Welcome to meeting number 18 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on October 22, 2020, the committee resumes its study of the vulnerabilities created and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on the pandemic's impact on children in conflict, crisis or displacement.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would, as always, encourage participants to please mute their microphones when not speaking and address all comments through the chair.
When you have 30 seconds remaining in your questioning or speaking time, I will signal you with this yellow piece of paper.
Interpretation services are available through the globe icon at the bottom of your screens.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses for the first panel.
We have with us from the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, Jaya Murthy, who is the global chief of internal communication; and Pernille Ironside, deputy director, division of data, analytics, planning and monitoring. We also have David Matas, member of the board of directors, Beyond Borders ECPAT Canada; and Shelly Whitman, executive director, Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security.
Ms. Ironside, I understand you will deliver the opening remarks for UNICEF. I will give you the floor for five minutes, please.
Thank you for the committee's invitation for my colleague, Jaya Murthy, and me to contribute to this critical and timely study, and for its focus on children in crisis and conflict.
We are proud Canadians and we've each spent the majority of the past 20 years as international civil servants of the United Nations Children's Fund, serving in conflict-affected countries, including Iraq, Gaza, Yemen, Nigeria, Uganda, Somalia and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where we've had the privilege of being part of efforts to support and protect children and their families.
We've seen first-hand how the violent and protracted nature of today's armed conflict has torn families apart, the brutality inflicted on young minds and bodies, and their extreme vulnerability.
One never forgets holding a trembling six-year-old girl so brutally raped that she is rendered incontinent, or the frail body of a severely malnourished infant barely clinging to life, and the anguish of a child whose family was killed for their eyes. One also never forgets the rays of hope on their faces and the profound resilience when provided with access to services and the reassurance that they are being cared for.
War shatters lives, it shatters countries' health and education systems, it damages or destroys vital infrastructure like water and sanitation, and it spurs the flight of essential workers such as doctors.
COVID‑19 has exacerbated this plight, triggering an unprecedented global health, humanitarian, socio-economic and human rights crisis with significant interruption in basic services, including essential nutrition services, vaccine-preventable disease campaigns and schooling for learners.
With over 100 million COVID-19 cases and 2.1 million deaths in virtually every country and territory, this pandemic is the biggest challenge of our time, and has had a unique disequalizing effect—more than any other crisis—on nations, states, communities, households and individuals.
It's clear that COVID‑19 and all its harmful consequences has made this a global child rights crisis.
For UNICEF, the pandemic has fundamentally altered our responses, adding a new layer of complexity in some of the most difficult and dangerous operating environments. We now need to reach the same populations that are routinely missed with basic services in a context of restricted movement and lockdowns. We are redoubling our efforts with our multitude of partners, local and national authorities, humanitarian and development organizations, civil society, the private sector, local respondents and thousands of community volunteers to support country readiness for COVID‑19 vaccines, including strategies to reach all people, especially those in hard-to-reach locations.
It also is for us to enable schools to reopen safely, particularly in poor areas, and reimagine education systems with remote learning that will include children who previously did not have access to a TV, let alone the Internet; to address the growing mental health challenges and risks of violence, exploitation and abuse [Technical difficulty—Editor]; and to reduce discrimination and inequality that are particularly acute for girls and women, as well as people with disabilities.
This is a crisis where we need the international community to come together, from local to global, to support an inclusive response through recovery that prioritizes investments in the world's children. Without increased investments and collaboration, recovery from the impact of this pandemic will be that much harder and slower.
Esteemed committee members, 75 years ago UNICEF was born out of the ashes of World War II, and once again the world is engulfed in crisis, the consequences of which threaten to undermine every measure of progress set out in the global sustainable development goals. This anniversary year, UNICEF is again being called upon to help the world's children, their families and the systems upon which they rely to emerge from crisis.
With crisis comes opportunity—the unique opportunity for Canadian leadership. As proud Canadians who have dedicated our lives to serving vulnerable conflict-affected children and their families around the world, there is nothing we would like to see more and nothing that would make us more proud than if the young rape survivor I held in eastern DRC and countless others whose lots in life have become that much harder due to COVID-19 could benefit from the integrated support they so need and deserve to transform their outcomes in life.
Thank you for this opportunity to address you.
Thank you for inviting me and for inviting us to participate in this study.
Beyond Borders ECPAT Canada is the Canadian affiliate of ECPAT, headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand. ECPAT is the worldwide network of organizations working to end the sexual exploitation of children. ECPAT is an acronym for the phrase “end child prostitution, pornography and trafficking”.
Within the general topic of the study, we wish to address the vulnerabilities of children to sexual exploitation created and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. In general, the vulnerabilities of children to sexual exploitation have been both created and exacerbated by the pandemic.
