House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was scientists.

Topics

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Chair, the situation in Syria grows more desperate with every passing day and the list of Bashar al-Assad's victims grows even longer. The recent massacre in Houla, where 49 children were murdered, makes it agonizingly clear just how far Assad is willing to go in order to deny his people their legitimate democratic rights. He is willing to cling to power regardless of the cost to Syria or the Syrian people.

Our government has repeatedly condemned the savagery of the Assad regime and will continue to support the Syrian people in their struggle. Just last week, we expelled all remaining Syrian diplomats to protest the Houla massacre, coordinating this measure with several of our closest allies. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said at the time, “Canada and our partners are speaking loudly, with one voice, in saying these Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts”.

The Assad regime's brutal campaign of oppression has created a humanitarian emergency and has witnessed the systematic violation of human rights. It has had profound negative consequences for regional stability and has provoked a strong and wide-ranging response from the international community, including the development of the peace plan by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and the deployment of UN observers to monitor its implementation.

The humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. More than 9,000 Syrians have been killed during the past year and tens of thousands have been displaced, including more than 70,000 refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Over one million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and our government has acted by providing up to $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance that will help provide Syrians with emergency food assistance, safe water, sanitation facilities, essential household items and other much needed assistance.

The Houla massacre is only the latest in a lengthy list of gross human rights violations carried out by the Assad regime since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011. The list is long and varied, including restricted media access, denial of the right to peaceful assembly, the use of force against unarmed demonstrators, military assaults on civilian areas, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, summary executions, denial of medical treatment, torture and sexual violence, including against children.

These atrocities are so widespread that the commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council reports that the Syrian regime is responsible for crimes against humanity. The human rights situation is so dire that the Human Rights Council has held four emergency sessions on Syria, most recently on June 1. Canada participated actively in this session, co-sponsoring the resolution that condemned the Houla massacre and the ongoing human rights abuses being carried out by the regime.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated, “we have a solemn duty to defend the vulnerable, to challenge the aggressor, to protect and promote human rights and human dignity at home and abroad”.

While Canada wholeheartedly condemns the actions of the Assad regime, we must also be diligent in standing up for Syria's religious minorities and ensure that their rights are respected in Syria's present and its future. It is vital that Christian communities and others are not subject to prosecution or violence. Rest assured, Canada will be watching.

As damaging as Assad's oppressive policies have been for Syria, they may be even more destructive to regional stability. I have already highlighted the refugee situation caused by the crisis, which is placing a significant burden on countries, like Jordan, that have only limited resources with which to support these new arrivals. The conflict also risks inflaming sectarian and political tensions in neighbouring countries, most notably Lebanon where we have already seen the violence from Syria start to spill over into struggles between pro and anti-Assad Lebanese factions. Syria's Iranian ally has been quick to supply Assad with the tools and resources it needs to suppress its own popular protests for democratic change, even at the risk of turning the conflict into a regional proxy war.

The increased chaos and heightened sectarianism that will result only serves to provide terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, with opportunities to thrive and carry out further attacks against innocent civilians. Therefore, the international community must work together to end the Syrian crisis as quickly as possible.

We continue to believe that the best hope for doing so is Kofi Annan's peace plan, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council and the Arab League. This plan calls for an immediate ceasefire in order to pave the way for a Syrian-led negotiated political transition.

Implementation of the plan is being observed by the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria. UN observers provide an unbiased and on-the-ground assessment of what is actually happening in Syria, ensuring that the regime is held to account for the abuses that it is committing. The Syrian government has accepted the Annan peace plan but, sadly, has refused to abide by its commitments, as seen all too tragically in that the UNSMIS has been able to confirm Assad's responsibility for this massacre.

