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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

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Chair, I am going to ask my colleague a question that I asked the member for Mississauga—Erindale earlier, who basically refused to answer it and went on about what he felt the government had done. That was with respect to Rights & Democracy.

The member for Mississauga—Erindale mentioned that although the government was not supporting Rights & Democracy anymore, it was supporting religious rights and freedoms and there is an organization in the process of being put together. Rights & Democracy has been a great Canadian institution and has been promoting human rights protection and democratic development. It is already familiar with the groundwork and has already proven that it can do the job. Why would the government cut the funding and undermine its capacity given the fact that we have seen over and over again, especially in the past few years, the crises that have been occurring in places like Syria?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Chair, if my hon. colleague thinks that if Rights & Democracy had been around it would have prevented this from happening, she has another thing coming. If my hon. colleague thinks that Rights & Democracy ever had a mandate to intervene in a catastrophic situation, she has another thing coming. This whole notion that Rights & Democracy plays into this situation at all is absurd.

We are debating a very serious situation, a catastrophic event that continues to unfold and is victimizing the Syrian people. Bringing a partisan argument into this is more than foolish. It would be better left unsaid.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, the situation in Syria is serious and it seems that things are only getting worse, if the daily clashes in violation of the Annan plan are any indication.

The geopolitics in the Middle East have become a real powder keg in which the interests of the states are intermingling. Russia and China do not seem to want to co-operate and we are getting further and further from a peaceful solution. But we must not give up hope.

Canada has an honourable tradition as a reliable mediating power. That is often the lot of middle power countries that border the major geopolitical players of this world. It is an expertise of which we can be proud.

However, for several years, we have been seeing our international standing deteriorating. We could have been a mediator of choice at the UN Security Council to try to resolve the conflict in Syria, but we do not have as much clout as we once did, perhaps because our foreign policy is too focused on purely economic and self-serving interests.

Short-sightedness and a general withdrawal have been what we have been seeing since 2006. Canada appears only rarely on the international scene and has basically become disinterested in the outside world. For many Canadians the hardest blow was when we failed to obtain a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

What kind of leverage do we have now? And what do we have to do? The Bashar al-Assad regime has lost all touch with reality. It strikes with impunity, it commits massacres and snubs its nose at the mediation attempts by the UN and the Arab League. And then came the bloodbath in Houla, as if to validate al-Assad's insanity and our powerlessness. Those who are old enough will remember the Markale massacre in Sarajevo, when the west decided to help the Bosnians under siege in Sarajevo.

But Syria is not Bosnia-Herzegovina. We do not believe that there is a military solution to this conflict and with good reason. For the time being, the efforts of Kofi Annan and the Arab League are our best hopes for resolving the conflict. If there is a solution out there, they will be the first to find it. We have to follow their progress closely, even if the process is long and cumbersome.

More specifically, what can Canada do? The answer is “little”. But “little” can still be useful.

Last week, Canada responded by following the example of European nations and expelling all Syrian diplomats. Literally, all ties with Damascus have been cut off. We have nothing to lose by severing those ties. Our interests in Syria are negligible. Syria is a weak economy that is barely staying afloat thanks to its nefarious and illegal tricks with unscrupulous countries that put up with the regime in Damascus in order to sell weapons and other basic amenities to third-world countries.

Despite a few timid attempts by the al-Assad regime since 2006 to liberalize the economy and encourage the growth of foreign investments, the results have been very disappointing. Encouraged by Turkey, whose economy and opportunities for the future are very optimistic, al-Assad tried to get a little closer to the west and seemed to want to play the game for a while. When the Arab Spring happened, it soon became very clear that we were dealing with an unscrupulous tyrant.

Since the uprising began, the Syrian economy—which was already faltering—has been in a free-fall. The country's domestic deficit has reached record lows. Syrians have lost all hope for their safety, their future and their honour, and are therefore either fighting or leaving.

According to some sources, 130,000 Syrian citizens have already fled the country to the four neighbouring states. If Canada must intervene, I think that is where we should focus our efforts.

Of all the countries that share a border with Syria, Turkey is the most directly affected by this civil war. The Turkish state was already deeply engaged with its neighbour from an economic and strategic standpoint. I am talking about Turkey's “zero problems with the neighbours” policy. The chaotic situation these days is creating challenging instability in the border regions and the Turkish government has to constantly adjust its position and struggle to restore order.

