Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.)
|| That this House do now adjourn.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is unquestionable that we face an urgent situation in Egypt at the present time. Any Canadian watching the news tonight will be aware of the level and degree of violence in the streets, as it appears that there is active fighting between the forces that are closely tied to President Mubarak and those who are demonstrating for significant change in Egypt.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Don Valley East, but there are some events taking place even now.
We have just learned that CBC employees were attacked in the streets and, without the intervention of the Egyptian army, they could have been seriously injured by the physical attacks.
My comments will primarily focus on two issues: the protection of the Canadian government's consular operations—the government's policy in response to the problem and the situation—and the crisis, which is not limited to just Cairo or Egypt and remains a major challenge for the entire region.
I want to say a couple of things in the debate and there will be a chance for questions. There will also be a chance for questions to the government with respect to the activities of Canadian officials and what has happened.
I want to make it very clear that our side recognizes the great hard work of people who work on behalf of the citizens of Canada and the very difficult circumstances in which our embassy officials in Cairo have found themselves over the last several days.
The underlying challenge, and we saw it emerging from the Lebanon crisis, is that Canada consistently finds itself under-resourced, without enough people on the ground and without a sufficiently determined response time from the government in Ottawa. We were behind in our response with respect to the Lebanon situation.
A valuable report coming from the other place refers to some of the difficulties and challenges that we see in this particular instance. Many Canadians had a great deal of difficulty finding out about the circumstances affecting their loved ones, their children, their cousins and those who are part of their families. We also saw those people themselves facing a challenge as they tried to find out information about how they could possibly get out of the country.
The minister took great offence yesterday when I asked a simple question based on facts. The fact of the matter is that Canada faces a problem. Far too many of our personnel are here in Ottawa and not enough of our personnel are working on behalf of Canada overseas. That is a problem and a challenge which must be faced. We are also not always using the most up-to-date technology to get in touch with Canadians or to make sure they are available.
The one thing we know for certain is that this is not an issue about looking back and saying who did wrong and who goofed up. One thing we know for certain is that we will face in the future more of these situations. This is the world we are living in. We are living in a world in which there are either man-made difficulties, political difficulties and challenges, or difficulties involving natural disasters. We simply have to improve our capacity as a government to respond to the critical situation. That is the first point I want to make.
The second point I want to make is that none of us could have anticipated the extent and the pace of change which has taken place in the Middle East. Countries which seemed from the outside to be extremely stable are now profoundly unstable. Deeply repressed, yes. Oppressive, yes. Hierarchical, yes. Virtual dictatorships, yes. They are profoundly unstable because their people are expressing a very simple reality; they have had enough.
More than half the population of Egypt is under the age of 30. It is a young country. It is a country with a 5,000 year old civilization, but it is a young country. It is a young country in which people are becoming better educated, in which people are increasingly learning of all of the challenges of globalization. It is a young country where all of the opportunities are in place. Its people see an economic and social system of which they are taking advantage. The revolution and technology of Twitter and Facebook, and the social media which has taken over the younger generation which allows them to communicate one with the other, allowing people in Tunis to communicate with people in Cairo, allowing people on the street in Cairo to tell others to come out for a demonstration and tens of thousands of people come out.
It is not possible to ascribe what has taken place and what continues to take place to political radicalism or to a particular ideology that is in place, although that obviously has a role and we must recognize that presents us with a challenge. We have to understand that this is a part of the world in which all of the theories about social change and political change are actually being put to work on the street.
Our party, the government and others have made the same point, that it is not for us as Canadians to determine what the outcome in Egypt is going to be.
However, it is important for us to state today that it is very clear that the steps that have been announced by President Mubarak with respect to his own plans and with respect to the plans that he is supposedly putting forward for political reform are simply not sufficient to deal with the extent of the concern and with the extent of popular reaction to the regime.
This is not any form of outside interference. This is a simple statement of the facts. This is a simple statement that what has been done so far is clearly not having the effect that we all want to see.
There is a legitimate concern in stability as much as there is a legitimate concern in democracy because we all know from our own lives that without a degree of stability and without personal security it is not possible for us to see working democracies really advance. However, we do not want to see a time when governments use the security and the stability arguments as an excuse for further repression.
We want to state categorically on behalf of this Parliament that we affirm the dignity of every person around the world. We affirm their dignity, we affirm their human rights, their right to the rule of law, their right to democratic assembly, their right to peaceful assembly, their right to freedom of religion and their right to freedom of expression. We do not see these as being confined to any one country. We see these as values that are indeed universal and they are contained in the documents that are expressed by the United Nations itself in terms of the rights of every person in the world.
There is a profound movement for democracy that is under way in the Middle East. It is an extremely encouraging and profound movement. It is important for this Parliament to state very clearly to the Egyptian people that we are with them in their struggle, we are with them in their quest for democracy, we are with them in their quest for stability. We say to all the people of the Middle East, and I would say most emphatically including the people of Israel, that we value the peace and stability which has been achieved at such great costs. Canada will stay involved and stay engaged in the peace process to ensure that the democratic change, indeed the democratic revolution that is now under way in Egypt and Tunisia and many other parts of the Middle East, does not take away for one second the need for peaceful co-existence between Israel and all its neighbours in the Middle East.
I appreciate the chance to speak on this debate. I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with the members opposite. I do not see this debate as an opportunity to take partisan shots one way or the other. It is a chance for us as members of Parliament to have a thoughtful exchange on what we think is taking place, on what we think Canada can usefully and productively do to be a constructive partner for peace as well as a constructive partner for justice and democracy.
That is the kind of foreign policy we want to see, a Canada that is deeply engaged in the world because, as I often say, the world is in us and we are profoundly in the world.
Ms. Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the important debate tonight on the current events that are taking place in Egypt.The Liberal critic for foreign affairs is a difficult act to follow.
I would like to talk about Egypt from a personal perspective. I have been historically involved in Egypt through ancestors, et cetera, and I find the current situation brings me a lot of trepidation.
Egypt has been the cradle of civilization and the cradle of three of the great monotheistie Abrahamic religions. What is unfolding in Egypt is not a new trend because throughout civilization Egypt has gone through good times and bad times. However, what is happening today is a reaction by people who have been subjugated for 30 years and not being allowed the freedom that they want.
Popular uprisings and revolutions are fluid by nature and unpredictable as they are more concerned with getting rid of the old than defining the new regime. We have seen many examples. What comes to mind is what happened in Iran in 1979 and what transitioned then. Uprisings promise change but make no guarantees that such change is non-violent in the short term or will lead to pluralistic democratic society in the long term.
A peaceful transition in Egypt will depend mostly on the existing power brokers, especially the military and its political partners in Cairo. It is important that Canada play a leadership role now so that when we help the politicians make decisions we will be clear on what we stand for. We stand for pluralism and democracy. We are not imposing any of our values on anyone. However, we are leading them to where they should be going for free democratic elections.
As has been mentioned, the Egyptian people are fed up. The speed with which the grassroots movement, the civil society, has organized itself has been amazing. For six days there had been no violence. Violence has now started because the people can see no changes taking place.
For politicians to participate and for politicians to ensure that there is a negotiated and a peaceful transition, it is important that the people are consulted and that the opposition participates in the consultations. Having elections where the rule of the majority is guaranteed is important. It is important that democracy takes precedence. It is important that President Mubarak understands that the people will no longer put up with the amount of pressure they had been under.
It is interesting to note that the military has the respect of the Egyptian people and has done nothing at the moment to the people. Hopefully that will not change. What we need to understand is that there are too many factors are at play. The Egyptian police are not liked by the people but the military, which is under the command of the president, is liked by the people. Those are some of the issues that people need to think through before giving advice.
Egypt is at a turning point. If it turns toward a continuation of military dominated leadership supported by the business elite, we will not have seen the end of the turmoil. Popular forces and the opposition cannot continue to be excluded from meaningful participation. One must hope that the transitional government will do the right thing and open up the political arena for full participation and an early and free election.
Yemen, Jordan and Tunisia have recently seen wide-scale protests and we hope that this regional disruption will not lead to greater tension in the Middle East.
President Mubarak said that he would not seek re-election but rejected demands to step down. That is a factor we must consider as we are giving guidance to the country. The 82-year-old Mubarak is a former air force commander and he wants to finish his presidential term which ends in September.
One of the factors that we need to consider as we are talking to them is: what are the permutations and combinations that the Egyptian people will settle for? More than 400 people have been wounded and one person has died in clashes with pro and anti-government demonstrations, which we saw in the streets of Cairo. The Coptic Christian community thinks that President Mubarak may not be the worst but that he is the best at the moment. It is very important that those factors be taken into consideration.
President Obama said that he spoke to President Mubarak who recognized that the status quo was not sustainable and that a change must take place. President Obama has also said that an orderly transition must be meaningful, peaceful and must begin now.
The leader of the Liberal Party has pointed out that Canadians are looking at these events. Egyptians are expressing a desire for democracy and openness, and have grievances and concerns that need to be addressed.
We hope President Mubarak will respond to these legitimate issues in a constructive spirit. No one wants the violence to escalate and we hope the Egyptian government, police and army, and those who are demonstrating will show an equal desire for peace and mutual respect.
Security and stability are legitimate human aspirations as well. We have heard from our foreign affairs critic. I hope that from this emergency debate the government will see an opportunity to take a balanced and intelligent approach to helping the Egyptian people realize their dreams.
Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Madam Speaker, over the past few days, the eyes of the world have focused on Liberation Square in the capital of Egypt. Events unfolding in Cairo could have a profound effect on the Middle East and the entire world.
Our government's priority is, of course, the safety of Canadians who are in Egypt. That is why we took swift action to organize an air evacuation of those who wanted to leave the region. These measures will be deployed as long as they are required. My colleague will describe in more detail the measures we have made available to Canadians.
This evening we are particularly disappointed and concerned that the protests that began with hope, order and enthusiasm are now fraught with violence, havoc and fear.
A few hours ago, live ammunition was used against Egyptian citizens. At least one person has been killed and many hundreds more have been wounded, some seriously.
Egypt, a nation of 80 million people with an ancient civilization, has long been a moderate leader of the Arab, African and Muslim worlds, and an important partner in the Middle East peace process, based on its long-standing peace treaty and co-operation on security matters with Israel. It is also home to the Suez Canal, a vital shipping route. What happens in Egypt therefore has major implications for other countries of the region, most especially Israel, for the world economy and for international security including the security of Canadians.
This morning I spoke to my Egyptian counterpart, foreign minister Aboul Gheit. Our deep and strong relationship with Egypt allows us to be frank with each other as friends should be. In our conversation this morning, I expressed Canada's concern about the situation in Egypt and our desire to see a peaceful and meaningful transition to democracy. I also reiterated the importance that Canada and the world place on the stability of Egypt and its region.
In discussions with my colleague, now and in the past, I have not hesitated to raise Canada's ongoing concerns with the situation of human rights in Egypt. We have urged Egypt to improve respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of association. We have raised concerns about the continuing application of Egypt's state of emergency, which is still in force after 30 years, and the use of torture and arbitrary detention by Egyptian security forces. We have also encouraged political reforms in order to promote democratic development and respect for the rule of law in Egypt, including the holding of free and fair parliamentary elections with international observers.
After the political opening of 2005, which saw the introduction of multi-candidate presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt, the following years saw a marked setback on human rights and democratic development. Canada has expressed concern on several occasions in that regard. In particular, we conveyed our disappointment at the parliamentary elections in November and December 2010 that saw the ruling national democratic party win over 80% of the available seats and a loss of most of the opposition seats amidst allegations of massive vote fraud and low voter turnout. A lack of international observers surely contributed to the lack of credibility of the outcome.
These elections represented a setback for democratic reform and modernization in Egypt and a failure by its government to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people for a greater voice in the running of their government. There is no doubt that these decisions by the Egyptian government fed the frustration of the Egyptian people.
The results of the latest parliamentary elections, the absence of political reform and the slow pace of economic progress, the increase in the price of food, and the bleak future for youth led to the protests that began on January 25. There is no doubt that the example of Tunisia, where the people are experiencing the same frustrations, also inspired the Egyptian protests. However, the priority must now be to put an end to the violence, and I urge the Egyptian authorities to respond with restraint during these tense times.