Canada strongly supports the Annan peace plan and works with UNAMIS. We have contributed $250,000 to Kofi Annan's mission and call on all parties, particularly the Assad regime, to immediately and fully implement all aspects of the plan, most importantly the ceasefire. The international community has made its support of the Annan plan inescapably clear and, in light of Assad's continued refusal to fulfill his commitments to Special Envoy Annan, we urge the UN Security Council to adopt binding international sanctions against the Assad regime in order to increase the pressure on Assad to immediately stop the violence. We call on those countries with influence in Damascus to encourage Assad to implement the Annan plan while he still has a chance to do so.

Our support for the Annan plan has been the key element of our response to the crisis in Syria, but it is far from the only one. Canada has repeatedly condemned the Assad regime, including the Prime Minister's call for Assad to step down in August 2011. In addition to expelling Syrian diplomats, Canada has imposed eight rounds of sanctions against Assad and his supporters. In addition to our humanitarian assistance, Canada has also committed up to $1 million in non-lethal support for peaceful, pro-democracy actors in Syria.

On the international stage, Canada has been an active participant in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, both through established venues, such as the G8 and the United Nations, as well as through new groupings, such as the Friends of the Syrian People.

Regardless of the venue, however, we have already made it clear that Canada supports the Syrian people in their struggle for democracy. We have stood with them throughout the crisis and we will continue to stand with them in the future.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for raising the whole concern about freedom of religion. I know that the member for Mississauga—Erindale, who will also be speaking, has been involved with that, as has our Minister of Foreign Affairs.

We have some Canadian investment, mainly in the oil sector in Syria, so we do have a connection there. I wonder if the parliamentary secretary, with his vast experience in dealing with foreign governments and countries, could tell us what exactly Canada can do. One thing about Assad, as vicious as he may have been, there was still a certain degree of religious freedom. It was not perfect but there are other places in the area that were much worse. I personally have a real concern that we can go from bad to worse when we deal with some of those values, such as religious freedom.

Whereas our government has said that this is a big issue for Canada around the world, is it working through the UN? Are there certain things we can do in the formation of a new governance model? What can we do here to assure that the next regime does recognize many of the important human rights and values we have but specifically freedom of religion?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, I thank the member for Crowfoot, my friend and my member of Parliament as well, for raising such an important issue about religious minorities.

While Assad may have been a friend of the religious minorities, and I am saying “may have”, the fact remains clear that Assad has blood on his hands and he has to go. As he leaves, this causes a big concern for us. During my recent visit to Istanbul where I met with the members of the Syrian National Council, I made it very clear that we would not replace one dictatorial regime with another one that would not respect religious freedom. This was made very clear to them and we will make it very clear to those actors who are trying to promote democracy and will eventually rule Syria.

As far as Canada is concerned, we have established the Office of Religious Freedom, which my colleague from Mississauga is also looking after with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This office will keep a vigilant eye on what is happening to religious minorities in Syria as well as everywhere else in the world. Therefore, I can assure members that Canada will be keeping a very vigilant eye on the situation for minority religious rights in Syria.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, enumerated a number of actions that the government has taken. He knows that many of us had asked that the government to act sooner rather than later, specifically on the issue of sending the Syrian diplomats home.

I am just curious as to t why it took the government this long to take that action. As he will know, many were calling on the government to do this but it waited. We knew what was going on since last March. It has been a year. Many of us have been calling for this for many months.

I am just curious as to why the government took so long.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, the member raising this question has raised it with me on many occasions during debates we have had.

However, we were looking to the regional players at the United Nations to act. After the United Nations and the Arab League appointed Kofi Annan, we thought that, under pressure from Kofi Annan, Assad would come to his senses and begin, to which he agreed, a ceasefire. There was the hope that he was giving to the world community that he would abide by the resolution, by the peace plan put forward by the Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

Regretfully, as we can see now, specifically after the massacre that took place in Houla, we know that he was not adhering to that peace plan. Therefore, we had to take stronger actions in coordination with all the other allies.

