Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for the important work that we are about to undertake.
I want to begin by reiterating on behalf of the Government of Canada our grave concern for the victims of violence on all sides of this conflict in Israel and Lebanon.
Canadians have been profoundly affected by the crisis in the Middle East. For many, that experience has been deeply personal and deeply painful. Individuals and whole communities have anxiously awaited the safe return of their loved ones, and sadly, among the war dead are 10 Canadians: UN observer Major Hess-von Kruedener; a Canadian killed in military service, Lieutenant Tom Farkash; and what I would consider to be the height of the harm of innocents, the eight family members from Montreal, the El-Akhras family, who were killed in this conflict.
Families have grieved the loss of life, and all have lamented the tremendous suffering of innocent Lebanese and Israeli civilians caught in this crossfire. I want to extend again, on behalf of the government, sincere condolences to the families of the victims, both from Canada and from abroad. Our thoughts are with them, and words cannot begin to convey the pain and the suffering that they have experienced at this troubled time.
The loss of a loved one at any time is difficult. In these circumstances, it is beyond the comprehension of most of us, having never experienced a conflict of this nature.
I'm grateful as well for the active interest and attention by my parliamentary colleagues on this issue. I thank you for taking the time away from your families and summers to be here with me in Ottawa, where I have been for the balance of the summer, to discuss this most important issue that has captured world attention.
My appearance before this committee affords an invaluable opportunity to detail the government's extensive efforts to, firstly, protect Canadians, respond to humanitarian needs in Lebanon, promote sustainable peace in the Middle East, and finally, articulate the way forward from our perspective.
The safety and security of Canadians is of the utmost concern to the government. Put simply, there is no higher priority or obligation upon a nation. The safe return of Canadian citizens was the pure motivation and goal that we undertook from the beginning of this crisis. For this reason, extensive efforts were undertaken to meet the urgent needs of all Canadians seeking to flee the deteriorating security situation and return to Canada.
I am very proud of the work undertaken by officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and numerous other departments, including CIDA, DND, Citizenship and Immigration, Public Safety, and the Canada Border Services Agency. We continue, to date, to do everything we can to assure the safety and security of Canadian citizens and contribute in a positive way to the crisis in the Middle East. We continue to do so efficiently and safely, and the conduct that we have seen throughout this evacuation has been nothing short of extraordinary on the part of Canadian public servants.
I applaud the heroic efforts and the extraordinary exploits of the dedicated members of the public service who made this evacuation happen. I witnessed first-hand the best example a minister could possibly experience of public servants putting the service to Canadians at the highest level. My appreciation and admiration for them could not be overstated.
I have been involved in this file from the beginning, and I've spoken directly to officials throughout. I've engaged with my counterparts in Lebanon and Israel, colleagues from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and others--a host of nations that have been involved. I've attended briefings with the task force that was set up in the operations centre in the early days of this conflict, spoken with our ambassadors and officials in country and out of country, and intervened on a number of personal cases and heard directly from some of the victims as to the impact that it was having on their lives. I've met as well with members of the Arab, Lebanese, and Israeli communities here in Canada and heard their stories.
The Prime Minister was similarly engaged and personally involved, in one instance, in the evacuation of citizens from Cyprus.
Suffice it to say, there were many Canadians in need of help, and our government, given the enormous challenge of the distance, the number of citizens, and the assets in the region--which I will discuss further--responded quickly, effectively, and with compassion and diligence. As you are already aware, this involved putting in place the requisite mechanisms and capabilities to accommodate an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Canadians in Lebanon.
This evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon is by far the largest effort ever attempted in our country's history: 13,052 Canadians were evacuated. All but a very few are currently back on Canadian soil. This was the second largest evacuation by any country--the first being the United States, where only half of U.S. citizens have currently returned. The third largest was France, with approximately 8,000; Australia with approximately 5,000; and the United Kingdom, 2,300.
To put this into context, 500 Canadians were evacuated from Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, 200 were evacuated from Côte d'Ivoire when the crisis erupted in West Africa in 2005, and even fewer were evacuated from the Cayman Islands and Haiti in 2004. This evacuation of over 13,000 Canadians to date from Lebanon represents an initiative several times larger in scale and scope than all of those prior four operations combined. No other country, except for the United States, has taken more citizens out of harm's way and returned them to safety, without casualty or injury, I might add. The United States took out 1,000 more and had aircraft carriers at their disposal. Countries like Brazil and Sri Lanka, with populations of foreign nationals in the country similar to ours, have evacuated far fewer.
A series of interrelated factors compounded the considerable challenges that this huge operation presented. They include as follows: the rapid deterioration into a rolling and continuous war zone; the Israeli sea blockade, which created a 12-hour window to move ships in and out of Beirut harbour; basic road, bridge, and airport infrastructure damage, which included the Beirut international airport and for all intents and purposes prevented air evacuation without helicopters, of which we had none in the region; the deterioration of communications networks in Lebanon, as many phone lines and radio towers were taken out in the early days; serious capacity shortages in Lebanon's port infrastructure--in other words, only so many boats could dock, and we were sharing limited space with numerous other countries; high international demand for the limited commercial maritime capabilities available for immediate use in the Mediterranean Sea led to a bidding competition with many other countries; the distance between Canada and Lebanon itself being half a world away; and the relatively small size of our embassy in Beirut, which had a complement of 32 staff--nine Canadian-based and 23 locally engaged--which eventually grew to 48, in contrast with the largest resident Canadian community, an estimated 50,000 people, one of the largest of any western country, in Lebanon.
It also involved, as you know, the fluid situation that required the redeployment of DFAIT and other Canadian government personnel within the region. That is to say, we took a number of individuals from other embassies and consulates in the area but had a real logistical challenge to get them in. As I mentioned, we were reliant upon other countries--for example, Cyprus and Turkey--to transport them into Beirut.
There was no Canadian embassy in Cyprus, but an honorary consul; while Mersin and Adana, the two ports that were utilized, were halfway across the country of Turkey, where our embassy is located in Ankara, again requiring challenges necessary to draw down on Foreign Affairs personnel in the region to bring them to those two locations.
