House of Commons Hansard #206 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rohingya.

Topics

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the course of the past year, my constituents have written to me and have called me about this issue, constituents who belong to the Islamic Society of North America, the Association of Progressive Muslims, Christians, and people from all walks of life, faith based and from other circles in our community. They have expressed outrage that there is yet another community, the Rohingya in a relatively forgotten part of the world, subject to such atrocities, to such slaughter. They have asked me to step up and show them what we can do as parliamentarians.

My colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands spoke of leadership. In just a few weeks, the 137th assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union will take place in St. Petersburg, Russia. Traditionally, upside of 120, sometimes 140 or 150, parliamentary delegations from around the world meet to discuss issues like democracy and human rights. What does my colleague think international fora such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union could contribute to such an acute crisis such as the crisis of the Rohingya, and what opportunity could the House of Commons have with a united voice to inject itself into that dialogue?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, these international fora are an incredibly important part of where we need to be addressing these issues. I mentioned the United Nations last week. We missed an opportunity. I would not like to see that same issue missed at the IPU.

I had a chance to go to Myanmar a year ago last August. It was obvious from being there that really no one was interested in solving this problem. It appeared that the government was not all that concerned with solving it. We met with some of the national politicians from Rakhine State, and they were definitely not interested in taking the Rohingyas' side on this thing. Therefore, it is going to take strong international leadership to convince the Myanmar government.

We need to mention as well that 25% of the seats in that parliament, and I have been in the parliament and watched, are given to the military. There is an entire section with nothing but military uniforms. There is a section for the opposition and then a section for the government. There needs to be pressure applied not only on those people who have been elected democratically but also on the military, to create some situation where they will do better than they are doing right now.

We had people saying at committee the other day that this was a genocide. It fits the conditions for genocide. We asked if they were trying to push them out. That was exactly what it looked like. They could get them on the other side of the river, they could mine that side of the river but they could not come back. From the Myanmar government's perspective, that takes care of this issue. We need to do better and we need to let the international community know that this is not acceptable.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is important to clearly put on the record the fact that the Prime Minister discussed solutions to the situation in Myanmar in his meetings with counterparts at the UN last week. I have heard a number of colleagues talk about how this was not the case. It needs to be clearly stated that significant and serious conversations were had at the UNGA by both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs about how Canada could continue to play a leading role in helping to find a solution to the current crisis with the Rohingya in the Rakhine State. Canada was one of the first countries in the world to step up and provide assistance.

At the same time, the support that Canada is providing to see Myanmar democratize and to embrace pluralism is important. That should be a stated goal of Global Affairs Canada. I would hope the member opposite would share the view that we should be doing everything we can to help Myanmar work toward democracy and embrace diversity, inclusion, and pluralism. Does the member have a comment to that effect?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is not good enough for the Prime Minister to be silent publicly on an issue that is so critically important around the world. When we speak out, that demonstrates the leadership we need to see and we need to have.

We talked a bit earlier about funding going to the Myanmar government. Some of the member's own colleagues, perhaps even the minister, talked about the necessity of ensuring that money was accounted for, but perhaps not going directly to the government because we did not know where it would ne spent. Perhaps it should be given to NGOs that right now have an incredible humanitarian need for food and medical assistance in those camps that are on the border rather than given to the Myanmar government until we are absolutely certain of how it will use that money. Clearly, the $44 million went somewhere and we do not seem to have any accountability for where it is. If the government has a good idea and can explain that, we would certainly be glad to hear it.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate at this late hour today.

First, I want to thank the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands for his contributions and his intervention. He kind of laid out some of what Canada was doing that it should not be doing with respect to grants still being given to the Myanmar government despite its actions or inactions it was taking.

I also want to thank the member of Parliament for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. Over the past two years, he has raised consistently in the House the issue of the human rights violations against the Rohingya people in the western parts of Myanmar. Of any member in the House, by far he has the most credibility on the human rights violations, having spoken up repeatedly to draw the attention of the government to this case.

It is sad to say that it has taken two years for us to have an emergency debate caused by the current situation with the military activity in the province where most of the Rohingya are.

