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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

8:05 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I want to give the member for Mount Royal a chance to expand even further if he wishes to.

I have a question and maybe just a response to my friend from the government side. My statement was that we need to earn back our security council seat, because we lost it. This was simply an observation and not partisan. We would be able to do that, I am sure, if we demonstrate respect for the UN. That is a simple observation and it is a proposition for my colleague. This is in the spirit of a proposition.

However, I want to ask my colleague to expand more. One idea that has come forward is the idea of a motion from the general assembly along the lines of what my colleague has outlined, to put more pressure on both China and Russia and to show that the general assembly also has a role here. Granted it is not in a position of ultimate power, but perhaps it would be another way to put pressure on those countries that are on the security council that are vetoing what are good initiatives, as he has already laid out. Perhaps that would be another way to continue to put pressure on both China and Russia.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Yes, Madam Chair, I would support such a resolution by the UN General Assembly. We could get a preponderant vote in the UN General Assembly because we have to appreciate that Russia and China are isolated. The UN Security Council resolutions that they vetoed, 13 members of the UN Security Council supported. The United Nations Human Rights Council proposed a commission of inquiry and it was only Russia, China and Cuba that opposed it and 43 supported it. Again, they were isolated.

A UN General Assembly resolution would show that the preponderant membership of the international community is in support of some of the elements that I and my colleagues have mentioned this evening and would further isolate Russia and China and exercise a kind of diplomatic leverage that perhaps could shame them into supporting a UN Security Council resolution.

I will continue with some of the elements, as the member for Ottawa Centre invited me to do. This resolution, pursuant to the Annan peace plan, should mandate an inclusive political dialogue and process that genuinely respects the legitimate aspirations of the whole of the Syrian people, including the large majority that are not Alawi and in which, as the UN plan put it, “citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, ethnicities or beliefs” and with a view to President Assad stepping down as part of that process.

The international community needs to leverage, as I mentioned, Russia and China. We need to do so in such a way that Russia in particular has to appreciate that if it seeks to be part of a Middle East peace process, as it always has aspired to do, and if it seeks legitimacy as a superpower, which it aspires to be, then it must conduct itself as a legitimate superpower would, as one that cares about peace in the Middle East would and, thereby, not veto such a UN Security Council resolution.

In the event that it would continue to seek to veto such a resolution I will invoke here as a recommendation the Kosovo precedent. This was referred to by the member for Ottawa Centre. When Kosovo occurred, we did not have a unanimous resolution that authorized intervention at the time. We had only a majority at the time because Russia had vetoed it as well. We even have a larger and more significant majority now for a resolution with regard to Syria than we had with regard to Kosovo. I would recommend that in the event that we do not get full unanimity, then we should adopt the Kosovo precedent.

In conclusion, Syria is a case study of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine: first, the notion of the principle of sovereignty as responsibility, a country's responsibility to protect its citizens; second, and this I take up with my colleague from Ottawa Centre, the responsibility to remember the lessons of history, le devoir de mémoire of the dangers of indifference and the importance of the responsibility to even prevent atrocities to begin with; third, the dangers of inaction in the face of mass atrocity and the responsibility to act in order to hold the perpetrators accountable; fourth, the danger of impunity and the responsibility to bring the perpetrators to justice.

As UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has put it, “loss of time means more loss of lives”. Tragically, we have not yet done what needs to be done in order to save lives.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Chair, the violence in Syria continues to take a terrible toll on the civilian population. Canadians were horrified to learn the details of the May 25 massacre in Houla, Syria. Shockingly, the dead included 49 children, executed in cold blood.

Despite an international outcry and the UN Security Council condemnation, Syrian forces continue to assault the people of Houla. This slaughter underscores the appalling impact of the Assad regime's efforts to repress the people of Syria. Since the violence began more than 9,000 Syrians, most of them civilians, have lost their lives. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes and communities, and more than one million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Canada has soundly condemned the Assad regime's vicious attacks on civilian populations. We welcomed the UN Security Council's condemnation of the killings in Houla, which noted that such outrageous use of force against the civilian population constitutes a violation of international law. We echo the Security Council's demands that the government of Syria immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and return troops to their barracks. We join the Security Council and our allies in calling for those responsible for the heinous attacks against the Syrian population, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, to be brought to justice.