Among the pressing issues is the influx of refugees.About the Syrian refugees who choose to be flee to Turkey, we have to seriously consider the following. First, we have to consider the welcome they receive once they reach the border. Then, we have to consider the real or perceived impact of their presence on Turkish soil. Finally, we have to consider the long-term consequences to displaced persons and the local populations. Those are three very important elements that speak volumes about what we can expect in the region in general. Let us start with the situation in Antioch.

There are currently 120,000 Syrian nationals in the Turkish province of Hatay, where the city of Antioch is located. The Turkish government has put up temporary facilities for many of them, people of all ages. However, many are young children who were attending school before they were forced to flee with their parents. For them to return home when things get back to normal, they have to be able to continue receiving their education in their language. There are also seniors who require medical supervision and drugs.

The local population is doing its best to manage the arrival of these Syrian families which, for the most part, must rely on the kindness of their hosts to survive.

Most of the people streaming towards Antioch originate from Aleppo, which is only a one-hour drive from the border. Many of these new arrivals are already familiar with the city because they have been there many times before. Consequently, some Syrians have moved to Antioch where they are trying to lead a normal life. Naturally, others are taking advantage of the freedom in Turkey and have engaged in political activism among their fellow citizens.

Antioch has a population of about 200,000. The arrival of so many refugees, longstanding neighbours or not, has been trying for all communities. Just imagine tens of thousands of poor and desperate Americans suddenly crossing the Detroit border and settling in Windsor. What would we do to give them the semblance of a normal live and the moral and social support they would need?

Turkey is one of Canada's allies and we should be sensitive to its needs in these difficult times. However, we must realize that the Syrian crisis has contributed to the destabilization of power in Ankara. We learned this lesson with Yugoslavia 20 years ago. When things happen suddenly, sleeping dogs are woken, and Turkish border areas are not immune to the ghosts of the past.

At one time, the Hatay province was the Sandjak of Alexandrette, and its transfer to Turkey under the Treaty of Lausanne, soon after the end of the Great War, was strongly challenged by Syrians. Indeed, 100 years ago, the province was very predominantly Arab. We can imagine that the massive influx of Syrian refugees is stirring century-old fears and ethnic disputes. That is precisely the kind of disputes where logic and quiet reasoning account for very little.

This brings us to a potentially much more serious problem.

Everyone knows that the Kurdish issue is the most problematic and important one for Ankara. The Kurds form the largest ethnic minority in Turkey. There are between 13 million and 18 million of them and, in the past, that relation has often degenerated into violence. We must think about the potential exodus of the 2 million Kurds from northern Syria to Turkish Kurdistan. Ankara quickly anticipated the potential risks and, again, this threat, perceived or real, is the prime reason why the Turkish government in engaging into very active diplomacy.

However, after cutting ties with Damascus, Assad, who now knows he has his back to the wall and who no longer owes anything to his former friend, made concessions to the Kurdish labour party, the PKK. So, there is really a worrisome Kurdish dimension and its impact could be catastrophic. Let us not forget that, as in Yugoslavia at the time, Syria is lacking everything except weapons. The combination of all these conditions could create a perfect storm. Canada must always keep that in mind in the days to come. We must support our Turkish ally, but we must also be aware that it is under great pressure.

Here is my understanding of the dynamics at Syria's northern border. I do not want to sound like a doom and gloom bird, but if even Turkey can feel some destabilizing effects, just imagine what could happen west of that country, in Lebanon.

That country is well-known for the fragility of its multifaith social contract, and everyone is familiar with the long civil war that literally ravaged it during the 1970s and 1980s. Syria's ethnic and religious make-up is similar to Lebanon's. Incidentally, that country has historically been part of the Syrian cultural mosaic. However, because of the tragic events of the 20th century, the relation between these two modern entities has deteriorated, and their political destiny is now separated.

If Syrian nationals go into the mountains of Lebanon, it could reopen old wounds. Even this week, the conflict seemed to echo Tripoli, where there were confrontations. This is extremely worrisome, because you would need eyes in the back of your head to measure the impact. There are weapons stockpiles everywhere and there are old, hardened hatreds. If civil conflict were to suddenly resurface in Lebanon, we would be taking a 30-year step backward.