It is important to note that it is important that we act in co-operation with other countries. Therefore, along with other countries, we expelled the diplomats from Canada.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, could the parliamentary secretary tell us how many Canadians are still in Syria and what types of consular services Canada provides to its citizens?

How is our government helping Canadians who are still in Syria?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, we do know that there are Canadian citizens in Syria and we are concerned about them.

I will take that question under advisement and will come back to the member with the answer of how many Canadian Syrians who registered with the embassy before we closed it are still in Syria. Our offices in Jordan, in Turkey and in Lebanon are ensuring that those Canadians are looked after. They are getting consular services from these missions surrounding Syria.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to turn again to Canada's diplomatic role in the world.

Could the parliamentary secretary briefly tell us how our role has changed since October 2010, when Canada lost its seat on the UN Security Council?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, whether we have a seat on the Security Council or not, Canada has a very loud voice in the United Nations through its activities and our mission at the United Nations.

I would challenge the member and say that we are very heavily engaged through all venues in the decision making process at the United Nations. The member must remember that only 15 countries are on the United Nations Security Council out of the 194 at the United Nations. That does not mean that 194 countries do not have a say at the United Nations because they do not have a Security Council seat. That question of being there or not being there is not the issue. The issue is that we have a very strong voice. We led the session at the UN human rights, co-sponsored, to bring in the resolution against Syria. We co-sponsored the resolution to condemn the human rights abuses in Iran.

We are fully engaged with the United Nations, whether we are on the Security Council or not.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Chair, I have a question. I would like the hon. member to answer it, if he can.

Last spring, when the crisis began, we learned that it was a large Canadian corporation that was producing the electricity and managing the energy supply in Syria. That is rather significant. A type of economic and technical support was being provided to Syria.

Would it not have been appropriate to prevent that company from supplying Syria? Would that not have helped topple the regime?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, on of the issue of the company providing electricity, from our point of view electricity was being provided to the people of Syria, not only to the Assad regime. It is important to recognize that this electricity, through the company we are working with, was for the benefit of the people. We do not want to penalize the people.

However, the situation has deteriorated to the point that we have brought in sanctions. After the Houla massacre, we have now created bigger sanctions, and no Canadian company is allowed to be operating in Syria.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, tonight it is with a heavy heart and a troubled conscience, frankly, that I get up to speak on the issue of Syria. The troubled part is because of what we have heard from the government side already and what we will hear throughout the night of the troubles within Syria, the massacre at Houla and the mass atrocities that are happening in real time. The troubled conscience is the fact that we have seen this kind of event before.

In 1993, when President Clinton at the time was opening the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, well-respected Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel said to the president after speeches were made, “Mr. President, what have we learned?” He then went on to say “Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. ...I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country.”

Of course, we know what happened in the former Yugoslavia after that. That was 1993. It was just the next year that Rwanda happened. It is interesting that just this past April, Mr. Wiesel was in Washington again, at the museum, and this time it was President Obama he was speaking to. He posed the question yet again: “What have we learned”?

This is a question we need to examine. What have we learned when it comes to preventing mass atrocities? What have we learned in terms of stopping mass atrocities?

It has already been noted that these atrocities have been happening. We think of April 6, 1994. That was the date of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. We think of what happened on July 12, 1995, in Srebrenica. The world witnessed that. Now the date that will be known along with these other dates will be May 2012, and it will be Houla, Syria.

We are just starting to understand what happened in Syria. The numbers are 108 civilians killed, 34 of them women. The part that has grabbed us all is how many were children. There were 49 children. I heard the witness, an 11-year-old boy, Ali, talk about what happened in Houla that night. He said:

They came in armoured vehicles and there were some tanks. They shot five bullets through the door of our house. They said they wanted Araf and Shwaki, my father and my brother. Then they asked about my uncle, Abu Haidar. They also knew his name.

