Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, presented on Tuesday, May 10, be concurred in.
It is always an honour to rise and speak in the Canadian House of Commons on behalf of my constituents, and also as a free Canadian speaking of my own convictions. Debate in the House expresses the freedom we have and the blessing we enjoy by being in a self-governing democratic nation.
Today, I think of the words of Prime Minister Diefenbaker, who said:
I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
Many Canadians have fought and died for these freedoms, but many of us have received these freedoms having never had to actually risk life and limb to defend them. For that, we are deeply grateful.
I believe that as the inheritors of Canadian traditions of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the self-determination of peoples, we have a responsibility to promote the expansion of these traditions throughout the world, recognizing and reflecting the universal aspirations of all people to live freely, to chose their own leaders and to have their inherent dignity recognized. Canada's traditions protect and preserve freedom, but those traditions reflect universal human aspirations. How can we, who have been so blessed, fail to use our power now to spread these same blessings to our suffering brothers and sisters around the world?
It is in that spirit that I put forward this motion, first in committee and now in the House of Commons, in hopes of advancing freedom and justice for the people of Tibet. I presented this same motion in the last Parliament. In both cases, it was adopted and referred to this House. With this concurrence debate, whereby the House considers formally expressing its agreement with this motion, we now finally have an opportunity for the Canadian House of Commons to decisively pronounce itself on Tibet's status and to make a clear call regarding Tibet's future. The motion states:
That this committee call for dialogue between representatives of the Tibetan people (his Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives and/or the Central Tibetan Administration) and the government of the People's Republic of China with a view to enabling Tibet to exercise genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution;
This simple motion recognizes simple realities. The Tibetan people are a people. They have a shared culture, history and language. They have shared traditions and institutions. Though not presently in a free, self-governing country, Tibetans are a people who constitute a nation. As such, as a people, they have a God-given and internationally codified right of self-determination. The people of all Tibet, not just the more limited so-called TAR, have a right to chose their own leaders and to autonomously shape their own future.
Tibetan leaders, however, are not using this right of self-determination to seek full independence from China. Rather, they are seeking a middle way: genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution, which is perhaps similar to forms of federalism that exist throughout the world.
Tibetans do not seek independence. They seek peace, accommodation and compromise through the middle way approach. It should be a clear-cut matter of moral principle and of international law that the aspiration of Tibetans for genuine autonomy, as an expression of national self-determination, should be recognized and supported. How can we justly recognize such aspirations in other cases but fail to do so for the people of Tibet?
This motion calls on the Canadian House of Commons to clearly add its voice to calls for dialogue, with a view to allowing the exercise of genuine autonomy by Tibet and its people. This motion calls on the Canadian House of Commons to do the right thing and to add its voice to the global push for recognition and adoption of the middle way approach.
To westerners, the word “Tibet” has many meanings and associations, from activism to literature to spirituality. However, the first thing to say, setting aside these common associations, is that Tibet was once a country like any other. It had politics, religion, commerce, diplomacy, arts, culture and many everyday people going about their everyday lives. It had challenges and it had immense opportunity.
Like Ukraine, Tibet had the particular problem of a neighbour that did not recognize its right to exist, although prior to 1950, the country of Tibet was actively pursuing negotiations for formal recognition with its neighbours. Sadly, after the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese Communist Party violently invaded Tibet and imposed the so-called 17-point agreement, an agreement that has, incidently, never been honoured. Violent conquest and occupation should never be recognized as a legitimate way to establish a territorial claim, not in Ukraine, not in Taiwan and not in Tibet.
Following this invasion, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, was forced into exile in India, from where he has since led an international resistance campaign that has spanned more than 60 years. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is of course the most recognized person in the Tibetan resistance struggle. He is clearly a remarkable figure. When I was first elected, I was honoured to have an audience with him in Dharamshala in India, which is his headquarters and also the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration. That simple conversation has deeply shaped my own thinking about human rights and Canada's role in advocating for it.
