, seconded by the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking today to Bill S-223, the next, and hopefully the last, in a long line of bills that have been proposed here and in the other place to begin the fight against the horrific practice of forced organ harvesting and trafficking.
I want to thank the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for seconding the bill and recognize the incredible work done by Senator Ataullahjan as well, who proposed the bill. I have the honour of carrying that work on in this place.
The bill would make it a criminal offence for a person to go abroad and receive an organ taken without consent. Bill S-223 would also create a mechanism by which a person could be deemed inadmissible to Canada for involvement in forced organ harvesting and trafficking. The bill recognizes the basic moral principle that killing people or exploiting them for their organs is wrong everywhere and should be stopped everywhere.
Efforts to combat this practice have been ongoing in Canada's Parliament for close to 15 years, and the time that has elapsed underlines the sad reality of how long it takes to pass good private members' bills, even when everyone agrees. However, Bill S-223 has now made it further than any of its predecessors. Having passed the Senate and now been reported back from committee without amendments, the bill only needs to complete this third reading stage and receive royal assent before becoming law. Thanks to the member for Bow River trading with me today and the member for Simcoe North trading the second hour slot on Wednesday, the bill will complete debate this week and should pass its final vote in time for Christmas.
In the past I have always given uncharacteristically short speeches on the bill, trying to engineer an early collapse to debate to move the bill along more quickly. However, given that we now have the security of a second hour for debate lined up and a tight time line to move forward in any event, I will use the opportunity to now, for the first time, to lay out my views on this subject in the level of detail that the full time allows.
The bill responds to one particularly egregious human rights violation, but it would also take an important step toward the embracing of a vital principle of human rights more broadly; that is, the idea of the universality of human rights and of the responsibility of nations to prudentially use the means at their disposal to protect fundamental human rights, not only within their own nations but for every human being in every corner of the globe.
Bill S-223 would apply criminal prohibitions against organ harvesting and trafficking beyond Canada's borders. It recognizes that organ harvesting and trafficking is not just wrong in Canada as a result of particularly Canadian values or a particularly Canadian social contract. Rather, it recognizes that organ harvesting and trafficking is wrong because it denies the universal principle of inherent human dignity and value, a principle that should be understood and applied universally. In this sense, the bill seeks to continue the process of innovation around the principle of national sovereignty that began in 1948 with the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Today, I would like to make the case for the importance of embracing this continuing process of innovation, though with appropriate balance and with necessary parameters.
The principle of national sovereignty comes most sharply from Peace of Westphalia, which ended 30 years of war in the Holy Roman Empire in 1648. National sovereignty emerged as a necessary practical compromise from the new reality created by the Protestant Reformation. Prior to the Reformation, western Europe had a kind of moral and religious unity, with the Pope as spiritual leader and the Emperor as a temporal ruler whose practical jurisdiction varied from place to place, but who expressed a kind civilizational unity of the western Christian world.
The Reformation ended that unity and led to generations of wars, with most of the Catholic powers struggling to restore that civilizational unity and with the Protestant powers, with the periodic help of France, seeking to break the power of the Pope and Emperor and create a reality in which nation states could be their own authority in most areas. The Peace of Westphalia, more from exhaustion than decisive victory, marked the end of this period of religious wars and the beginning of the period of nation states.
Notably, this was not the beginning of some great flowering of individual freedom, liberty and human rights. The division of Europe into blocs meant that Catholics were persecuted in Protestant nations just as Protestants were persecuted in Catholic nations, and later as Catholics were brutally persecuted in anti-religious revolutionary France. Westphalia was not about saying that individuals could believe and do what they liked; it was “cuius regio, eius religio”, the religion of the ruler shall be the religion of the state. Under these circumstances, religious persecution continued for hundreds of years, and nations, though less inclined to fight wars over religion, fought wars that reflected the aspirations of rulers, no longer checked or mediated by super-national structures that reflected civilizational unity.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of new universalist movements. The French Revolution and later Marxism were great threats to existing structures and ideas of national sovereignty, because they made universal claims about the kinds of power structures that should exist, instead of accepting the Westphalian idea that it was up to the local political authorities to decide how a place would be governed.
