Good morning, everyone. Our order of the day, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), is our briefing on the freedom of religion in Nigeria. We'll get started.
I want to welcome the two guests who are with us here in Ottawa; then we have two additional guests, one via teleconference and one via video conference, as you can see on the screen.
The first individual I want to introduce is Doug McKenzie, who is the chief executive officer of the Voice of the Martyrs. Welcome, Doug. We're glad to have you here this morning. Also, we have Reverend Peter Jardine, who is the chairman of the board. Welcome, Reverend. It's nice to have you here as well.
Joining us via teleconference from the Jubilee Campaign is Emmanuel Ogebe, special counsel. Welcome, sir.
Also, joining us via video conference and also with Jubilee Campaign is Saa Chibok. Welcome, Saa.
What we normally do is start with opening statements, from you, Doug, and then from Reverend Peter. Then I believe there's a quick video as well.
I believe those joining us by teleconference and video conference are there to answer questions, but they don't have any opening statements. Is that correct?
Thank you very much for the privilege of being here. We appreciate your consideration of our comments. We thank you for welcoming our guests. We are particularly appreciative of member of Parliament David Anderson, who has made it possible for us to be here today.
As mentioned, I'm the chief executive officer of a charitable organization established 43 years ago in Canada called the Voice of the Martyrs. Voice of the Martyrs is established around the world and has as its prime mandate to come alongside and to care for those who are being persecuted for their faith, for their religious beliefs.
In particular, we are a Christian organization and as such are not only a registered charity but a religious order. Our chairman, Peter Jardine, who is with me today, will comment in a few minutes. Then we have a brief video for you.
The purpose of our visit is first and foremost to tell you what we have found to be true, or at least what is evolving as a truth as more and more information comes to light, in respect to the nature of persecution.
If we have a purpose here today, it's to be available to you and others to inform you in any way that we can so that you can make good decisions on matters concerning religious freedom and persecution. We believe and want to stress—and hopefully we'll show you some evidence today or have you hear some evidence today, of this fact—that a very large majority of the persecution in the world today is against Christians.
Now, we have a bias, which I'll express right up front: we are a Christian mission wholly supported by Canadian donors who are largely of the Christian faith, and though that is not a restriction, it is a fact.
We are interested in introducing you to one part of what is happening in persecution against Christians: what is happening in the country of Nigeria, the most populous of all African countries and one that is clearly divided down the middle, dividing the north and the south, the south being very largely Christian in heritage and the north being more radical, fundamentalist, and extremist.
The clashes that exist in that country are exemplary of persecution around the world. Today we're talking about Nigeria. You may interchange it with any number of other countries in which these kinds of things are going on, but we thought Nigeria was a good example, and we'll show you some things today that hopefully will support that assumption.
But mostly we wanted to introduce you to a young lady named Saa, who has been very brave throughout many experiences and is also brave enough and thankfully willing to come here today as our guest, and now as your guest, to tell a little of her story and answer your questions.
Emmanuel is somebody we as a mission have worked with who is doing some tremendous work on human rights and religious freedom, particularly in Nigeria. He has been heard by the U.S. Congress on more than one occasion, has spoken at the UN, and is considered to be an expert on Nigeria. We're thankful as well that Emmanuel is with us today. He is the legal guardian of Saa.
I will turn it over at this point to Peter Jardine, who is our chairman. Then we have a short four-minute video for you before we move on with the program.
Thank you for inviting us this morning to talk to you about persecution.
My experience with persecution began in the early 2000s. Up until the year 2000, I had no idea that it was really happening. I visited Bosnia at that time with a Christian from the west end of Ottawa. He started telling me about persecution in Sudan that he was familiar with. About a year later, I ended up in South Sudan. What I learned there was staggering.
We're talking primarily about Nigeria this morning. I visited Nigeria a number of times in the 1980s, when it was actually very peaceful and there was nothing bad going on in that country that I was aware of, at least not on the scale that it's happening now. The persecution in Nigeria of course comes from Boko Haram, which is a Muslim group.
