Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise, speak about Canada's foreign policy, and respond to the statements that the minister has made, as well as make some of my own comments with respect to this.
Just as a quick follow-up to the exchange that the minister and I just had, is it not striking how I can ask very simple, basic questions about fundamental issues of human rights, issues that should not be difficult to answer, issues for which there is evidence? There is no debate, really, about the fact that Saudi Arabia is not exactly a champion of women's rights. There is no debate about the certain reality that Assyrian Christians and Yazidis face genocide in Syria and Iraq. These are not questions that I think the minister, actually—if she were not a politician but were in her former life as a journalist and commentator—would have any trouble answering in a clear and frank way.
However, through the fact that the minister and the government are unwilling to make very simple, very clear statements about human rights issues, we can discern a deeper reality about the government's foreign policy, which is that while it wants to praise, in general terms, these things like human rights and the international system, it does not actually ever want to confront those countries that are responsible for the violation of human rights.
In fact, while talking in glorious terms about these important values and institutions at least in this place, on the world stage in its interaction with other countries that actually really need to hear these messages, the government's watchword is, unfortunately, appeasement. The minister began her speech with an important and proactive question: Is Canada an essential country on the world stage in the present time? I would say, “Yes, absolutely; Canada, a Canada that stands up clearly for our values, a country with an unapologetically principled foreign policy, is very much needed on the world stage”.
However, what we have under the government is not a Canada pursuing a principled foreign policy. Rather, we have a government that knows what buzzwords it wants to use for a domestic audience, but it is afraid to say something as basic as that there are women's rights problems in Saudi Arabia. Again, this is not rocket science; this is not controversial.
It is too much, apparently, for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to state that reality. When the minister fails to do that, when the minister is unwilling to state the obvious in this place and on the world stage, we actually lose that vital Canadian voice, a voice that we had in the last 10 years under Stephen Harper. At that time, not everybody around the world liked our foreign policy approach. There were some countries that were annoyed by the fact that we talked about fundamental human rights, that we confronted leaders on issues like their disregard for international peace and security, like their disregard for borders, like their disregard for fundamental human rights.
We were not afraid to stand up and talk about those issues. It had some consequences, insofar as there were countries that, some of the time, did not really like that we were doing this. However we were true to who we are. Through our courageous, principle-based foreign policy, we were very much able to advance Canada's interest.
During the Harper years, especially in the early period when Canada was particularly vocal on human rights in China, Canada's trade increased dramatically with China. There is this myth that somehow we cannot talk about human rights with China while trading, but the opposite is true. In fact, what we saw under the Harper government was a willingness to stand up, clearly and forcefully, for our values. It might make some people uncomfortable, but ultimately those people are still going to come to the table because they can respect a Canada that is clear and convicted in its principled stand for its positions.
That is what we had previously. That is what existed under the previous government. However, there are so many areas where we see very clearly a complete dissonance between that and the flowery words of the government when, in instances like this, it wants to come into the House of Commons and have this publicity event where it talks about its alleged commitment to principles, which it then completely fails to stand up for when it actually counts.
What we are actually seeing from the government is a de-emphasis of principles and an emphasis on what it perceives to be national self-interest. It is a different form or expression of national self-interest than we see from other states. Other states disregard the international political order and seek to violently advance their self-interest with complete disregard for the borders of other countries. We see from the Liberal government a different kind of prioritization of self-interest, which is at all costs, at cost of principle, to try to curry favour within international institutions by getting the approval of whatever heads of state, dictators, or whoever control the votes to try to advance their position within the councils of the world, but with complete disregard for the actual values that are supposed to underlie those institutions.
I believe that the United Nations is important, but I care more about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights than I do about votes of the UN General Assembly, because most countries that vote in the UN General Assembly actually do not come anywhere close to the full implementation of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is a truly principled internationalism, one that has greater regard for, yes, principles rather than the politics, rather than the self-interest calculation of these international institutions.