Like I have done before, and I always do it, I have a Yiddish proverb. This proverb describes exactly what the government is doing, and actually describes what a lot of western governments are doing. It is not just the Canadian government not doing enough; it is the entire western world that is standing by. The proverb goes, “Hoping and waiting makes fools out of clever people.” We have a lot of clever people in the government. We have a lot of clever people in the House and across a lot of the western democracies. Again, we are hoping and waiting for a solution to simply happen, just like we were hoping and waiting for a good outcome to what was happening in Rwanda before the western governments reacted and took action.

Again, we are also hoping and waiting in other parts of the world. I drew the attention of the House just this week to the human rights violations against the Sindh people in Pakistan. I have been championing the cause of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq, Iran, Syria, and in Turkey. There are minority groups all across the world, indigenous peoples to the lands they are in who do not have a voice in government, who do not even have a voice in the administration of the lands on which they live. They do not even have autonomous governance of the areas in which they live. They are imposed upon by a larger ethnic group, by a larger conglomeration of people who determine for them, typically through a non-democratic process, what the laws, customs, and culture of the land shall be.

In Myanmar we see the unfortunate effects of military action being taken against a lot of very innocent people who did not ask for this to be dealt upon them. They did not have a choice. They have simply lived there for generations upon generations in a land they simply call home.

Now, again, we stand and we watch. The important thing the government should be doing is taking concrete steps. I know the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands mentioned some of them. It could be a simple thing, like cutting aid money that goes directly to the Myanmar government, not directly to the people. It could be putting more pressure on NGOs that are assisting the Myanmar government in one way or other. We could be adding certain individuals in the government to our sanctions list.

Just saw last week the government, finally, after years upon years, put 40 members of the Venezuela regime on Canada's sanctions list, including the president of the Republic of Venezuela.

Things can be done, especially when public pressure is placed upon the government. It is unfortunate that it may take another two years before the government chooses to react and do something. In the case of Venezuela, it might have had something to do with the electronic petition I tabled with over 4,500 signatures on it, and then the motion of my colleague for Thornhill, which comes up for a vote tomorrow. It deals specifically with the Venezuelan crisis.

However, on the Rohingya crisis, we cannot wait another two years to see concrete actions, a signal from the government that is more than a really tersely worded press release that most western governments have become really adept at, with very carefully worded language. It is like we have become central banks when it comes to human rights and monetary policy. There is very carefully worded language so as not to offend anybody, but which does not really indicate anything more than we are unhappy with someone. Just like the central banks put out very confusing press releases about the future of monetary policy, we do the same thing on human rights.

What to do? Hoping and waiting is what we do. Again, in this situation, the Prime Minister has reached out to Aung San Suu Kyi and expressed his concern, but so much more could be done and so many more actions could be taken. This is not new. It is not as if this Parliament and the government, and the broader Canadian society, have not heard about this. I have a graphic from a data team, to which I am will to refer. It shows all the ethnic cleansing that has happened over the past 20 years. The last time people in the provinces affected where the Rohingya are, 600,000 people were forced to flee from their homes. Today it is 422,000.

Rwanda was 2.3 million people. Iraq was 1.4 million people. Kosovo was 900,000. Syria was 5.5 million people. They were all for different situations, typically involving a dictatorship, and all had accompanying massive human rights violations: rape, murder, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

I also want to draw attention to the political context of the conflict. Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar has raged sporadically for nearly a century, so it is nothing new to the international community. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League For Democracy is not avowedly a Buddhist or ethnic Burmese party, but it still effectively exists as one. The junta has declined, the military government has declined, and Aung San Suu Kyi has risen in power. They still depend heavily on the support of Buddhist monks, as William McGowan wrote in 2012 and since then.

Various leading members of the NLD have made disparaging statements about the Rohingya. I draw attention to one of their spokespersons, who said in 2012, “The Rohingya are not our citizens.” As the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands said, in fact they have had their citizenship cancelled, in many cases. They are not even citizens of their country. They have been robbed of the right to basically govern themselves and decide who will lead them and make decisions on behalf of the community.