Moreover, at that same time as Canadian officials were exerting maximum effort to coordinate a massive operation, the security environment was rapidly evolving. Parts of Beirut, southern Lebanon and northern Israel were becoming veritable war zones. The crisis was deepening rapidly in an unpredictable fashion.
In this context, Canadian officials in Lebanon, Israel, across the Middle East and in Ottawa were mobilized to respond as efficiently and effectively as possible.
No one, not even the Lebanese government, foresaw the events and the violence erupting so quickly or taking such great consequences for civilians as we saw in the last three weeks. The chronology of events that follows serves as a useful outline for the actions undertaken and the issues, logistic and otherwise, involved in Canada's evacuation.
For several years, Hezbollah has been launching rockets into Israel. They stepped up that violence intentionally, and with the purpose of provoking Israel. On July 12 Hezbollah, a listed terrorist organization, attacked Israel, killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two others after crossing a UN-established border in the south of Lebanon. They provoked a country that had seen similar attacks from Hamas just weeks earlier. Israel responded to the provocation by launching air, ground, and naval offences.
Our actions began immediately. We contacted all embassies. I might note that all embassies do have evacuation plans, but certainly not ones for situations of this magnitude. The airport, as you know, was closed almost immediately as a result of bombing raids that destroyed the runway. Air travel, which is the normal route for evacuation, then became a closed option.
Less than 24 hours after those initial incidents, on July 13, a travel warning for Lebanon was issued, and relevant information was posted on the Internet to apprise Canadians of the evolving and dangerous situation on the ground inside Lebanon. During this time, I remained in constant contact with departments and officials and monitored events.
The following day, on July 14, a decision was taken to convene a departmental task force.
On July 15, the crisis call centre and a full interdepartmental task force were put into operation, involving departments across government. These included the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, CIDA, National Defence, Citizenship and Immigration, Public Safety, and Canada Border Services Agency. Inquiries and assessments as to the available modes of transportation began at that time.
At that point, Mr. Chair, repeated messages to Canadians were being conveyed from multiple channels, both in Beirut as well as back home in Canada. Internet, calls, and a warden system began in earnest. A warden system, I should explain, involves volunteers in Lebanon who literally go door to door to bring information to areas of the country that are less accessible or that may not have the same degree of Internet or telephone capability.
On July 16, airplanes were chartered and contracts signed with evacuation vessels harboured in ports on the Mediterranean. Now, with the requisite capabilities identified and an evacuation plan in place, the evacuation began in earnest. Turkey and Cyprus were acting as the staging points for onward travel; that is to say, this was a two-stage process: after evacuation from Beirut, there was a necessity to then arrange for air travel back to Canada directly. It was during this time that the focus was on communication with Canadians inside Lebanon and their families in Canada--not the media or the broader public--and on securing the capacity to evacuate.
On July 17, the embassy in Beirut began to contact individual Canadians to inform them of the evacuation plan. By this time, the number of registered Canadians had doubled, from 11,000 to 22,000. That number would eventually approach 40,000 by the end of this past week.
Both the Prime Minister and I were actively engaged throughout these initial stages, including direct consultation, as I mentioned earlier, with our Israeli and Lebanese counterparts to require and request their assistance for safe passage of Canadians being evacuated from Lebanon.
The initial evacuation of Canadians began on July 19. Over the course of the next week and a half, over 13,000 Canadians would be moved to safety.
The initial delay, I might add, was the result of clearances sought from the Israeli naval blockade. We had received assurances that we passed on to the ships that we had contracted from the private sector. They sought further assurances; they were not satisfied with the initial documentation that we provided from the Israeli army. We sought those further assurances and received them, and I made a call to the Israeli foreign minister at that time to gain further assurance.
The following statistics, Mr. Chair, demonstrate the sheer magnitude of this operation: our call centre received and responded to more than 35,000 calls and over 12,000 e-mails in the three-week period beginning July 13. At the height of the evacuation, 5,000 phone calls per day were being made by Canadian officials to our citizens in Lebanon, to help pass information and provide them with the information necessary to expedite their evacuation.
Further, to support the evacuation, 358 officials were either redeployed from Ottawa or reassigned from abroad to embassies or consulates in Beirut, Cyprus, and Turkey to assist Canadians in transit, including 174 from DFAIT, 150 from DND, and 34 from Immigration and CBSA. Many of these officials remain on the job on the ground in the region today to support ongoing efforts, because as you know, this evacuation is not complete.
For DFAIT alone, this deployment was more than five times larger than the tsunami crisis, which was the most recent experience, where we deployed 28 DFAIT officials in two weeks. I would add that it was done during a period of rotation, meaning that the standard change in personnel in the field was under way and a number of officials were on vacation. Many of those officials, I'm proud to say, returned to the job. Many volunteered and came off vacation time to spend time in the operations centre.
It clearly required a large number of officials flying out to the region with a few hours' notice, and people were working around the clock at all locations. Serious concerns for officials' health and well-being were expressed by many, including the Prime Minister and me.
To support the 24/7 operation crisis centre, 175 DFAIT employees volunteered their services. Many worked astronomical hours on an overtime basis. I have to say on a personal note that I bore witness to the incredible spirit of patriotism and commitment to the safety of Canadian demonstrated by those officials.
In addition to departures by ship from Beirut, we have also conducted an evacuation operation in order to bring people out of the port of Tyre in the south of the country, where the situation continues to be of great concern. Unfortunately, due to the difficult security situation, only a small number of Canadians were able to reach the port.
Canada was instrumental in evacuating others, such as Australians, Ukrainians, Africans, and Americans, who wanted to leave Lebanon, in what is indicative of the role our country is playing on the international stage. There was great cooperation between nations in this exercise. When others asked for help, we were there. Similarly, some of those countries I've named and others helped Canadians.
I want to repeat that the success we've achieved in mounting this tremendous undertaking is due in large part to the Canadian public servants, who responded to the call of duty with remarkable professionalism and dedication. I want to express my gratitude to the hundreds of members of the Canadian public service, including those in my department, who put in tireless hours for the safe return of Canadians. Their efforts under challenging and often volatile circumstances and conditions merit our utmost respect and recognition. Canadians have every reason to be proud of the work they did in helping fellow citizens to safety.