We urge Egypt to respect freedom of association and freedom of movement for all political actors. There, however, have been disturbing reports of looting, as well as prison breakouts and we urge the Egyptian authorities to respond to these incidents and to safeguard the security and the property of all of the people in Egypt.
The large-scale protests in many parts of Egypt have demonstrated the desire of the Egyptian people for greater political freedom and economic reform. The people of Egypt are claiming what people all around the world want and what we as Canadians take for granted: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law and the chance at a better life.
The demonstrators have also shown their commitment to bringing about political and economic reform through peaceful protest, not by taking up arms or by terrorism. They should be commended for peacefully expressing their views and their voices heard.
Other darker forces, however, are at work on Liberation Square and that is why calm and order must be restored as quickly as possible. We all know that the new social networking media, at the heart of popular movements around the world, is transforming the way societies everywhere communicate and share information.
It is increasingly important for people everywhere to be connected to the Internet, for the governments to permit access. We are, therefore, disturbed by interruptions to Internet services in Egypt and the blocking of social networking websites. This not only restricts access to information and communication by the people of Egypt, but it hampers emergency efforts to provide consular services to foreign nationals in Egypt.
We are also troubled by the forced closing of some news media. We call on the Egyptian government to ensure freedom of expression by unblocking websites and not interfering in the free dissemination of information.
We have noted President Mubarak's promise to leave office next September and the appointment of a vice-president, a new prime minister and a new council of ministers, who have been asked to undertake economic reforms. This new political team will be judged on its response to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people.
However, more clearly needs to be done in order to address the long outstanding need of Egypt for real and meaningful political and economic reform. Putting on a coat of paint to cover the cracks in the wall will not satisfy the Egyptian people's demand for change.
The Government of Canada has long engaged Egypt and other governments in the region on the need to bring about reform. Democratic development is a priority of Canada's foreign policy. Democratic development advances Canada's interest because it offers the best chance for long-term stability, prosperity and the protection of human rights.
Canada is committed to strengthening civil society and democratic institutions and processes, including political parties and independent media, throughout the world so that people can have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives. With this same determination and hope, today, we are asking President Mubarak and the new Egyptian government to strengthen the foundations of democracy, dialogue and co-operation.
It is not up to Canada to decide who should govern tomorrow's Egypt. Today, the people of Egypt are telling us, in the most active and courageous way possible, that they finally want to choose leaders who will bring them prosperity, justice and safety. We do no hesitate to raise our voices, loudly and clearly, in this chamber to say that we hope that Egypt's future leaders will actively devote themselves to implementing reforms that will meet the needs and aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Canada wants to see a transition towards greater democracy and freedom in Egypt, with respect for human rights and the rule of law. There needs to be a clear timetable for a new parliamentary election with international observers.
The 2010 parliamentary election lacked credibility and deprived the people of Egypt of an elected and democratic opposition as a means of peaceful political expression and participation in the governing of their country. The current situation is, at least in part, a direct result of this failure to respect the democratic process.
A true democratic transition in Egypt will require institutional reforms. For example, it will require the establishment of a credible and non-partisan elections commission to run the elections, as we have here in Canada. Such an elections commission would oversee the preparations for an election, which should reflect international standards for transparency and integrity.
The international community will no doubt be willing to assist by providing election observers and technical assistance.
Egypt also needs to make constitutional reforms. These could include stronger guarantees for human rights, in particular, freedom of expression and freedom of association, coupled with the strengthening of the independence of the judiciary.
The state of emergency that Egypt has been living in for 30 years now, which has resulted in much injustice and inequality, must soon be lifted. As I was assured by the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs this morning, the rules governing the registration of presidential candidates are to be revised so that as many people as possible can run in the September election.
It would also be beneficial to set fixed terms for the president and vice-president.
However, an election must not be confused with democracy. Although a fair and equitable election process is certainly essential to building a democracy, only a stable and honest government can ensure the sustainability of democratic principles.
In order for us, here in Canada, to recognize and support the future Egyptian government, it must meet four basic conditions: first, it must respect freedom, democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women; second, it must recognize the State of Israel; third, it must adhere to existing peace treaties; and fourth, it must respect international law.
Canada urges Egypt's government to heed the courageous voice of the Egyptian people, seize the moment and turn it into an opportunity for long overdue democratic and economic reform that will allow Egypt to maintain its place as a leader among Arab, African and Muslim states.
Mr. Jean Dorion (Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, my thoughts turn first to our constituents of Egyptian origin and to the immigrants, naturalized citizens and people of Egyptian descent who live in Quebec and Canada. Their days are filled with anxiety because violence has marked the events in Egypt since they began. And today it worsened as supporters of the Hosni Mubarak regime began to systematically attack protestors.
We cannot forget that the misfortunes of the Egyptian people, which are spurring the uprising we have been witnessing for over a week, go back much further than these last few weeks. For a number of decades, the Egyptian people have been living under regimes that are dedicated to making a small number of people rich and that are known for their authoritarianism and widespread violation of basic human rights. This is especially true of the current regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
The power of Mubarak's regime is usurped power. Everyone knows that Egypt's elections are rigged, to the point where during the latest election, the majority of the credible opponents decided not to run, in some instances in the first round and in many other cases in the second round, because they saw that the election had been completely rigged.
The Mubarak regime is also known for its ongoing violations of basic human rights: arbitrary detention, torture and censorship. Clearly, that could not last forever. After the Tunisian uprising that led to the fall of President Ben Ali, Egypt exploded. The protestors oppose the regime of Mubarak, a dictator who has ruled since 1981 and is now aging and ill. Hosni Mubarak had to go overseas for several weeks in 2010 for an operation, and with the approach of the 2011 presidential election, the question of his successor was on everyone's minds. Of course, those in power could not accept the possibility of losing that power and considered offering President Mubarak's son to the Egyptian people—imposing him, in fact. But now the anger in Egypt is no longer directed solely at the standard of living. It is also directed at those in power because the people recognize that abuse of power is largely to blame for the country's problems, be they economic or otherwise.
In recent months, tensions had risen in this country of 83 million people, triggered specifically by price increases and restrictions on basic commodities. Some 40% of the Egyptian people live on less than $2 a day. The unemployment rate among young people is especially high, as in Tunisia. Egypt's relative underdevelopment can be explained, at least in part, by a remarkably inadequate education system. According to the World Bank, in 2003, only 32% of young Egyptians had earned a bachelor's degree.
Egypt's national statistics office has calculated that 73,000 new university places will have to be created each year for the next 15 years just to maintain the graduation rates.
Half of the Egyptian population is under the age of 24, and this explosive demographic situation is having a serious impact on the country's economy. Furthermore, with 94.5% of the country covered by desert, understandably, population density in Egypt's populated areas is just about the highest in the world.
This is not the time or place to give a full chronology of all of the events in recent days, but I would like to go back to February 1, 2011, when, after a series of non-stop demonstrations, the army announced through a spokesperson that it agreed that the Egyptian people's demands were legitimate and said it would not use any force against the demonstrators. That was definitely a turning point. According to the media, at least 250,000 Egyptians marched on Liberation Square in Cairo, in the largest demonstration since the beginning of the revolt against President Mubarak's regime.
Yesterday Mubarak announced that he would not run again, but that he would remain in power until the presidential election in September 2011. However, a spokesperson for the Egyptian army asked Egyptians, particularly young people, to stop demonstrating. The spokesperson said that they had gotten their message across and that their demands had been heard.
But over the course of the day, we saw that they would not allow themselves to be discouraged by that kind of admonition. Unfortunately, Mubarak's supporters reacted violently today. Anti-Mubarak protesters committed very violent acts, and there are concerns that this new situation could radicalize the positions, although the army has called for an end to the protests. Reporters and cameramen—even some members of the Quebec media are there—who were covering the violence in the heart of the capital have been threatened themselves and have, of course, described a very tense climate. Agence France-Presse spoke of over 500 injured today in the protests, and there is some fear that that number will be even higher this evening.
The Bloc Québécois's position on the current situation in Egypt can be summed up as follows. First, the people of Egypt have spoken out against President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptians are calling for their president to step down. The trust is no longer there—if it ever was—between the people of Egypt and their government. President Mubarak is no longer the right person for the job. In light of all of this, we cannot simply say, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs said earlier, is that it is not our role to decide who should run Egypt. We cannot simply say that what is going on in Egypt is not our business. That kind of reasoning no longer works these days.
In recent decades, the Canadian government has broken that taboo several times. Members will recall the very positive role played by the Mulroney government in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa, for example. We cannot simply say that this has nothing to do with us and that it is up to them to decide.
The people in the streets of Egypt have spoken: they do not want the status quo. They want freedom.
We have seen thousands of Egyptians challenge the authoritarianism of their regime in recent weeks in order to claim their due rights and freedoms.
The Bloc Québécois will always stand behind those fighting for freedom. Freedom is a universal and inalienable right. Democracy and the rule of law are the natural expression of a free society.
We strongly condemn repression of peaceful demonstrations. We condemn the Internet censorship imposed by the government on the Egyptian people. The free circulation of information is a fundamental condition of democracy and liberty in a country. The Egyptian government must lift the censorship on the Internet sites it recently banned. Freedom of information is not negotiable.
Finally, we feel that a swift and peaceful transition to a democratic and free regime must be initiated quickly and peacefully.
For that reason, we believe Hosni Mubarak has to leave and, to get him to leave, democratic countries must join forces to put pressure on the Egyptian government. Since it was supported for so many decades, we think that an interim government and president should be appointed with the consent of the key parties. Then, free, multi-party, fair and transparent elections have to be held as soon as possible.
The Bloc Québécois defends the idea of freedom for all peoples, but it also defends the responsibilities that come with that freedom. The outcome of the political battle must not be a victory for extremists, who would, in turn, deny the Egyptian people the freedom and democracy to which they are entitled. We want to see an Egyptian government that restores the people's trust in their government and responds to the aspirations of the Egyptians.
In other words, any new government will have to ensure Egyptians' freedoms, religious freedom in particular since Christians in Egypt have suffered many humiliations and injustices these past decades.
That government will also have to ensure stability in the region by maintaining diplomatic relations with its neighbours and will have to recognize the State of Israel's right to exist. None of that can be achieved as long as the Egyptian people rightly feel that all their freedoms have been taken away.
In closing, Hosni Mubarak has to leave. We very easily stand behind the message the U.S. government sent him today, that the transition must begin immediately.
Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the situation in Egypt. As we know, on January 25 things changed in Egypt, and we are still trying to understand the effects of that change. Clearly, things are changing by the minute.
On January 24, President Mubarak was in charge of Egypt. On January 25, the people of Egypt were in charge of Egypt. That continues today to be the dynamic. It is the people of Egypt who are charting the course for the future of that country.
It is up to us, as those who support democratic aspirations, to be declarative that we support the people who have the courage and decided to overthrow a regime in a peaceful manner, a president who has been a tyrant for over 30 years. However, it is of concern that it is done in a way that represents the best interests of the people of Egypt, which is being seen today, and whether the rest of the world will support the intentions of the people who have decided they want to change the power structure within the country.
It is important that we be declarative, that we take a position. Our party at the outset was very clear. We said a number of things, which I will enumerate. We said that the election in November 2010 should clearly be re-run. We said that the emergency laws should be lifted. We said that it was important that all legitimate political parties be recognized and candidates for the presidential election in September be recognized as well. We also said that it was important that Canada take a position.
Sadly, at the time, we initially heard the government say that it wanted everyone to remain calm on both sides. Clearly, it was not in tune with what was going on because at that moment only one party was engaged in violence, which consisted of the security forces of Egypt that were using water cannons and tear gas against the population. Frankly, we all were concerned that might escalate.
It was a little tone deaf, frankly, when the government said that it wanted both sides to remain calm when only one side was using violent means. Thankfully, things did calm down. We saw the people amass in what is known now by everyone as Liberation Square. There was an acquiescence by security forces and the military did not intervene or instigate any form of intimidation against the people, notwithstanding that the regime was establishing curfew laws and edicts.