Protective parents have died from COVID, rendering children vulnerable. Funds directed to protecting vulnerable children from sexual exploitation have been diverted to combatting COVID. Programs combatting child sexual exploitation have been impacted by the overall shutdown in reaction to COVID. School closures to protect against COVID have meant that child sexual abuse at home is not reported at schools. Children in sexually abusive home situations have, because of the COVID-related shutdowns, been trapped in these situations.
For those with access to the Internet, the increased time children spend on the Internet stuck at home because of COVID increases their vulnerability to sexual grooming and cyber-bullying by child predators. Children in detention suffer from decreased monitoring by the International Committee for the Red Cross, decreased as a COVID-prevention measure, leaving them open to increased abuse, including sexual abuse, from detention staff.
COVID prevention measures have impacted adversely on the delivery of humanitarian aid generally, including aid for the protection of children from sexual abuse. The shutdown of economies to protect against COVID has led to increased poverty, prompting some parents to sell their children into underage marriages or the sex trade.
ECPAT in April 2020 posted a publication titled “Why children are at risk of sexual exploitation during COVID-19” and wrote:
When entertainment venues that traffickers frequently use to seek customers and exploit child victims are shut down, there is a likelihood that child trafficking patterns will adapt... Child marriages are...likely to increase as teenagers from rural areas are highly affected by the worsening economic situation, being forced to migrate to urban areas and to live on the streets.
The variety of problems that COVID presents that create and exacerbate the vulnerability of children to sexual abuse require a variety of solutions. Because of limited time, I only want to address one component, the increase in child marriages.
Global Affairs already had a strong policy updated on its website on August 20, 2020 against child, early and forced marriages.
The trouble with that policy is that, in a Canadian context, it rings hollow in light of the widespread availability and practice of child marriages in Canada itself. The Constitution of Canada gives Parliament exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the legal capacity to enter into marriage. The provinces have exclusive competence over the formalities of marriage.
Parliament, in the exercise of its powers over the legal capacity to enter into marriage, allows for child marriages. The federal Civil Marriage Act allows for marriages of children aged 16 and 17, and the power has been widely used.
A study of child marriages in Canada published in January this year concluded:
Demographic patterns of child marriage in Canada are similar to those observed in many low- and middle-income countries. Girls were far more likely to be married as children than boys and typically wed much older spouses.
The study pointed to a discrepancy between Canada's domestic law and its foreign policy. The global COVID-related problems relating to child sexual abuse would be difficult for Canada to resolve on our own. Changing Canadian law to prevent child marriages is something entirely within the power of the Parliament of Canada. We should be doing this to prevent the sexual exploitation of children at home. By doing so, we would make our efforts to prevent the sexual exploitation of children through child marriage abroad more credible.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much to the committee for this opportunity to speak with all of you today.
My name is Dr. Shelly Whitman. I am the executive director of the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security. I also wish to bring you greetings from our founder, Lieutenant-General (Retired) Roméo Dallaire.
It's a great opportunity for me to be here and it's lovely to see some of my former friends and colleagues like Pernille Ironside. The last time we met was in Nigeria.
I wish to begin by stating that the world needs to focus on building a global peace and security agenda that prioritizes the protection of children. Our collective failure to see the world through the eyes of children prevents us from effective and innovative approaches to address some of the world's most pressing issues of our time and will be felt for generations that have yet to come.
At the Dallaire Institute, we have been conducting work in places such as Juba, South Sudan; Kigali, Rwanda; DRC; Somalia; into Sierra Leone; Nigeria; and hopefully soon into other places such as Cameroon.
Today we are here to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children who are exposed to armed conflict.
Despite calls by the UN Secretary-General, armed conflict has not stopped during the pandemic. Health care systems and educational services already under immense strain by conflict have been placed under even more stress due to COVID-19. Yet, worryingly, the world's attention has been diverted from many of the conflicts that have continued or emerged. As a result, we are also not bearing close witness to the results on the concerns of children.
The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict has also expressed deep concern on the heightened risk of grave violations against children due to COVID-19. The UN special representative summarized the annual report to the Human Rights Council and stated that, “the response to the outbreak often had an unintended adverse impact on children's fulfilment of their rights to education and health, as well as their access to justice, social services, and humanitarian aid.” The report indicates that the pandemic has exacerbated children's vulnerability to grave violations in situations of armed conflict. “School closures made children even more vulnerable to other grave violations, in particular recruitment and use, and children in camps for internally displaced people and those deprived of their liberty have been particularly exposed to further protection risks.”
It is estimated that 99% of children globally reside in one of the 186 countries that have enacted some level of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. And for children living in conflict and fragile environments, the pressures of COVID-19 are even more complex.
I would like to remind this committee that UN Security Council Resolution 1612 highlights six grave violations against children in armed conflict. Those are the killing and maiming of children, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, abduction of children and the denial of humanitarian access for children. These six grave violations have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In particular, an example that I would like to highlight for you is that when it comes to measures to combat COVID-19 many children have been confined to dangerous home settings, increasing their risk of exposure to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, including sexual and gender-based violence, while limiting their access to protection services and social networks.
