Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity, although, like many others, I rise with a very heavy heart, given what is happening to fellow human beings about whom we care.
Unlike most who have spoken, many either have a direct connection with Myanmar, Burma, or are on the human rights committee, or are on the foreign affairs committee, I am none of that. Therefore, I will not get into the details of what is going. It has been quite adequately put out there, certainly by the minister and my colleague, our critic.
However, unlike most people, I have the distinct honour of having met Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, in Myanmar. It was under the auspices of a committee put together by the former minister of foreign affairs, John Baird, who had a particular interest in this area. He put together and funded a small group of parliamentarians, and I think we had senators and a couple of clerks, to go over as an outreach, as we often do, Parliament to Parliament.
Part of the focus was on public accounts. Since that has been one of my mainstays here, I was asked if I wanted to go on that. What a great honour it was. That happened in February 2013. It is even more difficult when one has actually met the lady, has shook her hand, has looked her in the eyes, has had her look back, has talked with her, and has realized how special she really is.
Again, that is why it is difficult but important that even though many of us hold her on a bit of pedestal that there is also an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. Not only is what is going on in Myanmar, Burma, wrong, but the response of the government is wrong.
We find ourselves, those of us who care about the people of that country and the future of it, realize she is still by far the greatest hope they have. However, regardless of what party we carry in our pocket, the fact is that we are now looking at ethnic cleansing, or some call it genocide, or some say we are not quite there, that it is legal. I do not know that it matters what we call it at this point, given how many people are being slaughtered, how many people's homes are being destroyed, and how many people are being forced out of their own country. Whether we call it ethnic cleansing or genocide, the fact is that it is another horrible situation. That is why we are standing here tonight.
At the very least, this Parliament has to go on record as speaking out, holding our government to account to ensure it does absolutely as much as possible. To be fair, I enjoyed the minister's remarks. I thought the criticism that came from colleague was well placed, but it in no way took away from what the minister said in her remarks about how Canada viewed this.
I had no problem applauding the minister's remarks, particularly when she talked about the fact that Canadians were in support of the Rohingya Muslim minorities. She also said that we would hold Aung San Suu Kyi to account, but we would also ensure that the world would know that we held the military to account because we all understood exactly what was going on.
We understand the difficulty that the lady has. My heart breaks for that situation, but I have also had the opportunity to be in the same room as Nelson Mandela. although I did not get to meet him. I cannot imagine Nelson Mandela taking the politically expedient way out in any circumstance, not when it was this important.
To be fair, the whole lot of us did not put too much pressure on that issue when the election was coming up, for the very same reasons I suspect she is not saying what we need her to say right now, and that is that there is a broader purpose, a broader goal. The democracy and future of Burma, of Myanmar, is at stake. We understand that. However, when we hold someone out that special, there are certain expectations. While her title is State Councillor, we all know she is the defacto president. We also know she has very little influence let alone control with the military. It is a tough spot.
However, we need more from the lady. We need more from the world. We need just a smidgen more from the Canadian government. This is the time when we go to the speeches.
I have also been to Rwanda. Any of us who go to Holocaust events, or to Rwanda events, or if people have been to Rwanda, begin to understand the dimensions of that kind of death, violence, hate, and inhumanity. Every time we go to those events, every one of us says “never again”, yet there is always another again.
At the very least, I want to thank our Speaker for agreeing to this emergency debate. This is Canada. As difficult as it is to speak out against an ally, Aung San Suu Kyi, the issue is so important, particularly to the Rohingya Muslim minority who want to know whether they matter. We are here tonight in the Canadian Parliament to say, yes, they matter. They matter like every other human being. When atrocities happen, we will stand and we will do what we can. We are not the biggest, most powerful country in the world, but we do have some influence, and we are prepared to put some of that credibility on the line. We are doing that tonight.
The lady put out a statement on September 5, which really shook me. She used the term “fake news”. Really? I agree with our friends who put out a statement today. It was put out by quite a list of really credible, important human rights organizations and individuals. I will not read it now because I am running out of time, but they go out of their way to pretty much say it in much better, tight, concise language than I did. It is pretty much that same argument, that we need more, that we expect more. We understand the circumstance, but this is “never again” territory.
On September 19, Aung San Suu Kyi, instead of going to the UN, gave a political briefing in Myanmar. She closed it this way:
As I said earlier, this is a diplomatic briefing....But in some ways, it is more than just a diplomatic briefing. It is a friendly appeal to all those who wish Myanmar well. A friendly appeal to help us to achieve the ends that I think, you would agree are desirable, not just for this particular country, but for countries all over the world.
I think we stand behind that desire on the part of Aung San Suu Kyi for her people, but it is important for us to stand and hold everyone to account when we are either on the brink or in the midst of ethnic cleansing.
I wanted to add my personal remarks and experience, and to recommit my efforts and myself to the interests of Burma, particularly to the Rohingya Muslim minorities who are being slaughtered. Somehow Canada has to do both. We have to stand with the country, we have to criticize when necessary, and we need to provide moral leadership by example on this file. If we do not, this Parliament and other Parliaments are going to hear over and over “never again”, yet it happens again. At some point, as a humanity, we have to mean it.