Canada is also tremendously grateful to Cyprus and Turkey for their invaluable assistance in supporting the evacuation. I've expressed that to the foreign ministers of both of those countries, whom I saw recently in Rome. We also thank the governments of Israel and Lebanon for their efforts in allowing safe passage of our citizens out of Lebanon.
I would like to turn our attention now to the humanitarian needs.
Since the onset of hostilities, Canada has expressed deep concern regarding civilian casualties, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and the growing number of internally displaced persons.
We joined with our G8 partners in St Petersburg and I went to Rome last week to call for urgent efforts to address the humanitarian impact of the crisis. We have urged Israel to exert the utmost restraint and seek to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
We have also been a strong advocate for the safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to facilitate the delivery of immediate humanitarian relief to Lebanese in need. One of our vessels was used to assist Doctors Without Borders ship urgently required medical supplies and equipment to Lebanon on July 29.
I am aware of numerous offers of personal assistance from Canadians, as well as provinces, who have expressed a desire to assist in the humanitarian aid relief.
To date, Canada has announced that it will provide $5.5 million to respond to pressing humanitarian needs. This was announced in advance of the international donors' conference request from the UN coordinator, Jan Egeland. Your next witnesses from CIDA will be able to address the specifics of Canada's humanitarian relief efforts in more detail.
Overall, however, the international community's humanitarian response must be accompanied by parallel efforts to achieve a sustainable and permanent ceasefire. In this regard, Canada fully supports the G8 summit declaration that emphasizes the importance of a cessation of the actions, which destabilized the region, and identifies a progressive plan of action, to which the Prime Minister was a signatory on behalf of Canada on July 16.
The plan, Mr. Chair, which we continue to support with our partners in the international community, includes a call for Israeli soldiers to be returned unharmed, and for an end to the shelling and rocket attacks on Israeli territory, and to the casualties Israeli civilians have suffered. We also believe that the utmost Israeli restraint is needed to avoid, as far as possible, civilian casualties. The responsibility for the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers is an obligation that must be fully respected under the international humanitarian law. There has to be a ceasefire, Mr. Chair.
Canada has participated in multilateral efforts to put an end to the violence, to find a diplomatic solution that is fair and equitable, and to encourage more dialogue. We are, and remain, in close contact with our allies and all countries seeking a solution. I attended the conference in Rome of the expanded Lebanon Core Group at the invitation of the co-chairs, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Massimo D'Alema, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
Canada was given an important voice at the gathering, and the statement that emerged reflected the consensus of participating nations of a further expression of Canada's position--specifically, a determination to work immediately, with the utmost urgency, towards a ceasefire that puts an end to the current violence and hostilities.
From the very beginnings of this crisis, Canada has pursued a dialogue to advocate a path to peace that will last. We've seen quick fixes and temporary solutions in the past that would not suffice, and history has proven this to be the case. Certain conditions must be achieved to reach that stable, durable cessation of violence in the region.
In our view, a ceasefire needs to be lasting, permanent and sustainable. Ordinary Israelis and Lebanese have suffered long enough. Their desires are simple, almost basic -- the freedom to lead their lives without fear; the ability to move forward, finally, with confidence; and the security Canadians have come to expect and enjoy.
The Lebanese people should not be held hostage to the extremist actions of an organization designated by the United Nations as a terrorist group. Hezbollah and its supporters should respect the desire of ordinary Lebanese to lead normal, secure lives.
Mr. Chair, we realize that the violence we have witnessed in recent weeks is part of a more complex and challenging scenario. Any lasting solution in Middle East tensions must be regional. This principle was recognized in Rome and at the G8 and has been the basic premise underlying efforts directed towards resolving the conflict and building peace in this troubled part of the world.
Clearly, the Government of Lebanon has to be an integral part of the solution, and yet alongside our allies and partners we continue to call on all regional actors to contribute constructively to achieving this objective. In particular, we have urged those with influence over Hezbollah and their backers in Tehran and Damascus to persuade them to heed the international community's appeals.
Finally, Mr. Chair, the way forward: We believe the bulk of the evacuation operation in Lebanon has been completed, yet we remain fully committed to facilitating the departure of further Canadian citizens who choose to leave. We will continue to support efforts to address both the immediate humanitarian situation as well as Lebanon's longer-term reconstruction and development. And it will be significant. I was reminded again as I entered the room that there are now over 800,000 displaced people inside Lebanon.
The G8 statement reflects exactly our prognosis and our evaluation of the situation and what got us to this point in time. The ceasefire is one element of the action plan that is called for in that G8 statement, but it is not the first thing or the only thing called for. An eventual ceasefire is part and parcel of the resolution, and the statement calls on all leaders and countries and parties to take a series of actions to resolve the crisis.
Let me be clear. It's not our intention to shift the blame from the extremists who caused this violence and who want it to continue. Hezbollah—listed in this country as a terrorist organization, a terrorist army—which is the party that started this crisis, has a minimum obligation to now cease its actions, its assaults on Israeli positions, and return those soldiers. Everyone agrees there has to be an end to the bloodshed and the carnage in Lebanon.
It appears there is no one who wants this to continue, with the exception of the terrorists. They initiated the violence and they oppose peace in principle. The untold suffering of the people in both Lebanon and Israel is heartbreaking, shocking to everyone's sensibilities, Mr. Chair. The killing has to stop. The recent Rome meeting and the UN's mandate to address this crisis confirmed the commitment of the international community to resolve this crisis.
It's important to state here that there's a marked difference between a democratic country defending the lives of its citizens and a terrorist army intent on death and destruction. We will continue to advocate diplomatic, constructive solutions. Words and wishful thinking will not end the violence.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Merci.
I think it's important to recognize Canada's special relationship with Israel. It is a special relationship. In the wake of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, Canada strongly supported the establishment of the Israeli state. It is an existence that must be defended and must be supported. Israel is a clear paragon as a democracy in the Middle East—something that, sadly, is more lacking than we would like to be the case.