These movements were obviously different, but a common thread can be discerned in the thinking of political universalists of both the pre-Reformation and the Revolutionary type. They believed that, insofar as there is such a thing as truth, insofar as there is such a thing as human nature and insofar as there is a resulting right and wrong way for a people to be governed, efforts should be made to apply these principles universally. There is intuitive logic to the idea that truth and justice for human beings in one place should be the same as truth and justice for human beings in another place.
There are more modern arguments made for the rejection of this kind of moral universalism that propose the general subjectivity of truth. I will comment more on these arguments later. For the time being, we should note that the emergence of national sovereignty as a principle in European politics did not arise from the rejection of absolute truth in religious and political matters. Rather, it arose from the practical recognition that such universals could not be practically enforced through warfare, at least not at any acceptable cost. The idea of national sovereignty was seen as a necessary political compromise to preserve some measure of peace and security.
It is hard to say how well national sovereignty actually worked at achieving its objectives. One can never test counterfactuals, but we can never know what would have happened in Europe if this piece of political technology had not been invented. Certainly, Europeans kept fighting wars of various kinds after 1648, but the return of the broadest and most devastating European wars tended to align with the emergence of new universalist ideologies.
Following the last of these total European wars, nations came together to try to shape a new kind of settlement. This included the formation of the United Nations in 1945 and also the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exactly 300 hundred years after the signing of the Peace of Westphalia.
Many of history's human rights declarations, especially prior to 1948, were calls to arms or efforts to justify a violent revolution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was radical insofar as it asserted the universality of various fundamental human rights, but it was also conservative in the sense that it was the project of nation states, within a framework that still recognized nationality with sovereignty, it did not legally bind the state signatories to actually uphold the rights therein, and, of course, it did not contain a call to armed enforcement by the people.
This provided a somewhat contradictory foundation, and international human rights law has continued to evolve and grow since 1948 on that foundation that recognizes both national sovereignty and universal human rights as being of great importance.
Notwithstanding the evident tension between these concepts, international diplomacy and law today recognizes that we cannot and ought not dispense with either. An absence of recognition of national sovereignty would lead to perpetual conflict between nations representing irreconcilable philosophical systems. This was the background prior to the Peace of Westphalia and a reality intermittently renewed by the rise of universalist revolutionary and totalitarian movements.
However, the absence of any limits on national sovereignty aimed at protecting universal human rights would create a reality in which we would look the other way when nations would commit the most dastardly crimes toward their own people. Any moral person who believes in justice and universal human dignity must, at a certain point, refuse to consent to allowing certain evils to be committed in the name of national sovereignty. Even if the only consideration is national sovereignty, history shows us clearly that nations that show capricious disregard for the rights of their own people quickly become a menace to their neighbours.
Recognizing the necessary tension between national sovereignty and international human rights, the approach of many nations has sadly been to talk the talk of international human rights, but not to put in practice meaningful mechanisms to enforce such rights.
The clearest example of this approach is the approach taken to the crime of genocide. Canada is a party to an international convention that seeks to define and make illegal the crime of genocide, regardless of assertions of national sovereignty. I strongly support this idea in principle and in practice. Slaughtering a group of people in an attempt to eradicate them is a horrific denial of universal human dignity of the person, and we should do what we can to prevent it. However, unfortunately, while assenting to the idea in principle that genocide should be an international crime, the Government of Canada has been reluctant to actually recognize any acts of genocide while they are progress. It claims that its obligation to act in response to genocide is triggered by a determination by some undefined competent international authority, even if such authorities are easily manipulated by the state committing genocide.
Additionally, this line from the government is fundamentally out of step with our actual legal obligations under the Genocide Convention. Our obligations, as a signatory to the convention, are to uphold that convention, which includes our responsibility to protect victims of genocide, regardless of national sovereignty and regardless of determinations by UN bodies. This is the legal obligation that we have assumed.