The focus on national self-interest, which we see epitomized by the actions of the Liberal government might be a different form or expression of national self-interest, but is still very much, quite evidently, a prioritization of its concept of national self-interest ahead of values. I am hopeful that through the continuing pressure of the opposition, the government can be pushed to make changes, but it is not good enough to simply applaud the statements of the minister when there is absolutely no acknowledgement of the realities of the government's foreign policy and the harms that it has caused.
Let us very clearly and specifically review the record with respect to the Liberal government's approach to foreign policy. I am going to go over some key examples in response to what the minister said, which I will dig into in more detail later, to demonstrate the contrast between what Canada has done previously, especially under the leadership of Stephen Harper, and what the current Prime Minister and foreign affairs minister are doing.
The most obvious place to start is that it is breathtaking how much the Liberal government wants to gain the favour of China and do everything possible to cozy up to China, not in Canada's interest but in China's interest, and not reflecting Canada's values. I should not even say China's interest or values, because we are talking about the governing elite, the Communist Party, that has really, in many ways, captured the direction of the Prime Minister. There are many people in China who are, I note, very concerned about what the Liberal government is doing with respect to not addressing human rights issues in their country.
How can we talk about a rules-based international system and then seek a free trade deal and an extradition deal with the People's Republic of China? Clearly, China does not, at a very basic level, have a sound criminal justice system and does not respect human rights and the rights of people who are charged to have their situation considered in an impartial way. The Chinese government actively seeks to persecute people whose crime might be, in the view of that government, simply being part of a faith community that the government does not wish to exist. Typically, the Chinese government will come up with outlandish charges against those individuals. It may charge them with corruption, disrupting the peace, or these sorts of things.
In an extradition framework, if Canada is told China wants to extradite a particular person because that person was involved in corruption, which might be the charge, the Chinese government might do everything it can to try to make that charge stick, but the reality is that there are divisions within that government that are specifically set up for the purpose of trying to make false charges stick to people who are political dissidents or members of religious minorities.
Of course, we already have extradition agreements with some countries with whom we disagree on certain things. We have an extradition agreement with the United States. Our country opposes the death penalty and I personally oppose the death penalty. Obviously, if anyone is sent back for extradition to the United States, it is on the basis of a clear understanding that the person will not receive the death penalty.
The point is that the United States is a rule-of-law country that happens to have one and probably certain other features of their justice system that we would disagree with. We want to make sure that those features are removed in the case of a person who we send back. That is fair enough.
In a country where there is not rule of law at a fundamental level, where there is not respect for or guarantees of the rights of the individual, where there is no concept even of a fair trial, how can one talk about extradition? One cannot ask, in the context of extradition, that a person not be tried by the existing system of that country. It just does not make any sense, yet the Liberal government has said that it would like to pursue extradition with China. Even there, there is a lack of coherence. We see clearly how there is this dissonance between what it wants to be saying for the benefit of a domestic audience and what it wants to be saying to the People's Republic of China.
Are we in the midst of a negotiation, or are we just talking about the possibility of negotiation? It is not entirely clear what the government is doing. We have heard subtly different kinds of responses on these points from different people on the government side as this debate has unfolded.
It would be amazing if the Minister of Foreign Affairs could give a speech as she did about the government's commitment to international institutions without having any shame about the fact that Canada is involved in negotiations or discussions of some kind with China with respect to extradition. Surely, when she was saying the things she was saying, at some point she had to think that this does not perhaps jibe with what is being done over here.
Actually, there are lots of things that are in this “over here” space that do not jibe with the words of the government. It is also talking about pursuing a free trade deal with China. I am going to talk more later about how that is not in our interest. More particularly to the point here, this does not accord at all with the government's statements about its commitment to an international rule-based system.
It is well known that China does not respect basic labour rights. The People's Republic of China does not respect basic issues around environmental protection and intellectual property. If the government is going to enter into a bilateral trade negotiation in the context of a bilateral negotiation with such a large economy as China, the government would find itself at a significant disadvantage in the context of that negotiation.
We are much better off, I would argue, in the context of an international system, in the context of a partnership of democracies, if we were to, at a later point, through a collaboration of democracies, approach China for trade. We would be in a much better position having, through a vehicle like TPP, set the terms of trade in favour of free democracies.