But what's more, the creation of that state was the result of one of the greatest horrors mankind has witnessed, and that was the Holocaust: the death of six million Jews, the act of genocide, the effort by a brutal dictator to destroy an entire population. The world at that time recognized the importance of establishing an Israeli state, of standing with it, and of protecting its right to exist.
It's that very right to exist that Hezbollah refuses to acknowledge. Hezbollah is committed to eliminating Israel from the face of the earth. That's one of the reasons Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist group by Canada and recognized as such by many in the international community. That's why the United Nations resolution calls for its disbanding and disarmament, in part.
Canada has a long history. We contributed to and supported the creation of Israel and we have an obligation to continue that support and recognize their right to sovereignty and self-defence today.
In terms of the matter of the evacuation, I think we heard very good evidence, and I don't think too many members have disagreed that it was a success. Over 13,000 people were able to get out alive, were able to get out without mishap. There was some discomfort, some inconvenience, perhaps, but considering the remarkable numbers involved, the unprecedented nature of it—almost the same number the United States had to evacuate, for a country one-tenth the size and with a fraction of the resources, certainly a fraction of the resources in the region—we were able to do it in quick order. It's a happy story; it's a good story; it's something Canadians are proud of.
I think Canadians are proud of the role they've played on the world stage. They're proud of the principled position and they're proud of the efforts the Canadian government makes to defend and protect them around the world, even when doing it is very difficult. I think it's appropriate that we do this.
But also, considering the unprecedented nature of this.... This was an evacuation unlike any other before, and as such a lot of improvisation occurred on the go, from the Prime Minister, through the minister, through all the officials in the various departments, all the people—the front line workers, the people who took time off vacation.... A lot of innovation occurred. A lot of things were done differently than usual, and it worked. That's a remarkable testimony to the strength of Canada, the strength of our institutions, the strength of our officials in Foreign Affairs, of our consular staff of our embassies around the world, of the Department of National Defence staff who assisted, the Immigration officials who assisted, the Border Services officials who assisted.
Compared with other countries, we did a remarkable job of returning those folks to Canada, and for that we can be very proud. I think we should look at how that improvisation took place and what lessons can be drawn from its successes.
That's what this motion seeks to do in asking the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to conduct this kind of review, so that we don't have to reinvent the wheel the next time around. There are some good lessons to draw on and that we can build on, should—God forbid—a similar situation occur elsewhere in the world, and sadly these things happen all too often.
Further on, we discuss condolences and regrets for those who have died, Canadians and all others. Let's be perfectly clear. Canada, the Canadian government, deplores the loss of life and is saddened by it. We would like to see it come to an end, and that's why we have reference to the G8 summit declaration, which Canada was an early signatory to, calling for a ceasefire in this matter so that we can restore peace in that area.
But we also have to recognize that all parties do not come to this with equally clean hands. Hezbollah represents an aggressor. Hezbollah is a terrorist group. There is not moral equivalency between Hezbollah and Israel. Canada should not be neutral between the two. Canada will stand firmly and should stand firmly on the side of a free, democratic Israel. We should stand against a terrorist group whose tactics, as Mr. Alghabra just noted, result in the death of civilians. Their stated aim is to target civilian installations and harm civilians.
You raised a concern about civilians. We are on the side of innocent civilians--the innocent civilians who are the victims of Hezbollah rockets, and the innocent civilians who are used as human shields by Hezbollah. Those innocent civilians are the real victims in this war, and they are the victims, first and foremost, of Hezbollah. For that reason, we do condemn those actions by Hezbollah.
Obviously we want to see restraint in Israel's response, hence we urge that. We recognize their right to defend themselves, but it must be done in such a fashion that seeks to minimize the loss of human life and avoid undue harm to infrastructure wherever possible.
The United Nations has at least twice called for Hezbollah to be disarmed. Sadly, that has not happened. We want to see the Government of Lebanon supported. We hope that any kind of lasting force can be robust in terms of peace and can work towards the disarming and disbandment of Hezbollah. That is the only way you're going to get long-term stability and security for the Lebanese government, for the Lebanese country. That's what we want to see.
So in this motion I think we capture a position that represents Canada's proud humanitarian, multilateral, and peaceful orientation, but also recognizes that democracy, freedom, and human rights matter; that these are important values that we will defend, and we will assert ourselves in the international sphere to do that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to present this amendment and speak to it.
I again want to state what my colleague just said, that when I came here, it was to hear about Canada's efforts in evacuation and humanitarian efforts, as well as the crisis in Lebanon, in the Middle East. That was the intent of the motion; that was the whole idea for which we came here.
Accordingly, we called in the witnesses, people who are engaged in humanitarian efforts, to understand what challenges they were facing, what they were going to do, and what would be the future intention of CIDA in Lebanon, where the majority of the devastation has taken effect. They had this opportunity.
Then we were going to listen to what I call a very strong party, and that is the Lebanese diaspora who are over here in Canada. If time permitted and if the opposition wasn't happy, we could have carried on. However, as my colleague said, we have stopped all these things here to pass a motion that actually deals with those things.
You know, if he had listened to all these witnesses who would have come, we would have put in a working solution, a working motion, taking what they said into account in this. But now that is not what is happening. What is happening is that the whole thing has turned into a football.
I know Madame Lalonde very well. I've worked with her in the past. She alluded to a report that dealt with the relationship of Canada with the Muslim world, and she and I were participants in that. We went around the world, we studied the report, and we made those recommendations alluding to this, to see how Canada can best strengthen relationships with the Muslim world. So we have all these things that we did. Nevertheless, we need to know what has taken place now in the crisis, on humanitarian issues out there.
At the time we did that report that you allude to, Madame Lalonde, one of the strongest recommendations from the report was that we engage with the Muslim community in here. Now, following the civil war in Lebanon and the devastation, we have a huge Lebanese community living in Canada--in Montreal, in Ottawa, and in my riding as well.
I can tell you that one of the largest ethnic groups that live in my riding is the Lebanese community. Therefore, when this crisis took place, they immediately contacted me and I contacted them for a dialogue. It is important that a dialogue take place with them, because they are the players. Their loved ones are there. So that is what I alluded to, the fact that Peter MacKay, the honourable minister, on my invitation, came to Calgary to listen to them, not to attend the Calgary Stampede.