Canada stands with the Syrian people in their time of need. In March, the Minister of International Cooperation, announced a contribution of up to $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance to allow humanitarian organizations to provide urgent life-saving relief inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. This support will provide Syrians affected by the violence with emergency food assistance, safe water, sanitation facilities, essential household items and other much needed help.

Recent attacks in Houla underscore the brutal reign of a tyrannical regime. The people of Syria, a proud people, devoted to their homes and their communities, have chosen to flee their country and seek refuge outside its borders. More than 70,000 people and their families are currently receiving help in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In these countries, it is the quiet heroism of ordinary people who open their doors and their homes for those in need. We honour their humanity.

For many of those remaining in Syria the outlook is grim. Relief workers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as UN agencies, are making heroic efforts to meet the urgent life-saving needs of those affected by the violence. However, these efforts continue to be obstructed by the Assad regime.

Last month, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Cooperation welcomed Valerie Amos, UN emergency relief coordinator, to Ottawa to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. The UN has made it clear to Syria that the humanitarian needs are enormous and access is required by the UN to provide urgent life-saving assistance. Canada continues to call for full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to reach those in need. Those in positions of power in Syria must move quickly to facilitate relief efforts. Our government will continue to press at every opportunity until that access is granted.

Canada is appalled by the threats to safety and security faced by humanitarian workers in Syria. Already, the Secretary General of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and two Red Crescent volunteers have lost their lives in the line of duty. We mourn their loss and we pay tribute to their courage. We condemn the lack of respect for life-saving medical services in Syria. Medical personnel, facilities and ambulances must not be targeted and health care personnel must be able to provide aid in safety and without hindrance. The Red Cross and the Red Crescent emblems must be respected by all sides.

Canada continues to support the efforts of the international community to bring an end to the violence. Recent evidence of mass graves dug by the regime's butchers is irrefutable. We have repeatedly called on all parties to co-operate with UN observers, to respect the ceasefire, and to support the efforts of Kofi Annan, joint special envoy, to resolve the crisis, including full implementation of the six-point peace plan. The plan requires the cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians, and calls upon all parties to ensure the timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly condemned the violence in Syria, including the Houla massacre, but the time has come for stronger action. The Security Council must increase the pressure on Assad to end what is rapidly becoming a humanitarian catastrophe by adopting strong sanctions against the regime.

Canada has enacted strict economic sanctions against the Assad regime and has recently expelled all remaining Syrian diplomats. We call on countries around the world to adopt equally strong measures against the Assad regime to ensure that it fulfills its commitments and immediately stops the senseless slaughter of its own people. We call on countries with ties to Syria to urge an immediate implementation of the ceasefire and other provisions of the Annan plan before the humanitarian situation becomes more dire.

We call on countries with ties to Syria to offer evidence for how the Assad regime is any better than all the other alternatives.

The violence in Syria must end. The people of Syria must be saved from oppression and attacks. Civilians denied the necessities of life must be provided with humanitarian assistance. The international community must redouble its efforts to pressure the Syrian regime. The Government of Canada will continue to monitor the humanitarian situation in Syria and work with our partners in an effort to end the suffering of civilians and ensure life-saving assistance reaches those who need it most.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Chair, we state the facts on this side of the room. We were surprised, for instance when Canada lost its seat on the Security Council and did not even bother the second time around to be a candidate for a seat on the Security Council, because of the reputation we lost.

These are facts. We cannot deny them. I would like to ask a question with respect to international law. It is unfortunate that our colleague from Mount Royal is already gone because I wanted to ask a similar question.

When one is a member state of the UN—

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Denise Savoie

It is a rule in the House that we cannot mention the presence or absence of a sitting member, just for the record.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Chair, I withdraw those comments.

When one is a member state of the United Nations, there are certain obligations under the UN Charter. One of the obligations is the promotion and protection of human rights of all, in any given situation.