The persecution in Sudan was coming from the Muslim government in Khartoum. Two million people, primarily Christians, had been killed by the time I made my first visit there. What I learned was absolutely staggering. One of the best things I learned, however, in relation to the persecution was that those Christians who suffer persecution forgive the people who persecute them. In that respect, they have a lot to teach us.
I subsequently went, after about seven visits into South Sudan, to Orissa state in India, where the Hindus had been violently persecuting Christians in an outbreak that really should not have been directed against Christians. It resulted from one of their leaders in Orissa state being murdered. He had been murdered, shot by a communist guerrilla group. They went public and said that they had shot the man, but the net result, the immediate result, was that the Hindus took that as an excuse to start persecuting Christians. They were burning Christians alive in that state.
It came as a very big shock to us, because we didn't think India was anything but a civilized country. Muslims tend to get most of the publicity for their persecution of Christians, but let's never forget that it is happening in other communities as well. It's coming from Hindus. In Korea it's coming from the government.
I think it's probably time now to turn it over to our other guests and to look at the video.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you so much for the invitation to speak with you today.
I really would have loved to be there in person, particularly because the House of Commons was the scene of a horrific attack in Canada that bears a resemblance to what we have seen in Nigeria on a daily basis. Permit me to use this time to extend my condolences to your dear nation on the recent tragedy.
Let me provide a couple of quick statistics. The first is that more Christians have been killed this century than in previous centuries. The second is that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, according to a Pew study. Third, more Christians were killed in northern Nigeria in 2012 than in the rest of the world combined. So Nigeria alone accounted for more than 60% of Christian martyrs in the year 2012.
I also want to describe briefly the character and nature of persecution in northern Nigeria. There are three broad categories. I call them the three S's. One of them is state persecution, another one is street persecution, and the third is sect persecution.
In northern Nigeria you see persecution from state governments that will imprison Muslims who become Christians and that will persecute Christians in employment, discriminate against them, and deny them access to land. Then you have street persecution, where occasionally Muslims will come out on the streets and burn churches because they feel an infidel has done something wrong. Then you have the sect persecution, which is Boko Haram. This is persecution on steroids, where they go out and kill massively. That, in a nutshell, is the nature of persecution in northern Nigeria.
I do want to make a final point here. I'm delighted that Canada designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization. This is a campaign I led in the United States, and I'm glad Canada did it on its own without much advocacy. But designating Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization is like causing darkness. We now want steps such as lighting a candle. What can we do to end this genocide that is happening on such massive scales in northern Nigeria?
Let me wrap up my comments now by paying tribute to the wonderful Canadian missionaries who have been associated with my family for several generations. We're still in touch with them today. They hide. I want to say that Christianity in northern Nigeria is part of the Canadian legacy [Technical Difficulty—Editor] heritage with northern Nigeria, and it is very painful to see the investments of all these great missionaries being looted, burned, and destroyed by this vicious terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Finally, I want to thank you very much for paying attention to this key issue that is happening in a remote part of the world. It's not getting the kind of headlines and attention that ISIS in Iraq is getting, even though Boko Haram has been shown to be the second worst terror group in the world, ahead of ISIS, by a U.S. government terrorism study in 2012.
Thank you very much.
On April 14, 2014, all of us were at school around 11:34 p.m. We were sleeping. We heard the Boko Haram people come into Chibok town. They started shooting guns everywhere. All of us woke up. We didn't know where to go. We all came out of our rooms and gathered together.
I called my father on the phone. I told him what was happening in Chibok. He said we should not go anywhere, but gather ourselves together and pray so that the Lord would be with us. I said okay. I was with my friends. All of the girls gathered together in the hostel.
Boko Haram came into our school. They went through the staff quarters where our teachers lived. Before they entered the staff quarters all our teachers had run away, so they didn't find anybody there. Nobody came to tell us if we should run away or if we should stay. Boko Haram came in through the hostel with our teacher's motorbike.