You see, Mr. Chair, this is the problem with people who come from Toronto, MPs who sit over there and pass judgment as if to say Calgary does not exist and Calgary's people are not important.
The Chair: Mr. Obhrai, just speak to the motion.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: I am speaking to the motion. These are important issues. It's part of the amendment. Over there, they're asking for the foreign policy and I'm alluding to that.
So it is important that the Lebanese diaspora of Canada also be involved, which is what we did--however, over there, that is not taken into account.
What is interesting is that the same diaspora--and I'm sure the Liberal members aren't interested in listening to that--the members of the Lebanese community, said they were also fed up with Hezbollah. They also wanted Hezbollah to be reined in. That was the message we got.
Of course, the biggest concern they had was the devastation that was taking place in Lebanon, the country that was rebuilding itself, with a fragile democracy. That was the concern they had, and they wanted to know what Canada was going to do. Therefore, the humanitarian assistance program and all those things that Canada and this government is committed to give are to address what they want. And I'm sure we will work with the diaspora community to ensure that Lebanon is quickly back on its feet.
As for the other issues, the motion we have put forward addresses the major concern of how to get a lasting peace in the Middle East. We need a sustainable peace.
Mr. McTeague, on the other side, and others have alluded to the resolutions that have come from the United Nations. How many resolutions have come from the United Nations? They keep coming, but have they ever achieved a long-term solution? They haven't. Why? There are players in there who do not want a solution to that crisis. There are players in there, and one of them is Hezbollah, who do not want this because it is not politically expedient for them. So it is natural that we condemn that and look for ways in which a sustainable ceasefire can be achieved. This motion talks about that and also calls on Israel to restrain itself and avoid hitting....
Our own soldiers have died, our own people have died, and this is a terrible tragedy. Canadians have lost lives out there.
The point of the matter is that it is important we all work together with all the international players to ensure a sustainable peace. Madame Lalonde's motion also talks about there being no peace in the region without a global and negotiated settlement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You yourself have said there won't be any ceasefire unless there is a negotiated settlement on that issue. Therefore, it's time to come and bring all the players down.
Unfortunately, this war has started, so let's seize this opportunity and look for a long-term solution. That is what the Lebanese community also wants. That is what most peaceful people in that region want. They're tired of the war. It's time for us to join that not-so-silent voice of people seeking peace. Let's get a lasting peace for that region.
I will spend this intervention dealing with responses to some of the issues that have been raised elsewhere. I'll start with Madame Mourani's comments, going from the end, where she spoke about Hamas and asked who is advising this government on our response to Hamas.
Our response on Hamas was very simple. Hamas again is a listed terrorist organization, committed to destroying the State of Israel, committed to seeing it wiped off the face of the Earth. When it was elected to be the government of the Palestinian Authority, Canada, the European Union, and most of the western civilized democratic world all came together with a common position: that this new government must recognize the right of Israel to exist, renounce the use of violence, and adhere to the existing agreements, including the roadmap to peace.
The only way we were going to get a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian question would be to have a two-state solution negotiated properly, and the roadmap to peace and the existing agreements were the way to get there. Asking a terrorist organization to renounce violence and recognize the right of Israel to exist was entirely consistent with that. In fact, that's why that position was adopted by, I think it's fair to say, just about the entire western democratic, free world.
I don't think it's an extreme position to stand against terrorism. I think it's a quite moderate, reasonable, and civilized position to stand against terrorism. That's what Canada is doing, as Canada has always done: stand for freedom and for democracies.
Now, Madame Mourani asked who speaks for Lebanon and said to be careful who speaks for Lebanon or the Lebanese community here. Well, guess what? I guess we'll never know, Ms. Mourani, because you didn't let them speak at this committee. You voted that we won't hear from any. You didn't vote to hear from the people who are already on the list. You didn't vote to add additional witnesses to the list to get a full spectrum, as Mr. Obhrai suggested. No, you voted instead to move to debate this question without hearing from any of them.
In a democracy, we hear from them. So when you caution that we should be careful who we hear from, apparently your caution is to hear from no one, to shut down the ability of people to express themselves. That is shameful. You should be ashamed of the position you took today, not to let anybody—not one member of the Lebanese community in Canada—speak today on this motion; yet we're being asked to make a decision on it.
That's shameful in a democracy. I am saddened by it. It's a sad day for Canada. It's a sad day for democracy. You have been a party to that today.
In terms of bias, there is a suggestion from Madame Mourani that this government has a bias, that we don't have a balanced position between Hezbollah and Israel. Well, I don't think seeking a balance between terrorists and democracies is Canada's foreign policy. This is a listed terrorist organization under Canadian law. The Liberal government, on December 11, 2002, listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
I've gone through the incidents. There are others I didn't go through: the efforts by Hezbollah to recruit people in Singapore to conduct terrorist acts—those were stopped. We've heard already about the hijackings, the bombings in Argentina, the other terrorist acts undertaken. Well, to me it's pretty simple; you aren't neutral between terrorism and democracy. Canada should not be neutral between terrorism and democracy. When it comes time to take a position, we will take a bias in favour of democracy and freedom. We will have a bias against terrorism. I don't call it a bias; I call it a principled, fair-minded position.
The problem of terrorism is one of the greatest problems facing the world today. We see it all over the world, repeatedly. We've seen it in Madrid; we've seen it in the bombings in London; we've seen it in India recently; we saw it on September 11 in New York. We've had terrorism going back as far as.... In Canada, we've had assassinations, with D'Arcy McGee; we had the FLQ conducting terrorism on our own shores. Unfortunately, terrorism is becoming more widespread, better financed, and a more pernicious problem.
As for the concept of suicide bombers, I remember, when I was a kid growing up, the concept of the kamikaze bombers in World War II was considered bizarre. It was beyond comprehension how people could decide to kill themselves in a suicide-type bombing. Now suicide bombings are de rigueur. They're part of the terrorist menu virtually every day. They are so much in the news that people almost tune it out, until it arrives on our shores and harms us. The citizens of Israel and the citizens who have been the victims of Hezbollah around the world deserve the same kind of protection. The advent of terrorism is one of the biggest problems we have to wrestle with in security situations.