We know that Russia is perhaps the only international player that has a certain influence in Syria. What is the government's plan right now to influence Russia with respect to what is going on in Syria? All parties in any given conflict must be held to the same standards in international law and with respect to human rights. What is the plan of the government in that regard?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Chair, regardless of our status, of not being on the Security Council, Canada has punched much above its weight in its humanitarian involvement globally.

We are the only country in the world that is currently paid up in all of our contributions to our multilateral partners. We have contributed enormous amounts of money through organizations like the GAVI Alliance, where just a year ago we contributed an extra $50 million to assist with humanitarian issues around the world.

We have stepped up to the plate in this situation by contributing money to help those people who have been displaced and who have lost their homes in Syria. We are punching above our weight. Canada has a very fine reputation on the global scene.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Chair, I would like to thank the member for Newmarket—Aurora and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation for her speech. I know that she works very hard and cares about the interests of people who are in need around the world.

I would like to get back to a particular topic she touched upon in her speech. She spoke about countries neighbouring Syria. Does Canada have a plan for what we can do to support the neighbouring countries that will receive an influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the country? As she mentioned, this has already started.

What will we do to help the people in these countries support this growing influx of Syrian refugees?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Chair, my colleague's question gives me the opportunity to highlight some of the incredible work that humanitarian workers have done in the area despite the very difficult access they have. With CIDA support, our partners are meeting the humanitarian needs of the victims of violence.

I will give my colleague a few statistics. The Red Cross has distributed food and other essential items to 350,000 people and is providing emergency assistance and medical care for the wounded. The Syrian Red Crescent Society has been able to distribute essentials to 60,000 people. The United Nations World Food Programme provided food assistance to 235,000 people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is assisting 73,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

We will continue working with our partners on these issues. Canada will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Chair, it must be a considerable challenge to deal with two issues at the same time. One is the brutal regime and the difficult situation that is going on in Syria. At the same time, because we are Canadians, we believe in our hearts that we have a responsibility to provide international aid and international development and to do the very best we can for the most vulnerable people in difficult situations.

The parliamentary secretary talked a bit about some of the things that we have been doing. Could she tell the House tonight about some of the challenges and how we have been able to overcome some of the challenges and ensuring that we continue to provide the appropriate level of international aid and development assistance to the people of Syria who really need it in these very challenging times?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Chair, the question allows me to highlight some of the conversations that took place between Valerie Amos and our Minister of International Cooperation and our Minister of Foreign Affairs when she was here on May 25.

She talked about the work that we needed to do with our international partners, our allies. She updated us as donors on the humanitarian situation in Syria and the United Nations response. She stated that the government of Syria and the United Nations had agreed on the modalities for the implementation of the response, things such as the scale of the needs and that approximately one million people were affected with recognition by the government of Syria. However, that number may have already have changed. It might have increased since May 25. Ms. Amos also talked about the key priority locations of affected populations and identified to locations that needed to be worked in.

Ms. Amos identified the key sectors that needed to be addressed, the mode of implementation, including distribution without discrimination, the placement of international staff who will address all those affected, and not just the refugee mandate, and the involvement of international NGOs currently in the country and national and local NGOs who will assist in the relief efforts.

As I said before, we will continue to work with our allies. It is always an enormous job to ensure that people have potable water and sanitation facilities in particular, and moving from that, to ensure that those with medical needs are addressed first. We will continue working with our allies on that and we will continue to consult with people like Ms. Amos.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Chair, I heard my colleague talking about humanity. The government was well aware of the human rights violations in Syria and yet it continued to trade with the Assad regime, which made us the third largest investor in Syria. How could the government continue with business as usual when it knew there were extremely grave human rights violations in Syria?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Chair, I think my colleague is referring to the fact that Suncor is still doing work in the country of Syria.

We have been very concerned for some time, but we also knew there were companies working in Syria that were providing necessities, such as electricity, to the people of Syria. We knew it would not do well to detriment the people of Syria because we had one situation that we were concerned with.

We will continue to monitor the situation. We continue to be very concerned about the humanitarian situation within Syria and we have said all along that the Assad regime must go.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, today we are having a debate on the situation in Syria, and the situation is extremely worrying.

