Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary Shepard.
We heard in debate tonight about how well we are all getting along here, and I do not want to change the tone too much, but we need to talk about the fact that the government has been naive right from the beginning. When Stéphane Dion went to Myanmar in 2016, he gave it $44 million, and we were told that was intended to go toward building democratic institutions. If the government at the time had been paying attention to what was going on in Myanmar, it would have known there were already serious problems there. The election had been held a little earlier and there was no indication from the election that any of the parties were going to take seriously this issue around the Rohingya.
I understand it is a long-lasting issue, which I will go into in a few minutes, but the reality is that the government that was elected in Burma was not taking this issue seriously. The Canadian government said it was going to give it $44 million, and there has been little accountability for that money. If I go on the website international.gc.ca tonight, under “Canadian international assistance in Myanmar”, it is still the government's position that Myanmar is moving toward an inclusive parliamentary democracy and negotiating ceasefires after decades-long civil wars. I guess we can understand that it has not kept its websites up, but it should, because this is an important issue and one that the government has misfired on right from the beginning.
The second place the government made a mistake was last week when the Prime Minister was in New York. He had an opportunity to show some international leadership and chose to talk about, as much as possible, whatever dirty laundry he could find from our country rather than taking leadership on international issues. This would have been an excellent issue for him to have shown some leadership and statesmanship on.
We have talked tonight about members of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights who have been talking about this issue off and on for the last year. They worked very well together on the issue, but government leadership needs to start paying attention to these kinds of issues. The Prime Minister had the chance to do that and did not take it. It seems that, until it hits the editorial page in Canada, the government pays little attention to it. Because of that, it has little influence. It does not have the capacity to influence in the way it should.
We know a little about the Rohingya issue. It has been going on for a long time. It is a group of people who, within the last several hundred years, have moved into the area on the border of Bangladesh and what used to be called Burma but is now called Myanmar. They can be shown to have a heritage that goes back for several hundred years in that area. In 2015, their population in Myanmar was about one million people. There has been a long and drawn-out persecution of them. It started many years ago, but there were military crackdowns in 1998, which chased a whole pile of the Rohingya people out of Myanmar and into Bangladesh. When they came back in 1981, when they started moving back into the area that they had occupied and lived in for so long, the government turned on them and brought in a series of citizenship laws that basically removed their citizenship. There was another round of persecution in 1991 and 1992, then renewed pressure in 2012, and then what we have seen in the recent past.
I would like to back up and talk a little about the problem, which is centred on these 1982 citizenship laws. Basically, in the past, the Rohingya had been citizens of the country, and the government just made the decision that it was going to remove their positions as citizens. It came in with a law that said that citizens need to be part of a recognized national race, and the Rohingya were not a national recognized race, so right off the bat they did not have an opportunity to reaffirm their citizenships.
The law also said that they had to be able to demonstrate that their families had settled there before 1823, which was when the British came. The records and other things made it very difficult for people to establish the fact that they were citizens. They were basically left stateless in 1982 by those changes. There has been pressure over the years on the government to try to get it to change that position so that these people would be considered citizens again, but that has not been successful. The government disqualified them and made it impossible for the Rohingya to qualify as citizens.
Those who were citizens were impacted in 2015 around the election, and I will talk a bit about that later because I know personally someone who was impacted by that. In 2015, there were some other changes made as well, called the race and religion protection laws. Four laws were brought in, and each actually directly impacted the Rohingya minority that exists in Myanmar. There was a monogamy law that ruled out polygamy, which is practised in certain areas of that country.
It had a religious conversion law and an interfaith law. People who wanted to change their faith needed to get approval. They needed to go through interviews and wait between 90 to 180 days before they were allowed to convert, and in many cases they were not allowed.
The third law restricted the marriage of Buddhist women to non-Buddhist men, so it put restrictions on them.
The fourth law was a population control law, which was targeted at minority areas where couples were only allowed to have one child every 36 months.
These, piled on top of the citizenship laws, left the Rohingya without representation and without any political strength.
Further restrictions were placed on things like employment, education, freedom of movement, and religious freedom as well.
These violate the basic rights of people in so many ways.
I want to tell the House about a specific case from 2015. I had the chance to be part of an international group of parliamentarians, which was formed around the issue of religious freedom. We were in Oslo in the fall of 2014, and signed on to a charter called IPPFoRB. A gentleman named Shwe Maung, was from Myanmar, was there. He was a member of parliament for Burma. He signed on to this charter. The network now has 150 to 200 members from around the world. He is a full citizen. In 2010, he had citizenship. When they came to vote in 2015, the electoral commission decided his parents had not been citizens and he was not a citizen either, so they removed his citizenship.
There were 500,000 Rohingya in the same situation who were struck from the electoral rolls. These people voted in one election. Leading up to the next election, the electoral commission of the central government made a determination that they were not citizens anymore. Mr. Maung went from representing his country as a member of Parliament to finding himself completely stateless. He is in the United States now, with an arrest warrant out for him. This is the kind of pressure the Rohingya have been under in Myanmar.
On August 23, Kofi Annan came out with his report. On August 25, a small group, a strange group of people, with perhaps some Rohingya in it, attacked a number of government and police officials. A number of people were killed. This caused a retaliation from the military and the start of all we see now.
I want to talk a bit about the fact that the government's response by the 28th was to begin laying mines. We have a news release from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which specifically mentions mines being placed. On the afternoon of August 28, an army truck arrived on the Myanmar side of the border. Three crates were unloaded, which contained anti-personnel mines were removed. They were placed in the ground between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. It talks about the areas where they were placed. It talks about subsequent to the daytime operation, the Myanmar army brought in trucks at night to continue laying mines. This could be seen under the lights. This has all been confirmed by Bangladeshi authorities as well. This has taken place against basically every international protocol that exists in the world.
We need to find some solutions, quickly.
First, the Rohingya people need immediate help. We were told at subcommittee just a few days ago that people were being kept in compounds. They have eaten all the food. They have eaten trees and branches. There is nothing for them to eat. They need immediate assistance and help from outside or they will starve to death. Starvation is imminent. Earlier tonight we heard about the rapes and the killings. We need to insist that the military stop its campaign.
We also need to be clear and do a solid investigation into which foreign powers are funding and radicalizing these individuals. Where is this small group of people, which, by the way, is killing Rohingya Muslims as well, getting its backing in order to cause the disruption?
We need to insist that the four race and religion protection laws are replaced and those 1982 citizenship laws are revoked.
The government needs to take its place as a leader. It needs to quit the show and start supplying the goal. Up until now that has not been the case. Canadians need value for the $50 million that have been spent there. The government needs to be accountable. It needs to step in and show the leadership the Rohingya and the Myanmar people need in order to move forward.