 250,000 to 400,000 Coptic Christians here in Canada.

Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

I have had the pleasure of attending mass at the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius, and have been blessed by His Holiness Pope Shenouda, one of the most profound experiences of my life.

As a religious minority, the Copts are subject to significant discrimination in modern Egypt and are the target of attacks by militant Islamic extremist groups.

Many in the Coptic Christian community have expressed frustration, anger, shock and horror at the ongoing religious persecution that has targeted Coptic Christians and been escalating. The Coptic community has been targeted with hate crimes and physical assaults. Members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern about the human trafficking of Coptic women and girls, who are the victims of abductions, forced conversions to Islam, sexual exploitation and forced marriages to Muslim men.

Last Christmas eve we witnessed a massacre at Nag Hammadi, where seven were killed and many more injured. Just a few weeks ago, on Christmas eve in Alexandria, 21 Copts were killed and 79 injured. With this growing religious intolerance and open sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years, we are concerned for the Coptic Christians and about the failure of the Egyptian government to effectively investigate and properly prosecute those responsible.

The freedom to practice religion and the protection of minorities are significant rights in a democratic society. These are values that we hold near and dear in Canada. Yet these rights have not been extended to Coptic Christians.

The Coptic community recently issued a statement that it preferred the rule of President Mubarak to that of an unknown alternative. Their fear is that the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of Muslim fundamentalists, could or would fill the leadership void that would exist. That would represent a very concerning and much less stable option. It is important, as Hillary Clinton stated, that there be an orderly transition to a more politically open Egypt.

President Obama stated that Egypt's $1.5 billion aid package would be reviewed if peaceful protesters were dealt with harshly, and he urged President Mubarak to take the concrete steps to enact the political and economic reforms that are needed. To date, President Mubarak has promised not to run in the next election scheduled for this September.

As Canadians, our priorities must be clear. First, we must ensure the security of our citizens on the ground in Egypt, as they continue to face a dangerous and unstable situation. The government must offer increased consular services to come to their aid and evacuate those who wish to return home to Canada. The safety and security of all Egyptians must also be a foremost priority.

This is an important moment for the people of Egypt. It is a time of crisis and concern, but it is also a time of hope and opportunity. We pray for a return to peace, stability, and security and to an open transition to democracy and reform.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

February 2nd, 2011 / 10:10 p.m.


Glen Pearson Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was especially interested in what my colleague said because of my own particular interest in the needier parts of Egypt. We forget there is so much poverty in the region, which led to many of the riots that took place. From the CIDA website, I see that CIDA invests about $20 million in Egypt, but it is largely for the Egyptian economy. It is part of a regional investment.

Given the unrest we have seen in the last few days, which is quite concerning, I wonder if she has any ideas about ways in which the CIDA money could be better spent to address some of these poverty issues.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:10 p.m.


Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question. As he well knows, 50% of the population of Egypt lives on less than $2 a day. The economic conditions that exist in Egypt are one of the primary reasons protesters took to the streets, along with the human rights abuses, torture and corruption. People need economic opportunity and that is why Egypt needs a return to stability and good governance.

As an experienced contributor of aid and development, Canada can play a significant role in this economic reform. What Canada needs to do is to review its aid priorities to best suit the needs of these historic changes.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:10 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I had the experience this past Sunday of attending a protest in Halifax that included both Muslims and Coptic Christians, who came together in unity to express their hopes, concerns and demands for change within Egypt and their support for the protesters. It was interesting to hear from some of the people in my riding and others in the Halifax area about what they are hearing, their concerns for family who are still in Egypt and their worries about what might happen and possible violence.

I am wondering what concerns my colleague is hearing from people in her riding, as well as what their hopes really are for what is going to happen in Egypt.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:15 p.m.


Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has been on the minds of many residents, many of my constituents. They are very concerned for their loved ones back home, and it is very important that we stand shoulder to shoulder, particularly with the Coptic community, to ensure respect for human rights, freedom from religious persecution, and enable the Coptic community to engage in their full and legitimate right to participate in transforming the society.

What I want and hope is that Egypt returns to democratic values, that it will share in the same democratic principles we enjoy here in Canada, principles such as freedom of speech, religious tolerance, freedom of association, and the economic stability and opportunity that are so important to a thriving and developing economy, and equality and education for women, good and stable governance and effective government institutions and, of course, we have already mentioned freedom from persecution, from corruption and violence.

