Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to address this important concurrence question with respect to foreign policy.
Before I do that, I want to make a brief comment about the very exciting news out of Pakistan overnight, which I think is relevant to Canada's foreign policy in general.
The Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi of false blasphemy charges. This is a monumental day in terms of international human rights. In particular, I want to quote the chief justice of Pakistan in his ruling. He said, “Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam.” He also said, “Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations of a crime.”
I want to express what I think is a sentiment shared by all members of Parliament, that being our enthusiasm about that ruling. There is still much more work to do when it comes to responding to the challenges around the blasphemy law in Pakistan, but this is a monumental step forward for justice, equality and the rule of law. This is a day of great joy for many in the Canadian Pakistani community, as well as for people in Pakistan itself.
I think it is important to recognize as well some of the great defenders of human rights who have been engaged in the Asia Bibi case, some of whom have given their lives in the context of that advocacy. Salmaan Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the former federal minister of minorities, both knowingly risked their lives to speak out on that case. In fact, it was Shahbaz Bhatti's advocacy for religious minorities that inspired the previous Conservative government's initiative to create the office of religious freedom. I think it is important for us as parliamentarians to continue to engage in constructive dialogue around these issues, to welcome this step forward and also to encourage further steps that can help address the challenges faced by religious minorities in Pakistan.
From there, I would like to comment on the particulars of this motion.
Members are applauding that. I think the comments I have just made are important and relevant and worth having on the record, and ones that we all agree with.
However, the particular item before the House is the appointment of Stéphane Dion as a special adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
I recall Stéphane Dion's long parliamentary career. He was someone who I had the opportunity to cross swords with in this place a bit. We did not always or even often agree on the particular exchanges we were having, but I do not think anyone would doubt his commitment to this country, and certainly his commitment to something that most of us believe is very important, the idea of Canada remaining united and the value that has come from us being together as one country.
Some of the debates I recall us having in this place related to the office of religious freedom and the current government's decision, during the time when he was minister, to cancel the office of religious freedom. It was a decision, again no doubt, that he came to from a place of sincere motivation, but one with which we in the official opposition profoundly disagreed.
What we have seen, unfortunately, is how no longer having the office of religious freedom has limited our ability to engage effectively on these issues, as much as the government said at the time that now these issues could simply be raised by individual ambassadors in each country. I think we should recognize that ambassadors who are particular to a country have many different things on their plate and should be engaging with human rights issues. However, it is useful to have, within the department, people with particular expertise on these issues and an ambassador for religious freedom who can be a public voice and an internal voice in terms of these issues. I know that these debates that we had around the office of religious freedom are some of the context that we bring to the consideration of the decision by the government to appoint this particular member to that position in Europe, and obviously it is interesting in terms of the perspective that it brings.
What I really appreciated about the previous minister is this. He was interested in engaging in deeper conversation about issues, about his world view, about the way his foundational assumptions about the way the world worked informed the decisions he made.
I did not often agree with the conclusions he came to about the way we engage in the world, but I appreciated his willingness to speak about those things. I recall a speech he gave at the University of Ottawa, for example, where he championed his philosophy of what he called “responsible conviction”, which he articulated as a form of erring on the side of an ethos of responsibility in how we engage.
I disagree with the way he put that together, though, because I think the previous government's emphasis on a principled foreign policy recognized that there were certain immutable principles that should inform our engagement. Absolutely, we need to engage around the world, but our engagement must always be rooted in the conviction that there are some things we cannot compromise, some principles that cannot be transgressed, and that we must even be willing to risk the displeasure of other countries that we engage with around the world if that displeasure would be constructive in the pursuit of our fundamental principles.
A principled foreign policy is one that calls for us always to champion fundamental human rights. I spoke earlier in my remarks about the situation in Pakistan. On many people's minds in recent days is the situation in Sri Lanka. I just had an opportunity to be interviewed on that issue. It is great to see the media taking great interest today in substantive issues like the situation in Sri Lanka. I certainly appreciate that.
There is a concern about a decline in democracy and human rights there with the appointment, outside of any normal constitutional or parliamentary procedure, of a previous president to serve as prime minister. That has happened in the context of a lack of progress on issues of justice and reconciliation, which is very much needed after the civil war in Sri Lanka.
This is a good example of where Canada's principled voice on the world stage would be very much appreciated. Under the previous government, and I know the Liberals are fond of talking about him, Stephen Harper took the principled decision that Canada would boycott the Commonwealth summit in Colombo. I am glad that the member for Winnipeg North applauds this decision, because it was very much recognized in the Tamil and other communities as important for the advancement of human rights. Stephen Harper's decision was a powerful message to the world that Canada was standing for fundamental human rights in the context of that situation, and would continue to do so.
In the last election, in the case of Sri Lanka in particular, the Liberals made many promises about how engaged they would be on issues of fundamental human rights, and yet there was absolutely no action taken. In fact, I referred to the cancellation of the former office of religious freedom. That office had an important program operating on the ground in Sri Lanka, and yet the government, despite following through on the promises it had made, cancelled the office of religious freedom.
This was one of many cases in which we see the failure of the government to align its actions with the promises it has made. This is a case, again, where a principled foreign policy could have an important role to play.
One of the other issues relevant to a principled foreign policy is that we need to follow through on a motion on Iran that we passed in this place. I really have to say that I do not think the government is likely to adopt a principled foreign policy any time soon.
With some degree of pessimism about the trajectory of the government, a government we will hopefully soon replace, I move:
That this House do now adjourn.