I wouldn't expect favourable treatment either, Mr. Chair, but thank you for that.
With me at the table is Michael Small, who is assistant deputy minister for global affairs.
Mr. Chair, let me thank you as well as members of this committee, individually and collectively, for taking on this important task and furthering Canada's long tradition of promoting democracy. I think the work you have before you will be extremely important and very valuable in this exercise of democracy promotion. I also believe it's very timely and will contribute greatly to identifying ways in which Canada can play a more active role on the world stage promoting democratic principles.
I don't want to prejudice the conclusions that you will reach, but I do hope they will reflect a consensus that the promotion of democracy is an eminently worthy and intrinsically Canadian endeavour. It is an expression of our values as a nation that transcends partisan interests. All of you around this table as elected members of Parliament know the importance of democracy at the grassroots level. And you know that there are important principles of democracy across the board that we can all embrace. Promoting democracy has been an integral part of Canada's history, and generations of Canadians contributed to building our own democracy. Each generation has stood ready to defend our way of life and to act for the sake of others when their freedoms have been threatened.
As far back as the First World War, Canada stood up for democracy. Indeed, many would say, and historians have said, that Canada became a nation at Vimy Ridge in the First World War. And notably, over 45,000 Canadians gave their lives defending democracy in the Second World War. Canada stood alongside other democracies, other nations, in opposition to totalitarian regimes for over 40 years of the Cold War. Since the Iron Curtain fell, we have extended a hand to dozens of new democracies around the world. The fight for universal suffrage and women's rights is very much a part of our history, as is the right to vote, to run for office, to serve in government.
Our current engagement in Afghanistan in no exception. Throughout our history Canadians have stood up to oppose ideologies that trample the rights of individuals to direct their own affairs. We have faced down threats to the freedom and stability of the world. Our own way of life depends on it. Our own values demand it.
This government's emphasis on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law is intended to be both a reflection of Canada's own core principles--some of the key ingredients in our success as a nation--and a guide in our response to many of the challenges and threats in the world today.
Mr. Chair, Canada's tradition of upholding democracy and human rights informs our opposition to authoritarian regimes, like those of Burma and Belarus, and other countries in need of attention, North Korea and Iran, and yet it informs us of our unequivocal response to organizations that advocate violence and perpetrate terrorist acts.
In March Canada was the first country to suspend its assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Our position is firm: the Canadian government will not contact or provide funds to an organization that threatens the security of a sovereign nation like Israel, their people and their democracy, by using terrorist means. We hold out cautious optimism for development and efforts made by Mahmoud Abbas to alleviate the pressures that are currently holding the Palestinian people in such difficult circumstance.
In April the Canadian government listed the Tamil Tigers, LTTE, as a terrorist organization under the Criminal Code. This sends a clear signal that they must reject terrorism as a political tool.
Just as Canada's government has engaged in promoting democracy around the world, Canada's civil society is involved in the same undertaking and the time has come to expand our efforts in the face of a new generation of challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all, no perfect democracy, Mr. Chair, and the old saw about sausage making is true. It's not always an attractive process.
Before I speak about meeting today's challenges to democracy, let me step back for a moment and put democracy promotion in a global context.
When Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was asked to identify the single most important development of the past century, he didn't choose the end of colonialism. He didn't choose two devastating world wars. He didn't choose the rise of new economic centres of power. To Sen, the most striking feature of the 20th century was the rise of democracy as the pre-eminently acceptable form of governance. Democratic governance has been accepted as a universal norm.
What explains the universal appeal of democracy? Countries may differ on the forms their democracy may adopt, but the values at the very heart of democracy resonate in every region and with every culture. Those values are the dignity of individuals and the importance of freedom.
Colleagues, the advance of democracy didn't happen automatically or even easily. It happened because countries like Canada stood up for the values in which they believed and in some cases were prepared to fight and die for. This is an important principle. It's not to sound maudlin or melodramatic, but just as previous generations of Canadians stood up for democracy, this generation must do the same.
Let me suggest three salient reasons why Canada should commit itself to the promotion of democracy. First, our values themselves demand it. Canadians believe in the dignity of individuals and popular consent. That is why this government reacted strongly to the flawed presidential elections in Belarus this last month. It was a question of principle for Canada to object to this flagrant abuse of power that denied the right of the peoples of Belarus to choose their government in a free and fair election and breached regional democratic standards.