What we really want is a good quality of life and peace and stability in that region,.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:15 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to address this issue from the perspective of being the co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. As such I have had the opportunity over the past few years of learning about Africa, and certainly the country we are talking about tonight and its situation, Egypt, and the role it plays in northern and eastern Africa and the role it played in supporting the pan-African Parliament, in supporting NEPAD, and so forth.

This essentially is what is going on in Egypt and other countries in Africa, whether it is Tunisia, Algeria or even Côte d'Ivoire. It is essentially about democracy, about the will of the people. What is driving some of these changes we are witnessing through the media reports is in part food costs, as we have seen in Algeria and Tunisia, and also the realization by millions of people that their standard of living is not what it could be, and the intolerable inequities they have been subject to, whether between African countries and European countries or African countries and North American countries, and also within countries because, within Egypt, we have heard tonight there are certainly different standards of living that people can afford. The majority of the people in that country are unfortunately living, as we have heard, on a couple of dollars a day.

We have seen this happening now, and as I say, it has been reported by the traditional media, by television, newsprint and radio, but has also been driven in great part by social media. That in turn has been driven by the will of the people to know and be informed, to know what is going on and to have an effect and an impact on their environment so their living conditions can be improved. And then again, I boil it down to what democracy is all about.

Our Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association had the occasion to visit Egypt, Cairo in particular, in March 2007. Even then we could almost sense an end of the regime, because the president, who is still president today, was ill at the time. There was a question of whether or not he would run again. They had just had elections the preceding November, when 88 members of the Muslim brotherhood had been elected. Some thought that number could have been greater and there was a lot of questioning about the method of elections. International observers were not allowed. As we know, in the elections just last fall, those 88 were reduced to a handful, and again there were a number of question asked about the way in which the elections were conducted. We are seeing a number of factors come into play, and all of this, of course, is being driven by other events in neighbouring countries.

I also want to relate a discussion we had at the time with a Mr. Hisham Kassem, who had been a participant in the Cairo Times for seven years, and founder of the first truly independent daily in Egypt. Our delegation had an hour of discussion with him, which we could not fully relate for fear of putting him in a bit of a bind. However, it was a truly eye-opening discussion in terms of the evolution of democracy in that country, how the regime was functioning, how they were allowing him essentially to be able to report independently, and that opened our eyes greatly to the situation. In that sense I am not very surprised that some of the events we are seeing are happening.

I want to take us a few days back, though, to events that happened elsewhere that I believe had an influence.

Naturally I am talking about the events in Tunisia. In just a few days, we saw the end of Ben Ali's regime, which had lasted for 27 years. The people, who are probably a little better off than the people of Egypt, wanted change. The people took charge and succeeded in ousting Ben Ali and are now making sure there is a new regime. Let us hope this will occur respectfully and peacefully and that it results in a regime that will satisfy the majority of the people.

Let us not forget the events in Algeria. There were riots there too because of the price of food. As a result, the government had to act quickly and reduce the price. We can see the sensitivity that exists throughout northern Africa.

I would also like to mention another country: Côte d'Ivoire. Our association has just returned from visiting the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes Côte d'Ivoire, a country we did not visit. In November, elections were held in Côte d'Ivoire and Mr. Ouattara was declared the victor by all the observers: from the European Union Election Observation Mission, to the United Nations and the African Union of West Africa itself. Everyone agreed that Mr. Ouattara had indeed been elected and that Mr. Gbagbo had to leave his post. However, Mr. Gbagbo is hanging on to power. During our visit to Nigeria, Ghana and Togo, roughly 10 days ago, it was headline news even though other things were going on in Tunisia, as I was saying.

I am very proud of the fact that 13 of the 15 member countries of ECOWAS held a meeting and unanimously supported the need to respect the election results, whereby Mr. Ouattara is to be named president and will take control. They went so far as to say that, as a last resort, force would be used to ensure that the election results were respected. This is very important because there will be 17 elections in Africa this year. If democracy were to experience a serious setback in Côte d'Ivoire because Mr. Ouattara was not sworn in as president, democracy in other African countries would also suffer.

In light of all this, I believe that the situation in Africa is very interesting nonetheless. Democracy is beginning to take root there and looking to flourish. As parliamentarians, as Canadians, as members of the broader international family, we have a role to play. First, we will have to seriously consider accepting the results of free and fair elections. When free and fair elections are held, even if the results are not what we would like them to be, we must learn to accept the outcome because that is democracy. There have been other instances when we have hesitated to accept the results, or even when we have not accepted them, and that is putting us in a rather delicate situation at present.