I also acknowledge the reality that it is not prudential to send in our troops in every case where genocide is happening. However, rather than burying our heads in the sand and denying the existence of genocide, the government could seek to clearly define the nature and also the limitations of how we would operationalize a responsibility to protect.
In my view, we need to develop real tools for practically integrating a commitment to universal human rights with a commitment to some form of national sovereignty. If an individual is involved in a violation of international human rights and if the nation state in which the person lives elects not to punish them or even condones their actions, national sovereignty limits our ability to punish this criminal. However, without resorting to means that are imprudent and likely to lead to even greater violence, we should still seek ways to punish those involved in human rights violations beyond our borders and thus deter criminals from committing these crimes.
Enter Bill S-223, a little bill with a big idea. It is the idea that we should use the means reasonably at our disposal to punish violations of fundamental human rights that happen beyond our borders. We could do this by punishing Canadians who are complicit in these acts of violence and by shunning foreigners who are involved in such violence. In light of the emergent reality of global connectivity, these kinds of limited tools are still meaningful and begin the process of deterring crime that happens beyond our borders.
It is a good thing that, if we agree it is always and everywhere wrong to do such and such a thing to a human being, we try to come up with some mechanism of accountability for these crimes that is prudent and that does not return us to the kind of world that existed between the Protestant Reformation and the Peace of Westphalia.
This idea of actively applying international human rights principles extraterritorially is about us doing what we can under the circumstances to advance justice. A commitment to this principle is why I have worked hard on this bill and also why I strongly support similar legislative mechanisms, such as the increasing use of Magnitsky sanctions, the adoption of Bill C-281, which is the international human rights act, and the adoption of Bill S-211. I support these legislative efforts to promote justice beyond our borders, because my children here in Canada are no more or less human than Uighur children, Rohingya children, the young nephew of my assistant who faces a hard winter in Ukraine or Kian Pirfalak, a nine-year-old boy who was murdered by police while attending a pro-freedom protest in Iran.
In conclusion, I want to return to a question I raised earlier: the case for universal moral claims in a world made up of diverse cultures and political traditions.
Every society since the dawn of time has tried to regulate itself with doctrines of something like morality. It is impossible for people to live together in a community if they do not regulate their interactions in some way. Furthermore, it is in our nature as beings to try to live rationally, to try to explain the decisions we make with reference to some good or goods.
However, while there has never been a society without some kind moral doctrines, and while those moral doctrines have sought to protect the lives and security of certain individuals, most societies have excluded certain groups or individuals from that protection. They have sought to protect an in-group without protecting an outgroup, seeking to narrow the definition of what it is to be human and perhaps allowing the exploitation of the outgroup for some advantage.
The core of my political philosophy is a simple commitment to universal humanism. It is the idea that we should not think in terms of in-group and outgroup when making decisions about fundamental human rights. If we are to speak authentically about human rights, then these are rights for all humans, regardless of age, environment, citizenship, skin colour or any other factor. Throughout history and still today, there are many who seek to limit the human family for their own convenience, but I believe that a person is a person.
Naturally there are certain kinds of rights that do flow from exchange. A worker has a right to wages. That is a right particular to the worker. A citizen has certain rights that accord with the obligations they have taken on to the nation in which they live. However, when we speak of human rights, these are rights that do not exist because of exchange. Rather, they are rights that flow from the universal nature of the human person.
Ideas of rights and justice are philosophical propositions that cannot be proven scientifically. All doctrines of human rights have their roots in something like faith: in the embrace of propositions that are not scientifically verifiable. However, the idea of universal human rights flowing from a universal humanness can be supported by observing how it accords with the universal aspirations of all people.
Today, as we speak, the people of China and the people of Iran are taking to the streets bravely demanding change. As we speak, incredibly, both of these totalitarian governments are at least feigning in the direction of concession. Also, the people of Ukraine have resisted and continue to heroically resist Putin's invasion, even as more and more Russians bravely express their own discontent.
I am proudly here today endorsing this universal movement for freedom and justice, to say that a person is a person no matter where they live and to say that we can and should prudentially work to affirm and give greater meaning to the idea of universal human rights.