Need I add that if Lebanon were destabilized, Israel would be next in line to be affected?

The Syrian civil conflict is probably a powder keg. If the Middle East were to flare up in every direction, we would need to be ready. Fortunately, it has not yet happened. It is essential to seriously consider the risks before us. Diplomatic efforts need to be redoubled, and if this means through Moscow, then we will go to Moscow.

However, I wish to remind you that if Canada wants its involvement to be effective, meaning able to control part of the chaos, it will be by helping its allies in the region to remain calm along their borders. We need to deploy generous efforts to help those who are fleeing from violence. We need to do everything possible to limit the damage being inflicted by Assad's tyrannical and criminal regime.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I recently had the opportunity to travel with my colleague to the Ukraine. I found her a very interesting and delightful travel companion when we were there with the foreign affairs committee. I know she is a thoughtful person.

I have heard her comments about Russia tonight and what the international community should do to put pressure on it. We have heard about free trade.

Could she go beyond that and tell me if she is suggesting that perhaps Canada and other countries should contemplate some kind of economic sanction against Russia if it does not the right thing with respect to Syria?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleague the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for his question. I very much appreciated my recent trip with him and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. It was extremely interesting.

As for Russia, it is absolutely critical for Canada to play a leadership role and to make every possible effort to have Russia play a much more active role in the current conflict and for it to take very clear steps to stop the Assad regime.

It is difficult to understand Russia's current position and its Security Council veto. It is truly important for Canada to play a leadership role on this front.

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10 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, I have two questions for the hon. member.

First, this situation started in January 2011, a year and six months ago. Along the way a request was made for us to have an emergency debate and members of her party declined it. That request was made on October 18, 2011. What has changed from now till then, that her party assumes we should have the debate now but not back then?

Second, she said, “the Middle East is a powder keg and we need to be ready”. That is her statement word for word. What exactly does she mean by that? Does she mean ready to go to war? Does she mean boots on the ground, military intervention? Could she please explain that for me?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, first of all, I do not know exactly how it was translated, but in what I said, it was very clear that the current situation in Syria and its neighbouring countries is extremely complex.

It is very important to take action in a calm and measured manner, because it is not simple. It is complicated. Everything that happens there has immense repercussions on the whole surrounding region. It is truly a very sensitive situation. That is what we must keep in mind every time we discuss this conflict.

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Chair, I warmly congratulate my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent on his speech.

In conflicts like the one in Syria, international law requires ongoing and constant protection for non-combatants. Turkey's role in this conflict has been mentioned this evening on several occasions. Turkey is currently taking in a lot of refugees. To date, Turkey has spent over $150 million on refugee camps.

Will my colleague elaborate on her ideas on this issue? Should Canada play a more important role in this specific situation? What role are the neighbouring countries playing in this conflict?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for his question.

As usual, he has a firm grasp of the issues and the difficulty with which we are faced.

He is completely right. This is an area upon which Canada should focus its efforts and try and help civilian refugees as much as possible. We can do this and, at the end of the day, it is consistent with the absolutely crucial objective of protecting civilians and people who should not have to bear the negative impacts of this kind of conflict. Yet, we know that this is often what happens. It is these people who pay the biggest price when these conflicts break out.

Yes, Canada should get much more actively involved and try and help with the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries, and help these people.

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10:05 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank our honourable colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for her speech. Her very perceptive regional overview demonstrated a clear understanding of the situation and great concern for the neighbouring countries in the region that have already been heavily affected by this conflict.

On this side of the House, we intend to continue to develop a Canadian policy on Syria that takes into account the challenges faced by our allies, our partners in the region, and that supports them as they come to grips with the growing disarray stretching out beyond Syrian borders.

Does she not agree, however, that the most destabilizing factor, the factor which is most likely to leave the Syrian population without protection, is the actions of the Assad regime, and the presence of this individual at the head of the Syrian state? Does she not agree that despite the efforts being made in the region to help neighbouring countries deal with the situation, Canada's priority must be measures to force Assad to relinquish power, and to increase pressure from the international community so that the Kofi Annan action plan can be implemented?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, for his question. I have great admiration for him. I know that he clearly understands this issue. In comparison, I still have a long way to go before I will be able to grasp it all.