Since March 2011, so for over a year, there has been persistent violence in Syria. All of this because of an existing regime that has used oppression to remain in power. According to the UN, more than 9,000 people are dead and thousands have been displaced by the conflict. We all know the living conditions this type of armed conflict creates for refugees. Their lives are filled with fear and instability, often in mediocre conditions.

Bashar al-Assad promised to bring in liberalization when he took power in 2000. This liberalization was short lived. Critics of the regime were imprisoned, the national media were strictly controlled, and it is no secret that a select government elite controls economic policy.

It is certainly unfortunate that a man, a doctor by training and who surely took the Hippocratic oath, is continuing on a path that will certainly bring great suffering to his people.

The recent massacres in Houla are appalling. Like the Government of Canada, the NDP condemned these atrocities. Syrians decided to take to the streets to demonstrate their desire for democracy, a desire that the government is trying to silence. This is a right that has been taken away from them; a right that this country considers fundamental.

For over a year now, the Assad regime has been attempting to suppress the uprising of the Syrian people, who were inspired by events that occurred in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, better known in the international media as the Arab Spring.

Like the whole international community, we support the six-point peace plan put forward by Kofi Annan. The violence against the people of Syria and innocent civilians must stop. It is important that a peaceful transition that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people be achieved.

The international community imposed sanctions on the Assad regime. UN observers were sent to Syria and Syrian ambassadors were expelled from several countries. In a desperate gesture, Bashar al-Assad today expelled the Canadian chargé d'affaires. Mr. Assad's regime is now more internationally isolated than ever. However, China and Russia are the only two countries that still support Damascus, and they have veto power on the UN Security Council.

Having a foreign policy that is worthy of Canada means taking action that shows the whole world what values we stand up for. It is through the policies we adopt and the things we say, this evening for example, that we can demonstrate that Canada is a leader in defending the values of justice, fraternity and human rights. That is why Canada must ensure that it uses all possible diplomatic pressures to ensure that both countries, China and Russia, place pressure on Syria to end these atrocities against the people of Syria.

It is critical for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to sit down with their Russian and Chinese counterparts as often and as long as is needed to exhort them to use their leadership and to play an active and decisive role in achieving a genuine cease-fire that will save the lives of innocent civilians. If the government can place pressure on the Syrian government to stop massacring its own citizens, then the government can also use its influence on other countries like Russia and China to have them force Syria to show respect for human rights. It is not a matter of choice, but a basic and necessary issue. There is no choice.

The government must not choose between its economic and diplomatic relations. Defenceless civilians are waiting for Canada to act. The international community is watching to see what Canada does. Canada must exercise its leadership to obtain a genuine ceasefire, which will save the lives of thousands of innocent civilians, children and women, who are being massacred every day. Unfortunately, in conflicts of this type, women and children are often the biggest victims.

The Government of Canada must also encourage these states to begin negotiations in order to establish a road map for reforms that will meet the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

Canada must also provide urgent humanitarian aid to the refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. The Turkish crisis management centre announced on Tuesday that over 2,000 Syrians had arrived in Turkey over the past three days. The number of Syrian refugees accommodated in camps set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in southern Syria has reached 26,747.

Moreover, the Security Council should also consider seizing the International Criminal Court in relation to the events of May 25 in Houla. Despite the fact that the Syrian government agreed to a cease-fire, it continues to bomb civilians. There was total carnage despite the presence of UN observers, I should point out. That is why Canada must redouble its efforts and put pressure on Syria. As I said, there was total carnage on May 25, with over 108 deaths, including 49 children. Syria should co-operate fully with the court and the prosecutor, and provide assistance as required, while recognizing that the Rome Statute imposes no obligation on states that are not a party to it. This is the case with Syria. However, once again, the role of Russia and China in this issue is key.

We are both so close and yet so far from being able to help the Syrian people. I find it repugnant that one person in power could so freely violate basic human rights, especially since the Syrian people are the ones that gave him the authority to represent them.

In March, Amnesty International published a report condemning the regime's widespread use of torture and other forms of abuse in Syria. The organization documented 31 methods of torture and other forms of abuse attributed to the security forces, the army, and the armed, pro-government groups known as shabiha.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch also condemned the scorched earth methods used by the Syrian army in an attempt to put down the long-lasting uprising in the country. The New York-based NGO deplored the fact that the UN Security Council is being blocked by Russia and China. It considers that, after a year of popular revolt in Syria, the Security Council “should finally stand together and send a clear message to President Assad that these attacks must end”.