It is with hope and some concern that we watch what is happening. Developments in Egypt today have deepened our concern and the concerns for the safety of the protestors. Let us be clear. President Mubarak's insistence to delay his departure from power, as we heard last night, has contributed to further violence and destabilization, as we saw today. It is clear that for the sake of his country and regional stability, he must bow to the demands of the Egyptian people and immediately relinquish the position of president.
That is why we, unequivocally, condemn the use of violence against the peaceful and democratic demands of the Egyptian people. The alleged involvement of the regime in organizing the crackdown is completely unacceptable.
What do Egyptian protestors want? What do the people want? The clear consensus among all protestors is they want an end to Hosni Mubarak's regime. We have heard the calls for an end to corruption, an end to the emergency laws that have ruled Egypt for the past three decades. We have heard calls for economic fairness, representative and transparent governance and the protection of rights and freedoms. It is time for political reforms in Egypt and, as Egyptians have made clear, further delay is not acceptable.
It is with great pride that I note that not only were protests being organized in Cairo, but also right in Canada. I want to single out a couple of young Canadians who, like young Egyptians, organized demonstrations in the nation's capital last Friday and just yesterday in front of the Egyptian embassy. There were a number of them, but three people in particular were responsible in Ottawa. They are Iman Ibrahim, Mahmoud Al-Riffai and Yasmine Faoud. These three young people were like the young people in Egypt who decided they would put aside their affairs and would take the challenge to organize people to call for reforms for democracy in Egypt. We should applaud that.
It needs to be understood. This is not just about young people getting involved in politics. This is about young people leading a movement. If we did not have young people deciding that they have had enough, that they want to see real change, we would not see the changes we have seen.
Yes, technologies helped with this and it was important that there were tools like Facebook and Twitter. However, that is not the story. The story is that young people decided they would take on the powers that be and would decide the future of their country. They should be applauded, they should be lauded and they should not be treated in a paternalistic way. They should be respected for what they have done. They are a model of leadership, not just for Egyptians but for Canadians and others around the world.
That is important to understand because there has been a lot of talk about who is behind the protests.
However, I have had daily reports on the ground from Egypt and by all accounts the protestors are representative of every part of Egyptian society. They are truly Egyptian. There has been a breathtaking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among ordinary people on how to organize their lives.
Some have worried that democracy in Egypt might embolden extremists. They point to the existence of the Muslim brotherhood as the strongest opposition in Egypt. This is false. The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading these protests and is hardly represented in them. In a population of 83 million, it hardly commands more than a few hundred thousand members. In fact, some have argued that fear of an extremist backlash, promoted by the current regime, was the rationale for their existence, and that was to distract others away from what the government was doing.
However, Egypt is an important player in the region and in the world. There is no question that we want stability in the region. However, the present situation under the current regime is neither stable nor sustainable. To fear these peaceful protests is an offence to the people who have put their lives on the line for their rights and freedoms. It is not representative and open governments that lead to extremism; it is the exact opposite.
Who are the political players? Who composes the Egyptian opposition? How are they preparing for the transition of power?
Despite the 30 years of crackdown, Egypt has a diverse political opposition composed of traditional parties and newer ones. While it is unclear exactly what will happen next, the information I have received from people on the ground is that opposition parties are talking. They are working together to find a consensus.
At one point they even put together what was called the people's parliament that formed a committee to negotiate certain terms. These parties have been united in the demand for Mr. Mubarak to depart.
However, these parties are not representative of everyone. One of the things that is being debated right now is the notion of who should be the interim. Many have pointed to those political players who do not have a vested political interest in the future presidency. I hope that is where things go but, of course, it will be up to the Egyptian people to decide that.
It is important to look at our role as an international community. We must not forget that we have played a role in Egypt in the last 30 years. This regime did not sustain itself on its own. It was supported by countries throughout the west. For decades we have stood by Egyptians and many of us have stood by those who have been denied rights, the basic legitimate rights of freedom of expression and of political participation.
In fact, it was the west that played a significant role in propping up this regime. It is really important that we understand that, not to shame anyone but to be held accountable. For instance, in 2008, the last time the government reported on Canada's weapon exports, Egypt was our 23rd largest client at $1.8 million. Some of the exports in arms to Egypt at that time included smoothbore weapons with calibres of 20 millimetres, automatic weapons with a calibre of 12.7 millimetres, unmanned airborne vehicles, aero engines and aircraft equipment.
We are part of this but compared to the U.S., we are minor players. However, it is important to note that we were responsible and we were implicated in supporting the regime.
What should Canada do now? What I have heard from many people on the ground, in general, and particularly from Egyptian Canadians, was that our government's response needed to be clearer, stronger and less tepid.
I recall a proud moment just a couple of years ago when the green movement of Iran rose up against the dictator in that country. I remember well that all parties in the House debated and passed a motion to support the green movement. We were pretty declarative in the House that we wanted to see its rights and voice recognized and to see the regime that was in place replaced.
I think we need to put that into context when we seem to be rather careful about what should happen with Mr. Mubarak. I think we should be clearer about what should happen with him, in that he should be asked to move on.
We should be demanding that our government intervene in a positive way, that we add our voice to others to condemn the use of violence against protestors and that we use all of our diplomatic influence on the Egyptian authorities to start moving forward to seek out an interim situation in terms of leadership that will then lead to elections and to the rebuilding of democratic institutions in Egypt.
It goes without saying that what we do and how we do it matters. What we have heard from young people in Canada and in Cairo, from people who have had their rights denied for over 30 years, is that they do not need one strong man to come in to lead them. They do not need the rest of the world to dictate terms to them.
What they need is to understand that the old way is the wrong way. The old way of deciding to support a strong man and ensuring that those people within our interest are supported is something we reject. The decision to do things differently means supporting a pluralistic approach to our foreign policy by supporting a pluralistic framework within other countries because this is happening elsewhere in the region. That would mean that our government would not need to hide from statements on where we stand.
In the next days and weeks that follow, we are not sure what will happen. Canadians want to know what the government's intentions are in terms of support for the future of Egypt. We not only hope that we will support Egyptians in deciding their own fate and future but also that we will stand with them, not only now, but after they have decided who should lead them. We hope not to turn our back on them. We hope that in the future we will reject the notion of supporting the strong man and support the pluralistic composition that is Egypt; that we are seeing in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and throughout Egypt today.
Finally, I hope that our Parliament, our government, will be stronger in how it decides to declare its support and that we should not hide from our pride in supporting the people of Egypt.
Hon. Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, the Liberal critic for foreign affairs, who initiated this important debate in the House tonight, because the situation in Egypt has riveted many Canadians. They are following these events closely and it is helpful that we in the House provide perspective and some sense of where Canadians and Canadian legislators stand on the events that will surely change the face of at least one very important country.
I would like to take a different perspective on these events because I have just recently been appointed as Minister of State of Foreign Affairs with particular responsibility for consular services. It may be of interest to people following this debate if I talk about consular services. We saw in Egypt as the situation became more unstable that our government, through its consular services in Egypt ably assisted by personnel from other missions in the region, sprang into action to support and assist Canadians who wanted to get to a safe haven.
I am splitting my time with the member for Newmarket—Aurora.
To set the stage, Canadians should know that millions of other Canadians are abroad at any given time. Canadians live, work and study in other countries. Canadians actively travel to other countries.
What do Canadians need to know as they travel abroad and as we saw in recent days they can be caught up in unanticipated events? First, we recommend that Canadians who are travelling abroad consult the website. The Department of Foreign Affairs puts up a website named simply travel.gc.ca. This website gives advice about unexpected situations that Canadians might face in a particular country.
It also allows someone travelling abroad to register on a website called “registration of Canadians abroad”. Why should anyone do that? If a person goes missing or gets caught up in some violence and nobody knows where he or she is, it is very hard for our consular people to make contact and give assistance. In Egypt, we were able to call or attempt to call those who had registered even though communications were down and offer services to get people to a safe haven.
In the case of Egypt, we had about 6,500 Canadians, who were living, working, or travelling in Egypt. However, less than 1,400 were registered. Only a fraction of people register and it is very helpful if they do. Every minute of every day, the Department of Foreign Affairs receives two requests for assistance at some point in the consular service landscape.
In 2010, over one million Canadians received some form of assistance and in the last five years demand for consular assistance has actually increased by 32%. In budget 2008, we put more resources into these services to allow us to better support Canadians.
These funds were partly used for the construction of a new emergency watch and response centre. That was a new initiative. Also, my appointment and the addition of consular duties to this particular portfolio is a new and heightened emphasis on providing good consular services.
There are two main categories of consular services. One is prevention and education and one is assistance. Of course, we hope that knowledge is power and if people have the knowledge they need they will not need assistance. We try to provide people with information and advice as they travel in order to prepare them to handle emergencies that might arise.
Of course, people who decide to travel assume a certain risk. There are things we can do to prepare ourselves. One is to take note of the emergency consular telephone line. It is staffed 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. That number is 613-996-8885. Through the number of calls received from Egypt, this line somehow crashed. That helped us to realize we needed backup for the technology. We are going to be prepared for that kind of eventuality.
In the last few days we have received almost 14,000 calls on the emergency lines from people abroad wanting to know how to get assistance and perhaps get to safe havens, as well as families and friends in Canada wanting an update on what was available.
The website that I mentioned, travel.gc.ca, receives more than 12,000 visits a day. We know that some Canadians are beginning to use it. It gives reports of over 200 countries where Canadians might want to travel. It talks about the security situation in the country, it provides official travel warnings advising against travel and how to contact the nearest mission. It is a good website for people to consult and register with so the government knows how to reach people in case of emergency. We also have some other products to help educate Canadians, which can be found at Service Canada and other places.
We are proud of the consular services. I visited one of our consular operations overseas in January. One of the officers said something very interesting to me. He said, “We do not consider what we do, helping Canadians, to be a job. We consider it to be a calling”. They are very passionate about supporting Canadians and it was heartwarming.
We have a network of these services. They provide assistance to Canadians 24/7. We are always looking to do better and we want to support and help Canadians, some of whom face very distressing situations abroad, sometimes very unexpected ones.
The earthquake in Haiti and now the situation in Egypt are two fairly recent examples of what can happen when people are travelling and need to reach out to the services that are provided by the Canadian government to support and assist them. We encourage Canadians to be informed, as prepared as they can be and to be alert while they are travelling. That being said, I assure everyone that when Canadians require assistance abroad, as they have recently in Egypt, they will receive it from this government.
Ms. Lois Brown (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for Calgary—Nose Hill giving me a portion of her time.
In the past week, Canada and the world have witnessed an unprecedented level of political change and civil turmoil in Egypt. Today, to our sadness, we learned that the formerly peaceful demonstrations had turned violent, resulting in more than 400 injuries, some serious, and at least one death. We deeply regret the loss of life and our condolences go out to the family and friends of those injured in these violent clashes. The violence that has occurred is unacceptable.
The people of Egypt have spoken out and demanded profound political change. While hearing the change demanded by the Egyptian people, the world has an interest in ensuring Egypt remains stable and secure.
Egypt has been an important partner for Canada in particular, not just in our bilateral relationship, but also in the pursuit of our shared interest in peace, stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday:
|| Canada reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future. As Egypt moves towards new leadership, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy these rights and freedoms, not a transition that leads to violence, instability and extremism.
Egypt is at another crossroads in its long and vibrant history. The choices the Egyptian people and their government make in the coming days will be important for the country, the region, and the world. Egypt matters, and Canada is pushing for political and economic reforms that will allow Egypt to continue to play an increasingly positive and constructive role in the world. This global engagement means that the entire international community has an interest in ensuring that Egypt remains a stable and peaceful presence on the world stage, particularly in the Arab world where Egypt's positive influence has been perhaps most strongly felt.
From the onset of our bilateral relationship when Canada and Egypt opened embassies in Cairo and in Ottawa, our two countries have worked together in support of regional stability and prosperity. Egypt, a key Arab and African partner, has been a key factor to stability in the Middle East. A shared commitment to a just and comprehensive peace in the region is one of the core elements of Canada's bilateral relationship with Egypt.