Shivering with fear, the boy stood toward the back of his family home as gunmen then shot dead every family member in front of him. It was an 11-year-old boy who witnessed this. He said:

My mum yelled at them. She asked: 'What do you want from my husband and son?' A bald man with a beard shot her with a machine gun from the neck down. Then they killed my sister...with the same gun. She was five years old. They then shot my brother...in the head and in the back. I saw his soul leave his body in front of me.

They shot at me, but the bullet passed me and I wasn't hit. I was shaking so much I thought they would notice me. I put blood on my face to make them think I'm dead.

Apparently the gunmen were convinced their work was finished. They moved on to other areas of the house from which they proceeded to loot the family's possessions. The boy said they stole three televisions and a computer and then they got ready to leave. On the way out of the house the boy said they found the three men they had been looking for. They killed them all.

The boy said:

They shot my father and uncle. And then they found my oldest brother...near the door. They shot him dead too.

Many have seen the images. This is a description. This is from an 11-year-old boy.

I have two sons of my own. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have one of my sons witness not just the murder but the targeting and the wanton destruction of human life.

We have to ask ourselves, “How is it the world can watch? What have we learned?”

We have learned a couple of things. I have already posed a question to the government that there comes a time to act, and the action of dismissing the ambassadors is one.

I believe we should have acted earlier when it comes to Canadian companies that were still functioning in Syria. In fact, we called on the government to ask that Suncor leave Syria. The government said that it was providing electricity. Suncor did get the message and left, but it was due to the sanctions from the EU, not the sanctions from Canada. What have we learned? We need to act.

I believe it is important to acknowledge that this is not a case in which we can have military intervention. I think the government understands that. I think most people in the House understand it. Because of the situation in Syria, we are deeply concerned and worried about the fallout from any kind of military intervention.

There are those who say that there should be support for the other side, for the rebels. I know that in Washington right now Senator McCain has called for that. Presidential candidate Romney has said that there should be a focus on cutting off the arms supply from Russia on the one hand, but we should supply arms to the other side. Clearly, it is dangerous to add more fuel to the fire.

A military option in that sense is not an option, yet we see these horrific crimes happening.

The crimes that I just described are most likely done with the support of the regime through the shabiha, which in Arabic is “ghosts”. These paramilitary groups are supported by the government and go and do the bidding of the regime.

Where do they get their support from? They get it from the government, but they have also been armed very well. We have to acknowledge that the ramping of arms in the region has created very dangerous circumstances, so we need to put pressure on governments such as Russia's to stop the arms flow.

That is where I think we need to focus. We need to put pressure on those who are continuing to support this regime. Most people understand that.

In terms of dealing with this situation right now, we of course support the Annan peace plan, but frankly, it is not enough. We need to see more UN observers on the ground. We need to see the regime adhering to the conditions of that plan. We also need to put pressure on Russia. In fact, all roads lead to Moscow when it comes to trying to deal with this situation.

It is also important to note that the media need to continue to be seized with this issue. The media has a responsibility, as has been identified when people have looked at mass atrocities and prevention.

Finally, we have more to do here. Canada needs to focus on the UN. Frankly, we need to earn our seat back on the Security Council. Alas, we do not have it, but we should earn our seat back. We should invest in conflict resolution. We should particularly support women and those who are fleeing violence.

We need to, in the end, answer the question that I posed at the beginning—“What have we learned?—and not cease until we have answered that question.

We have a moment that we can resolve this in a way that is multilateral and diplomatic and that is what we need to focus on until the killing stops, until we see that 11-year-old boys in Syria are not going to tell stories of massacre but stories we all have our kids enjoy, normal stories of play, school and everyday life.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, first he asked the question, “What have we learned?” What we have learned is that we cannot trust Bashar al-Assad. He is untrustworthy, he has broken all his promises and he has blood on his hands.

In the meantime, the hon. member has said many things that Canada can do, which we have been doing. We will consult with him when he comes up with ideas on what we should do.