The province in question is on the western side, which is probably one of the reasons this conflict has grabbed so much attention. They are being streamed straight into Bangladesh and into international waters, where they are fleeing this conflict.

One thing Canada could be demanding is access for international monitors. I do not mean just United Nations monitors. I mean that any willing third party should have free and fair access to the region with the certainty that they can go in there freely, without the government imposing any minders on them.

I mentioned that this Parliament has dealt with this before. In fact, there is a June 2013 parliamentary report written by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, chaired by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, of the foreign affairs and international development committee, chaired by the member for Niagara West. The headline is “Conflicting Realities: Reform Repression and Human Rights in Burma”. It is a 99-page report, and it details every single issue. It is not edifying or uplifting reading in any way, because it details the human rights violations; the violations of the rule of law; how freedom of expression, assembly, and association have been restricted; and forced labour. It describes the conditions political prisoners were living through. It goes on to describe the armed conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Kachin State and Rakhine State, where a large number of Rohingya live today. This is nothing new for our Parliament to be dealing with.

The sanctions imposed on the regime at the time were partially based on good future behaviour, so Aung San Suu Kyi was released and then allowed to lead her political party in a fairly free, not entirely free, election to power. A lot of the international community was hoping that the human rights situation would improve and that free and open access to Myanmar would improve for international investment to improve the lives of the people there. They have done some of that, but the repression has very much continued. Although we have a kind of figurehead leader that many western democracies were looking for and campaigned for, we do not have, in reality, on the ground, a situation that would avoid the kind of ethnic cleansing we are seeing.

The June 7 meeting the Prime Minister had with Aung San Suu Kyi was an opportunity to raise the issue of the treatment of the Rohingya. I have heard some members and others say that in fact he has done so. However, more than words and press releases, we need action. I have described some that could be done. I know that the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan and the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands have done the same. We can do things. We have done it in the case of Venezuela, and we can do it again.

I am looking forward to the questions and comments from other members and am looking for an opportunity perhaps to give the government some ideas on what it could actually do to better the situation.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, tonight is a really important night. I would like to thank the member who proposed the motion, because it is important for all of us to be taking the time to discuss this.

What has come up repeatedly is that there are things that have been done. There have been sanctions, and aid has been provided to help people who are fleeing. It seems to me that in each circumstance, we are faced with these emergency situations that have come up in different countries over time. We have talked about many of them over the past day. Are there any ideas as to maybe some type of plan we could come up with for faster action when these issues come up in different countries around the world, something we can put in place when we have a situation that is clearly ethnic cleansing that we can ramp up to have a steady response?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, that is obviously a question of realpolitik. What can we do in particular situations?

In the case of what I would call a middle power like Canada, our means are pretty limited. What we do have control of is what happens in Canada and the international reputation that has been built up over the past 10 years by the previous Conservative government and the two years the Liberals have been there. It is time to cash in that political capital with world leaders to get them to do more than send out tersely worded press releases, such as sanctions, a demand for international monitors, cutting aid, cutting grants, and actually putting pressure on governments. That is the way governments actually react. In the case of Venezuela, I think it will bear fruit eventually. It is just a shame it has taken two years in that particular situation. I just hope that in 2019, when we are coming up to the next election, we are not debating this issue again asking what we could have done or if we could have imposed sanctions then.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I have mentioned this once before this evening but would like to mention it again, because I think it is tangible and direct, and I do not know if the member for Calgary Shepard has a view.

Given that there is an agreement now between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the removal of landmines in the border countries, and given that the Myanmar military is placing more landmines all the time to make it ever more hazardous and deadly for the Rohingya to vacate across the border to escape to Bangladesh, would it not be a useful thing for Canada to provide funds and expertise to Bangladesh to help it clear the landmines?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, to the best of my knowledge, Myanmar is not a member of the landmine treaty, which is the first part I should mention. The second part is that as far I know, it is still one of the countries that gets quite a bit of military support from the Chinese government.