It is in its relations with Israel where Egypt has proven to be a moderate force in the Arab world. Where other countries avoided a politically difficult decision, Egypt's far-sighted leader, Anwar Sadat, took a principled stance toward peace and stability. He became the first Egyptian president to visit Israel and, in 1979, signed a historic peace agreement based on the Camp David accords. This decision to normalize relations with Israel and advocate for peace in the region is something that Egypt continues to do to this day.
The pursuit of this ideal came at an extremely high price as Egypt lost Sadat to hate-filled extremism. It is up to the international community to ensure such a visionary commitment to peace and stability continues to prevail in Egypt over extremism and an ideology of hate.
It is also important to realize that Egypt's role in the region has brought economic benefit to its people. Partnership with Israel yielded $500 million in bilateral trade between the two countries. The peace accord has been a positive factor for both countries since, for example, the absence of a major military threat from Egypt has allowed Israel to cut its defence spending from nearly a quarter of its gross national product in the 1970s to less than 10% today. For over 30 years both countries have been free of the devastating social and economic threat and associated costs of war.
Today Egypt also sells a considerable amount of natural gas to Israel. In 2005 the neighbours signed an agreement to ensure that the arrangement continues for the next 20 years. The pipeline is run by East Mediterranean Gas, an Egyptian-Israeli joint venture. The presence of an agreement has also promoted a great deal of foreign investment in both countries. Clearly, this serves as an example for others in the region to follow, one which can unlock the true potential of a troubled region, a region constantly under threat by extremist elements.
Egypt also plays a role in maintaining stability along its southwest border with Gaza despite relentless efforts by extremist groups to destabilize it. Continuing Egyptian co-operation on limiting arms smuggling into Gaza is essential for regional security.
It is clear that the Egyptian people have made a profound decision. They are insisting on choosing their rules, defining their system of government, and defining the values behind that government's policies, both domestic and foreign. We sincerely hope that in this time of political change both the people and their government will remain true to those values and actions that have made Egypt a positive force in the region and one that has upheld its commitment to peace, stability and security.
Terrorism cannot prevail. Extremism cannot prevail. Hate cannot prevail.
Mr. Bernard Patry (Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre.
I am pleased to participate in this evening's debate on the situation in Egypt, a debate called for by my colleague, the hon. member for Toronto Centre.
I am especially pleased to take part in this debate because my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard is home to many Canadians of Egyptian origin, a community that is very involved and very engaged.
In addition, Canada has enjoyed a close relationship with Egypt since the Suez crisis in 1956. Since that time, we have shared a broad range of common interests, and I will mention only a few: trade relations, the Francophonie and most importantly, the desire for a fair solution in the Middle East.
But what happened so suddenly that caused all of Egypt to erupt? To understand the current situation, we must not forget history. There are many well-known causes, including youth unemployment, food shortages, the unchallenged domination of the National Democratic Party, President Mubarak's party, and the fact that during the next election, one of the president's sons, Gamal, might run for president.
But the success of the uprising in Tunisia was certainly the trigger. When he saw the scope of these protests, President Mubarak responded by shuffling his cabinet. However, the opposition forces rejected this change and called for the president to step down. I should note that in response, for the first time in 30 years, the president appointed a vice-president, Omar Souleiman, who, according to the Egyptian constitution, would become president, in the event the current president stepped down, until the next election.
In the meantime, the alliance of all of the opposition parties has asked Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to negotiate a transition with the president's regime. Mr. ElBaradei has received extensive media coverage abroad but is relatively unknown in his own country. Jean-Noël Ferrié, the director of research at the CNRS, feels that he is not the right man for the job because he is “too alone and too absent”.
But what does the opposition want? In short, it wants to see the president gone. What would happen then? The new president, Mr. Souleiman, would temporarily take over the presidency for a transition period, during which both houses of parliament would be dissolved and the constitution would be revised with a view to presidential and legislative elections.
But would this scenario be acceptable to the coalition? Members must remember that this coalition is very divided and has opposing goals and visions. We must remember that these protests were initiated by the April 6 Youth Movement, led by Ahmad Maher. This group was started during a workers' uprising in the Nile delta in 2008. Mr. Maher is calling for not only political reforms, but also social and economic reforms.
Another party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is prohibited by the government, is still represented by a number of independent members of parliament. This party is a big question mark and is a very big concern for Israel. Furthermore, there are 20 or so political parties that make up the legal opposition, including the Nationalist Party, the New Wafd Party, and the El Ghad Party, created by Ayman Nour, a candidate who lost in the 2005 presidential election.
Where does that leave us today? The coalition is continuing to put very strong pressure on the current government through massive demonstrations. People are speaking out around the world. Catherine Ashton, the head of European diplomacy, has called on President Mubarak to act as soon as possible to carry out the political transition. The British Prime Minister told the British Parliament that this transition should be urgent and credible and that it should start now.
On this side of the Atlantic, President Obama has said that an orderly transition must be significant and peaceful and must begin now. Canada is closely monitoring the situation. The crucial role of the army should not be forgotten because, since 1952, all Egyptian presidents have come from the ranks of the army. Furthermore, only the army has veto power with respect to presidential succession. Is the army prepared to give up this veto during future negotiations on constitutional amendments?
I believe there is no turning back. Through diplomacy, Canada must play a much greater role than it does at present in searching for an equitable solution. After 30 years of unchallenged rule, future negotiations will be arduous, long and very difficult. That is where Canada must make a contribution.
Every effort must be made to ensure that human rights and freedom of association, movement and religion are guaranteed not only in the constitution, but in reality.
The violence must stop and Canada must now play a role not only in the establishment of meaningful dialogue, but also in the reconstruction of such a beautiful country.
Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I, like Canadians and many people around the world, am watching and listening in real time to what is happening in Egypt. I find myself reminded of previous conflicts, most particularly the Gulf War where, for the first time, people in the world stayed glued to their television sets as they watched a war being played out before them.
Yet today, it is social media, Twitter, Facebook, which not only changed the way the world learned of the events in Egypt, but was in fact the very catalyst of the demonstrations throughout the region, beginning in Tunisia. I, like many Canadians, have been transfixed and engaged and I expect we will be so in the upcoming days and weeks.
As my colleague from Toronto Centre has said, it is not for us to determine the outcome of events in Egypt, but we are undoubtedly witnessing a powerful movement for change, which underscores the importance of peace, stability and the universal values of free and fair elections, free assemblies, freedom of the press, equality of men and women, freedom for minority groups and, indeed, non-violence.
After the recent peaceful transition to democracy in Tunisia, the world watched with great concern, anticipation and hope as peaceful demonstrations in Egypt progressed. Until today, we saw huge, peaceful gatherings and we were relieved to see an absence of real and widespread violence.
As we all know, today's events, however, have reiterated the importance of an orderly and non-violent transition to democracy that respects the will of the Egyptians and that reaffirms the civil liberties and universal rights of the Egyptian people and all of Egypt's neighbours.
According to some reports, and some of them have been coming through Twitter, three people have died today alone, over 600 have been injured and we have learned that some clinics are receiving 20 new patients every five minutes. There have also been reports of attacks against foreign journalists, including a cameraman for Radio Canada, who was apparently beaten by an angry mob in Cairo. These are disturbing developments and only underscore the need for a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy, which has been the wish of the Egyptian people.
I think all members in the House share the real concern of Canadians, concerns for family members living in Egypt, concerns for family and friends who are among the over 6,000 Canadian citizens who were in Egypt when the demonstrations began on January 25 and a profound concern for the future of Egypt and the region as a whole. We are concerned for the well-being of those Egyptians who have been a part of the peaceful demonstrations. Once again, today's violence must stop and an orderly and peaceful transition must continue.
In terms of Canadian citizens caught in Egypt, as the situation escalated, I was pleased to see that flights were leaving Egypt and that additional consular services had in fact been deployed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was concerning, however, and remains concerning, that the Canadian government failed to move quickly when the crisis began, so sufficient consular service were available to all Canadian citizens who required them. I have heard too many stories of Canadians who were unable to get through to a representative of Foreign Affairs, their phone calls not answered, their emails neglected and great concern about family members in Egypt.
I would hope this is not due to an under-investment in consular services by the government. I know my colleague from Toronto Centre has raised this issue a number of times. If this is the case, it has to be addressed and it has to be addressed quickly. We cannot leave Canadians in jeopardy.
As we go forward over the coming days and as the Egyptian people continue their demonstration, we must emphasize that democratic elections are not enough. The civil liberties of all Egyptians must be upheld. Universal human rights of minorities, of women and the civil liberties of Egypt's neighbours must be upheld through positive engagement and the enshrinement of the peace treaty with Israel.
All members in this House understand the critical role that Egypt plays in the stability of that region, particularly the key role that Egypt's 30-year peace treaty with Israel has played in ensuring stability, not only for the two countries but for the region as a whole. For this reason, it is not only Egyptians but its neighbours who look forward to not only democratic elections, but to a future where stability, respect for the peace process and the promotion of human rights and values are firm.
In this country, it is not time for partisan rhetoric and politics. The issues are too important and the stakes are too high. We must respect the will of the Egyptian people and support a bottom-up, real political reform. We must make clear our resolve that the future of Egypt and of the region must be premised on a continuance of respect of past peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and a continuing recognition of the state of Israel.
I was pleased to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say in the Knesset today:
|| All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt. An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger.
We support the will of the Egyptian people to transition to democracy but we must keep in mind the critical importance of stability and respect for the peace agreements and for the universal values that we hold dear. Any government must renounce violence and respect and adopt democratic values and norms.
I had an occasion not too many minutes ago to speak to an Egyptian-born relative living here in Canada. I asked him what was happening and what he wished for. He told me of the tremendous longing of members of his family for democracy, for free and fair elections and for a free press. He spoke of the importance of Canada's role in assisting this to come about. Whether it is through diplomatic processes, aid or support for the institutions of democracy, there is a role for Canada and it is an important one. It should be to assist the Egyptian people as they undergo this historical transformation while guaranteeing the civil liberties of all Egyptians and of Egypt's neighbours.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona.
This is obviously an evening for delicate debate. The situation in Egypt is, at best, one could say fluid, but extremely risky at this point. The information we are being fed from the ground is that all sorts of maneuvering is going on by the various elements of power in that country. There is really a great risk of a great number of people being injured if it turns violent, more than it has up to this point.
I want to personalize this a bit because of the feedback I have been getting from my Windsor community. We have a fairly sizable Coptic Christian community in Windsor and we also have a large number of members of the Egyptian diaspora from the Muslim community living in the Windsor-Essex county area. Although they have different concerns, there are basic concerns that they both have, and that is very much a fear for the safety of their relatives and friends still in Egypt, particularly in Alexandria and Cairo. Within the Coptic community in particular, there is a desire for change because it is the only way they can foresee any release from the bondage they have been suffering under, the systemic discrimination they have suffered under the current administration, leading, at times, as we have seen, particularly during the last few months, to a number of incidents of murder in the Christian community.
Their real hope is that if the Mubarak regime is gone it will be replaced by a democratic government that recognizes international human rights standards, including the right for that community to practice their faith free from discrimination and certainly free from the type of violence they have been subject to the last number of months and year, specifically in terms of number of murders that have occurred.
However, they also have, which was expressed very clearly to me, a very real concern that may not be what happens. This brings forth the role that Canada and democracies across the world can play. They need to make it very clear to whatever administration comes in next that those international human rights standards must be respected.
Obviously we want a democracy established there, a meaningful, informed, vibrant democracy that recognizes those international standards. Fear and hope commingle now and into the future for the Coptic community.
In terms of the Muslim community, a good number of people from the Windsor area, as I said earlier, have friends and close family still living in Egypt. They are very worried because many of them have not been able to find out about them.
There is a young woman who was a close friend of my daughter through elementary and high school. I believe she is back. Knowing her and how engaged she was in politics in Canada, she is probably very much one of those young people who precipitated this thrust for democracy in Egypt. I am sure her father is very worried about her, if in fact she is still there, as are any number of other members of the Windsor community about children, brothers, sisters, parents and friends.