One of the issues the member has raised is using pressure. As he said, all roads lead to Russia. I would like to advise the member and everybody else in the House that this issue has been raised dozens of times with the Russians, most recently with the foreign minister in Washington only two weeks ago at the G8 and with the ambassador here last Friday. Also, the Minister of International Trade is currently in Russia. Therefore, yes, we understand that and we are engaged with Russia and we will continue to engage with Russia.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, that is fine. We also know the government just announced that it is ramping up trade negotiations with Russia. I hope the Conservatives take the opportunity to focus on this issue right now because the priority now for most Canadians, when it comes to Syria, is ensuring that Russia acts. The priority is not trade with Russia right now, it is about action when it comes to Syria and I hope that is the focus of the government.

I should also underline that this is a wider issue around how the government behaves on corporate social responsibility. I know the Minister of Foreign Affairs often says we will not go just go along to get along. When it was Suncor and it was a matter of saying that this was an action that we should be taking, pulling it out, it seemed like we were going along to get along and it was not until the EU sanctions forced Suncor out.

The government also needs to be consistent in supporting the UN and that means being more respectful of those who represent the UN, ensuring we see the UN as not being perfect, and we all know that. However, when we look at situations like Syria right now, the UN is the institution we have to work in to get something done.

I urge the government not only to focus on Russia with regard to Syria, but also to focus on the UN and support the institution of the UN respectfully. As a good model, I would suggest how Norway has done with the UN and it has been very effective.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Chair, I appreciate my hon. colleague's speech. We have worked together on the foreign affairs committee for some time now. He mentioned Russia. He mentioned the UN Security Council.

Could he tell us exactly how he would suggest that the international community and Canada force Russia to abandon its position on Syria, its long-standing relationship with Syria and the fact that it has a veto on the Security Council? What would he suggest that Canada or other countries could do differently to ensure that Russia moves off this untenable position and acts immediately to help save lives of people in Syria?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, first, priorities should be focused on Syria right now with Russia, saying the trade deal and those negotiations are not the priority, and to set that aside until we see some action from Russia, but also getting our allies involved here. It is clearly not going to be just because of Canada that Russia will act. It is important that we act with our allies in the region. A contact group would be the way to go in terms of structure, of getting those who can gain the ear of Russia to work together in a coordinated fashion.

As members know, the flow of arms in the trade that continues with Syria comes from Russia and if we get Russia, I believe we can get China which is the other veto on the Security Council.

Finally, as I said before, it is also important that Canada support and respect the UN and that we show we are responsible when it comes to the UN and we earn back the trust of members of the UN so we will also one day have our seat back on the Security Council which, of course, would give us more influence.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, as the parliamentary secretary was saying, Russia and Syria have an important relationship. However, Canada also has a good relationship with Syria when it comes to trade. It should be noted that Syria is a major economic partner to Canada and that many Canadian investors invest in Syria.

What can be done, in that respect, to put more pressure on Syria?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, that brings up the question of a coordinated effort. We do have a lot of business interests, but we obviously cannot do this alone. If we look at the confluence of contacts within the business community, ensuring that those who have done truck and trade in the past with the regime or truck and trade with countries that are continuing to do business with Syria, then that could be something we push.

I should take a moment to underline that we need to push the issue of an investigation on Houla. There is an opportunity here. We could push Russia to get an outside independent investigation of what happened this past weekend in Houla to ensure that there would be an independent investigation. We have the regime saying that it wants to ensure that there is an investigation. We could ask Russia, which is trusted by this regime, to push for this as well. It could be something that allows for some action to take place.

Finally, we need to strengthen the Annan initiative. It is something that everyone was hoping would have done more. Clearly it needs to be strengthened and we need to convince our two Security Council representatives, China and Russia, to accept that process.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I would like the hon. member for Ottawa Centre to say a few words about something he has not yet had time to raise, and that is the situation of ethnic minorities.

