Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to support Motion No. 128, put forward by my colleague, the member for Thornhill. The context in which I would like to speak in favour of the motion is that sometimes one has to stand up for something, and sometimes the world has to stand up for something, and what is happening in Venezuela right now should light the world on fire. If the world and Canada truly purport to stand for human rights and the support of the rights and freedoms of people, we should be seized with and seriously protesting the atrocities that are happening under the rule of the dictator Nicolas Maduro.
There is a large Venezuelan community in Calgary. I have had the opportunity to speak with many of them and to participate in many of their rallies, so near and dear to my heart is that these are people who are proud of where they have come from. They were proud of their country. Under successive, disastrous, socialist rule a once vibrant economy has been reduced to ruin. We are essentially seeing people starve to death as the rule of law disintegrates. Political dissidents are being jailed. This is a country that was once, very recently, very vibrant. It is an economic and political crisis that has descended into a humanitarian crisis. All members of the House should stand up and call it what it is.
Last week I had the opportunity to be at the UN General Assembly in New York. I was walking down the main hallway of the conference room and saw a large display by the Venezuelan republic. It was essentially a large propaganda piece. It said, “The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is fully committed to the rights of sovereignty and self-determination of peoples as fundamental elements of a fair and balanced international society,” blah, blah, blah. I could not believe that this was advertised at the UN during the UN General Assembly week. It was such a poke in the eye to people who are trying to support the rights of people in Venezuela.
The reason I bring this up as an example is that I believe that Canada should stand up and take a position on this issue. I note that the Prime Minister was silent on the situation in Venezuela in his address to the General Assembly last week. He did not speak about the humanitarian crisis, and he did not provide a position on where Canada believes we should be going with regard to this crisis.
My colleague's motion provides the House with some very clear and practical direction in terms of telling both the Canadian people and the international community where Canada stands on this issue.
The first component of my colleague's motion says:
develop a plan to provide humanitarian aid directly to Venezuela’s people, particularly with respect to alleviating the severe shortages of food and medical supplies;
I would like to bring to my colleagues' attention the fact that last week, when I had meetings with several high-profile human rights lawyers who are representing political dissidents who have been jailed or who have relatives who have been jailed by the Maduro government, an idea was thrown out that perhaps the United Nations should appoint a humanitarian coordinator for aid for Venezuela. This is something that could fall under this particular component of my colleague's motion. It is very clever in a couple of ways.
First, it would ask the United Nations to do something the United Nations should be doing, which is coordinating humanitarian aid. Second, it would force the UN and the global community to acknowledge that there is a humanitarian crisis there. Third, it would provide UN resources to address the fact that for many NGOs that are trying to deliver aid right now, the aid is either being turned away at the border or is being redistributed to members of the military or other supporters of the government in a situation where many people do not have anything to eat. I remember reading a story in the news that perhaps my colleague, the shadow minister for foreign affairs, will elaborate on. Basically, “let them eat rabbit” was the story coming out of there last week.
This is something the government could do.
I would very quickly also like to speak to the fact that this is a situation where the United Nations, in theory, could provide a lot of direction and administrative support to a country. We need to, as a global community, perhaps put a little more pressure on that body to act.
Right now only 2% of the United Nations' entire budget, if members can believe this, is actually directed toward ending human rights abuses through its human rights arm. I would like to see that budget number increase significantly but be reallocated from other components of the budget.
If the UN were to appoint a humanitarian coordinator, I think aid could get in and a lot of lives could be improved quite quickly. When people have something to eat and their basic health needs are met, they can get to the task of rebuilding civil society. That is very important in Venezuela right now.
I want to speak to the second point:
condemn the continued unjust imprisonment and treatment of political opponents who, as reported by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States on March 14, 2017, “fear repression, torture, and even death”;
Many members of this House had the opportunity earlier this year to meet with Lilian Tintori, the wife of a jailed senior political dissident. She passionately and eloquently stated the need for the world to watch what is happening in Venezuela and to condemn the fact that political prisoners are being unjustly held.
It was our party that originally asked, in the House of Commons, I believe in May, that targeted sanctions be placed on human rights abusers in Venezuela. I think it is unfortunate that the government did not use the General Assembly speaking spot it had to reiterate the importance of other major economies following suit.
I am very concerned that if it can happen to a country like Venezuela, it can happen anywhere. If we are not at least talking about how Canada is going to react to this situation at a global body, then I think we have perhaps slightly lost our way, which is why this motion is so important.
The third component of my colleague's motion is this:
call upon the Government of Venezuela to respect the right of the people of Venezuela to hold a free and fair referendum to restore democratic rule in their country;
“Free and fair” are the key and operative principles in that statement. Members of the community in Canada, and I will not give their names, because I know that many of them fear for their families in Venezuela, have talked about the system of voting, called Smartmatic. There are concerns within the country that this particular way of counting votes is being used to potentially cheat.
As a parliamentarian in Canada, I would like to have more information about that. Should this motion be adopted, it is something the government would have a mandate, from the House, to investigate and to, again, speak to and advocate for in global bodies such as the United Nations.
The last component of my colleague's motion asks that the House:
recognize that Canada’s foreign policy should always be rooted in protecting and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
This should be a no-brainer for anyone in the House. If we cannot agree on this, I am not sure what we can ever agree upon. This should be the principle of any foreign policy.
I will say this. If anyone on the other side of the House is going to speak in favour of at least that component of this motion, I would ask that in their caucus meeting this week, they bring up the fact that the Prime Minister missed an opportunity at the General Assembly to speak against the atrocities that are happening in Venezuela and in other parts of the world.
We will be having an emergency debate later this evening on the plight of the Rohingya people. We have spoken at length about the Yazidi genocide in this House. The fact is that under the government, it takes a long time to do anything other than state some pretty hollow words at the UN General Assembly. We need action.
I believe that what my colleague has presented to the House for support is a common-sense motion that is very Canadian. If it is presented in a global format, it will embolden and spur other nations to follow our lead. It will send a message to the people of Venezuela that we support their right to have human rights and to live under the rule of law and that we condemn the actions of a failed socialist regime that has concentrated power in a few corrupt despots, to the detriment of the entire people of Venezuela.
Again, to close with what I started with, we have to stand for something, and this motion allows us to do so.