They share with the Coptic Christian community the same concern, the hope that Mubarak leaves, the expectation that people will have a right to hope that democracy will be established, that there will be real freedom, a real and vibrant democracy, with the young people in particular having a major say in that. I am not talking of teenagers; I am talking of people in their 20s and 30s who, clearly, have led the way in these demonstrations and in forcing the president to announce his intent not to run again.
Both communities are very worried about what is going to happen over the next 24, 48 or 72 hours, because they are hearing the same things as us. Other groups are moving in and attempting to control the situation, groups that are operating with a significantly different agenda from the young people who created this movement in a very short period of time. If that happens, it will be a tragedy of monumental proportion.
What has happened is that a very large segment of the population, the youth of that country, in the last 8 or 10 days, has had its hopes raised that finally people would be able to live in a free society, a society, a government, an administration in which they would have full and meaningful participation. If that gets usurped by some of the other groups that appear to be attempting to move in now, it will be a tragedy.
This comes back to the role I believe Canada should be playing more aggressively, not just as an individual country. We certainly have to recognize the sovereignty of that country, but at the international level, it obviously begs the question of whether we would not be in a much better position if we had secured that position on the Security Council last year and been able to speak with greater authority from that position. It is water under the bridge, but we still have a role to play.
We have a role in saying to the rest of the democratic world that we have to bring whatever pressures we can to bear to get Mubarak and his administration out, and assisting in whatever ways we can in providing the democratic forces there, representing the Egyptian community as a whole, the opportunity, first, for an interim government and then for meaningful, free and informed elections for both the presidency and parliament.
That is a role we can play and we need to be doing it publicly. That is why the NDP foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre, has been critical of the government for not taking a more aggressive stance in that regard. We have to be able to do that, because if we do not, there is a huge risk not only of more violence, which would be very tragic, but also that the democratic movement there will be lost, even without violence.
I urge the government to consider moving more dramatically than it has been willing to, and for it to provide some leadership at the international level as well.
Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the emergency motion that was introduced by the member for Toronto Centre. I listened to some very interesting presentations this evening.
It seems to me that the situation has certainly deteriorated in Egypt and, actually, across the region over the last couple of weeks. I think we might have been slightly premature in proceeding with the motion and the debate today because it seems that as each day passes, we see a different dynamic over there. Nevertheless, we are in the middle of the debate right now and there are a few observations that should be made on this situation.
As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh had pointed out, we are not here to point fingers at the government. We are just making some observations. We recognize that it is in a different role than we are. We are opposition and it is our job to point out inconsistencies that we find, just as it is the government's job to be able to make judgments that, we hope, are correct in a given situation.
The member for Toronto Centre talked about consular services. He saw that an important part of the equation that was not being properly deployed. That may well be. However, once again, the government has a role. It has to be able to make its judgments as to where these services have to be deployed. There are a lot of unstable countries in the world and things can change rather quickly.
In my own experience, a number of years ago, in 1983, I found myself in Grenada just prior to the American invasion, having met with government officials, even the finance minister, the prime minister, over a three-week period there, in the summer of 1983. I had absolutely no inkling of what was to happen. Within a month, we had the situation change dramatically and the end result was one where Ronald Reagan led an invasion of the island of Grenada.
I also found myself in Chile as an election observer in 1989, and then again for the election in 1990.
I can tell members that the member for Ottawa Centre has been in situations like this as recently, I believe, as last year, in his international travels. He knows that a situation can get out of hand very quickly and that it can be very unpredictable when large crowds are involved.
I recall being tear-gassed in a huge demonstration in Santiago just because I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was with a contingent of election observers that included United States senators and politicians from the EU and other places, so I was well taken care of and directed. However, I still managed to get tear-gassed.
When one gets into situations like this, it is very hard to come up with conclusions, whether as the government or the opposition, especially in a country where we are as far away from the situation as we are here. We are taking advice from people in the field. The government is in a very strong position because it actually has an embassy there, it has people on the street, and probably has better information in many respects than we do.
Also, members have pointed out that Egypt itself, and I have been to Egypt a number of years ago, is a fairly poor country. It was mentioned that 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day; the unemployment rate is high; the education system is not what it should be.
This has been the situation since Anwar Sadat was shot, as many in this House will recall, and Hosni Mubarak took over from him. It is hard to believe that was 30 years ago. A leader who can last for 30 years in any kind of environment is quite remarkable.
However, when we look behind the veils, we see that he was not a leader in terms of what we see in a democratic situation. He ran a government that was hardly an example of democracy in action. That is what the people in Egypt want right now. Young people have hit the streets and have made it known they want change in the government.
It has been noted that the United States, which is not normally a leader in demanding regime change, is further ahead than we are in Canada. Canada is being more conservative than the Americans. We know the Americans have a big investment in Egypt for a number of reasons. They have investment in the military support in Egypt. They have a big interest in the canal, the oil fields and so on, so this is a huge interest for them.
Normally we would see the Americans being very proactive, but they are evidently saying that Mubarak has had his day, it is time to move on and replace the regime with one that is more democratic. The Canadian government seems reluctant to draw that same conclusion. We wonder why that would be the case.
At the end of the day, their strategy may turn out to be correct because, as I indicated, it is a fluid situation. We are concerned about a number of minorities in Egypt. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh mentioned the Coptic Christians. He has a number of them in his constituency, as do other members in the House. Especially Egyptian Canadians who live in our country are very concerned for their families back in their country, as well they should be.
It has been mentioned that the government is involved in providing flights. Our member asked earlier why Egyptian Canadians were not being given the same treatment as Lebanese Canadians were four years ago. I knew a person who was involved in the Lebanese situation and the Canadian government paid the airfare. The government has already answered that question by saying there have been a number of Canadian flights already. Canadians have been removed from the country. They have done so at their own expense. Evidently they went in with their eyes open and agreed to pay the $400 and the case is over.
It is possible that we may have to put on more flights, so the government should not just eliminate the suggestion of the member for Nickel Belt offhand because there is an argument to be made for consistency. We had a situation of inconsistency, which I raised earlier this year, when we had the earthquake in Haiti and the government was quick to match funds donated by Canadians. Shortly thereafter, the Chilean earthquake happened and the government refused to do it. A lot of people in the Chilean community and supporters are saying that there is a double standard. It really would not have cost the government a lot of money because there was a much smaller donor base. While the government put out several million dollars of matching funds for Haiti, because there was a large outpouring of support, in the case of Chile it was much smaller because there was not that big a base to donate in the first place.
Hon. Stockwell Day (President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member from Chatham-Kent—Essex.
I will not spend a lot of my time repeating the well-intended and well-founded heartfelt wishes that we have heard from members in the assembly. I certainly echo those. It is important to send those well wishes.
I will not repeat the many efforts already put forth by the Canadian government to assist Canadians who are in Egypt. I congratulate all consular officials for everything they are doing there. I join all of my colleagues in condemning the violence that has taken place and may take place in future.
I want to weave somewhat of a cautionary tale here. As we watch what is taking place there on television and on the Internet, there is almost a sense of excitement and a muted euphoria that is inevitable following these very large demonstrations. For the majority of those if not young people then people who are motivated by a sense of hope for something better, there is this sense that there will be almost an automatic transition to a democratic form of government.
I want to put out some cautions to that and a couple of tests. As Canadians, we fully understand that we only have a limited ability, as do other countries, to directly intervene and that there are cautions related to that. There is even international law related to that. However, we can send encouragement. We can offer what we know about democracy and how to establish that. However, at this point, a warning should be among the assistance we send.
This moment we are watching is not like East Berlin and people getting on the freedom train riding to freedom, which we all knew was inevitable once the wall finally came down. This is not even similar to the Orange Revolution. At least in those two cases there was some form of movement toward a platform of understanding of democracy. Historically, Egypt has not had nor does it have such a platform.
The historic caution here is, if we think back to Iran in 1979, there was a great sense of euphoria once the Shah was out. I have heard similar comments here, “Get Mubarak out. Just get him out and everything is going to flow in a wonderful way”. That may not be the case. The Shah was out and a moderate came in, Mr. Bakhtiar. He was there for less than six weeks and the entire democratic hopes were taken over by the ayatollahs, and we know the rest of the history that flows from there.
As Iran has shown, it is a country where the polls show that the majority of the people want freedom and democracy. However, if there is an element in control that is vicious enough and willing to do anything to suppress people, then millions of people who want something better can in fact be intimidated and controlled.
I am concerned by comments I have heard, and not necessarily in the House, that the Muslim Brotherhood is renouncing violence and that the Muslim Brotherhood can be trusted. If there is a message that we can send along with our message of encouragement, it would be our observations and an understanding of history. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted. There are already stories coming out, intelligence reports, where it is somewhat involved in some of this movement. It has not renounced violence. It took that particular course though. It was renouncing violence some decades ago and what resulted after that when Anwar Sadat would not follow its way was his assassination.
We have seen flowing from the Muslim Brotherhood the movement that is known as the Islamic Resistance Movement a.k.a. Hamas. Hamas still has in its charter the destruction of Israel. There are Middle Eastern proverbs that say people can be judged by who their friends are at times. These types of friendships, whether we are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas, or a charter to destroy another country, are things of which I would encourage our friends to take great cautions toward.
The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna talked and wrote in a very intelligent and articulate way about the necessary use of terrorism when the time came. He talked about using politics and he talked about using propaganda.
President Nasser tried to work with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Al-Ikhwan as they were called, up until they tried to assassinate him. Then he used very repressive means, driving many of them into Saudi Arabia. When they fled to Saudi Arabia, we saw that joining of the Saudi-Wahhabi and the Muslim Brotherhood Salafi group, leading to the modern terrorist Islamist movement. I am not talking about Islam, I am talking about the modern terrorist Islamist movement today.
That is what is existential in Egypt now as we speak. From time to time the Muslim Brotherhood speaks against violence, as they did in 1998 with the embassy bombings. But in reading further in their denunciation, it was only because Muslims were killed not because others were killed.
As recently as 2008 their supreme guide, Mahdi Akif, praised bin Laden as a Moujahid. He called for jihad in Egypt. That was as recently as 2008. Their motto is still that “Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
This is the Muslim Brotherhood. I would encourage our Egyptian friends not to be fooled, not to be led down the path by some of the academic attainments of some members of that Brotherhood. Their goals have never changed.
It is something in the DNA of those of us in the west that we incline ourselves to appeasement before, at times, the most evil forces. That is regarded as a weakness. That part of our DNA is actually based on hope. We try to appease, hoping that rational minds will prevail. It is actually a virtue, I believe, of western civilization, that particular hope.
Hope without reason can lead to great catastrophe. I am concerned about that. There should be a couple of tests that I hope and encourage our Egyptian friends would put before those who would want to be involved. We have already heard that there has been what looks like progress.
Mr. Mubarak has said that there will be a new constitution, and there will be elections for a prime minister and a president. There is some hope there.
As we have heard other people say, trust but verify. I would encourage that if there is any Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a new government or a new constitution, they absolutely and completely renounce violence in all its forms, including their intended violence towards Israel. Would they be willing to do that?
In the area of freedom of religion and the expression thereof, and I am not just thinking of the Coptic Christians who are feeling greatly threatened at what might be the new governing power in Egypt, but those who are Christians themselves or of other religions. We know often that their fate in Egypt has been martyrdom and death.
The mark of a society that really embraces human freedom, is to embrace freedom of religion. From freedom of religion comes freedom of speech. We have heard about the importance of freedom of association. There will be freedom of association. There will even be freedom of the media.
These are some tests that I would encourage our Egyptian friends to put to those who want to implicate themselves into what we sincerely hope will be a true democratic movement and one that respects all human rights.
This is a momentous time. We do watch, but as we watch and see these things develop, let us not be fooled into thinking there is going to be an immediate transition to the type of democracy that has taken 150 to 200 years to develop in Canada, and which still, which we admit among ourselves, has its weaknesses even in the House.
We are willing to send what we have learned. We are willing to send our diplomats. We are willing to send our academic people. We are willing to send our parliamentarians to help and to assist. We will also send our prayers for those people at this time and we send hope. We encourage them to move carefully, to not rush into a place where they may have some deep regrets and to apply these tests to those who would want to be a part of what we hope will be a great new democratic movement in Egypt.
