Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time today with the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka.
One can tell much about a regime by the direction the rafts are travelling. In the decades following Cuba's revolution, 20% of Cuba's population, over one million people, fled the country, often taking the small boats in an attempt to cross the Straits of Florida to reach the United States. Castro subjected those who remained to a brutal regime of repression, terror, and poverty.
Over the nearly 60 years of this revolutionary regime, Castro executed at least 5,600 Cubans by firing squad, murdered over 1,200 in extrajudicial killings, despatched tens of thousands to forced labour camps, and exiled over 1.2 million. Fidel passed away apparently peacefully in his bed last Friday night, a fate far kinder than that of his many victims.
My purpose in this speech is not to criticize Cuba nor its long-suffering people, nor is it to call for sanctions or embargoes. Far from it. I believe that Canada can play a productive role in facilitating freedom and human rights in Cuba, partly due to our history of relations with the island.
Some of our companies do business in Cuba. Some of our citizens vacation on Cuba's beaches. Canada retained diplomatic relations with Cuba throughout Castro's long reign, and a succession of our governments kept communication channels open. Under the previous Prime Minister, Canada even facilitated discussions between the United States and Cuba, discussions that led to a degree of rapprochement and re-establishment of relations between those two countries. However, offering goodwill and an outstretched hand does not require whitewashing a history of oppression.
It is generally unfair to criticize a son for the acts and attitudes of his father, but in his recent eulogy for Fidel Castro, the Prime Minister highlighted the close relations of himself and his family with the Castro family and had so invited comment. Friendship with the Castros was part of a pattern of admiration for dictatorship in the Trudeau family from Havana to Beijing. Lest we forget, Pierre Trudeau praised the genius of Mao in his book, Two Innocents in Red China, a glowing report of China in 1960, without mention of the tens of millions of Chinese starved or executed by Mao's regime during its so-called “great leap forward”.
It was Pierre Trudeau who went on to establish this family friendship with Castro, among other brutal dictators of the left, such as Erich Honecker and Nicolae Ceausescu. In 2006, the Prime Minister's brother wrote a special for the Toronto Star, in which he said of Castro:
His intellect is one of the most broad and complete that can be found.... Combined with a Herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage, this monumental intellect makes Fidel the giant that he is. He is something of a superman.
As recently as November 2013, the Prime Minister himself expressed in his own words, “There's a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.”
Just this past May, the Prime Minister continued his disturbing affinity for dictatorial regimes by attending a Liberal Party fundraiser, of all things, also attended by a Chinese Communist Party official and claimed right here in this House last week that he was doing so to attract investment in Canada, the only evidence of which was a generous donation to his family foundation and the promise of a statue for his father.
Last Saturday morning the Prime Minister made the shameful public statement that is the subject of this motion. Now that he is Prime Minister, the member for Papineau does not speak merely as a private citizen, consoling personal friends, but as the Prime Minister of Canada, responsible for upholding our nation's principles and prestige on the international stage.
I would not begrudge him a private letter to the family of a personal friend, dubious as I consider that particular friendship to be, but I must object to him publicly praising a dictator on behalf of all Canadians. Diplomacy may require acknowledgement of the death of a former head of state, and such courtesies should be observed, but the Prime Minister must do so with an eye to history, to posterity, and to Canada's reputation, not just his family's friendships and his own personal feelings on the subject.
Instead of a measured acknowledgement, keeping strictly within the bounds of protocol, the Prime Minister issued a now infamous eulogy which has been mocked around the world and has diminished Canada's prestige as a serious country with clear eyes on foreign affairs and clear commitments to human rights.
News of the eulogy spread quickly with The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, and other international news sources reporting on the widespread scorn for these remarks.
In response to the opposition demanding an explanation and apology from the Prime Minister in question period earlier this week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs replied that other heads of state “chose to say something positive” about the late Fidel Castro because “the intention was not to revive old antagonisms” and that we should not “agonize” over the facts. Really?
It was as if the Minister of Foreign Affairs was saying to our side of the House, “You would bring up the murders, the torture, the repression, and the exiles. Why can't we just forget about all of these unpleasant things? We wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by mentioning these things and the fact that they happened, would we?” Glossing over the atrocities of the past will not help the Cuban people build a brighter future.
As South Africa's truth and reconciliation program has demonstrated, acknowledging injustice is the first step for a nation to heal from oppression. I am deeply concerned for Canada when our foreign affairs establishment actually perceives dictators in such naive and hopeful terms. Indeed, it sends a dangerous signal of woolly-headed weakness when the Prime Minister publicly praises a murderous dictator and minimizes his bloody history by calling him merely a “controversial figure”.
When the Prime Minister elevates the trivial by putting his personal feelings above Canada's reputation, it shows others that we can be trifled with. It shows our allies that our leaders can be taken in by cults of personality and charismatic despots. It shows others that our leaders are swayed more by personal feelings than national principle or perceive the world through dangerously naive rose-coloured glasses. It shows those around the world who draw inspiration from Canada as a defender of human rights that such devotion can be set aside if those abusing human rights appeal to our leaders personally.
When the Prime Minister opened his statement referring to Cuba's longest-serving president without even acknowledging that Castro's Cuba never held a free multi-party election, employed a vicious security apparatus that suppressed dissent, and banned all opposition, it destroys the Prime Minister's credibility as an advocate for democracy at home and abroad. When the Prime Minister says of a man who executed thousands of his citizens that he was merely a “polarizing figure”, but praises him for his “deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people” and speaks of warm friendship with him, he shows which pole he gravitates toward.
The Prime Minister's fawning eulogy, his subsequent remarks justifying it, and the doubling down by the Minister of Foreign Affairs all minimize the suffering of Cuban exiles, those whose families and friends were tortured, murdered, sent to gulags, or drowned while trying to flee. Brushing aside crimes, and just merely referring to concerns about human rights, goes beyond diplomatic courtesy into the realm of outright denial of reality.
The fact that the Prime Minister issued the eulogy while in Madagascar, lecturing la Francophonie about the importance of protecting human rights, of respecting racial, religious, and sexual minorities, and of upholding the rule of law, adds bitter overtones of hypocrisy to this embarrassment. How can the Prime Minister reconcile his friendship with a man who persecuted minorities, eschewed the rule of law, and stripped his subjects of human rights with his duty to uphold Canadian principles on the international stage?
On behalf of myself and Canadians like me who believe that human rights and devotion to the rule of law may not be abandoned for personal friendship, who believe that Canada's reputation is at stake whenever the Prime Minister speaks, and who believe that diplomatic courtesies do not demand denial of crimes against humanity, I urge the House to recognize the atrocities suffered by the Cuban people and reject the comments made by the Prime Minister on November 26, 2016, and, instead, remember the victims.