One of the most incredible things is to meet a person who we know has experienced deep suffering and injustice, yet when we observe them, we find they are nonetheless possessed with an electric joie de vivre and clearly derive joy and happiness not from the particulars of their circumstances but from an external reality. Such was my impression of the Dalai Lama, someone who has been forced to spend most of his life in exile and someone with significant status. He is perhaps the most recognizable person on the planet and is joyful, informal, friendly and extremely funny. Far from expressing bitterness or anger toward the nation that forced him into exile, he expressed goodwill toward China and a desire for it to pursue an ambition for greatness while peacefully engaging in dialogue and partnership with other nations. The Dalai Lama demonstrates a living out of the simple exhortation to love one's enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
It was powerful for me as a Christian to see this teaching of Jesus being lived so well by someone who clearly comes from a different spiritual tradition but nonetheless practises the wisdom that is common to both. Loving one's enemies is not just good spiritual wisdom. It has an important practical function in geopolitics. An enemy who is bent on causing suffering must clearly be stopped and defeated, and the call to love one's enemies has never been interpreted as an injunction to simply accept and permit violence. However, total defeat of an enemy is rarely possible. Tibet will continue to have China as its neighbour, regardless of the political forms by which either are governed. In the long run, therefore, they have to find a way to live together.
To quote Desmond Tutu, “There is no future without forgiveness.” As such, some eventual reconciliation, facilitated by mutual love, goodwill and forgiveness, is the only path to stable and permanent peace. Love and goodwill toward an enemy can be the starting point for trying to persuade that enemy to change their ways, and it provides the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation after a conflict has ended.
I believe what the Dalai Lama means by dialogue is a rich and deep dialogue toward mutual understanding, not simple formal negotiation, and this desire for meaningful dialogue comes out of real love and goodwill. All nations facing conflict would do well to recognize the simple truth that they will remain neighbours until the end of time and that mutual recognition and self-determination, as well as some measure of love and goodwill, are the only viable alternatives to tension and conflict.
Jewish and Christian scripture says the following about how to treat one's enemy:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head....
This particular passage has always confused me. Is the purpose of loving one's enemy a kind of jiu-jitsu move aimed at causing one's enemy to suffer, or is it based on genuine good intentions? Of course, it has to be based on good intentions and a genuine desire for reconciliation, but it is also true that these displays of goodwill from figures like the Dalai Lama are profoundly confusing and discombobulating for an aggressive power. They render the aggressive power's propaganda absurd and leave that power with a general loss on what to credibly say or do.
In spite of his obvious desire for peace, dialogue and reconciliation, the Dalai Lama is portrayed in the most absurd and outlandish ways by the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP is at present so hard-wired to think in terms of advantage and violence that these simple calls for dialogue lead to theatrical and obviously absurd claims about the Dalai Lama's alleged real intentions. This is perhaps the effect of having the metaphorical burning coals heaped on one's head.
The CCP's response to the Dalai Lama and his message would be comically absurd if it was not so deadly serious. Despite being an officially atheist power, the CCP presumes to be able to make binding decisions about the reincarnation of Buddhist lamas so as to control their succession. This is an obvious political power move aimed at laying the groundwork to install a pliant, fake Dalai Lama in the future, but how can the CCP logically both reject the idea of reincarnation and claim to be the authority on reincarnation? These attempts to claim control over the Dalai Lama's prospective succession are part of a broader attack on religious freedom, as well as other fundamental freedoms, in Tibet and within the Tibetan diaspora.
In this vein, I quote from the 2021 United States Department of State report on human rights in Tibet, which is a catalogue of some of the worst imaginable violations of human rights. It says:
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom, despite nominal constitutional protections voided by regulations restricting religious freedom and effectively placing Tibetan Buddhism under central government control; severe restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; coerced abortion or forced sterilization; and violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous [peoples].
Disciplinary procedures for officials were opaque, and aside from vague allegations of corruption or violations of “party discipline,” there was no publicly available information to indicate senior officials punished security personnel or other authorities for behaviour defined under [the] laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China as abuses of power and authority.
On these abuses, I highlight the ongoing disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama, the second-most significant figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Neither he nor his parents have been heard from, have been seen or have been contacted by anyone. This disappearance began in 1995 when he was six years old.
I also highlight the case of Tenzin Nyima who died after being beaten to death after months of detention. Another Tibetan, Kunchok Jinpa died in hospital after being released from prison. I could highlight many of these cases of repression of fundamental human rights, of people being beaten to death or being arbitrarily detained.
In a way, it would be simpler and shorter to outline the human rights violations that were not being committed in Tibet, because it seems that virtually every imaginable case of human rights violations is catalogued by those who track these human rights abuses. Nonetheless, in spite of them, the message of hope from the Dalai Lama and others is compelling as the movement for change and dialogue, the Tibetan resistance, continues.