I like the idea of looking at what Canada can do in the type of foreign aid or foreign support we could be providing. We have expertise in demining operations. However, we cannot do that during an active military operation across the border when there are people still streaming over it fleeing from the conflict.

First we have to focus on the conflict. Once peace is restored in some measure or a truce is called, we can begin the restoration of the Rohingya to their villages.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, the member talked about the importance of allowing observers into the situation. I would like him to comment on the importance of documenting the human rights violations, why it is important that we have the capacity to do that, and how that may change things a little later and impact the resolution of this conflict.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, I support the collection of information, such as detailed evidence, because it builds two important cases. One is for the future prosecution of people who target civilians and commit criminal acts, crimes of war, atrocities, and ethnic cleansing. That is one purpose. The other part is documenting acts such as these for future generations to learn from them. I think one of the great benefits post-World War II was the heavy documentation of the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing. It has given us an opportunity to learn from our past mistakes and to say that never again would we allow this to happen.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

September 26th, 2017 / 9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nepean.

Yesterday marks one month since recent acts of inhumane and barbaric violence erupted in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslims, killing thousands of people and sending an estimated 480,000 civilians fleeing from their homes, deprived of their basic human rights. Many of them are especially vulnerable: children without parents, pregnant women, and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. They did not choose to leave their homes. There was no choice.

This is in stark contrast to Rakhine State's population at one time of over a million Rohingya, who identify their roots among western Myanmar's indigenous communities from over a thousand years ago.

Last Sunday I heard from more than 300 concerned residents who gathered at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in my riding of Scarborough North to discuss the dire circumstances faced by the Rohingya people. Joined by the members for Don Valley East, Don Valley West, Scarborough Centre, and Scarborough—Rouge Park, I heard calls for an end to the violence and killing in Myanmar.

Under the guise of routing insurgents, Myanmar's military forces and extremists have engaged in what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights calls “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Going one step further, French President Emmanuel Macron has used the word “genocide” to describe the killing of innocent Rohingya victims, committing to work at the United Nations Security Council to condemn the horrific atrocities being committed.

At last Sunday's meeting, a representative of Burma Task Force Canada encouraged our government to call it what it is, a genocide, and to invoke the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. What I heard most clearly was the outrage expressed by countless residents about the killing of innocent civilians. I heard calls for Canada to increase its humanitarian assistance with the aim of supporting a stable, safe, and inclusive Myanmar.

The road to the unfortunate situation before us today has been long. For decades the Rohingya people have been denied citizenship in their own country, thereby rendering them stateless. As one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world, they have endured decades of discrimination and injustice. It would be ignorant to say that the recent massacre could not have been predicted or prevented.

Our Prime Minister recently spoke to Myanmar's State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, stressing her role as a moral and political leader. Our Prime Minister emphasized the need for an immediate end to the violence, for the protection of civilians, and for access by the United Nations and humanitarian partners. There is a moral obligation for Myanmar's State Counsellor and military leadership to address this humanitarian crisis in a responsive, collaborative, and compassionate way.

All of this leaves us, as global citizens, deeply concerned. As Canadians, let us stand together as a nation committed to the inclusion, safety, and security of all peoples and the protection of human rights. Let us stand together as a nation to call on the authorities in Myanmar to take immediate and appropriate measures to end the senseless killing. Let us stand together as a nation prepared to support in these efforts.

Canada has long championed peace, democracy, and humanitarianism all around the world. In 2015-16, Canada contributed $27.47 million for development assistance in Myanmar through such organizations as the Joint Peace Fund, including $4.3 million in humanitarian aid for displaced peoples, including the Rohingya. This year Canada has, to date, committed $9.18 million in humanitarian assistance to address the ongoing crisis in Myanmar.

Last Sunday I heard calls for Canada to do more. Concerned Canadians want to help through financial contributions to our partners in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are asking our government to match their donations dollar for dollar. They also want to help resettle Rohingya refugees in Canada, opening their hearts and offering their homes.