Secondly, Mr. Chair, promoting democracy is a fundamental part of our efforts to build a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous world in which all can partake. Established democracies are more likely to enjoy peaceful relations between themselves and their neighbours. This confers other benefits: it stabilizes international affairs, it provides an environment in which economic opportunity and prosperity can grow and flourish, and it facilitates sustainable development.
In short, Mr. Chair, I believe that on all of those scores, democracy is like a stainless steel umbrella that allows all those other important developmental democratic principles—protection by rule of law and human rights—to flourish under this umbrella.
Finally, the spread of democracy contributes directly to the security of Canadians. While not a cure-all to prevent terrorism, the appeal and resilience of democratic systems of governance are among the best allies we have in defeating terror.
There are many fragile states, Mr. Chair, to which we should turn our attention. As a point of reference, Haiti and the Ukraine are two fragile states, as far as democracy is concerned. At the same time, we commend them for the progress that was made.
The fact that terrorists despise democracy and will go to great lengths should tell us something. How can there be rampant oppression and state-sponsored human rights abuses that give way to the power to remove them from office?
Mr. Chair, it is the key to unshackling people to have them bestowed with the power to change their government. Democracies make stakeholders of those who are most directly affected by poverty, instability, and conflict. They empower citizens within their own political systems to focus attention on serious problems, to propose solutions, and to take responsibility for their own fate. By providing avenues for peaceful change, they reduce the appeal for more violent alternatives.
What can Canada's contribution be to this? To that end, I look very much forward to hearing from you, hearing your views and findings as to how Canada can best assist other countries in achieving their aspirations for democracy.
Let me offer a few thoughts on what I believe our country has to offer. With many of the contemporary challenges surrounding the promotion of democracy, Canada enjoys some unique credibility and with it some unique opportunities. There is an enormous well of goodwill in the broader global context, and having outsiders assist us with democratic reform can be very sensitive. Therefore, Canada's reputation as a fair player confers clear advantages: we were never a colonial power; we do not have great power ambitions; our motives are not suspect; our agenda is not hidden; and as I said, there is a tremendous depth of goodwill for Canadians. It's partly because of our advocacy, but more so because of our active support for democratic values.
Canada also has useful experiences to share with other countries. At home we may too easily take for granted what some others would like to emulate. So our institutions must be highlighted to always work effectively and fairly. Bribes are not required to receive public service in this country, our police forces are professional, judges are impartial, editors may criticize politicians, protests can take place peacefully in this country, elections are administered smoothly, and governing parties change and our political system remains intact.
But it is not just Canada's institutions that are of interest to emerging democracies, I would add. We also have a wealth of individual expertise to share. Canada's civil society is a deep reservoir of people with experience in wrestling with many of the issues confronting democracies around the world.
We have learned judges, journalists, a very dedicated and loyal public service that serves this country. And at this moment there are thousands of Canadians from all walks of life fanned out around the world. In some of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world, you will find Canadians serving selflessly for causes they believe in.
Again, I believe that helping people and generosity are intrinsic Canadian values. Many Canadians are able to engage in this problem-solving in multiple languages, with respect and tolerance for other religions and cultures. This also brings Canadians, who are particularly sensitive to difficult cultural and social contexts, into a position of great ability to offer assistance.
The vast majority of Canadians will agree that democracy should be a high priority for our foreign policy, and that is exactly where this government has placed it. Canada has something valuable to offer on this score. The more difficult question to address is how do we go about promoting democracy in the broader world?
We should start by acknowledging that democracy is not something that outsiders can impose; it is part of the logic of democracy that it needs to be chosen and pursued by citizens themselves. Citizens around the world aspire to democracy, and assistance provided by outsiders should be driven by its recipients.
In addition to development assistance, there is much that we can do in the political and diplomatic realm. The government of Brian Mulroney, for example, demonstrated its strong opposition to apartheid in South Africa. When we stand on a principle, Canadian leadership can make a huge difference. The great man himself, Nelson Mandela, credits Mr. Mulroney and Canada for their leadership in ending apartheid in South Africa.
Our membership in regional organizations also provides a platform for influence. Bodies like the Organization of American States have adopted democratic principles as conditions of membership, and this makes them a natural place to look to uphold advanced democratic standards. Similarly cross-regional organizations like the Commonwealth and la Francophonie can play an important role.