I think he raises a key point. We think it is very important to reiterate that we fully support the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League. It is of the utmost importance that the United Nations continue its concerted efforts. I think that this is where Canada and its allies should focus the efforts that the international community is prepared to make in order to resolve the situation. It is true that Assad's continued presence certainly undermines efforts to find a solution.

I really think that it is through the United Nations that this problem will ultimately be resolved.

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10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Madam Chair, it is my pleasure to rise this evening to participate in this very important and timely debate.

From the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Canada has taken a firm and unequivocal stance denouncing the violence against civilians. Sadly, this is violence all too frequently perpetrated by the regime itself against its own people.

The government, with the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, is committed to supporting the Syrian people in their aspirations for freedom, the full exercise of fundamental rights, the rule of law and representative government.

This conflict springs from the frustrations of people who for decades have been deprived of good government and proper outlets for their dreams and aspirations.

Canada supports Kofi Annan's efforts to mediate a political solution to the crisis. Mr. Annan's six-point plan offers steps to addressing the needs and aspirations of Syrians. Therefore, the government strongly supports the work of the UN supervision mission in Syria, which is monitoring and reporting on adherence to Annan's six-point peace plan. That is the focus of my remarks this evening.

The Annan plan demonstrates the international will to support a peaceful political transition in Syria. It lays out a basic framework for that process.

As members may recall, Mr. Annan is acting not only as special envoy of the UN Secretary General but also as the special envoy of the Secretary General of the Arab League. I note this in order to stress that the plan has strong regional backing in the Middle East in addition to the global support of the international community.

The goal of the plan is to bring about an inclusive Syrian-led transition to a democratic state, one that represents human rights and lives in peace with its neighbours. Canada has contributed $250,000 to Mr. Annan's work as envoy, a concrete expression of our support for this process.

Unfortunately, despite its commitments to date, the Syrian regime has shown bad faith by failing to implement the terms of the Annan plan. It has failed to withdraw its military services from populated areas and it has failed to respect the ceasefire.

The horrific massacre in Houla on May 25 confirms the current Syrian regime's apparent contempt for international law and its seeming disdain for the safety and rights of civilians.

We hold President Assad and his government accountable for the deaths of the 108 victims, 49 of whom were children. We hold them accountable for attacks carried out by the Syrian army and the so-called shabiha militias of pro-government thugs. The fact that civilians are deliberately killed through artillery shelling and close-range executions is shocking and shameful, and that it is done on the orders of their own government is a monstrous crime.

In order to respond to this crisis, the international community must draw on many tools. We must work incrementally by offering a variety of incentives and exerting various forms of pressure on those responsible for the violence in order to stop it.

Canada has imposed eight rounds of sanctions against the Assad regime. These sanctions deliberately target Assad and his allies instead of the people of Syria. They increase the pressure on Assad to end the violence as quickly as possible. Many of our key allies, including members of the Arab League, have imposed similar sanctions. However, gaps remain. We are urging all members of the international community to join us in imposing similar measures. In particular, the time has come for the UN Security Council to fulfill its responsibilities and impose binding sanctions against Syria for the sake of international peace and security. Only in this way can we truly ensure that the Assad regime does not have access to the resources and means to continue its campaign of terror, death and destruction.

Despite the challenges, more than ever the channels of communication between all parties to the Syrian conflict must remain open. For that reason, we must give Mr. Annan every opportunity to continue to fulfill his mission as envoy.

The UN supervision mission in Syria is a tool for pressuring the parties to seek a solution while containing the violence. An international presence within Syria helps to hold the regime and others accountable for their acts of violence. The work of the mission gives unbiased assessment of the facts on the ground, preventing the Assad regime from hiding behind lies and misinformation.

Make no mistake, it will be held accountable. The UN observers are performing critical tasks by witnessing, recording and testifying to the degree of compliance with the Annan plan. They monitor the cessation of violence. They report from the field on whether and how the parties are adhering to the ceasefire, whether and how the Syrian army continues to use heavy weapons in populated areas and whether or not the military services have returned to their barracks.