First and foremost, Canadians want to see an immediate end to the violence. Some have suggested the creation of a safety zone while others have spoken of their vision of peaceful resettlement in burnt down villages. Canadians are reaching out and encouraging our government to continue to take a firm stand against the atrocities occurring in Myanmar.

We must continue to work together with our partners in Bangladesh and Myanmar to protect civilians, provide humanitarian assistance, and strongly uphold the human rights of the Rohingya who have been persecuted for far too long.

This is not a local Rohingya Muslim issue. It is a matter that should concern every human being. As Canadians and as global citizens, we have an obligation to speak up against these atrocities against humanity and to stand together with our Rohingya brothers and sisters.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, one of the questions I have asked members of the government before is whether the new Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion has been engaged at all on this issue. When that office was announced, my understanding was that dealing with issues like this, certainly any kind of issues of persecution of religious minorities, would be something that the office would at least be commenting on and engaged with in some way, and perhaps involved in the program and response to it. I would like to ask the member for his comments on that.

Second, is he satisfied with the timeline of the government response? In spite of the calls for over a year and a half for its engagement in this, the government response began only relatively recently in response to the most imminent escalation.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for bringing this debate to the House. I know that throughout the events that have transpired over the past four weeks, our government has taken very quick action in its statements condemning the ongoing violence and in expressions of concern directly to the State Counsellor.

I know that our Minister of Foreign Affairs has engaged in bilateral meetings at the United Nations with the European Union, Indonesia, and Turkey on this issue. I know that our parliamentary secretary has spoken to the Bangladeshi High Commission here in Canada. We have been very proactive. We are requesting that our ambassador be granted access to visit the affected area to make sure that Canadians know firsthand what is happening and that we have our eyes and ears on the ground.

More important is the support that we will continue to provide the Rohingya people through our contributions to our partners in Bangladesh and Myanmar, including the recent funding in 2017 of $9.18 million in humanitarian aid for the region. We will continue to advocate for an end to this violence and continue to support the people on the ground who deserve not to endure this horrific violence.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for speaking so eloquently about how we should be coming together to respond to this issue. He set forth quite well how he has reached out in his own community and what he has heard.

Having set out what we have been doing thus far, what does he see as the next steps? That is what we are discussing today. What is our response to this?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for her continued advocacy on this issue and her participation in tonight's debate.

I want to reiterate the importance of Canada's role. Canada is known as a compassionate and caring community, one that stands up for human rights, and I know that our government will continue to champion the human rights of the Rohingya people.

I know that Canadians, especially the many who have reached out to me and whom I met at the recent meeting last Sunday in my riding, have said that they want to help. I know there is a delegation being organized by the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, which is looking to travel to Bangladesh to help provide assistance and aid to those affected. They have been actively fundraising.

One of the asks I heard from the community is that they would like our government to match donations dollar-for-dollar. I hope these considerations will be looked at by the government in the days and weeks to come and I know that Canadians will continue to open up their hearts and their pockets to help support those who are in need in the region.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, given that my hon. colleague talked about donations and Canadians matching them, is he at all concerned that our priority needs to be demanding that the Myanmar government allow effective human aid inside the country and that we have to establish a safe zone working with the United Nations?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

Madam Speaker, it is absolutely essential that the appropriate humanitarian assistance be provided to people on the ground. There are so many vulnerable populations at stake—children, pregnant women, and those who have suffered sexual and gender-based violence—that we need to be very specific in how we reach out to them, ensuring that we are providing assistance through partners who are going to help those in need.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, Canada is gravely concerned by the continuing crisis in Myanmar and its impact on neighbouring Bangladesh. Since the August 25 attacks by domestic militants on security outposts, almost 480,000 Rohingyas have fled the northern Rakhine State to seek safety in neighbouring Bangladesh, adding to the hundreds of thousands who have made the crossing over recent decades. Arrivals over the past few weeks have largely comprised women and children, including pregnant women. As many as 1,500 children have been born during the last 20 days in the Rohingya camps.

With the help of the international community, including Canada, the Government of Bangladesh is temporarily hosting the tidal wave of displaced persons from what is called “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar and the violence propagated by anti-Rohingya sentiment in the Rakhine State. I have personally received countless emails and calls from my constituents and from people all across Ottawa and Canada voicing their concerns about the violence in Myanmar.