When we talk about the way Hezbollah has conducted itself in Lebanon and its use of civilian shields, Madam Mourani doubts this. Well, Jan Egeland, who is a top humanitarian official with the United Nations and who investigates the bombing locations, has made that finding. The Bloc Québécois may doubt that finding. They may decide that Hezbollah is actually a group of good guys, that they aren't using civilian shields and they don't make that part of their tactics. Jan Egeland has found otherwise. He has made it clear that he condemns their tactics. We should also.
We also recognize that this approach creates real challenges for countries trying to defend themselves from terrorism. As the minister said earlier today, you end up with two choices, and neither of them is good. One choice is to leave the terrorists to continue their attacks on civilians, and the other is to root out those terrorists and risk collateral damage. I don't think any of us would relish having to make those decisions.
But I can tell you, if it were Canada on the receiving end of the missiles, if it were Canadian civilians dying on Canada's shores from terrorist acts, I think we might feel more strongly than when we look at it clinically in another country like Israel.
For that reason, I believe what Jan Egeland said. I believe those tactics are happening. In fact, Hezbollah has been quite proud of its tactic of using civilian shields and how effectively it works in the public relations war. That's not surprising. The approach of that terrorist organization is primarily to take out and cause injury to innocent civilians. It's not a military type of operation, from the traditional perspective that we understand it.
I hope I have responded to the questions and issues you raised, Madam Mourani.
Madam Guarnieri asked a couple of questions that I think are valid. One is the question of an international force and why we haven't addressed that in our amendment that's on the table. The reality is that it's premature. We don't know what an international force would be. Would it be United Nations? Would it be NATO? Would it be a coalition of the willing? You can't tell me and I can't tell you, because none of us know.
There have already been peace talks. There have already been efforts to bring together some type of situation like that. Would it be a force that would go into a war zone between continually fighting combatants? Is that what we have in mind in terms of an international force? Do Canadians want to be part of that? Or would it be one that happened after there was a peace in place and we had a negotiated agreement? It's highly speculative whether we have the resources to do it and what kind of context it would be. I think that's very much a hypothetical question and that we'd be putting the cart before the horse on it. We certainly know that we have commitments and that Canada has a proud record of peacekeeping, though I must note that we haven't been part of the interim forces in Lebanon in the past.
That was the question. The reason the international force is not there is that it is simply premature. I'm certainly not expecting that Madam Guarnieri, or anybody else, would want Canada to move unilaterally by putting a force into Lebanon right now. I don't think anybody is arguing for that type of outcome. But in the absence of a multilateral force, it's hard for us to make a decision about signing up right now. Certainly, I don't think it's the government's position to move in unilaterally.
In terms of the condemnation language, I think there is such a thing as right and wrong. I think it's wrong to launch missiles at civilians. I think it's appropriate to condemn that. We can all hold hands and sing together and think good thoughts, but the reality is that some things are right and some things are wrong in human behaviour, and there's nothing wrong with condemning it. I know that Madam Lalonde has used the word “condemn” far more frequently than we have. Our resolution is a bit more toned down in that regard. But I do believe there is such a thing as right and wrong, and I can tell the difference most of the time.
Mr. Chairman, I've been listening to members speak for a while now. When I heard Mr. Van Loan talk about this being a sad day for democracy, quite frankly, I didn't know whether to laugh, or cry. Indeed, if the democratic procedural rules of this committee had been respected, we wouldn't be in this situation.
I've served on this committee since 1999 and never has anyone up and ask to address the committee. Of course anyone is free to do so and certainly it's to our benefit to hear from individuals, but never has the chair invited someone to appear or authorized additional spending without first seeking assurances from the committee that it wished to meet with a certain person.
That's why we find ourselves in this situation which Mr. Van Loan has qualified as sad. As far as I'm concerned, this isn't a sad day for democracy. It's a sad day for the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. As you know, I'm a sovereigntist, but since becoming a member of this committee, I've always felt that in this forum, one could set allegiances and partisanship aside and discuss important issues.
Until such time as we achieve our independence, we want Canadian policy to be the best for Quebeckers and Canadians and for all countries concerned. Indeed, we trust that this is what all parties want.
Today is a truly sad day for me. I'm speaking my mind. Earlier, I listened to some critics imply that we were flirting with terrorism. What's that all about? You may remember Quebec's experience with the FLQ. How did it deal with that organization? Well, it tried to understand what it was all about.
What about the IRA in Great Britain? How did that country deal with that threat? Even though the IRA murdered police officers and soldiers, the country did not resort to military action. Quite the contrary. It's important to try and understand the situation and to address problems and needs, among other things.
I have something here that I hope you have read. It was written by former ambassador Paul Heinbecker and I think I'll send it to every member. Ambassador Heinbecker is one of Canada's eminent international affairs experts. He notes the following in one of his papers.
I'll read it to you in English, which will be a first for me.
“Tilting toward Israel: By picking sides on Lebanon, says former ambassador Paul Heinbecker, Canada is set to embark on a failed foreign policy”.
Each sentence deserves to be read. He concludes with the following:
“The disproportionate Israeli response in Lebanon will, like the American invasion of Iraq, create more terrorists than it kills and make the prospect of liberal democracy in Lebanon and the Middle East ever more remote.”
This is an extremely difficult situation for western nations, and for Canada. I put a question to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE concerning the war on terrorism. I'm not only concerned about terrorism, but also about the war on terrorism. I asked if by waging war on terrorism -- and this is the question the ambassador raises -- we were not promoting terrorism further in the process, instead of promoting an interest in democracy and economic development. It's important to understand what is actually going on, because if we fail to do that, we run the risk of making some monumental mistakes and really shooting ourselves in the foot.
All parties have to realize that the international community is trying to be fair, to understand the various positions and to not allow the bin Ladens of the world to influence young people who, over and over, are seeing images of the events taking place in Lebanon. They've seen bloody images broadcast 24 hours a day over the airwaves by networks like Aljazeera and many others.
What goes through their minds after seeing these images? We need to advocate positions that rather than promote polarization, seek to attain peace. We won't achieve this objective by turning a blind eye to the situation.