The supervision mission reporting confirms for the international community whether or not the parties to the conflict are permitting access to humanitarian relief. They detail whether journalists have freedom of access and whether the population has the freedom to assemble. Their regular reports to the Security Council contribute to informed decision making. They help to corroborate and flesh out testimony from other sources as to the regime's behaviour.

Major General Mood, the UN supervision mission commander, has noted publicly that his team of observers are uncovering execution-style mass killings, calling the practice appalling and inexcusable.

The supervision mission reports from Houla make it clear that Assad's forces are responsible for this latest slaughter.

The Security Council mandated an observer mission, not an enforcement mission, as the mission's personnel are there to observe conditions, but they are unarmed. They are not mandated to use force either to protect themselves or to protect others.

The security situation in the country has deteriorated since April when the UN first authorized this mission. There have been too many reports of aggression towards UN supervision mission observers, including an improvised explosive device attack and direct fire against a convoy on May 15.

The security of the mission's personnel is the responsibility of the host government, yet these incidents show that the Assad regime is again failing to meet its commitments. As a result, and given the volatility of the situation on the ground, we cannot now consider deploying Canadian Forces personnel.

We will continue, however, to track conditions closely as the mission evolves. In the meantime, we call on the Syrian authorities to fulfill their responsibilities by ensuring the safety and access of the UN observers, so that the mission can do its work.

The supervision mission continues to do invaluable work. We do not want to see this work pre-empted or cut short. However, special envoy Annan has said that the conflict is now at a tipping point. Furthermore, Mr. Annan has repeatedly stated that while his plan does not have a fixed timetable, it is not entirely open-ended. In his assessment, the international community must debate taking further action sooner rather than later. Mr. Annan has called on President Assad to take bold steps to end the crisis, and he has called on all parties to stop the violence immediately.

We echo Mr. Annan's calls, as action is needed urgently. This is why Canada is pressing members of the UN Security Council to adopt binding sanctions. It is time for the council to stand up, take action and tell Assad that his actions will not be tolerated by the global community.

The Syrian regime's allies must recognize that now is the time for them to pressure the regime to end the crisis before the situation deteriorates even further into chaos and more bloodshed. Canada continues to work with members of the Security Council to ensure that the Syrian regime is held accountable for its acts.

We will work to ensure that all parties to the conflict cease to use violence. Canada is working to help the Syrian people achieve the political transition for which they have already sacrificed so much.

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10:15 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I listened carefully to the speech by the member for Mississauga South. She mentioned a few times that binding sanctions should be adopted by the Security Council.

I wonder which precise examples of binding sanctions could be effective, useful and efficient in that specific situation?

Situation in SyriaGovernment Orders

10:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Chair, when we are talking about binding sanctions and specifically the UN Security Council, it can take the lead from Canada. In fact, we have taken it upon ourselves to lead the charge in condemning the human rights violations. We have done this by eight rounds of sanctions. We have prohibited Syrian imports, expelled all Syrian diplomats, banned all new investments and frozen the assets of as many individuals and entities associated with the government as possible.

This is, in the same way, how we are calling upon the Security Council to join Canada, the EU, the Arab League and the U.S. in terms of binding sanctions, because sanctions essentially handcuff the Syrian regime. We are trying to do it in a way that does not harm the Syrian people or get in the way of the humanitarian efforts. We feel that if the Security Council were on side, the situation would improve. That is why we are calling for those binding sanctions.

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10:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, I will focus on one part of the hon. member's speech, and that has to do with the utility of the UN monitoring mission.

Its members are unarmed, of course, and that is appropriate. They are being somewhat manipulated by the Assad regime as they are sent here but not there and in various other ways. They are also bearing witness to some serious atrocities and arguably being used by the Assad regime to the point where they are almost complicit, though that is not the right word, in the atrocities that are being perpetrated on the population. On television we have actually seen pictures, signs and statements by the victim population saying to the UN, “Please don't come anymore; you're actually making it worse for us”.

I would be interested in the member's thoughts as to the utility of continuing with the UN mission in its present format.

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10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Chair, it is not a perfect solution, but Canada does support the Annan six-point plan, because at this point it is a tool. It is what we have to pressure the parties to seek a solution while containing the violence as much as possible.