I would like to highlight two organizations that have shown support for the Rohingya people. Human Concern International and the South Nepean Muslim Community, SNMC, in my riding have been working to raise awareness and funds for managing the ongoing crisis. Additionally, a protest on October 1 is being organized on Parliament Hill by several organizations in Ottawa.

One of my constituents, Mr. Richard Harmston of South Asia Partnership Canada, sent me a long list of civil society organizations that have delivered a very important message on this pressing issue of the Rohingya refugees and the plight of the Rohingyas in Burma, now Myanmar. These organizations include the Burmese Muslim Association, the Canada Tibet Committee, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada's Social Justice Fund, the Rohingya Association of Canada, the Unifor Social Justice Fund, USC Canada, and World University Service of Canada.

As of September 25, the new arrivals are being accommodated in makeshift settlements or camps in host communities and in spontaneous new sites springing up mainly in and around Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. All of them are in urgent need of food, water, shelter, sanitation, medication, and other basic necessities of life. Lack of hygiene is a great challenge needing prompt attention, lest it contribute to disease, including an outbreak of cholera that is threatening. Substantial relief efforts are under way by the international community, including NGOs and the Government of Bangladesh, to help these vulnerable people.

Imagine for a moment having to look after the population of Halifax showing up in the span of just four weeks. Without all hands working together, this humanitarian crisis has the potential of becoming a major disaster. Bangladesh's hospitality is laudable, especially when one considers that this country is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, with more than 161 million people on a land mass about twice the size of New Brunswick. It is a least-developed country, with approximately 30 million people living on just $1.90 U.S. per day. The majority of people live in rural areas and the countryside is prone to natural disasters, such as cyclones and severe flooding.

Canada has been active during this time of great need in Bangladesh, a country it was among the first to recognize at independence in 1971. Moved by the scale of the current catastrophe and the imperative that countries should not face a crisis of this magnitude alone, Canada has stood by Bangladesh in its pursuit of a peaceful resolution of the violent situation and as it provides succour to the displaced Rohingya.

Politically, Canada has been unequivocal and seeks a voluntary return of the displaced Rohingya population to their rightful homes. We have called for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Myanmar and have urged the military and civilian authorities to fulfill their responsibilities to protect civilians and respond to their basic needs. We have also called for immediate access to Rakhine State for humanitarian actors and the timely implementation of the “Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State”, chaired by Kofi Annan, in order to address the root causes of this current crisis.

Given the scale of humanitarian need in southern Bangladesh, the Government of Canada was quick to respond with an initial allocation to help meet the life-saving needs of the newly arrived asylum seekers. This includes $3.35 million to our humanitarian partners in Bangladesh to address the most pressing needs of those affected by the crisis, including access to nutrition, shelter, water, and sanitation. This brings Canada's 2017 humanitarian assistance response to crisis-affected people, including the Rohingya, to a total of $9.18 million in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Our assistance is aimed at helping all those in need in accordance with the local context, regardless of ethnic or religious identity. Canada stands ready to respond further, as is appropriate and possible in light of changing conditions on the ground.

Canada has had a long-standing development relationship with Bangladesh. The country is one of our most important development partners, with Canadian contributions amounting to over $4 billion to date. Bangladesh has made important development gains with Canada's and other donors' assistance. The incidence of poverty has steadily declined, and the gross domestic product growth rate has averaged a healthy 6% per year.

Bangladesh has further made considerable progress in health and education, and it is a top performer in reducing maternal and under-five mortality.

Canada's development assistance in Bangladesh has focused on strengthening the delivery of health and education systems and promoting governance and human rights. Our efforts have also supported reducing child, early, and forced marriage; addressing climate change; and food security-themed programming.

Major Canadian non-governmental organizations have been working in Bangladesh for many years and have established long-standing partnerships that will continue to serve us well beyond the support we have already provided, addressing violence against women, needs of the disabled, civil society and democratic participation, community development, agriculture and food security, higher education, and microfinance.