To what extent are the ethnic minorities at risk in the Syrian conflict? We know there are strong ethnic tensions in that region and in Syria in particular.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, most people who have studied Syria know that this is a very diverse country. There are diversities within religion and ethnic groups. We know that Assad has done a very good job of knitting together alliances with different groups. From a minority group himself, that is how he has been able to hold onto power.

Clearly what should be underlined here is the need to ensure that minorities not be targeted. We saw what happened after the fallout from the war in Iraq. The dissent into chaos was not just about a civil war so to speak. It was about ethnic groups fighting each other and targeting each other based on religion. We also saw the sad spectacle of al-Qaeda coming in to a place where it had no reach at all before. This remains a concern.

Those who would say “arm the other side”, I would ask them if they know who the other side is. Be careful because it could be extremists. There was a bombing recently where I believe 54 soldiers were killed on the Syrian government side. Some are suggesting that outside militants were involved. We do not know, but we should be cautious.

At the end of the day, we see many groups that are concerned that their ethnicity and religion are targets for those who wish to take out grievances. We need to be vigilant on this.

Finally, we need to support both Jordan and Turkey which are receiving many of the refugees fleeing this violence.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 7:50 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Chair, I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the debate this evening, though, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre put it, with a heavy heart given the atrocities there.

The death and destruction, brutality and barbarism, of the Syrian government's latest massacres of its own civilians, as described by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the member for Ottawa Centre, have passed a tipping point, indeed if it had not been passed before, mandating the invocation and application by the UN Security Council of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and requisite international action.

The massacre in Houla followed a familiar pattern of Syrian assault and brutality. Syrian tanks, heavy weapons and artillery, which were to have been withdrawn to barracks, in accordance with the UN security resolution endorsing the Kofi Annan peace plan, indiscriminately bombarded the Syrian town of Houla and followed it up with a particularly barbaric slaughter of its inhabitants, a wanton execution even by the standards of Hafez al-Assad, going house to house with guns, axes and knives, leaving more than 108 dead, 49 of whom were children.

The Syrian government argues that this was the work of “armed terrorists”, but it was Syrian tanks and artillery that encircled and bombed Houla, in violation of the UN-supported ceasefire that itself has been violated again and again, and Syrian militias, Shabihas, as attested to by the UN monitors themselves, that perpetrated the atrocities.

Moreover, the weekend blood-letting in Houla was followed by still more killing of 50 civilians in Homs, the oft repeated target of such brutal assaults, again in violation of this “ceasefire”.

Indeed, the massacre was so barbaric in its brutality that the Security Council moved quickly, in the aftermath of the Houla massacre, to unanimously condemn:

—in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers...in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood.

The non-binding UN Security Council statement continued:

Such outrageous use of force against civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government under United Nations Security Council resolutions...

However, the Security Council action was only a press statement, not even a presidential statement, such that it does not even form part of the record of the UN Security Council. Shockingly, it is as if, for the official record of the UN Security Council, this massacre never took place. Nor was this a resolution of the UN Security Council itself. Nor did it contain any reference to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, let alone invoke the doctrine as authority for collective action by the international community.

Such collective action need not, and I think this needs to be stated, involve only military action or even involve a military action. There is a whole series of initiatives that the Security Council can take that I hope to get to in my remarks and outline what said resolution could include.

However, the tipping point for R2P has clearly arrived. Indeed, this is a paradigm case for the invocation of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. More than 12,000 Syrian civilians have been murdered, close to 1,000 of them since the UN-endorsed Annan peace plan went into effect on April 12, and some 13 months have passed since The Economist published a cover story in April 2011, entitled “Savagery in Syria”. Thousands more have been imprisoned, some of whom were tortured and executed in detention, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. And while Kofi Annan was visiting with the Syrian leader just last week, in the aftermath of the Houla massacre, there was, yet again, the discovery of grisly murders in Assukar in eastern Syria.