In my motion, I could have called for a peace implementation force. However, there are two such forces. Kofi Anna canceled a meeting so as not to eliminate any chance of constituting one. What's the difference between the two? Some would like countries to volunteer to comprise a critical mass encircling Lebanon to protect the country from sophisticated equipment and all military forces. Others believe that Hezbollah will never be disarmed without some kind of political negotiations, especially not now that it has made some inroads on a psychological level. I'm certain that this poses quite a dilemma for Israel.
What should the next phase entail? Negotiations and disarmament are vitally important. Lebanon must once again become a fully independent country. Hezbollah, however, has been allowed to call the shots and to pass itself off as Lebanon's protector. I'm sure that's what the Lebanese believe, even though some are angry because they feel that they've been duped or have given Israel the opportunity to bomb their country.
Therefore, we're in favour of a peace implementation force. However, we'll respect whatever decision is reached by the United Nations. Should Canada be a part of this implementation force? I'm not so sure, given the stand it has adopted. We have to realize that the positions taken by Canada since this new government assumed power -- and some may argue otherwise -- have undercut our ability to intervene as an influential middle power sought out for its assistance, support and mediation efforts.
Foreign affairs is serious business and that's why I'm disappointed with this morning's meeting. At least I take this matter seriously. I'm not saying that you don't, but these are not just empty words. We have made a number of commitments and these do have an impact on people's lives.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I did want to start off by responding to Madam Lalonde's comments, first on the question of why we're proceeding now without hearing all the witnesses.
On that side, everybody seems to have conveniently pretended that it was because the witness list was not balanced, for whatever reason. I can't conceive of why members of the opposition didn't send in a list of witnesses. But Mr. Obhrai kindly said that we're quite happy to hear more witnesses later. To hide behind the fact that you still hadn't taken advantage of that invitation to say you weren't happy because you didn't have your witnesses is not a reason to hear from anybody.
Well, I'm sorry, the fault clearly lies with the opposition for failing to identify witnesses first and failing to take up the invitation, in front of this government at this committee, to expand that witness list—an invitation Mr. Obhrai made as we were discussing these matters. For whatever reason, you chose to proceed and debate these issues without having evidence first. So that's the boat we're in, and I think this has to be remembered.
Madam Lalonde poses a very difficult question of how to deal with terrorists. She suggests that Israel's response is, according to Paul Heinbecker, going to breed more terrorism, and therefore you should stand back, stay away, and leave them alone. That's a legitimate perspective.
It happens to be a perspective with which I disagree. It is a legitimate tactic and approach. What do you do? How do you respond to an evil like that, to a list of terrorist organizations that commit attacks against civilians? When we deal with evil forces in the world, the question of how we respond always comes up.
If you think back to World War II, as Hitler rose—and he was an evil—there was a great debate: how do you respond to that evil? For a while, the folks who said that leaving him alone was the best thing to do were in the ascendancy. As they remained dominant, that evil became stronger and stronger. Some in Israel today will say that's exactly what's happened with Hezbollah. They were left alone for years to amass thousands of rockets that now are being unleashed on civilians. The fact that they were left alone is the problem they're responding to.
After dealing with Hitler for a while in World War II, it became evident that ignoring the evil, leaving it alone, wishing it would go away, hoping we would do better if we just ignored and accommodated it a little and tried to understand it—if I may use the phraseology from others—this wasn't the case.
Ultimately, Britain and Canada and, a couple of years later, the United States and others came together and recognized that evil had to be fought. I think and hope everybody agrees in retrospect that this decision to confront the evil was a right one. As I said, it's a legitimate debate to have: whether you ignore the evil and pretend it goes away or respond to it.
Similarly, in World War II we had Stalin and the Soviet Union, and the tyranny and horrors he was unleashing on his population. Essentially there was a decision by the west to leave that alone at the end of World War II. I know Mr. Wrzesnewskyj is here and, being Ukrainian, has lots of relations with people in the Ukraine. Millions died as a consequence of that decision by the west to leave Stalin alone. There were hundreds of millions more who essentially lost their freedom and lived under tyranny for half a century. Was that a right decision or not? It certainly minimized Canadian casualties. Do we say that those millions of lives elsewhere in communist countries under Stalin's tyranny were a worthwhile cost to save our own? I don't know, but once again it's a legitimate debate.
That's the debate we have to deal with right now in talking about terrorist organizations. Do we confront the evil or leave it alone? I know where I sit. I say you confront the evil, as we did with Hitler as that rose too strongly. I think you try to find ways to deal with the terrorist threat. History has shown us that the longer it's ignored, the longer it's left alone, the stronger it becomes, and the greater the threats and the missions that get carried out.
I'd also ask this question. As Canadians, if we were faced with an armed group on our borders that was committed to destroying our country and its population and eliminating them from the face of the Earth, what would our response be, faced with that kind of evil or that kind of threat?
I ask that question and put it in those terms because that's where Israel is. They are facing, in Hezbollah, a terrorist group that is committed to eliminating them from the face of the Earth. You can encourage people to try to understand that and can say that what we should do is try to understand the desire to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. I don't know that I can understand that. I think it's beyond my comprehension.
So I don't think understanding that from Hezbollah is the answer. But it is a legitimate debate: leave them alone and try to understand that, or confront the evil. That's the difficulty Israel faces right now.
Canada has committed, and the United Nations Security Council has persistently said on this issue, that the best thing is for Hezbollah to be disbanded and disarmed. That would be the best, not just for Israel but also for Lebanon. That's essential for the weak State of Lebanon to be able to strengthen, to grow—for that government to strengthen. It's the best way for Lebanon's sovereignty to be respected, and that's certainly what we would like to see happen.
It's a hard question, a legitimate question: what to do when confronted with evil. Do you want to leave the terrorists alone—do you want to leave Hezbollah alone and try to understand them—or do you decide to confront the evil? I'm sympathetic to the position of a country facing an enemy that wants to wipe it off the face of the Earth, that when it's under assault from that enemy, it might want to do something about that evil threat.