When we heard them come in, we thought maybe it was our teachers coming to the school to tell us what to do. We didn't know the Boko Haram people. When they came in and found us, they said we should all come together, that we should not run away, and we should not shout. They gathered us together and started asking us where the cement block print machine was kept. We said we didn't know. They told us if we didn't tell them the truth, they were going to kill all of us.
They asked where the boys were. We said that the boys didn't live at the school. They were day students; they came in the morning and went home after school.
They asked where our food was kept. They picked two girls to go with them and show them the store. Then they came with a big truck and packed up all the food.
They asked us again about the cement block print machine, and we kept telling them we didn't know.
They asked all of us to move out of the hostel to the class area and sit together. We all gathered together. They said we should not run or shout, that anybody who shouted or ran would be killed. Then they moved us to the class area.
We sat down, and they started burning everything in the school, our books, our clothes. They asked us why we were in this school. Did we think school was important for us? Why didn't we marry? They said we should move out from the school compound and follow them to the bush.
After that, they all gathered around us. They were beside us, behind us, and in front of us. We were moving together. They said we should not run and that if we did they were going to kill all of us. We followed them to the bush, and they gathered us under a big tree. They brought the trucks that they packed all our food in and they came with a lot of cars. There was a taxi bus and some cars. We gathered ourselves together. We could not climb the truck because the truck was big and long, so they brought a small car and other trucks. They said we should climb this small car and enter the big trucks, that they would go with us and nothing would happen to us. We were afraid to enter the car. They started shooting guns and said that any girl among us who was not going to enter the trucks, they would kill her.
We started to enter the trucks and when we entered into the trucks lots of girls remained because the car was not big enough to carry all of us. They asked some of the girls to move by foot and we started moving. We were on the trucks and some of us were walking. When we reached a small village they asked some of the girls to enter the trucks because where we were going was too far, so they couldn't even reach that place. Some of us were sitting on somebody's lap. We entered and three girls remained.
The three girls remained because there was not enough place for them to sit in the car. They asked the girls one after the other.... When they asked the first girl, who was a Muslim, if she was a Muslim or a Christian, she told them that she was a Muslim. They asked the second girl, who was a Christian, but she told them that she was a Muslim. They asked the third one and she told them that she was a Christian. When she told them that she was a Christian, one of them decided to kill her, that they should not let her go. Some of them said, “No, they should not kill her. Let her go.” But one of them said that he was going to kill her. He even pointed a gun at her and said that he was going to kill here. Some of them said, no, he should not kill her. They said to the girls that they should run and go home, but if they turn back and look at them, they were going to kill all of them. The three girls ran away and went home.
They started moving us. We were walking in the bush. We were in the middle of forest. In our sight was all forest. We passed another village called Gagelam. Some of the girls started jumping down. Some of them were in front of us and some of them were behind us. They were not among us, but they were on motorbikes behind us. Then there was a little distance between us because we were in the forest in the night, so they couldn't see us. Some of us jumped down from the truck and entered the forest so we could hide. When they passed then we would find our way to go.
I told my friendthat I was going to jump down. I'd rather die so that my parents have my corpse to be buried than to go with them because I don't know where we are going with them. She said that she was going to jump down with me and I said okay. We were moving and I jumped down from the truck. She followed me. We entered the forest. The ones that were behind us came past and when they passed we wanted to find our way to go home. My friend injured her leg so she couldn't walk and I couldn't take her. We didn't know what to do in the night in the middle of the forest. We decided to sleep in the bush because we don't know where we are. We moved into the forest and sat under a tree and we slept until morning.
At six in the morning I told her what I was going to do because I couldn't take her. We didn't know where we were and we didn't know where to go. I decided to go and look for help.