Indeed, the UN-approved Annan peace plan has been unravelling, if it has not already unravelled. Simply put, the unarmed 290 peace monitors dispatched under the plan have not so much monitored the ceasefire, which has yet to occur, as much as they have been used as a political cover for the killings themselves and the violations of the peace plan itself.

First, the Annan peace plan called for “a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms”, and for the Syrian government to “immediately cease troop movement towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres,” as a condition for the ceasefire, but the Syrian government has been violating this requirement since it was adopted, increasing its troop movements and bombardment of population centres, such as occurred two weeks ago and since, while the brutality of the regime has continued unabated.

Second, the Annan plan sought the “timely provision of humanitarian assistance”; yet by all accounts, Syria is experiencing a humanitarian disaster, with one million civilians deprived of food, shelter and medicine, the basic staples of humanitarian relief.

Third, the plan sought to “intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons”; yet arbitrary detentions and torture in detention have continued, as have disappearances and executions.

Fourth, the plan sought to ensure freedom of movement for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them; yet much of the country remains closed to those who would seek to report on the regime's crimes and thereby even deter them.

Fifth, the plan called for respect for freedom of association and “the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed”; but Syrians who have demonstrated peacefully, as occurred recently in Aleppo, do so at their peril, if not at the peril of their lives.

Finally, the peace plan called for a transition to a “democratic, plural political system” to address “the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”; but this undertaking is repeatedly mocked by the Syrian government's justification of the killings on the grounds that those who sought a democratic, pluralist political system were terrorists, thereby justifying the massacre in Houla, for example.

The question then becomes: What needs to be done, and as the member for Ottawa Centre put it, what have we learned in order to resolve what needs to be done?

One is reminded, and it bears a reminder at this point, of the poignant and painful dispatch of U.K.-based journalist Marie Colvin just before she herself was murdered in the assault on Homs two months ago, wherein she decried the Syrian government's “merciless disregard” for the humanity of the Syrian people. Her last words bear recalling, particularly this evening. “Am in Baba Amr. Sickening. Cannot understand how the world can stand by, and I should be hardened by now.... Feeling helpless.... No one here can understand how the international community can let this happen”.

Simply put, Marie Colvin sought to sound the alarm on the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Assad regime against the Syrian people, the classic rationale for the invocation of the responsibility to protect doctrine, when the state, as in the case of Syria, is the author of that criminality. Indeed, one might also ask what happened to the hallowed R2P doctrine.

At the UN world summit in 2005, more than 150 heads of state and governments unanimously adopted a declaration on the responsibility to protect, authorizing international collective action to protect a state's population “from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. If that state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, or worse, as in the case of Syria, that state is the author of such criminality.

When the peaceful protests in Syria began in March 2011 in Daraa, triggered by the arrest of young Syrians whose only crime was anti-regime graffiti, Syrian demonstrators then took to the streets, olive branches in their hands, proclaiming “peaceful, peaceful”, the march heralding the prospective blossoming of the Syrian Arab Spring after both Tunisia and Egypt.

Since then, those seeking freedom and democracy have looked for international support and solidarity in their struggle against the murderous regime. Accordingly, what is required now is a UN Security Council resolution. It is astonishing that no such resolution has yet to be adopted after 14 months of mass atrocity in order to implement the conditions of the initial Arab League peace plan, which evolved into the UN-sponsored Annan peace plan. It is time we acted on our international obligations under the R2P doctrine, whose first pillar is that of “sovereignty has responsibility”.

In particular, what is so necessary now is a comprehensive, consequential and binding UN Security Council resolution that would include the following elements.

First is the cessation of Syrian government violence; the mandated deployment of an Arab-led peace protection force in Syria; and the ordering of troops and tanks back to barracks and bases.

Clearly, the deployment of 290 unarmed UN monitors, not unlike the initial deployment of Arab League monitors, has ended up with the monitors being observers to the killings rather than a protection force to prevent the killings to begin with.