In conclusion, Canada firmly believes that a modern state must promote, protect, and serve the interests of all of its nationals and build societies that respect human rights, religious freedoms, and inclusive governance. We will continue to work with the Government of Bangladesh and international donors to help ensure that the shock of this most recent humanitarian crisis will not derail the progress to which Bangladesh has committed itself in terms of providing prosperity and democratic freedoms for all of its people, of achieving middle-income status in short order, and of asserting its role as a progressive force in the community of nations.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech, although not all of it was directly on the topic we are discussing tonight. Nonetheless, I appreciate his participation in the debate.

When we are talking about aid, one of the important things we need to analyze is the humanitarian assistance to those who have fled, but there is also the question of Canadian aid dollars that have gone into Burma, where those dollars are going, and whether or not they are actually getting to those in greatest need. There is the problem of even getting humanitarian access to the Rakhine area.

The member spoke about the aid issue. I think the figure was about $44 million, give or take a couple of million, that was committed by the last minister of foreign affairs to democratic development in Burma. I wonder if any of that involved direct government-to-government aid, and what that money was spent on.

Does the member agree with me that we need a significant review of the aid dollars going into Burma to see if we are actually making a difference for the most vulnerable people, in this case in Rakhine, but also considering other issues of minority rights? I am curious about the member's thoughts on this specific aspect of aid to Burma.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, the aid that Canada gives should of course go to the intended recipients.

Whether it is Myanmar, Bangladesh, or any other countries that receive aid, we have to ensure that it goes to the people it is intended for. We are working to ensure that this happens.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, tomorrow we will be seeing the inauguration of the national Holocaust memorial here in Ottawa. It is a stark reminder of the fact that this is an issue that comes up and that we must find ways to respond as a country. We must find ways to properly address these issues.

Having looked at this issue and seeing that it is an urgent issue, what are the member's suggested responses? Is there a broader arch to respond to these issues when they come up in other countries to make sure that we stop people from dying?

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, of course it is a timely reminder that tomorrow is a very important day with the Holocaust memorial inauguration.

At this juncture, we have to recognize that what is happening in Myanmar should not turn out to be a much greater tragedy than what it is already. We have to ensure that this is stopped, and that the people affected are taken care of at the earliest opportunity.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the illustrious member for Durham.

I want to divide my comments into three assertions. Assertion number one is that the catastrophe going on right now is of enormous proportions. Assertion number two is that this is not a new thing. The precursor to this crisis was a human rights tragedy that has been in play now for a number of years. The third assertion is that we as a country and as a world as a whole have not been paying due attention, and perhaps there is a lesson to be taken from that fact.

On assertion number one, this issue is top of mind right now because it is is a calamity of extraordinary proportions.

An article that was recently published in The Economist shows the number of refugees per week who have fled their country during various crises over the past 30 years. The number of Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar every week is about 120,000. That is since this crisis began, exactly one month and one day ago. By comparison, from Syria we never saw during any point in that crisis more than an average of around 40,000 fleeing per week, roughly one-third the flow. It was a much larger total population that fled, but a much smaller number per week. To make the point here, there are only around 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar, and we are seeing over 10% of the entire population fleeing the country every single week. That is an extraordinary statistic.

The other crises that have produced large numbers of refugees over the past 30 years—Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo—have all produced smaller flows all at once. This has a number of consequences that are worth mentioning, one of which is trying to provide a place for these people to live where they will have adequate sanitation, water, and food. This is a matter of the greatest urgency; otherwise, one tragedy will be transformed into another, a health care emergency that will result in even more deaths than are being caused directly by the violence.

This driving out of an entire population from its homeland has been characterized by the United Nations human rights chief as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. That actually misstates things to some degree. What this actually is, and let me quote another individual, is a “textbook example of genocide”, the destruction of an entire people, the wiping out of their ability to live in their homeland, the driving of that population from the land that is their home.

I am quoting now from last Thursday's hearings of the international human rights subcommittee, where one witness stated that the president of France had declared yesterday that what is going on now appears to be genocide.