As for Canada playing its mediator role, Canada has always had a strong mediator role in the international sphere because we stand for principles and for values. People understand where we're coming from. They understand that we believe in democracy; they understand that we believe in the rule of law; they understand that we believe in human rights; they understand that we believe in freedom and that we stand up for those things uncompromisingly. Those are what Canada's values are, what Canada's values should be, and they do not compromise us. Standing for those values doesn't compromise us from taking on a leadership position.
Everyone looks to the United States to be able to resolve and bring about peace—in fact, they seem to broker most of the agreements in the Middle East on peace—but nobody has any illusions about whether the United States is neutral on these matters. I think they have a very clear stand. Because they have a clear stand, they are the ones consistently turned to to broker peace, through the Camp David agreements, the roadmap to peace, and so on.
There's nothing inconsistent with believing in and standing for something and being a fair, honest broker on the world stage. Those things come hand in hand.
It's what happened in 1956. Let's review it, Canada's role at the birth of United Nations peacekeeping. It arose out of the Suez crisis, and Canada took sides, unequivocally. We took a side: we strongly opposed the military action that had been taking place. We opposed the invasion. We said which side we were on. After saying which side we were on, we were able to take a leadership role and create peacekeeping.
It doesn't matter what the colour of the government is, and it shouldn't matter what the colour of the government is. That was a Liberal government in 1956, a Liberal government following in lockstep with a Republican U.S. President. I don't think anybody said that was a question of Canada simply being a puppet; I don't think we'd say today that Canada was just being a puppet of those Americans. I think Canada was standing for principles it believed in, but because it stood for something, it could also be a fair, honest broker.
I don't think the way to be a fair, honest broker is to cease to have values, to stop believing in things, to stop standing for freedom, democracy and human rights, and the rule of law. I think the surest way not to be taken seriously on the world stage is for Canada to abandon those values.
The NDP member is accusing the government of not being balanced. Everybody talks about not being balanced. She takes the position that the Government of Canada has gone away from its traditional positions on everything, and she comes out attacking us for taking a stand.
We are talking in this motion about permanent, lasting peace in that region, and Canada today is home to a large minority from the Middle East. We are home to Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Israelis, and everybody, and they all have points of view. The fundamental thing I have seen in my riding this time is anger in the Lebanese community because of the devastation of the infrastructure and everything that has taken place.
Lebanon went through a very serious civil war, and they've tried to rebuild Lebanon. Many of the people went back because they hoped for peace, and the country was being built. They finally managed to get rid of Syria and control the destiny of their home, and many constituents in my riding decided they could safely go back and rebuild the country.
We seem to have forgotten one fact when we talk about it. We talk about Hezbollah, which in its charter wants to destroy Israel--and so does Hamas--but we seem to have overlooked the fact that in the last two or three years we have a new player in the President of Iran, who is coming out bluntly and saying, “I want to destroy Israel”. I wonder, if the shoe were on the other foot, how he would feel if somebody talked like that. Here is an elected president who is supported, a guerilla who is dedicated to killing people. Yet today we sit here and talk about a ceasefire with a government and a movement that is dedicated to destroying that. How do you achieve a ceasefire?
Yesterday one of the Canadian Lebanese said he went home with the idea that peace had returned. Well, peace has not returned. We are back, as we see from pictures, to devastation taking place. We are calling for an immediate ceasefire. We are telling the Israelis to exercise restraint. Who's telling Hezbollah to exercise restraint? Who's telling the Iranians, who are their supporters, to exercise restraint? Nobody. Why? That is where the problem originated. Of course, the opposition won't like to hear that because it doesn't fit into their political agenda of attacking the government.
The fact remains that you want peace and everybody wants peace. My constituents call in every day, and they're scared because their loved ones are in danger. So we want a very quick peace. The question is, how do we do that?
As the foreign minister said when he went to Rome and engaged with the players over there, how do we achieve this everlasting peace? We are going to put in an international force. What international force? Who's willing to commit players to that region? How are we going to get the Government of Iran, the President of Iran, to say he is not going to destroy Israel? How are you going to do that? How are we going to tell the Hezbollah leader to stop it?
So yes, that is why the international community has asked Israel, because Israel is a democratic country, to exercise restraint. And we condemn it. But I have not seen anybody come out and say to the bigger guys, like the President of Iran or those who support Hezbollah, that they should come to the table to talk peace.
Why not? Why are they not coming to the table to talk peace? Why are they not coming to the table to talk about a ceasefire? They should come to the table. Iranians should come to the table and Syrians should come to the table and say, yes, since they are the ones who have instigated Hezbollah and are financially supporting it, they should be out there. But they're not. That is what is facing the international community.
My Lebanese constituents are saying they want peace so they can rebuild. So do the Palestinians. So does everybody in that region. Nobody wants the war. Saudi Arabia and Egypt came very quickly, telling Hezbollah they did it wrong. Why? Because they don't want the region to go up in flames. And that is the crucial factor today facing us, not getting up and saying the Government of Canada...playing the blame game. That is why we are saying, yes, let's go and talk about everlasting peace quickly. And I agree--quickly. As the foreign minister said, it is devastating to see so many people dying, devastating to see the devastation in Lebanon.
Yesterday I talked to a constituent who came out through the Biqaâ Valley, drove right through the south into Damascus and out from there. I asked him what worked, and he said let's not talk about it, because he was traumatized by bombs falling.
The point is, yes, we want a solution, but not a solution of the kind where we say yes, and then six months later we are back into the whole thing again. Canada has committed, and this government has committed, to giving humanitarian assistance. The Prime Minister said that we will be there to provide humanitarian assistance to rebuild Lebanon. We believe that ultimately, as the Prime Minister said when he was asked about foreign troops, those who are in the region are the best architects for peace--not those who are outside the region, but those who are inside the region. And that should be the priority.
That being said, I want to say, on behalf of my constituents--Lebanese and everybody--yes, we understand the pain and the suffering. To the Israelis, yes, we understand the pain and the suffering. But let's sit down and come to a lasting solution. Let's get all the regional players. You will never achieve a lasting peace solution if you do not get all the players, when a president of a nation like Iran stands up and says, I am going to blow Israel out of the water. That will not happen, and that's where our pressure should fall.