Mr. Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent—Essex, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, my colleague's excellent speech, maybe for the first time in the debate tonight, pointed out to members of the House the urgency and possible dangers. I am very thankful that he laid that out so clearly for us tonight.
I want to return to the topic of the consular response to the Egyptian crisis by our government. Our government and Canadians are gravely concerned with recent developments in Egypt. Although the desire for a political change is a positive one, security deteriorated sharply after the initial mass demonstrations. Shops and businesses have been closed for several days, leading to difficult conditions for Egyptian residents and visitors. We deeply regret the violence and loss of life that has taken place and we continue to call on all parties to use peaceful means to work toward a constructive solution while respecting freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
On Tuesday, February 1, President Mubarak announced his intention not to stand for the next election, but it remains to be seen whether the Egyptian people will accept his offer to lead the transition.
As the situation in Egypt remains unpredictable, the safety of Canadians is our number one priority. We have been quick to take action. On Sunday, January 30, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that the Government of Canada was offering chartered flights to Canadians wishing to leave Egypt. These flights take them to safer destinations, such as Frankfurt, Paris or other European cities. Canadian citizens will make their own onward travel plans. Standing by at these locations, Canadian consular representatives are present to provide further assistance.
The first of the Canadian evacuation flights arrived in Cairo less than 24 hours after our government offered to assist Canadians who wish to leave Egypt through voluntary evacuation. Five flights have now left from Egypt over the course of the last three days. The first flight carried 175 Canadians and the second carried 43. A third flight left Cairo yesterday with 131 Canadians on-board. A fourth flight left from Alexandria earlier today with 29 Canadians on-board and a fifth flight from Cairo that left recently carried 81 Canadians.
We also co-operated with other states doing what was right and included other nationals on our flights, including from the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia. In return, these countries are offering space to Canadians on their flights and some 21 of our citizens have been evacuated in this way.
We have been working closely with these like-minded countries, whose plans for evacuation for their citizens are similar to ours. In this way, we expand the opportunities to Canadians who wish to leave Egypt. This collaboration has been valuable and we are grateful to these partners.
At the moment, we, along with our like-minded partners, have been looking at options to evacuate Canadians from cities other than Cairo. The flight today from Alexandria carrying 29 Canadians serves as an example. The safety of Canadians is our priority and we are advising Canadians outside of Cairo to remain where they are rather than make their way to the capital where the protests may put them in danger.
The government is committed to ensuring that Canadians wishing to leave Egypt are able to do so with their families. As such, priority for the government-organized charters is being given to people holding a Canadian passport and their immediate family, defined as a spouse and/or children. Passengers are required to sign an undertaking with the Government of Canada agreeing to repay the costs related to evacuation in the amount of approximately $400.
In order to ensure that Canadians and their families are able to evacuate the country as quickly and easily as possible, staff from Citizenship and Immigration Canada are on hand at the Cairo airport to issue documents to spouses and dependent children of Canadian citizens being evacuated. Non-Canadian family members have been urged to bring all available civil and relationship documents to assist in this process. As I have said before, there has been an outstanding level of service and responsiveness to the situation in Egypt.
In order to deal with the large number of calls and emails we have received from Canadians on the ground in Egypt and their friends, families and loved ones here in Canada, the Minister of Foreign Affairs requested additional staff be placed at the emergency operations centre here in Ottawa and that additional staff be flown into Cairo to better assist Canadians.
The large increase in staff at our emergency operations centre has resulted in an increased capacity to answer and return calls from Canadians and their families as quickly as we can. Likewise on the ground in Cairo and in Frankfurt, we have bolstered our consular teams to assist evacuees.
Canadian missions around the world have stepped in to assist with calls and logistics. We have set up telephone numbers specifically for this crisis. We strongly encourage Canadians to call this number rather than the number of the Canadian embassy in Cairo. It is: 1-613-996-8885. A dedicated team of consular officers is waiting to help. Our government is proud of our professional consular team and of the services that the team provides to Canadians.
I reiterate that Canadians themselves are best placed to manage their own safety. We encourage all Canadians to be as informed and prepared as they can be before they travel and to be alert while they are travelling. I assure members that when Canadians require assistance abroad, they will receive it from this government.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, like all other Canadians I have been watching the events unfold in Egypt with great interest. Our government's main priority is the safety and well-being of our Canadian citizens. I am certainly proud of the speed and efficiency with which we have acted to ensure their security. Almost 350 people have been evacuated and, as my colleague has mentioned, more than 2,300 have received consular assistance and advice.
I think we would all agree this is a time of unprecedented change and great unpredictability in Egypt.
Today we learned that formerly peaceful protests have turned violent. Sadly, at least one person has been killed and as many as 600 have been injured, some very seriously. As well, a number of journalists and even Canadians have been attacked. We certainly deplore this brutality and we regret any loss of life and the injuries on both sides. We call on the Egyptian government and the protestors to refrain from escalating the situation.
Stability in Egypt is important to Canada and to the world. By virtue of its strategic location, Egypt has long been a bridge between the Middle East and Africa. Egypt plays an important regional role in Africa as a mediator of peace talks in Sudan and as a contributor of the largest contingent of peacekeeping forces to the United Nations African mission in Darfur, as well as the provider of humanitarian assistance, especially in Sudan and Somalia.
Egypt is one of the top five financial contributors to the African Union, which makes it a mainstay of the organization.
In addition to providing troop support for African Union missions, it ranks fifth in the world for United Nations police and troop contributions. It also is home to the Cairo Regional Center for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa. Egyptian and Canadian soldiers have served side by side in many missions, and officers from both countries regularly attend each other's staff colleges.
Two years ago, Egypt hosted the African Union summit, where a range of issues of importance to Africa were discussed.
Egypt also contributes to regional stability in Sudan. Egypt regards itself as the natural Arab and regional leader on Sudan and has supported efforts to resolve the conflict in Darfur. For Egypt, Sudan represents a key transit country for almost 95% of its water and most of its illegal migrants. Egypt is concerned about the access to those Nile waters which flow through southern Sudan. Therefore, Egypt, like Canada, has a strong interest in maintaining the stability of the area.
Egypt supported the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan and undertook development projects in the south. Though it did prefer a unified Sudan, Egypt said early on during the voting that it would respect the results of the January referendum on independence. This was an important and positive gesture.
Egypt has invested in building electrical power stations, medical clinics and a university in south Sudan. Egypt is also a major contributor to the two peacekeeping missions in Sudan, with over 2,000 personnel deployed.
Egypt has been a crossroads for trade and culture in the Arab world. Its institutions and its intellectual legacy have left deep imprints and influence in the region's social and cultural development. In the modern era, Egypt has been a bridge builder between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as well, while also taking an active role in building the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Egyptian officials have continued to work hard in promoting unity and building stronger political and economic relations with the Arab Union countries.
Egypt exercises a leadership role in the Islamic world. It is the current chair of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and home to the headquarters of the Arab League. It is also an important member of the African Union. It continues to play a leadership role in giving voice and influence to much of the third world through the Non-Aligned Movement. It is the current chair of that movement.
Egypt has a long and proud history of engagement in international peace and security matters. It is important that Canada and the world encourage all parties in Egypt to work together to usher in reforms that will enable Egypt to continue to make a positive contribution to regional stability.
Egypt has been an important political and cultural component of the international community. Its ancient civilizations contributed magnificently to what is now our common heritage. It is the repository of many of humanity's common treasures. Its history and culture continue to inspire, amaze and instill in all of us wonder and amazement. Egypt's history, culture, education and religious characteristics have had a profound impact on not just the region, but the entire world.
Canada is home to a significant important population of Egyptian Canadians who make major contributions to our society and its advancement every day. As a nation, we are culturally richer as a result of the dedication and commitment of Egyptians to Canada and to Egypt. We wish to see the continuation of stronger ties between our two nations.
In the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, Canada “reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future”. We certainly want to continue to support all the work and efforts of those who stand for peace and reform in Egypt, since accommodating the aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the Egyptian people will no doubt enrich us all.
I would like to offer a cautionary tale. I have been watching with great interest, and as the President of the Treasury Board mentioned earlier, political reform needs to happen. The challenge is how that is going to happen and what it is going to look like. As the critic for the Liberal Party mentioned, part of the process is the things we need to work on and the things we need to be interested in. Just because a dictator is overthrown does not naturally mean it will lead to a democracy.
As we have mentioned, Egypt plays a very important role in the region with some of the peace agreements that it is involved in. We need to be there in the days to come, if Egypt asks for our help, to be part of the process in trying to put political reforms in place, in trying to develop a system that has not been there for many years.
Merely having an election probably will not do the trick. There are institutions that Egypt has not had over the years with a dictatorship and it is important to understand that it will take time for these new institutions to be put in place. I would encourage the world to find ways to help the Egyptian people with their reforms and with their democratic processes. We must understand that helping them get involved in elections again is not necessarily going to change things. We need to help them with their governance and it may take some time for that to happen.
We also want to make sure the Egyptian people will still be involved in the area in a leadership capacity as they have been, working on not only being involved with peace treaties but some of the other things they have been involved with.
We are ready to step in when necessary and we must realize that this process will probably take some time.
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, over the past week, I, like my fellow Canadians, have been watching the events in Egypt. I have been deeply saddened by the loss of life that has occurred during these demonstrations. We strongly condemn all violence that has turned a peaceful protest into a flurry of violence in the streets. This must stop. All parties must embrace non-violence.
Earlier this evening, I was on the telephone with a friend who had recently returned from Egypt. He spoke in such warm terms of his experience there, of the warmth, hospitality and friendship of the Egyptian people, the strong commitment to family, as well as the very difficult times that these people are enduring, not just in terms of the current unrest, but the difficult economic times that they are facing. He went on to say that a large percentage of the GNP of Egypt is derived from the tourism industry. Obviously, with the events that we are seeing unfold, this will certainly have a very negative impact on that industry and will be a devastating loss for Egypt. It will take many months, if not years, to recover that kind of loss.
As members of this House will know, our government's foremost priority is the safety of Canadians. In fact, earlier this evening the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) gave some very good advice that bears repeating and that Canadians need to be aware of before and when they travel so that we can minimize any potential negative impact on them.
The Department of Foreign Affairs receives two requests for assistance every minute of every day at one of the many points of service. In 2010, over 1.1 million Canadians abroad received some form of assistance. Over the last five years, demand for consular services has increased by 32%. The growing demand for consular services was recognized by this government in budget 2008. We provided better funding to cope with the demand and enable us to reach out to more Canadians to ensure that they were well-prepared before they left Canada.
These funds have contributed to a strengthened consular function at headquarters to support officers in the field, the construction of a new emergency watch and response centre, as well as the recent appointment of our minister of state responsible for consular services. This shows the government's commitment to expanding this service that is so crucial.
Consular services takes many forms but they essentially belong to two main categories: first, obviously prevention and education and; second, assistance. The Department of Foreign Affairs strives to prepare Canadians for international travel by providing information and advice on safe travel to foreign countries and to help Canadians abroad to handle consular difficulties or emergencies.
The Government of Canada's advice and information on travel abroad can be found at travel.gc.ca. This website receives more than 12,000 visits a day and should be the first step for all Canadians planning a trip abroad. It offers travel reports for over 200 countries, gives an overview of the security situation of the country, any official travel warnings advising against travel to a country or regions of a country, contact information for the nearest Canadian mission and much more.
It is through this website that Canadians can also register with Canadian missions using the Registration of Canadians Abroad system. Registering gives the Government of Canada the means to contact Canadians during an emergency. The Department of Foreign Affairs also provides public communication and outreach products to educate Canadians on how to travel safely and responsibly.
Our government has rapidly responded to this volatile situation in Egypt. To date, our government has helped over 375 Canadians leave Egypt. Within 24 hours of recommending a voluntary evacuation, the first planeload of Canadians safely landed in Europe. We will continue to facilitate this until every Canadian who wants to leave Egypt may leave. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was reassured by his colleague, the foreign minister of Egypt, Ahmed Gheit, that they will enable us to do so.