I just moved a little bit and I met a shepherd in the forest. I asked him to help us. He was a Muslim. I asked him to help us because she couldn't move, and maybe he could help us and show us the way or take her, or maybe we could find somebody to help us. He said that no, he wasn't going to help us at all and we should wait until around 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m and maybe there would be some people who would pass on the road going to the market and they could help us and take us back home. I told him that because of what happened, if people heard that the Boko Haram had passed by on this road, nobody would be going to market today. He said okay, that he was going to help us. He took his bicycle and carried my friend on his bicycle and he showed us the way. I followed him. We reached the village Gagelam that we passed before and we met one man on his motorbike and he was looking. He had just come out and they were looking for the girls, maybe the ones that jumped out on the way, so that they should help and when we met him, he asked us where we were from and we told him what happened and he took us on his motorbike and carried us back to Chibok. When he took us back to Chibok from there we found an okada man who took us back home at around 11:00 p.m.
That's my story.
Thank you to our witnesses, particularly to you, Saa. You have experienced something that no child should experience. You are brave for telling us your story.
I'm going to share my time with Madam Day, so I just have a question or two and then I'll hand the microphone over to her.
I note that we do, as a government, have an office of religious freedom. We also have funding for different programs.
I would ask my guest, Mr. Ogebe, if he could tell us what he would actually like us to do. I'll just say for the record—and I guess our witness underlined this—that this shouldn't be about a Christian-Muslim narrative. In fact, we heard in the testimony of one of the victims that we have Muslims who are actually supporting it. Frankly, I think we have to be wary of that because if we turn it into that kind of clash of civilizations, we're actually falling into the trap and the narrative of the extremists. I also note that according to the data that has been provided worldwide in the most recent years about who the extremists are affecting, it's Muslims as well as Christians; in fact, and I'll get the data, it's probably more Muslims than Christians worldwide.
I want to be careful. I'm a little concerned about the narrative and I've actually read some of the testimonies and looked at the websites of a couple of our guests.
My question is a simple one for our friend.
What would you like to see the Canadian government do to help support the person you have in your charge and other children and girls who are affected and are vulnerable?
Thank you very much for that question.
My response generally has been that in the same way a Muslim shepherd helped Saa get out, we are appealing to all moderates and people of good will to help us to isolate the extremists and maintain the civilization we have.
To your broader question, it's true, there is an OORF, office of religious freedom, that has been established by the Canadians modelled on the U.S. office, and we're hoping that they will not make the same mistakes that the U.S. office made. I know there's very limited funding and we're hoping that can be increased. I know that funding is currently going to interfaith dialogue, but the reality of it is that the crisis in Nigeria now is not an interfaith issue; it's really an intra-faith issue in the sense that extremist Muslims need to have a dialogue with moderate Muslims to agree that violent jihad is not acceptable in this day and age. The funding from the Canadian OORF is going towards Christian-Muslim dialogue when indeed Boko Haram is killing Christians and moderate Muslims. So the funding is not addressing the main violent act in the country.
We also want to see things like scholarships. Saa is one of a half a dozen girls we have brought to the U.S. who are going to schools in America. Because Canada has a rich English Commonwealth tradition like Nigeria's, it would be compatible for these girls to have scholarships to go to Canada as well. If we could see assistance from CIDA and so on in that regard, that would be helpful.
Thank you very much, Mr. Anderson.
I literally just returned from Nigeria last week, and the refugee situation is worse than anything I've seen in years. What has happened is that Boko Haram has captured more than 30 cities. One of them, the largest they captured, is a city of 300,000 people, which about 500 terrorists were able to overrun.
Those kinds of losses are not sustainable. This is exactly what happened in northern Mali when the city of Gao was captured by 1,000 terrorists and the French went in to roll them back because there were 6,000 French citizens' lives at stake.
Sadly, although we've reached the same milestone in northern Nigeria with the fall of Mubi, the French are not coming in to help, because that is not a francophone country. The Brits are also not coming in. We have a really horrific security situation in which these entire cities are taken and we do not hear anything about the people who are inside.