That is not what the Liberal government wants to do. It wants to pursue a bilateral trade agreement with the People's Republic of China. It is going into that, initially, automatically, with some degree of a disadvantage. If it is to do that, of course it has to take into consideration what the impacts would be for intellectual property protection in this country, for environmental protection, and in terms of labour rights. If Canada is in a trading relationship where there is a country not respecting those things, Canadian business is at a huge disadvantage, never mind the fundamental issues of human rights.
That is a clear instance of dissonance between what the Minister of Foreign Affairs is saying and the realities of the situation in terms of what the minister is actually pursuing with respect to our relationship with China.
I have spoken often in the House about Canada's relationship with Burma. We have a long-standing relationship with Burma. Burma has been a major recipient of Canadian development assistance. Right now, there are very credible reports of ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine area of Burma.
I have asked many questions about this, and specifically I have asked if the Prime Minister would be willing to contact Aung San Suu Kyi and ask directly for a better response to the crisis affecting the Rohingya people.
For a bit of context, Burma has a power-sharing government between a pre-existing military regime, which continues to have a lot of power, and a democratically elected government. There is a tension there. I am not trying to suggest that this is the sort of thing that Aung San Suu Kyi and the elected side of things could unilaterally stop on their own.
At the same time, we need to have strong, clear leadership from the democracy movement in Burma that rallies public support around the protection of religious and ethnic minorities in Burma, in particular around a response to the issues that are affecting the Rohingya people. The Rohingya people should have full citizenship in Burma. Of course, as human beings, they should have their basic rights respected.
I have repeatedly asked the question of whether the government would contact Aung San Suu Kyi directly on this issue. I have asked the Prime Minister that question directly in question period. It was at the last Prime Minister's question period that he did. I do not think it was my question alone that scared him away, but it was the last time, up until now at least, that he answered all the questions, and he did not answer that question.
During committee of the whole, I asked the foreign affairs minister if the Prime Minister would contact Aung San Suu Kyi and raise the issue of the Rohingya. She said she would like to speak for herself, instead of the Prime Minister, and that she had been in touch with various people involved in a study and investigation into these issues through the United Nations. That would be one way for a minister to gather information about the situation in Burma, but that is not the principal vehicle of advocacy. I asked her in a follow-up to that if she had contacted the minister of foreign affairs in Burma to raise these specific issues.
It is well established by now that the government members do not really feel obliged to answer the questions that are asked of them, either in question period, question and comments, or committee of the whole. That is a point that is well established. However, what is actually particularly revealing are the kinds of questions they do not want to answer.
When we ask them to speak clearly and specifically about human rights issues, and ask them if they will take a simple step to contact their counterpart in a country where, very likely, there is ethnic cleansing going on, and raise the issue of ethnic cleansing, a government that is committed to international institutions, to international human rights, to the protection of the rights of linguistic, religious, and ethnic minorities, as the minister talked about, would not have a problem picking up the phone and raising these issues of fundamental human rights. It is not difficult. It is not particularly time consuming to have that conversation, not just with impartial experts. Those conversations are important of course to gather information, but they should have those conversations directly with counterparts in those countries that are affected.
On the issue of Burma, clearly, we have seen that the government has probably not done it, but we would not actually know if they had done it because they have not been able or willing to answer very simple questions about that human rights issue.
It is important to emphasize this point of course because Aung San Suu Kyi is in Canada this week. Let us emphasize clearly that a government that was generally concerned about principles of foreign policy, human rights, the rule of law, human dignity, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would take this opportunity to raise the issue of minorities, including the situation of the Rohingya in Burma.
Burma's official name used by the government is Myanmar, but Burma has always been the name used by the democracy movement. When I asked the Prime Minister this question, he initially said Burma in response to my question, but then corrected himself to say Myanmar. That is notable as well. Of course, there may be some official context in which it is appropriate to use the name Myanmar, but generally speaking, the words we use for countries also send a powerful message about whether we are aligning ourselves with the democracy movement, and with religious and ethnic minorities, or whether we are aligning ourselves with the existing political parties that are in play in a country.