It is true that the pressure has to come on the Assad regime from all angles. It has to come from sanctions, it has to come from the UN Security Council, and it has to come in a positive way. That is how I see the Annan plan. It is a positive—meaning unbiased—boots-on-the-ground kind of assessment that holds the regime's feet to the fire, in that Assad cannot tell the world that everything is fine if the envoy and his people are on the ground saying that the ceasefires are not being observed or people are not being allowed to assemble or refugees are not being allowed to leave the country.

Without that kind of information, countries like Canada could not make the decisions they are making, decisions that go a long way toward changing the situation, and neither could the UN Security Council.

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10:20 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Chair, what is the member's view of the opposition in Syria? Who are they and whom do they represent?

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10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Chair, the Syrian National Council is the opposition to the Assad regime. I am sure the member knows that it has been working on its outreach efforts and that Canada supports the Syrian National Council. We are prepared to work with its members because we believe they want democracy and freedom, as do we, for the Syrian people. They want the violence to end and so do we. We stand with all Syrian people in their fight for democracy and freedom. We believe that all countries deserve the human rights that we take for granted sometimes here in Canada.

Syria in particular has suffered at the hands of Assad and his regime. For that reason, we are supporting the efforts of the Syrian National Council.

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10:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, the difficulties in Syria started in January 2011, and 10 months later, in October 2011, I put forward a request for a unanimous motion that read as follows:

That this House condemn the brutal attacks on members of the Syrian movement for democratic change and accountable government by the Bashar al-Assad regime; call on Bashar al-Assad to meet the Arab League 15-day deadline to enact a ceasefire and begin a dialogue between government officials and opposition representatives; accept the United Nations Human Rights Council's commission for inquiry into the violence of Syria to find out exactly what happened and to put an end to civilian deaths; and, ensure that the perpetrators of these attacks are brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law.

That was in October 2011. I would ask the member, what has changed from then until now? Today the government has asked for an emergency debate, but we could not have that debate back in October 2011. What has changed is that after all this time, inaction from the government has brought more killing to the people in Syria.

Why is the government not listening to the requests of the Canadian Syrian people? They are asking CIDA to match dollar for dollar the money that they are raising in order to look after their loved ones in Turkey, Lebanon and other countries.

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10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Chair, I find the partisanship demonstrated by this question a little disappointing. It is extremely important for us to stand together as one country in Canada, and I think all sides in this House agree.

The government has acknowledged for many months now that the problems in Syria are serious. We have been taking action, including sanctions and humanitarian aid to the tune of $7.5 million or so.

More importantly, I draw to members' attention the motion that was passed unanimously earlier today by this House, because it covers many different areas of this conflict. I think that when Canada passes a motion like this, the world listens because we are united and we are a strong country.

We are condemning the brutal massacre and calling for an immediate end to the violence. We support the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian Crisis. We are calling on Syria's government to allow the people to access the media. We have expelled our Syrian diplomats. We call on the leadership of China and Russia to play an active and decisive role. We confirm our support for humanitarian aid to the refugees and the victims. We stand in solidarity with those in Syria who aspire to peace, a democratic government and protection of human rights.

I think, frankly, that says a lot about Canada and about the fact that we are willing to rise above partisanship in this House for the betterment of the people in Syria.

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10:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, I am thankful for the opportunity to add a few thoughts to this important debate. I am splitting my time with the member for Scarborough—Agincourt.

In preparing for this evening's debate, I had opportunity to speak with representatives of the Christian community, the Druze community, the Turkish community and a few others as well. I am quite grateful for their contributions to my thinking. It is important for Canadians, particularly MPs, to listen to what the diaspora communities have to say. I appreciate the diaspora communities sometimes have their own agendas. Nevertheless, it is useful in informing us as MPs so that we, in turn, can contribute to the formulation of government policy particularly with respect to an issue as serious as Syria.

While by no means unanimous, the communities that I spoke to had one clear message. Bear in mind that these are minority communities. The one clear message is that President Assad must go. Their opinion was based upon real life experience. Many of them are recent immigrants from that part of the world and being in some instances from minority communities can easily relate to stories where their own families have been subjected to persecution. They have, in the phrasing of refugee language, well-founded apprehension and fear based upon persecution for religion, ethnicity or race. It does not take a great deal of prompting to get them to tell stories, frequently horrific ones, of how they have been subjected to violence, frequently murders in the family and sometimes property confiscation.