I can tell you about a few of the girls in our program. While I was in Nigeria last week, one of them found out that her uncle and her cousins had been killed. When I came back, this week one of them found out that her brother had been killed. These are people in our girl education program right now. If we hadn't taken them out, they would have been killed as well.
Mr. Anderson, the security situation is very bad. The Nigerian military is not as effective as it should be. We are losing territory, and I think about nine counties have fallen to the terrorists as we speak.
Thank you, Mr. Allison.
I want to say that I'm replacing a colleague,, so I'm not as familiar with the origins of this particular meeting. If I misspeak, I will apologize ahead of time.
I want to thank Mr. Anderson and Mr. Goldring for bringing up the matter of how the moderate Muslim community can be involved in trying to tone down the extremism of some of its own community. We've seen this happening where the moderates have spoken up on recent events in the Middle East, for instance with ISIL. We've had demonstrations around the world of moderate Muslims speaking out against the extremist violence of ISIL. So I would encourage all religious organizations to engage all faiths in interfaith dialogues.
I'd like to know, quickly because I have a couple of other things I want to bring up, to what extent does your organization, Voice of the Martyrs, do that?
The concern I have is that—and I don't have all the statistics that back your affirmation that the Christians in Africa are the most persecuted—I have also seen victims of Christian persecutors. What Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army have done to the children in Uganda, in South Sudan, and in the Congo is absolutely horrendous. That's also going on currently in the South African Republic, where it is Christians who have sometimes been persecuting and extremely violent toward Muslims, moderate Muslims in some instances.
So I would not want to generalize that only Christians are being persecuted. They are, but there are Muslims who are persecuted, Jews who are persecuted, and Falun Gong in China, if you're going to go beyond Africa. You have 43 students who have just been killed—well, we all believe they've been killed—in Mexico by the drug lords.
Persecution is an unfortunate worldwide phenomenon, not only religious-based. It's sometimes economic, sometimes politically driven, sometimes ideologically driven. I think Canadians by and large, in all political parties as far as I can tell, are against all kinds and all forms of extremism, whether it's religious, economic, political, or whatever. We try to engage to attenuate it, sometimes militarily, sometimes with development aid, sometimes with dialogue. That's why I would encourage any organizations that we meet to engage in dialogue, because that's perhaps the most potent method over time of achieving that objective of greater understanding, of openness and tolerance, and brotherly and sisterly love.
I'm sorry, I'm lecturing here, and that's not the purpose of this meeting.
I have a question for Saa. I want to congratulate you for the courage you demonstrated and for convincing your friend to jump off that truck with you. Since you've managed to get back to Chibok, how has your life been?
I thank our witnesses for their comments. You have all painted a somewhat bleak picture of what's going on, particularly in Nigeria, and it causes me great concern.
Though Nigeria is not one of the 25 countries of focus for Canadian development dollars, it is a development partner country, and we are spending quite a bit of money in Nigeria. I'll just tell you what we have on our website. It says that the “goal of Canada's international development program in Nigeria is to help the country achieve equitable and sustainable poverty reduction by improving the country's ability to use its own resources for development. Canada supports efforts that focus on securing a future for children and youth, and stimulating sustainable economic growth in two states: Cross River and Bauchi.”
It concerns me, if what you are seeing is the lack of opportunity for these young people to get to school, that we are not really making a difference. The other area where we are spending a tremendous amount of money in Nigeria is with maternal, newborn, and child health. I'm wondering if you have any comments or if you think that there are, in your opinion, other areas where we should spending our money that might be more effective at this point.
My second question is, because we have a rather substantial Nigerian diaspora in Canada, is there any way that we can have the diaspora speak to the issues that you see in Nigeria right now and be a positive influence?
Yes. Thank you very much for that question.
I want to thank Canada for the support that they provide to Nigeria in development aid.