We must also learn to support these countries by speaking out, by having an active presence, in peacekeeping or international development—and certainly in election assistance or election monitoring. Canada is an expert in this area. Elections Canada is an organization with a very good reputation, and is highly respected and highly regarded by other nations. If we are asked to help, I hope we will be ready to answer the call.

If we were to do so, if we were to take part in the shift to democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire and any other country that wants to move in that direction, if their populations clearly, fairly and freely express their desire to do so, everyone would benefit. The large international family of free and democratic countries would be better off, and so would the human race overall.

That is the message I wanted to convey this evening. Like my hon. colleagues, I hope that everyone in our respective ridings who is of Egyptian origin can rest assured that their loved ones who are still in Egypt are safe and are being well treated. It goes without saying that we must do everything we can to help them.

I thank the Speaker for giving parliamentarians the opportunity to share their thoughts and wishes here this evening.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:25 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta


Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join with our colleagues in debating this matter of great importance. It is good to see my friend from Toronto Centre who gave the first speech in this debate. I appreciate his ongoing presence here.

A number of my colleagues have already addressed the unfolding crisis and opportunity that we see in Egypt. I had an opportunity to pay an official visit to Egypt in May 2009 at which time I met with senior ministers in the Mubarak government and leaders of civil society and faith leaders, including the late Sheikh Tantawi, the most important Sunni religious leader in Egypt, as well as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III while I was there on a broader trip of the Middle East.

I will say, in my capacity as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, that Canada continues to have an important immigration program from Egypt. Egyptian nationals have immigrated to Canada for, I suspect, well over a century and we count ourselves fortunate to have more than 100,000 Canadians of Egyptian origin, reflecting the diversity of that country.

I know that all of those Canadians of Egyptian origin are watching this evening's debate here in Canada and, more particularly, the developments in their country of origin, with great concern, some with great optimism and some with a fairly high degree of anxiety.

We would like to assure those Canadians, in fact, all Canadians, that all relevant departments in the Government of Canada are taking every necessary step to provide appropriate services to Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents who find themselves in Egypt. My colleagues from the Department of Foreign Affairs have already discussed our efforts to facilitate extraction from Egypt of those Canadians seeking to leave the country during this period of relative instability.

My ministry has played an important role in those ongoing extraction efforts and consular affairs because it is important for us to determine that the people seeking to come back to Canada, either through our facilitation or otherwise, are in fact Canadian citizens or permanent residents. For that reason, we have relocated a number of staff from neighbouring countries in the Middle East from other Citizenship and Immigration Canada bureaus to Cairo.

At the same time, because of the instability in Cairo itself, particularly right in the centre in the government sector in which is situated the Canadian Chancery, where I am sure my friend from Toronto Centre was during his recent visit, we have had to suspend a number of our operations at the Canadian Chancery since January 27 to minimize the risk posed to our locally engaged staff. About 80% of those working at the CIC bureau are locally engaged staff, all of whom I met with 18 months ago. They are very loyal servants of Canada. We wish them well. However, for the short-term we do not anticipate to be able to provide the same level of normal service for visas or permanent residency applications there.

When the situation stabilizes and allows us to go back to work, we will certainly do everything we can to respond to urgent requests from people who are emerging from the current situation.

We all hope that the relative instability does not descend into further violence or conflict. We all hope that the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people, which reflect the universal longing for self-government, for respect for human dignity and for freedom of conscience and religion, are the ultimate outcomes in a stable Egyptian government that reflects fundamental human values.

I would like to emphasize the importance and my particular anxiety about the situation of minority communities in Egypt.

We know that Egypt is not a homogenous country. It is a diverse country with religious and ethnic traditions that that go back centuries, at least. For example, Egypt's Christian community goes back to the beginning of the first century.

Recently, terrorist attacks and crime have been directed at the Coptic Orthodox community in particular. And this has been motivated and inspired by a certain type of extremism, so-called Salafist extremism, or by a form of Islamism known as Wahhabism.

That is worrying because in an unstable and unsafe situation, we want to be sure that the rights and safety of vulnerable people, particularly those from vulnerable minorities, are protected.