Let us talk about the issue of the government's response to Daesh, because there was a specific section in the minister's speech where she spoke about the horrific atrocities of Daesh. It is striking. Every time we ask a minister of foreign affairs in this government, it was the same with Stéphane Dion, about genocide recognition they will say, “These atrocities are terrible. There are terrible atrocities happening”, but they will not use the word “genocide”. It is as if they expect the House not to notice that they did not use the word in the response. This is an unfortunate pattern with the government, not being willing to recognize the reality of this genocide.
The evidence of genocide is overwhelmingly clear. The UN convention with respect to genocide identifies five criteria for a genocide. Daesh has transgressed not just one of those criteria, it has very clearly transgressed all five of those criteria, and it has been explicit about it. Yes, it is important to undertake an investigation, but the reality is that Daesh is actively trying to broadcast its atrocities. Its members are not ashamed of the fact that they are involved in genocide. They are trying to broadcast as much as possible to the world their involvement in genocide. They are proud of it, and they want us to know about it, yet the government refuses to recognize that reality, even though it is clear that not one but all five of the criteria established by the United Nations are being clearly transgressed by this organization.
Every time I ask this question, I say that Yazidis and Assyrian Christians have been victims of genocide at the hands of Daesh, yet the response from the minister, all three times I have asked this question, twice in committee of the whole and once here during questions and comments in response to her speech, was, “Of course we are very concerned about the situation of the Yazidis”. What is going on there? I always ask about Yazidis and Assyrian Christians, and the minister replies, “We are very concerned about the situation of the Yazidis”. What is wrong with mentioning concern about the situation of Assyrian Christians as well? Yazidis and Assyrian Christians live in the same communities. They are victims of the same genocidal death cult. They are treated in the same way.
When the minister cannot bring herself to acknowledge the experience of Christians in the Middle East, that is quite revealing. Again, it is not just what the government members say. It is what they do not say that I think is particularly revealing in terms of whether they actually are seized with these issues of fundamental international human rights. We know that they voted against a motion that sought to recognize the genocide affecting Yazidis and Assyrian Christians, but even in response to my questions, they cannot bring themselves to say “Assyrian Christians”. This is really unbelievable.
I asked during committee of the whole if the minister has ever made a public statement about the persecution of Christians in any country. Christians are arguably the most persecuted religious community, certainly if we add up the number of countries and individuals affected around the world. The minister was able, only in that context, to refer me to a number of S.O.31s made by the parliamentary secretary in the House. Needless to say, 60-second statements by the parliamentary secretary are not a sufficient expression of the government's active commitment to addressing the issues affecting Christians, as well as other religious minorities.
Of course, our concern for human rights internationally should not focus on one group to the exclusion of any others. I speak regularly in the House about Muslims, Rohingya, and other minorities around the world, but yes, my advocacy on human rights includes Christians. The advocacy of our party on human rights includes all religious minorities, including Christians, yet the government cannot bring itself to say “Assyrian Christians” in response to a question. If we look at the statements made on the foreign affairs website, there is no mention of concern being expressed with respect to the treatment of Christians.
It comes down to this very clear specific point that if the government is actually concerned about issues of international human rights, it needs to consider not just the politics of the United Nations but the United Nations documents that specify fundamental human rights, including the convention on genocide, which provides a clear definition. Daesh is advertising the fact that it is ignoring that convention.
Another theme of the minister's speech is the issue of defence spending. She said, I think quite rightly, actually, that a nation that simply relies on another nation for its defence will find itself in a very vulnerable position. She used the term “client state”.
I think the other concern is that if a nation is not providing for its own defence, over time the nations that are protecting it will become sick of protecting a state that is not pulling its weight. We know that the current U.S. President has been quite vocal on the issue of other countries within NATO getting to their 2%-of-GDP target. However, it is not just Donald Trump who is talking about this issue. I remember when former president Barack Obama was here in this House speaking about issues in the Canada-U.S. relationship. Of course, he received a very warm reception from all parties. It was striking, actually, that he made some explicit comments in front of our Parliament about how it would be nice if Canada spent more on our military.