Madam Speaker, I thank the sponsor of this motion and everybody who is joining us for this debate. I know there are many people present in the precinct and following along online.
I have the honour of being the co-chair, along with my friend, the mover of this motion, of the parliamentary friendship group for Uighurs. That is one of many reasons that I am proud to speak in support of Motion No. 62 and express the support of the Conservative Party for this motion. I expect that when it comes to a vote, we will be able to speak united and with one voice.
I think there is a critically important role for the official opposition, which is to support the government in the areas we agree with and challenge the government when there are gaps in the response.
This issue is deeply personal for me. It is not hard to tell that I am not of Uighur background myself, but my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She was a Jewish child who grew up in Germany and hid out, and many of her family members were killed. I was raised with an awareness of the grievous injustice that had been visited upon her extended family. She was in a position, as a vulnerable child and a member of a persecuted minority, where she was not able to speak out about her own situation, but she survived the war because people who had a voice and had an opportunity to speak had the courage to speak out against what was happening, the injustices that were happening.
I have a big portrait on the wall in my office of Blessed Clemens von Galen, who was the bishop of the Munster area of Germany where she was. He was a bold, fearless critic of the Nazis, someone who had a position of privilege within that society and used his position to speak out against injustice.
A couple of years ago, my sister and I took a trip to Berlin. We were looking at the sites of deportation. What strikes Canadians when they go to Europe is how much closer everything is together. We are used to wide open spaces. We saw the streets through which Jews were brought to a train station and where they were being sent away, and what struck me was the apartment buildings that are close by where people, everyday Germans, would have been living. They would have been able to look down and see their former neighbours and people from their community being pushed and herded away to their deaths.
When I was there with my sister, we talked about this, and I wondered what these people were thinking, the ones who could see what was going on. Perhaps they had a mix of perspectives and knew it was wrong but were afraid in some way of the consequences of speaking out for truth and justice. What were they thinking? Why did they not do more?
At the end of the Second World War, we made a promise to my grandmother's generation of “never again”. Never again would we allow people to be slaughtered because of their ethnic or religious background. We would do everything possible to make genocide a crime and stop it everywhere. However, in the seven years I have spent as a member of Parliament, we have recognized and responded to not one but multiple cases of ongoing genocide. It is clear that we have failed to deliver on the promise we made to my grandmother's generation.
I think about those apartment buildings and the people who could see the injustice happening in front of them. Today, we have satellite imagery. We do not need to be in apartment buildings directly above what is happening. We can see the photographs. We can look at the numbers and see the precipitous drop in birth rates as a result of forced abortion, forced sterilization and systemic sexual violence targeting the Uighur community.
I owe it to my grandmother and to those like her to use the voice I have now to speak out against contemporary injustices, recognize the failure to live up to that promise of “never again” and do all we can to respond.
The first step should be a recognition of the crime of genocide, because in the history of jurisprudence following the Second World War, we tried to establish this crime of genocide and establish a responsibility to protect. Individual nations that are a party to the genocide convention have an obligation. It is not just an obligation where there is conclusive proof of genocide, but an obligation when there is evidence that genocide may be occurring.
Those obligations exist for individual states who are parties to that convention. Those obligations do not depend on whether some international body determines it to be a genocide. Those obligations are for individual states who are signatories to the genocide convention. Canada is a signatory, so Canada has obligations. We have a responsibility to act to protect when we see a genocide happening or when there is evidence to suggest that there may be a genocide happening.
This testimony was clearly given by former justice minister Irwin Cotler at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights when we studied this question. He made clear in his testimony that not one but all five of the possible conditions of the genocide convention have likely been transgressed in the case of Uighurs. The evidence was clear then, and the evidence is more clear now than it was then. When this Parliament first voted on the question of genocide recognition, it was before some of the new information that has come out since and various other tribunals that have made all the more clear the situation we are in.
The problem is that, since nations have recognized that they have an obligation to respond to genocide and that they have an obligation to protect in the case of genocide, those same nations have become reluctant to acknowledge that a genocide is taking place, because when they acknowledge that a genocide is happening, then they are legally obliged to act. However, whether or not they are willing to admit that they know, they do know because the evidence is clear. To paraphrase William Wilberforce, we may choose to look away, but in the face of the evidence, we may never again say that we did not know.
The evidence has been there, yet again this week we had a motion before the House on genocide recognition. Everyone who voted, voted in favour of genocide recognition, but the cabinet still abstained. This is extremely important because, if the government had voted in favour of that motion, it would be recognizing the legal obligations it has under the genocide convention, but it still failed to do that. I salute members of all parties who have been prepared to take that step nonetheless, but it would be that much more impactful if the cabinet, if the Government of Canada, was prepared to take that step.
The House of Commons, by the way, has led in the world. We were the first democratic legislature in the world to recognize the Uighur genocide, and many other legislatures followed. Ironically, while our legislature has led, the government has not yet taken that step.
Nonetheless, there are still so many more things that we can do and we need to do. Now we are seeing myriad private member's motions and bills coming from various parties that respond to the recognition that at least individual members have, if not the government, that a genocide is taking place. We have Motion No. 62, which seeks to advance targeted immigration measures to support Uighurs. We have various pieces of legislation, such as Bill S-211 and Bill S-204, that seek to address forced labour. We have proposals, such Bill C-281, which would strengthen our sanctions regime and allow parliamentary committees to nominate individuals for sanction.
We see this flurry of activity now from members of Parliament and senators using the power that we have as parliamentarians to respond to this recognition of genocide, but the ultimate power rests in the hands of the government. It is the government that has to act, even in the case of the motion before us, which is a non-binding motion that makes a recommendation to the government. It is an important tool to encourage the government to act.
Of course, the government did not have to wait for Motion No. 62, and it does not need to wait for it now. The motion contains a timeline that is fairly generous to the government, fair enough, but I would challenge the government to take up its responsibility. Individual members of Parliament are doing what we can to be a voice for the voiceless to recognize the reality, and the government must as well.
I believe that every single member of this cabinet who has looked at the evidence knows that a genocide is happening and knows that they have an obligation. It will be to their eternal shame if they do not act on that knowledge as soon as possible.