But Canada is much more than its government, and Canada's commitment to democracy extends well beyond politicians, diplomats, and development experts. Democracy involves our whole society, all of Canada. From our universities to our faith-based organizations, from our professional associations to our political parties, we should mobilize Canadian society in promoting democratic values.
In every riding or constituency in Canada, we also have volunteer organizations that try to connect citizens with government by getting them out to vote and by canvassing their views for the next party platform to form a government. In every neighbourhood in this country—in every village, town, and in every rural community—we have people passionate about particular causes or issues who band together to advocate their point of view. In every community, there are women committed to overcoming obstacles to their equality and children who are committed to their learning.
Mr. Chair, I would suggest there is no particular organization that can take ownership of these issues. It is a collective community interest to address these issues of equality, child poverty, and poverty alleviation, and this allows for the protection and promotion of human rights for all. So having a way to mobilize members of civil society to help their opposite numbers in other countries is an important goal—and an ambition, I would add. The obstacles to democracy in different countries are legion. Fortunately, Canada has legions of experts who can help people in those countries address these obstacles.
I believe we should make democracy promotion not just a priority for government, but for our entire society. Just like our forebears, the current generation of Canadians has its own mission to promote democracy in the face of modern challenges in the 21st century.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, the true test of strength—of belief, commitment, and courage—is your ability to stand for something when there is personal risk or discomfort and when there is some cost to the person, country, or organization, yet you do it anyway on principle. I believe that democracy is a principle worth fighting for and standing for. It's a collective exercise; it takes practical as well as complex issues into consideration.
I would end by encouraging all of you to consult broadly. I know you will have many witnesses and many organizations before you. As I said at the beginning, I very much look forward to the recommendations on how we can fulfill this task. I look forward to your questions here this afternoon.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you also to my colleague for her question.
Your last question pertained to the future mission in Afghanistan. Of course, plans are to hand control of the country back to the Afghan government and to the people. However, the transfer cannot be carried out right now, because of the conflicts raging on the ground, particularly in the southern region of the country. Building capacity and achieving democracy and development is a considerable task for Canada and for the other mission participants.
All of the work that's being done by the 37 countries involved in the NATO mission and the 60 other countries that are doing development work there has not achieved the necessary results.
In the London compact they go through a number of very important signposts that will tell us when that exit can occur, and quite frankly, I would suggest to you that in just five years, the results that have been achieved already are extraordinary when one compares to where Afghanistan was just a few short years ago: five million more kids in school; micro credit available to women; women voting, participating in democracy. How's this for a country making progress?
Women make up 27% of their elected parliamentarians. That's more than in Canada. And they're having great efforts towards infrastructure building--roads, highways, schools, hospitals--that will allow their economy to start that slow recovery.
One of the big issues that remains to be dealt with, as you know, is the poppy and heroin problem. We haven't been able to eradicate or completely deal with that issue just yet. So I would suggest it would be nothing short of negligent for us to pull back at this critical time.
We just spoke about fragile states or failed states. You can't leave before the work is done. You can't leave until the security will sustain all of the important development and governance and infrastructure building that is under way in that country.
It's difficult for me to speak about CIDA's priorities. I believe the Minister of International Cooperation, Ms. Josée Verner, will be appearing shortly before the committee. I think it would be best if she answered that question.
As far as China is concerned, clearly there are human rights priorities in China that Canada can make a contribution to. I met with the Chinese foreign minister in New York last week, and we raised a number of issues, including our concern for a Canadian citizen, Mr. Celil, who is in jail in China. We have concerns about their justice system. We have concerns about the way in which their democracy functions, if we can call it that.
As far as the investment of actual resources in Canada to that end is concerned, that is something we're re-examining. But I would suggest there is still a contribution that Canada can make on that front.
I'll leave it at that, Mr. Chair.
There's not nearly enough time, but I appreciate the minister coming before the committee and I want to pursue three subjects that have been raised.
The first subject is concerning Maher Arar. I think the discussion about democracy is an easy one in terms of agreeing as a committee from all sides about the importance of democracy, but I think the test is what do we really mean by that. I think people from not just within the country but across the world look on with some horror at the Arar injustices, at the unbelievable events that occurred to his life.
I would ask you to address further the continuing refusal, in fact in your own comments again today, to simply acknowledge the apology owing, the formal governmental apology owing, and secondly, to give a clear statement of commitment to just compensation. To hide behind lawyers because there could be some battles around this down the road does not serve as an acceptable excuse for not making a clear, unequivocal statement about fair compensation owing and a clear formal apology. I want to ask if you would comment on that briefly.
