Mr. Speaker, before getting into the subject of the debate, I would like, in this first speech in this Parliament, to thank the voters of Saint-Henri-Westmount for their confidence.
With the enormous challenges facing Canada and the world, I am very privileged once again to represent Saint-Henri-Westmount in this House of Commons.
The question we ask ourselves today is whether Canadian soldiers should remain in Bosnia. Ultimately, this decision must be made by the government, after consulting our allies.
To begin, I would like to mention that many reservists from several regiments in my riding have served in Bosnia and many are still there. These soldiers belong to the Royal Montreal Regiment and the Maisonneuve Regiment, among others. I wish to point out their courage and their desire to serve the cause of peace and I hope that they return safe and sound from their mission.
Earlier today, the Minister of Foreign Affairs told us about some of the factors that the government will consider in making its decision.
I believe that in the final analysis, there are good reasons for continuing our humanitarian mission. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross have both confirmed that aid is arriving in spite of the difficulties. People who would have died without protection and international aid are still alive today.
The international effort has also successfully prevented the conflict from spilling over into the neighbouring republics of Macedonia and Kosovo. Canada also has a long-term commitment to peacekeeping and international institutions like the United Nations.
We contributed, we tried to contribute to European security when we took part in two world wars, in NATO and in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Since Canada's decision will probably influence other countries, we must ask ourselves if the international community has a role to play in Bosnia. I believe so, Mr. Speaker, for the reasons I just mentioned.
Future peacekeeping missions will probably experience problems similar to those in Bosnia. Since Canadians have played a leading role in developing peacekeeping, we surely have a role in finding solutions for these problems.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs said that one of the questions we must address is whether the danger to our troops outweighs the benefits of the mission. Like all Canadians and all members of this House, I would not want our troops to be exposed to needless risks and certainly they need to be able to defend themselves.
There is uncertainty about the rules of engagement and command and control. But I would like to suggest that these are questions that should be debated in perhaps a more expert forum than on the floor of the House, in committee. The ultimate decision as to when the risks or the dangers outweigh the benefits must be left to the government and the military.
Another important question we must address is whether there is a reasonable prospect for progress in the peace process as the minister mentioned. As I have said, one of the reasons for remaining in Bosnia is our desire to contribute to European security. I think Canadians would insist that there be a clear link between our role as peacekeepers and a place at the table. In fact Canada has had problems in getting the Europeans to the table. I understand it has been difficult even getting information about what is discussed at Geneva, let alone getting some input.
The House of Commons and the government should insist that our military role be accompanied by a diplomatic one. The international community has made serious mistakes in dealing with the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. One such mistake was the recognition of Croatia without considering the position of its Serbian minority which made up anywhere from 12 to 20 per cent of the population. While a ceasefire has been established in Croatia the threat of renewed war looms large.
Bosnia also was an ethnically heterogeneous republic. Although some Bosnians lived in ethnically distinct areas, most did not. History and intermarriage had created an ethnic jigsaw puzzle. The Europeans, followed by the international community at large, also recognized Bosnian independence without considering the objections of its Serbian minority. Similarly, various attempts to broker peace between the parties have
revealed serious shortcomings. The Vance-Owen plan was criticized for rewarding Serbian aggression.
The Washington agreement of May of last year which provided for so-called safe areas or enclaves was widely criticized in the western press for accepting ethnic cleansing and herding Muslims into small areas in which living conditions are horrible. The Owen-Stoltenberg plan to divide Bosnia into three ethnically pure states has also been widely criticized.
I spoke yesterday with the former Yugoslav ambassador to Canada, Goran Kapetanovic. He is a Bosnian Muslim and today a refugee in Canada, a fellow with the Canadian Centre for Global Security here in Ottawa. He believes that international forces will not accomplish much in the absence of a viable plan or framework for peace. He believes the major drawbacks to solutions being negotiated at Geneva are that they accept the idea of ethnic purity and are partial solutions which do not address the problem that I referred to earlier of Croatia. All of the former Yugoslavia has to be dealt with in a settlement.
The former ambassador asks how at the beginning of the 21st century the international community can accept introducing apartheid to Europe. What precedents would we be setting for future conflicts and for existing conflicts in eastern Europe? He believes that as a prerequisite to peace the UN Security Council must decide the pre-conditions of a viable peace. By way of example he suggests the following principles: that nothing can be achieved by violence; that refugees should be able to return to their homes; that people should be able to move freely and meet their family on one side or the other of borders, in essence that minority rights should be secured.
These are principles which are upheld or which are spoken about pretty well every day of the week in the United Nations. It seems to make good sense to me that they form the basis of any peace proposal.
I remarked earlier that Canadians see a clear link between their role as peacekeepers and a place at the diplomatic table. I urge the government to take up the challenge of assuming a greater role in seeking a negotiated solution to the conflict. As a successful multicultural country with a constitution that contains elaborate guarantees for minority rights, we Canadians have much to contribute.
The government is launching a foreign policy review. In the context of that review I believe that the government should convene a meeting bringing together the best minds in the country to develop proposals to end the conflict.
The world community needs leadership. Indeed it is crying for leadership. Let Canada provide that leadership.