Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for Nipissing--Timiskaming for sharing his time with me.
I rise for the first time in the House of Commons to lend my support to Canadian soldiers, service personnel, diplomats, police, and aid workers who are risking their lives for the sake of Canadian and Afghan security in Afghanistan.
I wish to pay tribute to the Canadian families who have lost their sons there. I spoke last month to Jim and Sharon Davis of Nova Scotia, who lost their son Paul. I am sure members of the House join me in saluting the courage of this tremendously brave Canadian family.
Promoting human security for the people of Afghanistan is a goal worthy of the best Canadian effort. Training Afghan police, demobilizing ex-combatants, building health clinics and schools, all these have unquestioned support from Canadians on both sides of the House.
But some Canadians ask, and I heard this from the hon. members of the NDP, why development assistance requires troops and why these troops should have a mandate to return fire. This new paradigm appears to move Canada away from its traditional peacekeeping role. I support this change of paradigm.
I have been to Afghanistan myself. I have been to Afghanistan twice, once under Taliban rule and once since then. What I learned there is that we cannot do development in Afghanistan unless we control the security situation. The schools and clinics we build by day are burned down by night unless we have the troops to secure the development gains we have made.
Canadians, I think, also appreciate that states like Canada cannot be safe if we let Afghanistan fail, if we let it become a failed state, become a base for terror attacks. We all know that Canadians died on 9/11 and those attacks were planned in Afghanistan.
Canadians support our troops. There will be no firmer support for our troops than on this side of the House, but I think we all have two pressing concerns. The first is the possibility of torture and abuse of detainees handed over by Canadian Forces to our allies. As a former teacher of international human rights myself, I add my voice to those others, and some of those are in the gallery tonight with us.
I am speaking of international experts who voice their concerns, wanting the government, and I direct this toward the government side, to insist that the Canadian military do everything in its power to guarantee that detainees taken by Canadians and transferred to third parties receive the full protection of the Geneva conventions and receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. I have been in places of Afghan detention myself and have seen the work that the International Committee of the Red Cross does, and I believe it is the best guarantee of their safety and freedom from abuse. All Canadians would agree that our mission there, which we all value, should not be sullied by human rights abuses committed by third parties.
The second concern of Canadians relates to the overall strategic goal of this mission. Our allies, the Americans, the Pakistanis and the Afghans, are engaged in an open-ended, counter-insurgency war in hostile terrain against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements. Currently, our operations are part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom. When this mission becomes a NATO responsibility later this year, will these strategic objectives change? If so, what position will the Government of Canada recommend to its NATO partners?
Canadians support reconstruction. We support the stabilization of a failed state. But we do question how far we should go in an unlimited counter-insurgency war led by our friends and allies. We are a country with a great military tradition, of which I am intensely proud, but Canadians want to know what is the goal of our counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan, how long it will last and, most important, how we can keep this operation serving Canadian objectives, because we are nobody else's auxiliaries.