With President Vladimir Putin currently in China, it seems to me that the time is right to send them a clear message from the international community.

Resolving this conflict is a matter of the utmost importance, not only to pave the way for the return of peace to Syria but also to make sure that the conflict will not take on disastrous dimensions in the region.

We must not—we cannot—let this conflict continue without a peaceful resolution. We cannot allow the Assad regime crush its people like common bugs. The consequences for the people are going to worsen as long as the conflict wages on. Neither should we allow this conflict to carry on any longer or allow the country to enter into a civil war.

We have already seen the currency collapse. It has been mentioned that the Syrian government may be unable to pay its officials. Although that may be the nail in the coffin of Assad's downfall, we need to take into consideration everything this means for the Syrian people as well.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, during my intervention earlier today, the member asked me a question on the number of Canadians who were left behind in Syria and I said that I would get back to her. I now have the answer. We have approximately 1,496 Canadians registered on the ROCA system and it is estimated that there are 4,500 Canadians still in Syria.

It is important to remember that, since December 2011, we has issued an unqualified call for all Canadians to leave Syria for their own safety. It was very important for the safety of our diplomatic personnel to shut down the embassy. However, we have been calling for Canadians to leave Syria before then. The estimated number of Canadians in Syria is 4,500

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank the parliamentary secretary for those numbers. I hope the government takes into consideration its duty to protect civilians and ensures that Canadians all over the world have the help they need.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Romeo Saganash

From now on, I would like the hon. member to wait until I give her the floor before she answers the question put to her.

I now give the floor to the member for Saint-Jean.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I congratulate the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île for her speech.

She spoke about an important role, a key role, namely, that of Russia. Today, Russia has taken a small step in the right direction by recognizing that, from now on, maintaining Bashar al-Assad in power is no longer an necessary condition.

I would like to hear her comments on that, and I would like her to let us know how that can make us a little more optimistic about the situation.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the member for his excellent comments and his question.

This shows that Canada can play a role on the Security Council despite the fact that its role on the international scene has changed somewhat in recent years. Because of that, Canada was not able to obtain a seat on the Security Council, which prevents us from doing certain things. Russia is reaching out to us. I am choosing to use these terms to show that it is possible to negotiate with China and Russia.

As I mentioned in my speech, this is a very critical time right now. Vladimir Putin is in China. I think that Canada should take this opportunity to put even more pressure on the two representatives so that they do not use their veto to block any potential Security Council actions.

I would also like to say that, according to the international community, we must be very careful not to go beyond our role. In this type of situation, where a population is helpless, I think that Canada should be an international leader in human rights and democracy, as it claims to be every day in the House, and hold the Bashar al-Assad regime accountable for its actions.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I listened very closely to the member's speech and to the other speeches that have been made this evening by her colleagues, the NDP critic for foreign affairs and the Liberal member.

There was a lot of discussion about China and Russia, but there is another major elephant in this room that no one has mentioned tonight, and that is Iran.

We all know that Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria and uses it to project its interests in the region. That is a large reason why things are not being done to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

I would like the member to address the question of Iran and the statements that our government has made about Iran. What would the member suggest that Canada and other countries do to put pressure on Iran to stop its support for the Assad regime?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, in fact, with respect to the Security Council, the difference between Iran, China and Russia is perfectly clear. Iran has no veto and cannot impede action by the international community against Syria. This is a rather major difference, because Iran cannot block international action, unlike Russia and China, which have done so on several occasions.