Let me mention with regard to the diaspora here that there's a huge disconnect between the south of Nigeria and the north of Nigeria. They're pretty much two separate countries that were amalgamated by the British during colonial rule. You will find that most Nigerian Canadians who you meet are from the south. Most of them do not have any real understanding of or connection to what is happening in northern Nigeria. It's difficult to get them interested and involved in the issue without pertinent information.
What I would recommend with regard to Canadian development assistance is that we really need to see a reorientation of that assistance towards the crisis in the north. We're going to have generational medical needs, generational educational needs, and so on and so forth, that are not being addressed as we speak. I think that there will be a need for a rethink of CIDA's development strategy in Nigeria, particularly in northern Nigeria.
Yes, absolutely. Boko Haram is a real global terrorist group. It's networked and linked into al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and a lot of other bad fellows.
Boko Haram has actually trained in Somalia and they've trained in northern Mali. The weapons that flowed out of Libya came into their hands.
Their financing is a bit more suspect, but we've had reports that Turkish Airlines was flying weapons into Nigeria. Iran has sent weapons into Nigeria. So it's a small group of the usual terrorist suspects working to support them.
That said, one key concern for me is the French connection, because France continues to pay off Boko Haram for abducted French citizens. That provides huge funding for Boko Haram to continue to carry out its atrocities.
You see that it has evolved from a group which, a few years ago, used to use machetes and gasoline to bomb churches, into a group that is now using surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft launchers.
It's my hope that working with the UN and other partners, the international community can block the weapons and the funding flows to Boko Haram.
Let me point out that in our efforts to bring Saa and others here, we had Muslim girls, ladies from the south of Nigeria who contributed towards making their passports and so forth. We want to see a groundswell of Muslims. In the same way that we have foreign fighters going to join the terrorists, let's see foreign peacemakers coming together and going out to try, through moral suasion and ideological debates, or through theological debates, to persuade these people that this is not the right way. Unfortunately we don't see enough of that happening. Maybe we need to create a platform for those people who are moderates to engage with them.
This is why I call it an intra-faith dialogue, because you and I as westerners cannot engage with them on that platform. Under sharia law, in a law court, our evidence is worth less than half of that of a Muslim. They wouldn't take us seriously, but as Muslim to Muslim they could engage. Then I think there would be some hope of dousing the ideological and theological extremism.
Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair.
This came up at the last minute, but there is a person called Vian Dakhil, who is a Yazidi member of Parliament in Iraq. She is appearing next week in Congress. She has been asked to appear there. She would be interested, if there's an interest, in coming up to Canada and speaking about her experience and about ISIL.
I know it's a last minute thing, but if the committee was willing, either next Tuesday or next Thursday, if it worked with her agenda, to have a chance to meet her.... I put that before the committee.
Okay, not for half an hour....
Very quickly, these are just two budgets on what we're working on right now. One is for the study we've undertaken and the other is for today. There's a budget for $22,500 and one for $2,650. I just want to see if the committee would be okay with that.
It's standard, what we look at doing. We need to have a vote on it to pass it. If you would just have a quick look at that....
As we're finishing handing them out, are there any questions? As I said, this is standard operating procedure. One is for what we're doing with regard to a response to ISIS. It's an ongoing study we just started. One is of course for today, for video conferencing. Are there any questions?
If there are no questions, then I'll pose the question.
(Motions agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: So carried.
Thank you very much.
If I may indulge for a second, one of the things we had run into before is having appropriate planning meetings, which is often a way to avoid this. I might suggest that.
I don't know how this happened. I wasn't pleased because not just for us as the opposition—we didn't have any time to prepare; we got notice of this yesterday—it didn't allow all the people who work at the front here, save the chair, and the chair didn't know either, for them to do the work.
I don't know how this happened, but I know how we could avoid it. One way is to have planning meetings or steering meetings as we used to have. That's an option. Clearly we can't have last minute.... It's not fair to the people who work here to prepare. It's not fair to anyone and we certainly wouldn't do the same. There are times when things do happen; I understand.
An hon. member: This is one.