The May 15 issue of the R2P Monitor states, “Threats to the safety and security of Alawites, Kurds, Christians and other minorities complicate the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict”. Canadians need to bear that in mind, as does the government. I am sure the government is cognizant of the fact that the minorities have well-founded fear of majority rule. Their concern is that in the event that Mr. Assad leaves and is replaced, the question is, replaced with what?

The atrocities that are happening in Syria have been well documented and spoken to by other members this evening. I do not propose repeating what has already been said, but I want to add my voice and the voice of my constituents to the demand that President Assad step down. I would say to President Assad, “The objective international community has made and documented its observations and condemns your atrocities against your own people. You, sir, should leave and you should leave now.” In looking forward to the next steps that we should take in this conflict, I am particularly grateful to my colleague from Mount Royal for his insightful analysis and call to action.

Let me conclude on the point that I raised in questions, and that is the role of Russia. The key to the resolution of this conflict is Russia. I, frankly, do not understand why Russia takes the position it does. It has had a historical position on the Middle East and it is a position that everyone knows about. It goes back to colonial times. It has ports in Syria. I have no idea why Russia continues to take its position, particularly its position with respect to the alienation of the remainder of the Arab League. The Arab League is unanimous in the view that Assad must go.

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Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I thank the member for Scarborough—Guildwood for his thoughtful comments. I know he has been here for many years and has participated in many debates. He is a very thoughtful man and I always appreciate his comments. I especially appreciated his comments about what might come next and his concerns about the protection of minority rights and religious freedoms, in particular.

I wonder if he would expand a little on that and refer to the resolution that was passed earlier today, which says that we all stand in solidarity with those who aspire for peace, democratic governments and, of course, protection of human rights. I wonder if he would expand a little on the protection of universal rights of religious freedoms under article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how he would expect the international community to assist in the protection of those very important rights in the next government of Syria.

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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, this is where kind of the rubber hits the road with respect to the protection of religious rights.

In my conversations with the diaspora communities, they were virtually unanimous in the one thing that they thought Canada could do. The one thing that they said Canada could do was stand up for human rights and the rule of law. That was, so to speak, the one take-away above all other take-aways. It is interesting that, as a series of diaspora communities, that is what they see as the shining beacon of Canada. Within that universe of human rights, clearly religious rights are the rights that are probably as important, if not more important, to, the Alawites, the Druze, the Christians and the Shia minorities. We cannot actually pick and choose among our rights and, in this particular conflict, religious rights are probably the paramount of all rights.

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NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Chair, this evening, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the speeches that we heard in this debate, and my colleagues on the government side will find me almost reassured. It is important that the entire community remain calm and avoid trying to be cowboy heroes who ride to the rescue, bring the massacre to an end and sort everything out in one fell swoop.

Whenever I hear the expression R2P, the responsibility to protect, I break out in a cold sweat. It makes me think of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Libya: there was a great success. There are still tanks blocking the airport in the capital and the problems are far from being resolved. It is important that we remain calm and restrained right to the end. This is how things will be resolved.

The only fear I have has nothing to do with what the international community is not doing, but rather with what might happen if it sends in troops. This would really sound the death knell for the Syrian people. They would be facing a real war and seeing their country destroyed and its infrastructure ravaged. That is the real danger. I hope that the members of the government will pursue the wise course they have followed until now.

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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, I do not know that was actually a question directed to me since I am not a government member.

However, I would agree with him in the sense that it is time for prudence and for caution. As horrific as the situation is in Syria where tens or dozens or hundreds of people are being killed on a daily basis, an imprudent intervention, a heavy-handed intervention or an inappropriate intervention could turn hundreds into thousands killed on a daily basis. This is a very difficult situation.

Therefore, when we are contemplating an RtoP, a Responsibility to Protect, there is a whole cascading series of interventions. I encourage the government to go through it in a kind of disciplined fashion so that, as each stage gets reached, the pressure on the al-Assad regime gets ratcheted up. However, I do not know that we are actually at the point where we would actually intervene on an armed basis.