I would really like to emphasize our hope, and I am sure it is shared by the vast majority of Egyptians, that those vulnerable minority communities are not subjected to violence, harassment, persecution because, let us be honest. Certain minority communities in Egypt, including the Coptic Christian Orthodox community, have faced pressure. They have faced a double standard. Some people have faced in their day-to-day lives a certain degree of unjust discrimination from civil society and, I would argue, certain policies that could be characterized as persecution from organs of the state. In particular, I refer to the unwillingness of the regime to grant permits to build churches, or even repair churches. These constraints on religious freedom often lead to conflict points.

Behind all of that, we have the presence of a small but potentially deadly movement of Salafist Islamists who hate those who they condemn because of their religious convictions and, as we saw tragically on New Year's Eve in Alexandria, who even seek their death, where 23, I believe, innocent civilians were murdered by a terrorist suicide bomber. Similarly, a year before that, on Coptic Christmas Eve, some six innocent civilians were killed at Nag Hammadi. These incidents were preceded 10 years ago by the terrible massacre at El Kosheh.

One of the things that concerns me is that in none of these incidents have there been any successful convictions of the perpetrators. This causes vulnerable communities to believe that the justice system is not entirely just in that country in dealing with extremists, perhaps because some of those extremists have a certain degree of political support more broadly. I would characterize the incarnation of that political support as being the Muslim Brotherhood.

I know that we see in the media coverage and in some of the debates in western liberal democracies a great deal of enthusiasm and almost euphoria about the democratic spirit we see being exhibited on the streets of Egypt. To some extent I share that. We all hope that will be channelled in very positive directions, but we must not be naive. We must not forget that there are people, including some associated with the political organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of whose founders, Ayman Al-Zawahri, is the number two in command to Sheikh Osama bin Laden, the leader of the international al-Qaeda network. This is a very serious issue. It is serious for our own security. It is serious for the regional security in the Middle East. It is particularly serious for religious minorities who in the eyes of these Salifist Islamist extremists are kafirs, infidels, who do not enjoy the sanctity of human life. Rather, they are seen as people who can legitimately be targeted for violence and for, in fact, murder.

I raise this as a cautionary note. I think this is why we have heard the Prime Minister say it is our government's hope that while the situation will develop toward a democratic form of government that fully reflects the aspirations of the Egyptian people, that it will do so while protecting the rights of these minority communities. Let us be clear. Maybe this is so obvious we do not need to state it, but it should be stated. Democracy is not simply a system of majority rule. A tyranny of the majority over vulnerable minorities is not a democracy at all. Rather, democracy is a system of government predicated on the inviolable dignity of the human person. It is from that dignity that we derive our right to govern ourselves through democratic processes.

The moment that a majority denies fundamental rights such as the freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or of course the first right, the right to life, as has happened to religious minorities in Egypt, then one could say that it ceases to be democratic or has a certainly impaired democratic character.

Let us be careful. Let us be careful to ensure that we use the good offices of Canada, the democratic west more generally, to work with whatever institutions of civil society may exist in Egypt and with legitimate opposition parties in that country to create a reformed constitutional order of a democratic character which will not tolerate the violation of the rights of religious minorities in general and, I would argue the most vulnerable of them in Egypt in particular, the Coptic Orthodox community.

I have met with Pope Shenouda both here in Canada and in Cairo. I have discussed these matters with him and with other leaders, both lay and clerical, of his community. Understandably, they feel great anxiety and great pressure because of the situation they see in certain aspects of the current developments in Egypt, such as the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood. Let there be no doubt, we have the claim by the Muslim Brotherhood that it has renounced violence and is a mainstream organization willing to participate in democratic life. On the other hand, that does not reflect the historical, ideological or theological roots of that movement. There can be no denying the fact that there is a connection between the fundamental ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and, at the extreme edge, those who are inspired by those ideas sometimes to commit acts of violence. We continue to be very concerned about that.

Of course it is not for Canada or Canadians to dictate the choices the Egyptian people make as they, we hope, practice their right to self-government. However, we do have a role to play, and we have played a role. There have been many ongoing projects that Canada has supported in Egypt to build stable institutions of civil society.

For example, when I was in Egypt, I announced on behalf of the Minister of International Cooperation certain projects to support young and women entrepreneurs to develop external trade markets for their goods. That is one of dozens of examples.

Similarly, we have sought to promote respectful dialogue within institutions of civil society, between the Muslim and Christian communities and different factions of both of those communities. As well, we have consistently called upon the Egyptian government to respect and protect the rights of vulnerable minorities, including religious communities. We will continue to do so regardless of who the president of Egypt is. We will continue as a government to prioritize this issue of protection of the rights of vulnerable minorities not only in Egypt but in the broader region.

