Madam Speaker, over the years, governments of Canada have been and continue to be deeply concerned about civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation in the continuing civil conflict in Sri Lanka.
This government has conveyed its concern regularly, but most recently, with great urgency, in a public statement on January 28. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also conveyed this concern directly to the government of Sri Lanka when he spoke with the minister of foreign affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama, on February 2. Today our concerns were raised again in another statement. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs called for an immediate ceasefire and support for the statement released yesterday by the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka. As the minister just said, we have called for a cessation of hostilities for some time now.
We support the call of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, to discuss with the government of Sri Lanka the terms for ending hostilities, including the renunciation of violence, the laying down of arms and the acceptance of the government of Sri Lanka's offer of amnesty as the first step toward an inclusive political dialogue that should contribute to a lasting peace.
Canada is particularly concerned about the grave threat faced by a large number of civilians caught in the conflict zone. Canada strongly condemns the shelling attacks on the hospital which is in contravention of international humanitarian law. Equally disturbing have been continuing accusations by both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of the other side firing into a government-declared safe zone.
The Government of Canada is continuing its efforts with like-minded countries to deliver strong messages to all parties to the conflict about protecting civilians, including humanitarian workers, allowing their safe and voluntary movement from combat zones and ensuring unhindered access for humanitarian workers to reach civilians in need.
In light of the grave humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, Canada will continue to provide assistance to Sri Lanka's vulnerable populations. In fact, as we just heard, the Minister of International Cooperation today announced that Canada will provide up to $3 million in humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka to help those affected by the current crisis.
Canadian assistance in Sri Lanka is focused on the immediate needs of the affected populations and is provided by organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations agencies and key Canadian non-governmental organizations with a proven capacity and track records in Sri Lanka.
Canada's food aid funding is primarily directed through the United Nations World Food Programme, an experienced implementing partner with demonstrated ability to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations.
Canada also provides assistance for broader initiatives in Sri Lanka such as the sponsorship of a regional conference in Colombo, on pluralism, that took place in South Asia in March 2008. This conference focused specifically on minority integration and participation in government and civil society, and included participation from the government of Sri Lanka. Canada intends to host follow-up events in Sri Lanka. We believe that continued assistance with such initiatives is important for the promotion of human rights and democracy.
Canada continues to urge the government of Sri Lanka to move toward a new and meaningful political solution to the conflict that will address the legitimate concerns of all communities. The decades old conflict will not be ended on the battlefield, but through political accommodation.
We have therefore called on the Sri Lankan government to demonstrate leadership and move forward with the tabling of further details for meaningful power sharing agreements that will be acceptable to all the communities of that beautiful island.
We have also repeatedly impressed upon all parties our grave concern over the deteriorating human rights situation and the need for an international presence to report on human rights violations. Through bilateral meetings and multilateral fora such as the Human Rights Council, the Government of Canada continues to express our concerns regarding reports of violations of humanitarian rights and humanitarian law.
The increase in attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka is also very troubling. In the Minister of Foreign Affairs' call with the Sri Lankan foreign minister, he urged the government of Sri Lanka to conduct open and independent investigations into all attacks on journalists and to hold those responsible to account. The lack of neutral reporting underlines the pressing need for independent media to have unfettered access to the conflict area.
The Government of Canada will continue to work with like-minded countries to urge all parties to the conflict to protect civilians, to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, to provide humanitarian actors the full, safe and unhindered access to conflict-affected populations, and to return to the peace process.
As members may know, Canada is home to the world's largest Sri Lankan diaspora of over 200,000, comprised mostly of Tamils, who arrived as asylum seekers in the 1980s and the 1990s. These Sri Lankan Canadians, proud Canadians, are passionately interested and follow developments in Sri Lanka very closely.
However, the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, are also known to be present in Canada. In April 2006, the Government of Canada listed the LTTE as a terrorist organization, thereby freezing its assets and prohibiting any and all fundraising, whether voluntary or through extortion. In June 2008, again after an extensive investigation, the World Tamil Movement was listed as a terrorist organization under Canada's Criminal Code for financing the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE.
The government regularly meets with representatives of civil society and NGOs which work on Sri Lankan issues in Canada. I would like to emphasize that the large and vibrant population of Canadians of Sri Lankan origin means that Canada has a very real interest in developments in Sri Lanka, an interest that is regularly communicated to the government of Sri Lanka.
Finally, I would like to underline that Canada continues to deliver clear messages to the government of Sri Lanka on Canada's grave concern over the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country. Canada works with like-minded countries and through multilateral fora to address key issues and to continue to press for steps toward a durable political solution to the conflict that will address the legitimate concerns of all communities in Sri Lanka.