At this time, we have deployed over five charter planes to evacuate Canadians who wish to leave Egypt. We will continue to do that. In addition, we have worked closely with our friends and allies to co-operate and share in each other's efforts. We continue to work with our allies to ensure that our nationals leave the country.
While the situation on the ground does pose logistical difficulties, our government is acting quickly to ensure that sufficient resources are in place to assist Canadians. The foreign affairs minister has deployed additional staff in both Cairo and Frankfurt to support the efforts of those staff who are already on the ground.
As well, our government understands the plight of the friends and families of Canadians who are currently in Egypt. We understand their concerns and their desire to have access to the latest information and advice. We have added capacity to our 24-hour emergency operations centre to take more calls from Canadians who are looking to access help.
The emergency operation centre has fielded over 14,000 calls. In addition, it has placed a large number of outbound calls to those who have registered on the registry of Canadians abroad. We continue to monitor the volume and will reallocate the proper resources to ensure that we meet the demands. Again, I want to stress that we cannot urge strongly enough that Canadians should register with our embassy whenever they travel abroad and, especially at this time, register with our embassy in Cairo.
Canadian missions around the world have stepped in to assist with calls and logistics. We have set up additional telephone numbers. A dedicated team of consular officers is always waiting to help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Canadians themselves are best placed to manage their own safety when they find themselves in trouble but we are there to help. We encourage all Canadians to be as informed and prepared as possible before they travel and to be alert while they are travelling. I can assure the House that when Canadians require assistance abroad they will receive it from this government.
I would like to take a moment at the conclusion of my time to report how pleased I was as a member of Parliament during the Haiti crisis to have regular contact by way of my staff and consular officials, to see the diligence, the hard work and dedication that these staff members had to their jobs and the personal care that they provided to Canadians who were in Haiti and needed assistance. Members may recall that the very first Canadian victim of the Haiti earthquake to be identified was a Canadian from my area, so I was deeply immersed in the tragedy at that time.
I want to take this time to acknowledge the great work that our consular officials give in the service of Canadians who have travelled abroad or may be working abroad.
Mrs. Bonnie Crombie (Mississauga—Streetsville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my voice to this emergency debate on the crisis that is occurring in Egypt.
I too condemn the violence that has occurred and extend my condolences to the families of the victims and pray for peace and stability. I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
This is a time of opportunity, not just for one country but also for an entire region, a time of opportunity that is unprecedented. It is also a time of great risk and great uncertainty. All sides must share in the priorities of peace, and Egypt must continue its leadership role in the peace process in the Middle East.
Following President Mubarak's announcement that he will not seek re-election, Canada reiterated its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to a new leadership and a promising future.
As Egypt moves towards new leadership and a new regime, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy the rights and freedoms we enjoy here in Canada, and not a transition that leads to violence, instability or extremism.
Canada must strongly support an open transition to democratic values and governance in Egypt. The Egyptian government must respond now to the people's demands. There needs to be freedom of expression and assembly, free and fair elections, and freedom from persecution for religious minorities. This is not just about economic and social change. There must be a fundamental change in the manner of governance, proper elections and other steps towards democratic values and respect for human rights.
Canada must also strongly support the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully, and we call on the Egyptian government to reverse the steps it has taken to crack down on such expression, including restoring social media and cellphone service.
We respect the Egyptian leadership's longstanding support of the Middle East peace process, its support in fighting terrorism and its opposition to the Iranian threat. But we will not support or abide the use of force against legitimate dissent and the use of extrajudicial means against the people.
We are encouraged by the army's pledge not to use force against the people.
At this time, not all details are clear, but there are concerns that the government is involved in fomenting the clashes. If this is true, it must stop, and they must start helping to control the violence.
Egyptians themselves will determine the outcome of these historic events. However, we are concerned, as all parties, governments and actors should be, about the possibility that a change in government could bring forth a government that is, in whole or part, averse to peace in the region or that would want to abrogate the longstanding and historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Egypt has been the linchpin of Middle East peace, and all governments and parties should make the maintenance of peace a top priority for the wellbeing of all of the region's citizens.
I would like to discuss the rights and freedoms of members of my community, rights that have been abrogated in Egypt, and how we as Canadians must be vigilant in standing up for the rights of minorities. I am blessed to have one of the largest, the third largest in fact, Egyptian communities in Canada residing in my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville. These Egyptians are primarily Coptic Christians, who are the largest religious minority in Egypt. The Copts are the native Egyptians Christians, a major ethno-religious group in Egypt.
Christianity was the majority religion in Roman Egypt during the 4th to 6th centuries and, until the Muslim conquest, has remained the faith of a significant minority of the population until the present day. Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10% of the Egyptian population. Some officials estimate that these Christians represent 5% to 10% of a population of over 83 million Egyptians.
Members of the Canadian diaspora conclude that there are 250,000 to 400,000 Coptic Christians here in Canada.
Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
I have had the pleasure of attending mass at the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius, and have been blessed by His Holiness Pope Shenouda, one of the most profound experiences of my life.
As a religious minority, the Copts are subject to significant discrimination in modern Egypt and are the target of attacks by militant Islamic extremist groups.
Many in the Coptic Christian community have expressed frustration, anger, shock and horror at the ongoing religious persecution that has targeted Coptic Christians and been escalating. The Coptic community has been targeted with hate crimes and physical assaults. Members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern about the human trafficking of Coptic women and girls, who are the victims of abductions, forced conversions to Islam, sexual exploitation and forced marriages to Muslim men.
Last Christmas eve we witnessed a massacre at Nag Hammadi, where seven were killed and many more injured. Just a few weeks ago, on Christmas eve in Alexandria, 21 Copts were killed and 79 injured. With this growing religious intolerance and open sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years, we are concerned for the Coptic Christians and about the failure of the Egyptian government to effectively investigate and properly prosecute those responsible.
The freedom to practice religion and the protection of minorities are significant rights in a democratic society. These are values that we hold near and dear in Canada. Yet these rights have not been extended to Coptic Christians.
The Coptic community recently issued a statement that it preferred the rule of President Mubarak to that of an unknown alternative. Their fear is that the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of Muslim fundamentalists, could or would fill the leadership void that would exist. That would represent a very concerning and much less stable option. It is important, as Hillary Clinton stated, that there be an orderly transition to a more politically open Egypt.
President Obama stated that Egypt's $1.5 billion aid package would be reviewed if peaceful protesters were dealt with harshly, and he urged President Mubarak to take the concrete steps to enact the political and economic reforms that are needed. To date, President Mubarak has promised not to run in the next election scheduled for this September.
As Canadians, our priorities must be clear. First, we must ensure the security of our citizens on the ground in Egypt, as they continue to face a dangerous and unstable situation. The government must offer increased consular services to come to their aid and evacuate those who wish to return home to Canada. The safety and security of all Egyptians must also be a foremost priority.
This is an important moment for the people of Egypt. It is a time of crisis and concern, but it is also a time of hope and opportunity. We pray for a return to peace, stability, and security and to an open transition to democracy and reform.
Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to address this issue from the perspective of being the co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. As such I have had the opportunity over the past few years of learning about Africa, and certainly the country we are talking about tonight and its situation, Egypt, and the role it plays in northern and eastern Africa and the role it played in supporting the pan-African Parliament, in supporting NEPAD, and so forth.
This essentially is what is going on in Egypt and other countries in Africa, whether it is Tunisia, Algeria or even Côte d'Ivoire. It is essentially about democracy, about the will of the people. What is driving some of these changes we are witnessing through the media reports is in part food costs, as we have seen in Algeria and Tunisia, and also the realization by millions of people that their standard of living is not what it could be, and the intolerable inequities they have been subject to, whether between African countries and European countries or African countries and North American countries, and also within countries because, within Egypt, we have heard tonight there are certainly different standards of living that people can afford. The majority of the people in that country are unfortunately living, as we have heard, on a couple of dollars a day.
We have seen this happening now, and as I say, it has been reported by the traditional media, by television, newsprint and radio, but has also been driven in great part by social media. That in turn has been driven by the will of the people to know and be informed, to know what is going on and to have an effect and an impact on their environment so their living conditions can be improved. And then again, I boil it down to what democracy is all about.
Our Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association had the occasion to visit Egypt, Cairo in particular, in March 2007. Even then we could almost sense an end of the regime, because the president, who is still president today, was ill at the time. There was a question of whether or not he would run again. They had just had elections the preceding November, when 88 members of the Muslim brotherhood had been elected. Some thought that number could have been greater and there was a lot of questioning about the method of elections. International observers were not allowed. As we know, in the elections just last fall, those 88 were reduced to a handful, and again there were a number of question asked about the way in which the elections were conducted. We are seeing a number of factors come into play, and all of this, of course, is being driven by other events in neighbouring countries.
I also want to relate a discussion we had at the time with a Mr. Hisham Kassem, who had been a participant in the Cairo Times for seven years, and founder of the first truly independent daily in Egypt. Our delegation had an hour of discussion with him, which we could not fully relate for fear of putting him in a bit of a bind. However, it was a truly eye-opening discussion in terms of the evolution of democracy in that country, how the regime was functioning, how they were allowing him essentially to be able to report independently, and that opened our eyes greatly to the situation. In that sense I am not very surprised that some of the events we are seeing are happening.
I want to take us a few days back, though, to events that happened elsewhere that I believe had an influence.
Naturally I am talking about the events in Tunisia. In just a few days, we saw the end of Ben Ali's regime, which had lasted for 27 years. The people, who are probably a little better off than the people of Egypt, wanted change. The people took charge and succeeded in ousting Ben Ali and are now making sure there is a new regime. Let us hope this will occur respectfully and peacefully and that it results in a regime that will satisfy the majority of the people.
Let us not forget the events in Algeria. There were riots there too because of the price of food. As a result, the government had to act quickly and reduce the price. We can see the sensitivity that exists throughout northern Africa.
I would also like to mention another country: Côte d'Ivoire. Our association has just returned from visiting the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes Côte d'Ivoire, a country we did not visit. In November, elections were held in Côte d'Ivoire and Mr. Ouattara was declared the victor by all the observers: from the European Union Election Observation Mission, to the United Nations and the African Union of West Africa itself. Everyone agreed that Mr. Ouattara had indeed been elected and that Mr. Gbagbo had to leave his post. However, Mr. Gbagbo is hanging on to power. During our visit to Nigeria, Ghana and Togo, roughly 10 days ago, it was headline news even though other things were going on in Tunisia, as I was saying.
I am very proud of the fact that 13 of the 15 member countries of ECOWAS held a meeting and unanimously supported the need to respect the election results, whereby Mr. Ouattara is to be named president and will take control. They went so far as to say that, as a last resort, force would be used to ensure that the election results were respected. This is very important because there will be 17 elections in Africa this year. If democracy were to experience a serious setback in Côte d'Ivoire because Mr. Ouattara was not sworn in as president, democracy in other African countries would also suffer.
In light of all this, I believe that the situation in Africa is very interesting nonetheless. Democracy is beginning to take root there and looking to flourish. As parliamentarians, as Canadians, as members of the broader international family, we have a role to play. First, we will have to seriously consider accepting the results of free and fair elections. When free and fair elections are held, even if the results are not what we would like them to be, we must learn to accept the outcome because that is democracy. There have been other instances when we have hesitated to accept the results, or even when we have not accepted them, and that is putting us in a rather delicate situation at present.
We must also learn to support these countries by speaking out, by having an active presence, in peacekeeping or international development—and certainly in election assistance or election monitoring. Canada is an expert in this area. Elections Canada is an organization with a very good reputation, and is highly respected and highly regarded by other nations. If we are asked to help, I hope we will be ready to answer the call.
If we were to do so, if we were to take part in the shift to democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire and any other country that wants to move in that direction, if their populations clearly, fairly and freely express their desire to do so, everyone would benefit. The large international family of free and democratic countries would be better off, and so would the human race overall.
That is the message I wanted to convey this evening. Like my hon. colleagues, I hope that everyone in our respective ridings who is of Egyptian origin can rest assured that their loved ones who are still in Egypt are safe and are being well treated. It goes without saying that we must do everything we can to help them.