Let us face it, those who set off the bomb in Alexandria at All Saints Church on New Year's Eve 2010, those who shot innocent civilians coming out of a church in Nag Hammadi on Christmas Eve 2010, those who targeted civilians at El Kosheh and those who commit similar acts on an individual basis in Egypt share a similar hateful, extreme, dangerous, violent and destabilizing ideology as in other countries in that region. This of course is one of the most significant challenges that we face in the world today. How can we as a country more effectively intervene as a voice for the voiceless, for the vulnerable?

Next week, for example, I will be welcoming to Ottawa Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister of minority communities for the government of Pakistan, who is the first Christian in the Pakistani government.

He has seen members of vulnerable communities in his country attacked, murdered, tortured, persecuted, be they Ahmadiyya Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Catholics or Protestants. They were attacked by people who shared the same hateful ideology of those who have committed similar acts in Egypt.

It concerns me that some of those people are prowling the streets of Cairo and Alexandria as we speak. It is our hope that the emerging democratic forces will, as a very first order of business, exclude from participation in a government those would tolerate or excuse those attitudes.

More generally, I would say that with the broader strategic situation in the region, it is certainly my hope that a future Egyptian government would realize that it has a profound interest in maintaining a peaceful coexistence with the democratic Jewish state of Israel. It is not in the interests of the Egyptian people, regardless of who governs them, to return to the state of war, of uncertainty, instability and violence that plagued Egypt's relationship with Israel from 1949 until 1976.

I am concerned that the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in a prospective future Egyptian government would be a destabilizing influence. There can be no doubt that organization shares certain ideas and connections with such organizations as the Party of God, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which now is, sadly, a key part of the government of that country, and the organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt.

With the apparent increasing influence of Hezbollah with the rejectionism and extremism of Hamas, with the continued instability of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is certainly our hope that the Egyptian people will choose wisely in the coming days and months, will choose to embrace the dignity of a great and ancient civilization and reject those who would drag that country into a downward spiral of violence and extremism.

I certainly join with all of my colleagues in hoping for the best possible outcome and commit myself to play whatever role I can in this Parliament and government to offer Canada's assistance in that direction.

Situation in EgyptEmergency Debate

10:45 p.m.


Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister's intervention, as always, is a thoughtful and lively one that expresses so very clearly a profound point of view, which I think in most respects is very widely shared in the House and in the country.

My question will be remarkably parallel to some of the ones I have asked other members of the government.

I find it interesting that the government has identified a clear priority for Canadian foreign policy, the Prime Minister stating very clearly that the promotion of democracy and human rights is a clear priority for Canada, all over the world and in particular now in the Middle East. This comment was repeated by the President of the Treasury Board and by the chairman of the foreign affairs committee.

I plead with the minister, and I know a little about this, when we look at where there are significant gaps in how we actually invest through DFAIT and through CIDA, what will be found is that the great gap now is in this area of governance and in this area of democracy promotion.

I will give the minister one very practical example. In my previous life I was involved in a series of initiatives in Iraq, where the Forum of Federations was working with the national assembly of Iraq and dealing with the question of its constitution, dealing with federalism, but, generally speaking, dealing with how to create a better system of governance in Iraq.

Funding for any project involving governance in Iraq was cut off. It was not cut off for ideological reasons, for whatever. I am not alleging any political interference. It was cut off because there had been a bureaucratic decision that governance was no longer a priority. CIDA no longer did governance.

My colleague from London can share the same experience with respect to Sudan. When we go to Sudan, the people who are on the ground in southern Sudan are begging for assistance on governance. It is a real challenge. We see this again. We are going to be talking to people in Pakistan. The people in Pakistan are looking for assistance in governance, which looks at federal structures, pluralism, diversity. The government is gladly supporting the Aga Khan Foundation in the establishment of the Centre for Pluralism, which is a great thing.

However, I would ask the minister, in quite a non-partisan spirit, with his colleagues, to have another look at this question of how we do the interventions on democracy. I appreciate his comments today. They were Burkian, thoughtful and engaging as always. In listening to the comments of the President of the Treasury Board, while I did not agree with all of the conclusions he reached, when he said that we needed to match our passion for freedom with our sense of historical experience, I spent several years writing a book on that very subject so I agree entirely with that spirit.

I really reach across the House and say for the minister that I would desperately like us to be able to get a point where we could in fact make a common move on the question of democratic governance.