As my colleague from Saint-Jean mentioned, we are beginning to see some receptiveness by China and Russia to the idea of putting pressure on Syria. However, I fully agree with the government. Last week, we had the same type of debate about the situation in Iran. I was here, in support of the government, condemning the Iranian regime and the support it is giving to Syria. However, the difference is absolutely clear, and I do not believe that the Government of Canada’s approach to Russia and China should be the same as its dealings with Iran, because their role on the Security Council is not the same.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, my colleague focused on China and Russia in her speech and mentioned Iran. We have parliamentary secretaries and ministers in the House. What does she think of the idea of having even one of the parliamentary secretaries as a special envoy to be sent to places like China or Russia to ensure the message is clear? I suggested in the House that the Minister of Foreign Affairs should go to Russia, which the foreign affairs minister for the U.K. did, and we should send envoys with that message. The government is negotiating a trade deal with Russia right now and many of us would like priority to be focused on Syria.

We have all these parliamentary secretaries. Maybe we should be sending them directly to China or Russia to deliver the clear message that we want them to be involved in supporting the UN's initiatives.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, it is indeed very important. As I was saying, it is not a matter of choice, but one of necessity.

For many years, we have been repeatedly told by the Government of Canada that it is negotiating various free trade agreements. According to the government, we have become an economic power. That being the case, it is high time that it shouldered its responsibilities and used this influence to put pressure on other governments.

It is true that humanitarian aid is important, that diplomatic pressure is important and that all possible actions to prevent these atrocities from being committed and ensure that human rights are respected are important. However, there is no point hiding the fact that it is through economic relations with other countries that a government, a country, can function and exist.

Canada has the opportunity and the chance to exert this influence on Russia. My colleague did not mention it, but Canada is also in negotiations with China for a free trade agreement. It is therefore important for Canada to show world leadership, not only in terms of humanitarian aid and diplomatic pressure, but also in terms of the economic pressure it can exert, given its influence on other countries, to make it possible for the international community to intervene and prevent the Syrian regime from continuing to commit atrocities.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate this evening in this very important debate.

Canadians, like freedom-loving people around the world, have been absolutely horrified by the ongoing brutal violence committed by the Assad regime against the people of Syria. The most recent appalling example of this regime's blatant disregard for humanity and decency was seen on May 25 in the shocking massacre in Houla that left scores of civilians dead, including 49 innocent children. I do not think anybody here will very soon forget the picture of that three-year-old little girl with a bullet hole in the side of her head. This is the kind of horror that we have not really seen since the Second World War.

We are deeply concerned that despite repeated calls for peace and despite pressure from the international community, Assad's reprehensible campaign of terror continues unabated. We continue to call for the immediate implementation of and adherence to the Annan peace plan, which has been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League. We fervently believe that Assad must step down now and allow the Syrian people to build a better, brighter future and to live in peace and security.

As if the consequences of the crimes within Syria itself were not horrible enough, we are now facing the deeply troubling regional implications of this crisis. To begin with, the UN estimates that more than 70,000 refugees have fled Syria to seek shelter in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

There have been incidents of violence along the Syrian–Lebanese border as well as in the border regions with Turkey. Moreover, in Lebanon we are now increasingly seeing violent confrontations between pro- and anti-Assad factions within that country itself. In a region with such complex and interwoven political, social and economic fabric cutting across national borders, a protracted struggle in Syria carries the risk of dragging other countries into sectarian conflict and proxy wars, exacerbating the existing regional tensions and further victimizing civilians throughout the Middle East. For these reasons, we believe it is imperative that a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis be found.

I will highlight in more detail some of the implications of the conflict for Syria's neighbours, as well as the complex interests and relationships that tie Syria's fate to that of others in the region, including Iran and Israel. This will give even further evidence of why we must work to end the conflict as quickly as possible.

Of all the countries in the region, Turkey has welcomed the largest number of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. More than 22,000 Syrians are currently registered with the Turkish government, which has established 10 separate locations to deal with the influx and has appealed to NATO, the UN and the EU for international assistance in addressing their needs.

In Lebanon, over 15,000 Syrian refugees are registered with humanitarian agencies. The UN High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, and partners are working with the Lebanese government and local authorities to ensure that the needs of refugees in the affected communities are addressed.

Beyond this, the escalating violence in Syria has caused security-related concerns for Lebanon, where in recent weeks pro- and anti-Assad factions clashed in Tripoli and Beirut. Lebanon has also been the site of border incursions by Syrian security forces, as well as of several unsolved disappearances of Syrian opposition figures. Meanwhile, reports indicate that weapons smuggling from Lebanon to Syria continues to grow.