Seven Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyers have come out with a joint statement saying that what is going on is a textbook case of genocide.

Yale University has released a report. Fortify Rights has released a report calling what is going on a genocide. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, the President of Nigeria, the President of Turkey, and the Bangladeshi foreign minister have all called what is going on right now a genocide.

I urge the committee to stop using the term “ethnic cleansing”, the term that was put forward by Slobodan Milosevic to cover his crimes in Bosnia. We should be using the word “genocide”, which urges and forces the international community to take direct action.

Genocide does not exist, even if the facts on the ground prove that it is there, until the magic words are spoken at the United Nations by the right kind of resolution. The fact is that the facts on the ground demonstrate a de facto genocide right now, whether or not the United Nations has uttered those magic words.

I would urge our government to do what it can to ensure the United Nations states that what is going on is a genocide so the proper international legal actions can take place.

I will talk a little about what has gone on in the past, because this is not new.

Back in 2013, I chaired the international human rights subcommittee. We conducted hearings on human rights in Burma, Myanmar. We noted at the time that the treatment of the Rohingya had been abysmal for decades.

In 1977, the Myanmar government began the process of stripping its Rohingya citizens of their citizenship, rendering them stateless. In 1982, a series of human rights abuses led to 200,000 Rohingya fleeing across the Bangladesh border. There were further crackdowns in Rohingya-dominated areas in 1991 and 1992, which resulted in 270,000 Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh. Sometimes, many of these people returned. They had no way of surviving in Bangladesh. It was not their homeland and it did not recognize them as citizens, although the Myanmar government's position was that these were ancestrally citizens of Bangladesh and therefore the fact that they spent their whole lives in Myanmar counted for nothing. At the time of our writing, 200,000 stateless Rohingya were living in Bangladesh with no legal status.

We heard testimony in 2013 from Professor Schabas who wrote, “human rights violations committed against the Rohingya are sufficiently widespread and systematic to meet the legal threshold of crimes against humanity.” This was back in 2013, and his report had been issued in 2010, seven years ago.

We were informed that the Rohingya were subject to a number of serious human rights violations, which at the time included the following eight categories: severe travel restrictions; arbitrary widespread detention, torture, cruel or inhumane punishment; extrajudicial executions; forced labour, including forced labour by children as young as five or six years of age; forcible population transfer, on a smaller-scale version of what is happening now; sexual violence against women and girls; confiscation of land without compensation; and violation of their right to adequate housing.

Additionally, we were informed that families were brought in from central Burma to take over the lands that had been confiscated from the Rohingya, a version of what the Turkish government did when it drove out its Greek and Armenian populations in the period from 1915 to the early 1920s and replaced them with populations from Anatolia to ensure those people could never return to their homeland.

Therefore, this is a long-standing crisis. For a number of years, we have read about the Rohingya boat people trying to escape their plight by fleeing in inadequate craft down the coastline of southeast Asia, sometimes meeting with disaster in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where we find mass graves of those who died; and sometimes being forced into the sex trade and human trafficking. All of this has been happening, and happening in open view, yet we in Canada and in the world have turned our attention elsewhere.

In 2015, I was often reminded in Canada's debates about a little boy who had died on a beach in Greece, crossing the three-mile stretch of the Aegean Sea. We all remember the photograph. It was a tragedy. I was asked about this and if we should do more for refugees in that area. In response, I said that I took the point, but if the only thing that mattered when we were considering refugees was the amount of water they crossed and the dangers that were involved, then nothing that was faced by those fleeing from Syria through Turkey could compare to the plight of the Rohingya. However, we were not interested at the time. We are interested now. I hope we will finally take appropriate action and that the world will focus its attention where it ought to be focused: on this terrible tragedy.

Situation in MyanmarEmergency Debate

9:45 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, the member really went through quite a bit of information and that was very helpful.

The Prime Minister has said that the responsibility for resolving this crisis does not just lie with the civilian leadership but also with the military leadership. Does the member agree that the military leadership must also take responsibility to end the violence going on right now in Myanmar?