I thank the Speaker for giving parliamentarians the opportunity to share their thoughts and wishes here this evening.
Hon. Jason Kenney (Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join with our colleagues in debating this matter of great importance. It is good to see my friend from Toronto Centre who gave the first speech in this debate. I appreciate his ongoing presence here.
A number of my colleagues have already addressed the unfolding crisis and opportunity that we see in Egypt. I had an opportunity to pay an official visit to Egypt in May 2009 at which time I met with senior ministers in the Mubarak government and leaders of civil society and faith leaders, including the late Sheikh Tantawi, the most important Sunni religious leader in Egypt, as well as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III while I was there on a broader trip of the Middle East.
I will say, in my capacity as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, that Canada continues to have an important immigration program from Egypt. Egyptian nationals have immigrated to Canada for, I suspect, well over a century and we count ourselves fortunate to have more than 100,000 Canadians of Egyptian origin, reflecting the diversity of that country.
I know that all of those Canadians of Egyptian origin are watching this evening's debate here in Canada and, more particularly, the developments in their country of origin, with great concern, some with great optimism and some with a fairly high degree of anxiety.
We would like to assure those Canadians, in fact, all Canadians, that all relevant departments in the Government of Canada are taking every necessary step to provide appropriate services to Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents who find themselves in Egypt. My colleagues from the Department of Foreign Affairs have already discussed our efforts to facilitate extraction from Egypt of those Canadians seeking to leave the country during this period of relative instability.
My ministry has played an important role in those ongoing extraction efforts and consular affairs because it is important for us to determine that the people seeking to come back to Canada, either through our facilitation or otherwise, are in fact Canadian citizens or permanent residents. For that reason, we have relocated a number of staff from neighbouring countries in the Middle East from other Citizenship and Immigration Canada bureaus to Cairo.
At the same time, because of the instability in Cairo itself, particularly right in the centre in the government sector in which is situated the Canadian Chancery, where I am sure my friend from Toronto Centre was during his recent visit, we have had to suspend a number of our operations at the Canadian Chancery since January 27 to minimize the risk posed to our locally engaged staff. About 80% of those working at the CIC bureau are locally engaged staff, all of whom I met with 18 months ago. They are very loyal servants of Canada. We wish them well. However, for the short-term we do not anticipate to be able to provide the same level of normal service for visas or permanent residency applications there.
When the situation stabilizes and allows us to go back to work, we will certainly do everything we can to respond to urgent requests from people who are emerging from the current situation.
We all hope that the relative instability does not descend into further violence or conflict. We all hope that the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people, which reflect the universal longing for self-government, for respect for human dignity and for freedom of conscience and religion, are the ultimate outcomes in a stable Egyptian government that reflects fundamental human values.
I would like to emphasize the importance and my particular anxiety about the situation of minority communities in Egypt.
We know that Egypt is not a homogenous country. It is a diverse country with religious and ethnic traditions that that go back centuries, at least. For example, Egypt's Christian community goes back to the beginning of the first century.
Recently, terrorist attacks and crime have been directed at the Coptic Orthodox community in particular. And this has been motivated and inspired by a certain type of extremism, so-called Salafist extremism, or by a form of Islamism known as Wahhabism.
That is worrying because in an unstable and unsafe situation, we want to be sure that the rights and safety of vulnerable people, particularly those from vulnerable minorities, are protected.
I would really like to emphasize our hope, and I am sure it is shared by the vast majority of Egyptians, that those vulnerable minority communities are not subjected to violence, harassment, persecution because, let us be honest. Certain minority communities in Egypt, including the Coptic Christian Orthodox community, have faced pressure. They have faced a double standard. Some people have faced in their day-to-day lives a certain degree of unjust discrimination from civil society and, I would argue, certain policies that could be characterized as persecution from organs of the state. In particular, I refer to the unwillingness of the regime to grant permits to build churches, or even repair churches. These constraints on religious freedom often lead to conflict points.
Behind all of that, we have the presence of a small but potentially deadly movement of Salafist Islamists who hate those who they condemn because of their religious convictions and, as we saw tragically on New Year's Eve in Alexandria, who even seek their death, where 23, I believe, innocent civilians were murdered by a terrorist suicide bomber. Similarly, a year before that, on Coptic Christmas Eve, some six innocent civilians were killed at Nag Hammadi. These incidents were preceded 10 years ago by the terrible massacre at El Kosheh.
One of the things that concerns me is that in none of these incidents have there been any successful convictions of the perpetrators. This causes vulnerable communities to believe that the justice system is not entirely just in that country in dealing with extremists, perhaps because some of those extremists have a certain degree of political support more broadly. I would characterize the incarnation of that political support as being the Muslim Brotherhood.
I know that we see in the media coverage and in some of the debates in western liberal democracies a great deal of enthusiasm and almost euphoria about the democratic spirit we see being exhibited on the streets of Egypt. To some extent I share that. We all hope that will be channelled in very positive directions, but we must not be naive. We must not forget that there are people, including some associated with the political organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of whose founders, Ayman Al-Zawahri, is the number two in command to Sheikh Osama bin Laden, the leader of the international al-Qaeda network. This is a very serious issue. It is serious for our own security. It is serious for the regional security in the Middle East. It is particularly serious for religious minorities who in the eyes of these Salifist Islamist extremists are kafirs, infidels, who do not enjoy the sanctity of human life. Rather, they are seen as people who can legitimately be targeted for violence and for, in fact, murder.
I raise this as a cautionary note. I think this is why we have heard the Prime Minister say it is our government's hope that while the situation will develop toward a democratic form of government that fully reflects the aspirations of the Egyptian people, that it will do so while protecting the rights of these minority communities. Let us be clear. Maybe this is so obvious we do not need to state it, but it should be stated. Democracy is not simply a system of majority rule. A tyranny of the majority over vulnerable minorities is not a democracy at all. Rather, democracy is a system of government predicated on the inviolable dignity of the human person. It is from that dignity that we derive our right to govern ourselves through democratic processes.
The moment that a majority denies fundamental rights such as the freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or of course the first right, the right to life, as has happened to religious minorities in Egypt, then one could say that it ceases to be democratic or has a certainly impaired democratic character.
Let us be careful. Let us be careful to ensure that we use the good offices of Canada, the democratic west more generally, to work with whatever institutions of civil society may exist in Egypt and with legitimate opposition parties in that country to create a reformed constitutional order of a democratic character which will not tolerate the violation of the rights of religious minorities in general and, I would argue the most vulnerable of them in Egypt in particular, the Coptic Orthodox community.
I have met with Pope Shenouda both here in Canada and in Cairo. I have discussed these matters with him and with other leaders, both lay and clerical, of his community. Understandably, they feel great anxiety and great pressure because of the situation they see in certain aspects of the current developments in Egypt, such as the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood. Let there be no doubt, we have the claim by the Muslim Brotherhood that it has renounced violence and is a mainstream organization willing to participate in democratic life. On the other hand, that does not reflect the historical, ideological or theological roots of that movement. There can be no denying the fact that there is a connection between the fundamental ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and, at the extreme edge, those who are inspired by those ideas sometimes to commit acts of violence. We continue to be very concerned about that.
Of course it is not for Canada or Canadians to dictate the choices the Egyptian people make as they, we hope, practice their right to self-government. However, we do have a role to play, and we have played a role. There have been many ongoing projects that Canada has supported in Egypt to build stable institutions of civil society.
For example, when I was in Egypt, I announced on behalf of the Minister of International Cooperation certain projects to support young and women entrepreneurs to develop external trade markets for their goods. That is one of dozens of examples.
Similarly, we have sought to promote respectful dialogue within institutions of civil society, between the Muslim and Christian communities and different factions of both of those communities. As well, we have consistently called upon the Egyptian government to respect and protect the rights of vulnerable minorities, including religious communities. We will continue to do so regardless of who the president of Egypt is. We will continue as a government to prioritize this issue of protection of the rights of vulnerable minorities not only in Egypt but in the broader region.
Let us face it, those who set off the bomb in Alexandria at All Saints Church on New Year's Eve 2010, those who shot innocent civilians coming out of a church in Nag Hammadi on Christmas Eve 2010, those who targeted civilians at El Kosheh and those who commit similar acts on an individual basis in Egypt share a similar hateful, extreme, dangerous, violent and destabilizing ideology as in other countries in that region. This of course is one of the most significant challenges that we face in the world today. How can we as a country more effectively intervene as a voice for the voiceless, for the vulnerable?
Next week, for example, I will be welcoming to Ottawa Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister of minority communities for the government of Pakistan, who is the first Christian in the Pakistani government.
He has seen members of vulnerable communities in his country attacked, murdered, tortured, persecuted, be they Ahmadiyya Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Catholics or Protestants. They were attacked by people who shared the same hateful ideology of those who have committed similar acts in Egypt.
It concerns me that some of those people are prowling the streets of Cairo and Alexandria as we speak. It is our hope that the emerging democratic forces will, as a very first order of business, exclude from participation in a government those would tolerate or excuse those attitudes.
More generally, I would say that with the broader strategic situation in the region, it is certainly my hope that a future Egyptian government would realize that it has a profound interest in maintaining a peaceful coexistence with the democratic Jewish state of Israel. It is not in the interests of the Egyptian people, regardless of who governs them, to return to the state of war, of uncertainty, instability and violence that plagued Egypt's relationship with Israel from 1949 until 1976.
I am concerned that the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in a prospective future Egyptian government would be a destabilizing influence. There can be no doubt that organization shares certain ideas and connections with such organizations as the Party of God, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which now is, sadly, a key part of the government of that country, and the organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt.
With the apparent increasing influence of Hezbollah with the rejectionism and extremism of Hamas, with the continued instability of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is certainly our hope that the Egyptian people will choose wisely in the coming days and months, will choose to embrace the dignity of a great and ancient civilization and reject those who would drag that country into a downward spiral of violence and extremism.
I certainly join with all of my colleagues in hoping for the best possible outcome and commit myself to play whatever role I can in this Parliament and government to offer Canada's assistance in that direction.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, the minister's intervention, as always, is a thoughtful and lively one that expresses so very clearly a profound point of view, which I think in most respects is very widely shared in the House and in the country.
My question will be remarkably parallel to some of the ones I have asked other members of the government.
I find it interesting that the government has identified a clear priority for Canadian foreign policy, the Prime Minister stating very clearly that the promotion of democracy and human rights is a clear priority for Canada, all over the world and in particular now in the Middle East. This comment was repeated by the President of the Treasury Board and by the chairman of the foreign affairs committee.
I plead with the minister, and I know a little about this, when we look at where there are significant gaps in how we actually invest through DFAIT and through CIDA, what will be found is that the great gap now is in this area of governance and in this area of democracy promotion.
I will give the minister one very practical example. In my previous life I was involved in a series of initiatives in Iraq, where the Forum of Federations was working with the national assembly of Iraq and dealing with the question of its constitution, dealing with federalism, but, generally speaking, dealing with how to create a better system of governance in Iraq.
Funding for any project involving governance in Iraq was cut off. It was not cut off for ideological reasons, for whatever. I am not alleging any political interference. It was cut off because there had been a bureaucratic decision that governance was no longer a priority. CIDA no longer did governance.
My colleague from London can share the same experience with respect to Sudan. When we go to Sudan, the people who are on the ground in southern Sudan are begging for assistance on governance. It is a real challenge. We see this again. We are going to be talking to people in Pakistan. The people in Pakistan are looking for assistance in governance, which looks at federal structures, pluralism, diversity. The government is gladly supporting the Aga Khan Foundation in the establishment of the Centre for Pluralism, which is a great thing.
However, I would ask the minister, in quite a non-partisan spirit, with his colleagues, to have another look at this question of how we do the interventions on democracy. I appreciate his comments today. They were Burkian, thoughtful and engaging as always. In listening to the comments of the President of the Treasury Board, while I did not agree with all of the conclusions he reached, when he said that we needed to match our passion for freedom with our sense of historical experience, I spent several years writing a book on that very subject so I agree entirely with that spirit.
I really reach across the House and say for the minister that I would desperately like us to be able to get a point where we could in fact make a common move on the question of democratic governance.