Second is protecting against the vulnerability of the targeted civilian neighbourhoods, and the related refugee flow toward Syria's Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders, through the establishment of civilian protection zones, which Anne-Marie Slaughter referred to as no-kill zones, along Syria's international borders.

Third is the provision of unfettered access to the sick and wounded for the humanitarian agencies such as the International Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent. People are dying as much of hunger as by bullets, as much of neglect as by artillery. As Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, put it three months ago, and it has only gotten worse since:

It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help.

Fourth, the UN resolution, pursuant to its implementation of the Annan peace plan, must mandate media access, both as a means of providing independent verification of violations of the plan, if not to help deter these violations—

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8 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I must interrupt the hon. member. The time has elapsed. Perhaps he can add some more in comments and questions.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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8 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, now that the three major parties have already made their positions clear, it is absolutely clear that all of us are seriously concerned with the situation that is taking place in Syria, aside from a few partisan jabs by the NDP. Otherwise, we are all on the same line, that being that action needs to be taken in reference to what is happening in Syria. I am delighted tonight that we have all had the opportunity, from here representing Canadians, to make a very strong statement to the Assad regime that its actions, its atrocities, are not acceptable.

At one point the NDP was talking about, as I said, the partisan thing of not being on the Security Council. However, the hon. member for Mount Royal has already stated quite clearly how ineffective the Security Council has been up to now in reference to taking action.

As recently as today, both the presidents of Russia and China have said they will not endorse the regime change in Syria, all saying quite clearly they would be supporting the Assad regime. They said it even today. Both of them have veto power at the Security Council to stop any kind of a resolution, including the right to protect out there. We have just called for the Security Council to take action.

I would say to the NDP that we took a strong stand at the Human Rights Council in Geneva by sponsoring the condemnation of the Syrian regime. It does not only have to be the Security Council. There are other venues like when Canada sponsored the Iranian resolution condemning Iran at the General Assembly. Therefore, we can do it. I am very happy and glad to see that the member brought the question—

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8:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I would like to give the hon. member an opportunity to respond.

The hon. member for Mount Royal.

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8:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Chair, other agencies such as the United Nations Human Rights Council do have a role to play. When I had to abbreviate my remarks, I was about to follow with that which the UN Human Rights Council can do by way of an independent commission of inquiry as recently voted upon. The problem is Syria, because it does not admit that UN commission of inquiry in order to engage in that investigation.

Similarly with regard to the UN Security Council, the UN Security Council has not been the problem. It has adopted resolutions, admittedly somewhat belatedly. The problem has been China and Russia, which have vetoed those resolutions. I might add that two unanimous resolutions were passed but they were not resolutions actually; they were more by way of a presidential statement.

What is needed at this point is a binding UN Security Council resolution, the elements of which I have sought to describe. Maybe I might just continue to give some of those elements that I could not give before for reasons of time.

What is needed are expanded and enhanced sanctions that the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as the U.K., France and others have called for. In other words, global travel bans and asset freezes, utter diplomatic isolation and condemnation, the expulsion of Syrian diplomats, as our government and others have done, and the treatment of the Syrian government as the pariah it has become, devoid of any legitimacy.

I might add that the Syrian government has continued to violate all principles and canons of international law. One need only look at the documentary evidence in this regard to appreciate that the authorizations for all these violations have come from the highest levels of the Syrian government, from every layer of the Assad regime's military intelligence and security apparatus. They have to be held accountable for their war crimes, and they have to be put on notice that they will be held accountable.

Seventh, and again pursuant to the Annan peace plan, the UN resolution must require the release of all arbitrarily detained persons and political prisoners. Any resolution must order and implement, as a means for verifying, a complete arms embargo again as a condition of maintaining the peace, and the member for Ottawa Centre mentioned this as well. Just recently there have been documented reports of arms shipments by Russia to Syria. We need a complete arms embargo.