Secondly, you referred, I think with some justification, to the fact that Canada has an advantage among the nations advancing democracy because of our positive reputation in the world. But you will know, I'm sure, that before this committee, again and again and again over the last several years, we've had testimony from many respected international NGO representatives, diplomats, academics, and so on--including, by the way, the current president of CIDA--that in fact Canada's reputation has dwindled, declined, deteriorated significantly, because, among other things, of Canada's failure to deliver in any significant way on our overseas official development assistance obligations with timetables and targets, with serious steady progress towards the long overdue 0.7%.
Very specifically, in view of the fact that democracy is really an empty concept, an abstraction, unless in fact people can see the conditions of life improving, and those are indeed the positive conditions in which democracy is likely to flourish, I want to ask about your government's commitment to finally bringing in the legislation your leader committed to and that this committee unanimously proposed to government should be supported--in fact Parliament unanimously endorsed--a year and a half ago. What is your government's commitment to follow through on that?
Thirdly, with respect to Afghanistan, which you evoked several times as an example of good progress, and you specifically referred to the improved status of women, citing 27% women in the parliament, I know that you must know that in fact the conditions for women are utterly horrifying in many parts of Afghanistan.
Just to cite briefly a really appalling example of something that happened right here under this roof, we had President Karzai address us. I and several of my colleagues had an opportunity to talk with a number of Afghani Canadian women following the address to ask, “If you had an opportunity to make a statement, to raise questions in the House, what would they be, given your commitment to advancing the status of women and democracy”, and they said to ask about the incredible amount of violence, brutalization, raping, bribing, and killing in some cases, by drug lords, by the Northern Alliance, and an acknowledgement that the Taliban are not the only threat to the safety and security and the status of women in Afghanistan. What we heard was jeering. What we heard was heckling from the government benches from one end to the other at such a question.
I want to ask if you could address that question in an honest and forthright way, because it remains a very serious concern that is raised again and again and again by women and on behalf of women in Afghanistan today in many parts of the country.
One of the great things about this country is that you and I can both have opinions, and we can express them freely. We can have disagreements publicly. We can debate them on the floor of the House of Commons and here at committee.
People inside Afghanistan didn't have that right five years ago. To suggest that there are warlords, that there are people still involved in some of the bodies that are still functioning inside Afghanistan who are committing atrocities--nobody denies that. But what we're there to do, obviously, along with a UN-backed NATO mission, is to bring about the type of stability that will allow democracy to flourish; that will allow further development; that will allow the important work of the provincial reconstruction teams to take hold; that will allow the provision of aid, micro credit, infrastructure spending, the building of institutions, including a judiciary, a police force, and an Afghan army; and--back to Madam Barbot's question--that will eventually allow the people of Afghanistan and their democratically elected government to walk on their own. Then, and only then, can we talk about an exit strategy. I would suggest that to do that prematurely is to abandon the very things we believe in, in terms of promoting democracy and everything that flows from it.
On CIDA, our commitment remains very real. In fact, we've increased CIDA's budget by 8% a year, and it will double by the year 2012. We are still very much moving toward the 0.7% commitment. It's clear to me that CIDA's programs are making a difference in many corners of the world, just as, I would suggest, a lot of Canadians are who work in NGOs and in other organizations, even those that are not necessarily originating in our own country. The International Red Cross has a lot of Canadians working abroad. Many youth organizations are the beneficiaries of Canadian participation.
Do we have an obligation to do more? Is there progress being made? Yes, absolutely there is. It's not perfect. It's not fine-tuned perhaps to the extent that everyone would want it to be, but it's done with the best intent. I would suggest that the talented and very committed people in CIDA are always looking for ways to do more with the resources they have at their availability.
On your last question, about Mr. Arar, let me just say that it was horrible. It was absolutely deplorable what happened to him, what they did to him in Syria, and we communicated that very clearly. How that came about was a subject of another democratic principle that we embrace in this country, which is to have judicial and public inquiries when there have been instances when our system breaks down and fails Canadian citizens like Maher Arar, and we have to improve upon that based on lessons learned.
There is another principle here, and that's the rule of law. Mr. Arar has a $400 million lawsuit against the Government of Canada. I'm not going to say anything today that's going to jeopardize that lawsuit.