Jordan has also welcomed a sizable wave of Syrian refugees. Over 19,000 Syrians in Jordan have registered with UNHCR since March of last year, and the numbers continue to grow. This is a heavy burden on Jordan's fragile economy and its delicate sectarian balance.

Canada is a good friend to Jordan and continues to strongly support the efforts of His Majesty King Abdullah II to implement reforms that will lay a critical foundation for the strengthening of the economy and Jordanian democracy. As a moderate voice in the region that has helped build bridges to peace, Jordan faces many challenges from the crisis in Syria.

Iraq, which is of course dealing with its own internal instability, has also experienced an influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. Close to 4,000 Syrian refugees of Kurdish origin are registered in Iraq with the UNHCR and its partners providing assistance there.

Another serious concern is the infiltration of terrorist fighters from Iraq into Syria. There are reports that some of the most vicious terrorists now operating in Syria, members of al-Qaeda and related groups, came from Iraq.

If the conflict in Syria continues unabated, there is a risk that the flow of terrorists crossing the Iraq-Syria border will grow, raising the spectre of even greater instability and violence in both countries.

This is why the actions taken by the Assad regime have only added to Syria's instability and to an environment conducive to terrorists and extremist actions. It is in everyone's interest to see a stable, peaceful Syria, one that rejects extremism and upholds the fundamental human rights of its people.

What is Iran's role in all of this? Iran provides support to Syria as a means of promoting its own political, cultural and economic influence and interests in the region. Iran, its clients and proxies do not flinch from using violence and abusing human rights to achieve their aims.

Syria and Iran have been linked since the time of Hafez al-Assad. Together they forged an alliance that allowed Iran to project its influence, its interests, its extremism and its rejection of Israel into the Levant right up to Israel's borders. Through its ally in Damascus, Iran was able to build up its proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and a host of extremist Palestinian rejectionist groups, led by Hamas, all of them headquartered in Damascus and sheltered by the Syrian regime. Syria's interest was of course to maintain pressure on Israel to return the Golan Heights and the ability to intervene in Lebanon's affairs to promote its various interests there. Among those who paid the price were Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, and members of his entourage.

Having made a substantial investment in developing this chain of extremist influence throughout the Middle East, Iran is not about to let a bunch of pro-democracy demonstrators put it at risk. Therefore, there are reliable reports that Iranian money and supplies, including diesel for Syrian tanks, technical expertise, and even specialist soldiers like snipers, are aiding the Syrian regime to oppress its own people. The Iranians have helped the Syrian security forces to intercept telephone communications and to track down activists by tracing their Internet usage. These two criminal regimes are co-operating to cause chaos and destruction throughout the entire region, even as they both brutally oppress their own people.

Canada continues to be seized with developments within Syria and their impact on the broader region. The ongoing violence is appalling by itself, but as I have pointed out, the risk it poses to regional security and stability is even more alarming. For all of these reasons, we steadfastly believe that a solution must be found before more innocent lives are lost and before the crisis further threatens peace and stability in the broader region.

We again call on all parties to immediately and fully respect the ceasefire and to co-operate with UN observers and support the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan to resolve the crisis. We call on all Security Council members to come together and adopt strong measures, including economic sanctions, against the Syrian regime. We urge countries with ties to Damascus to use their influence to convince the regime that it must act now to stop the violence. We continue to work with our international partners to isolate the Assad regime and to limit the damage it can cause both to Syria and to the broader region.

Canada supports the Syrian people's hopes for a better, brighter future and is committed to finding a solution to this crisis that will help them achieve it. We hope to see a new democratically elected government of Syria that will respect human rights and the rule of law, including, most importantly, the protection of religious freedoms and religious minority groups, pursuant to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for his speech.

Does he not think that the fact that Canada no longer has a seat on the UN Security Council places us in an unenviable situation in the sense that Canada does not have a lot of weight in the UN decision-making process? In my opinion, when Canada had a seat on the UN Security Council, we had a lot more weight when it came to this kind of decision.

Can the member tell us what Canada has done to try and recover this seat? Having a seat would help us a great deal in the event of global conflicts such as this.