Tibetan resistance builds on the message and the wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it goes further. At the Dalai Lama's own prompting, the Tibetan diaspora built effective democratic institutions that form the Central Tibetan Administration. Effectively, the Central Tibetan Administration is a government in exile and a government for exile.
The Central Tibetan Administration has an elected parliament with representatives from the diaspora community all over the world. When parliament is not directly in session, it is represented by a residual standing committee. The Tibetan community worldwide also directly elects a sikyong or president who leads the Central Tibetan Administration and who has ministers with various responsibilities. In all of these respects, it functions much like our own government and like many other democratic governments around the world.
The CTA provides services to diaspora communities, supporting the strengthening of the diaspora and also the maintenance and expansion of Tibetan language and culture. It also engages in advocacy for Tibet and would likely lead dialogue with China on behalf of the Tibetan people. The very existence of the CTA demonstrates again that Tibetans are a people with autonomous democratic institutions as well as a distinct language and culture.
The existence of the CTA and other related institutions also demonstrates Tibetans' readiness for self-government. There can be no argument that Tibetans are not ready to govern themselves, because Tibetans are already doing it.
Not only do Tibetans govern their own country in living memory, but they have also developed new, integrated, fully functional and fully democratic institutions in the Tibetan diaspora. Tibetan people all over the world are deeply committed to these democratic institutions. Tibetan elections are serious and substantive affairs, and they feature high levels of participation.
Notably, while in Canada, a person can be both a proud Canadian and a proud Tibetan. However, many Tibetans living in a diaspora are not citizens of any other country. Officially, they are stateless, but substantively they have one identity and that identity is Tibetan. They participate in the democratic life of Tibetan exile, because Tibet is their home, Tibet is their identity, and by participating they are building up the democratic life of Tibet.
I salute all Tibetans, young and old, who participate in Tibetan democracy. Their participation gives them control of key aspects of their own lives, but it also helps to build up the infrastructure that will one day be able to return home.
Many people think of resistance as a kind of destructive act. Too many of those involved in modern resistance movements think in terms of destruction. They think of destroying art, destroying houses of worship and destroying historical memory. Clearly, in the most extreme case of war, there is going to be collateral damage. However, if the resistance movement aims at the destruction of anything good, true or beautiful then the movement has clearly taken a dangerous wrong turn.
A resistance movement that seeks a better world should seek to create the good, true and beautiful. It should not seek to destroy things to make a point. Tibetan resistance provides that alternative model. Tibetans model constructive resistance, which involves building and creating beautiful things for their own sake but also recognizing that creation reinforces Tibetans' identity as a people and their readiness to return home.
The Dalai Lama expounds a spiritual doctrine seeking love, understanding and reconciliation. The Tibetan people have built effective democratic institutions to demonstrate their readiness to assume the leadership of their own territory. The cultural work of creation and celebration continues strongly as Tibetan culture has been shared with an appreciative world.
The Dalai Lama, the CTA and the Tibetan people together have put forward a clear and reasonable path toward justice: dialogue between China and Tibet with a view to recognizing the inherent right of Tibetan people to self-determination while keeping Tibet within the overall framework of the Chinese constitution.
This model of creative and constructive resistance provides an example to others around the world facing injustice or seeking to advance an important cause. Although I do not personally believe that non-violent resistance is obligatory in every case, I believe that even violent resistance should maintain a basic desire to minimize damage, to define understanding and to build up alternative frameworks and institutions that make peace and justice practically viable.
People facing authoritarian oppression anywhere should seek to build unified democratic institutions in exile and propose constructive and realistic ways forward. This model of effective resistance is why, more than 60 years after the invasion and occupation of Tibet began and despite all the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to wipe out Tibetan identity, the cause of Tibet is still widely known, defended and championed in every part of the world.
Therefore, as friends and allies of Tibet, we will not rest until the middle way approach is achieved. We will not rest until dialogue between China and Tibet has resumed and has concluded with the establishment of genuine autonomy for Tibet that gives Tibetans freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and self-determination. We will not rest because we love Tibet, but also because we recognize the universal right of all people to live in freedom, choose their own leaders and to practise their faith and their traditions without the interference of the state.
To paraphrase Diefenbaker, we work for the day when Tibetans inside Tibet will be free: free to speak without fear, free to worship God in their own way, free to stand for what they think right, free to oppose what they believe wrong and free to choose those who govern them. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.