Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member of Parliament for Don Valley East.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the motion. Given that it is my first time speaking in the House in this 43rd Parliament, I want to take a moment to thank my constituents in York Centre for the honour and privilege of returning to represent them in this House.
On the topic at hand, I will start by saying that the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is arbitrary and unjust, and they should be immediately released. While the debate on this motion has covered a wide range of issues related to the Canada-China relationship, it must not distract from the fundamental underlying question: What is in the best interest of the two Michaels as we mark the grim one-year anniversary of their imprisonment in China? We can have a broader discussion on the merits or lack thereof of this motion, but we must come back to reflect on that question. It must always guide our actions.
The Canada-China relationship is important to our government and to members on all sides of this House. That relationship is important to Canadians across the country. Right now, nothing is more important in the Canada-China relationship than securing the immediate release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The Prime Minister, the minister, the whole government and parliamentarians across the spectrum continue to work tirelessly to that end.
As chair of the foreign affairs committee in the 42nd Parliament, I had the opportunity to work with the member for Durham in committee, including on this issue. In fact, the member was vice-chair when we studied the issue of consular affairs and tabled a productive report, which the Conservatives supported. One of the fundamental things that we heard, and that members from all sides of the House know, is that sensitive consular issues, like the detention of Canadians abroad, should not be arbitrated in public. It is not in the best interest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, not in the best interest of their families, and not in the best interest of Canadians.
I bring members' attention to a column in today's Globe and Mail by our esteemed former colleague, Bob Rae. He rightly notes that Canada and China are two very different countries. China is not a democracy, and there are serious human rights issues that must be addressed, but the response to that cannot be yelling into the wind. The response has to be diplomacy and engagement. It is not always easy, and it takes time, but it is what is necessary as Canadians, and we know it is essential.
Today is also Human Rights Day, which marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a time when leaders around the world are challenging the idea that human rights are universal, we must continue to uphold and protect human rights.
The promotion and protection of human rights are fundamental to Canada's foreign policy and remain an unwavering priority. As we know from our experience at the foreign affairs committee in the last Parliament, Canadians care deeply about international human rights, and our foreign policy reflects that priority.
We are deeply concerned about the ongoing intimidation and repression of ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in China, including Tibetan Buddhists, Uighurs and other Muslims, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, women and girls, and members of the LGBTI community. Our government has also expressed concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in China and the troubling and continued intensification of actions against human rights defenders, like lawyers, journalists and civil society actors.
At every opportunity, the government has consistently called on China to respect the fundamental freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly, association and freedom of religion of all Chinese citizens. We continue to raise human rights and rule of law issues with our Chinese counterparts at all levels. The Prime Minister has done so. The former foreign affairs minister, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, has done so. I know that the new Minister of Foreign Affairs will do so, because human rights are fundamental Canadian values which are fundamental to our foreign policy. Publicly and privately, in multilateral forums and bilateral settings, Canada has consistently called on the Chinese government to address these concerns.
We should also reflect on the cases that the Canadian government, under both parties, have sought to remedy, such as the imprisonment of Canadian Uighur, Huseyin Celil, who has been detained in Xinjiang since 2006.
In my work on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, we studied Canada's engagement in Asia. As part of that study, a group of us, including the member for Durham and the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, travelled to Beijing and Hong Kong. We had very frank meetings where we discussed human rights and raised these issues directly with Chinese officials. We know there is a productive way of addressing these concerns that furthers the cause of human rights, but there is also a counterproductive way of doing that. We should be careful that we are not undermining the cause we are seeking to support, particularly when it comes to securing the release of arbitrarily detained Canadians.
When we were in Beijing, we raised a number of issues related to human rights. Canada remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the Tibet autonomous region, including increasing restrictions on the freedom of language, culture and religion; freedom of expression; freedom of movement; destruction of historic buildings, temples and mosques; and forced patriotic education of ethnic Tibetans.
Canadians are deeply concerned by the credible reports of the mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, including re-education camps under the pretext of countering extremism. I know that the government shares those concerns and has voiced them publicly.
At China's universal periodic review last year, the government called on China to uphold its human rights obligations and release Uighurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily, and to end the prosecution and persecution on the basis of religion or belief, including for Muslims, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong.
This past July and October, Canada joined over 20 countries in calling for unfettered access to Xinjiang for international independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Last, I know that many Canadians, including my constituents, are concerned about the situation in Hong Kong. With 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, we have a vested interest in its stability and prosperity and we will always support the right of peaceful protest and Hong Kong's autonomy under the basic law and the one country, two systems framework.
In my former roles as chair of the foreign affairs committee and before that as chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, these issues are dear to me and reflect essential Canadian values.
While this motion and today's debate have covered a wide range of issues, I want to come back to my initial point. We cannot be distracted from the fundamental issue which is what is in the best interests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. I would ask all members to reflect on that as they consider the motion in the House today.