UNICEF estimates that 1.8 billion children live in 104 countries where violence prevention and response services have been disrupted due to COVID-19. And the UN Population Fund estimates that the pandemic will result in an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030.
In addition, when it comes to the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, we know that we have seen instances in places such as Colombia where the armed groups are exploiting the global pandemic to recruit children into their ranks. Almost as many children are estimated to have joined armed groups in Colombia in the first half of 2020 as in the whole of 2019.
In addition, we have also seen increased insecurity because of the present pandemic, which has created conditions that have led to an increase in child trafficking in places such as Mali, and the cases of child recruitment have doubled there over the previous year.
School closures and disruptions have also created immense impact on the 1.6 billion students in 190 countries, and the risk of military occupation of closed schools remains a real concern. Prior to the pandemic, education around the world was already in crisis. It is estimated that over 10 million children will not return to school after the pandemic, as families continue to be impacted by growing poverty and unemployment rates. Schools continue to be attacked in places such as Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria and Yemen. As recently as this week, we have seen horrific attacks on more schools in northeast Nigeria.
The denial of humanitarian access for children in active conflict zones and pre-existing challenges with nutrition have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Border closures in response to the pandemic have also adversely impacted the delivery of humanitarian aid to populations in need of additional support. For those living in IDP camps, access to sanitation is also further limited, and this is happening in a context of record child displacement occurring in 2019.
There is also increasing concern for children who are being detained due to suspicions of their involvement in terrorism or security offences, and the deplorable conditions that many of those children continue to be held in.
When we look at this issue, it is important for this committee and the Government of Canada to recognize that child protection is already a gravely underfunded field, constituting just 0.6% of official development aid. It is expected that the pandemic and the response will continue to reduce this funding.
I want to remind those here that in November 2017 the Canadian government, in partnership with the Dallaire Institute, co-created the Vancouver principles on peacekeeping and the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers around the world. Today I would like to reiterate the need for Canada to continue to demonstrate leadership amongst the 100 endorsing nations that have endorsed since 2017, and also amongst the many that have yet to endorse.
It should not—
It's a great question. I think that definitely there are a few things we could focus on.
One, of course, is thinking through the detention issue. As I mentioned, I think that is a major issue for us to look at in terms of how countries are handling children who are detained as a result of the suspicion that they are involved in armed violence or in terrorist groups.
Another area that is huge for us to focus on is aspects related to education. Again, I want to also stress that it's not just access to education; it's the quality of education. One concern we have, certainly, is our ability to ensure that children have access to education that focuses on things such as critical thinking and peace education. Thinking through those elements is really important.
There is one last point I would like to raise. I was talking at the end about the Vancouver principles, and it's really important that Canada also step up to ensure that the Vancouver principles are implemented. There is implementation guidance that accompanies the Vancouver principles. While it's noble to have many endorsers, we have to see that nations and their security forces are also better prepared to interact and help prevent the recruitment and use of children around the globe.
I wanted to ask a question quickly—because I don't have a lot of time—of David Matas. It's about ECPAT. In 1997, I went to the first world conference on the sexual exploitation of children and youth, and it was there that ECPAT started to form its legs. ECPAT is an NGO, as most of you know, and it is doing extremely important work on children who are being trafficked.
We talk about conflict areas. We talk about Africa. We talk about South America. We talk about all those places. No one wants to talk about what's going on in Europe. Children are being trafficked there daily by organized crime, and we don't have data on it. We don't know what happens to them. We can't find them. About 13,000 children right now are missing in Europe, and nobody knows where they've disappeared to. There is an informal kind of refugee camp because these people come through Greece; they come through Italy, and then they get blocked at every border, with the exception of Germany and...Europe. Everyone thinks Europe is wondrous because Europe is a rich continent, but it isn't. There is a lot going on with regard to the safety of children in Europe.
I wanted to know how you feel ECPAT could do something about this. Is ECPAT involved in the European theatre? What is ECPAT doing to flag commercial sexual exploitation of children?
ECPAT is a network of affiliated organizations, and there are country representatives of ECPAT in 102 countries, including the European countries, absolutely. The headquarters have put out a general statement about the problems of COVID and sexual exploitation.
What you're talking about is a continuing problem. It existed pre-COVID, and it continues on with COVID. Of course, what you're dealing with are sexual predators who are targeting children. A lot of the venues where they traditionally have gone to target children, like bars and so on, have been shut down. As a result, they're using new and different ways, and they're adapting to the COVID situation.
Often what we find is that children, because of the increased poverty and the shutdowns that are generated with COVID, become vulnerable in different ways. As a result, the combat against child sexual exploitation in a COVID context has to shift. In reality, there has been a degeneration. Of course, you're absolutely right.
In terms of the European countries, it's not just people, refugees, coming from outside Europe and then being exploited in Europe. It's actual Europeans being exploited within Europe. Hungary has a very big problem, not only in terms of what's happening there but in terms of exporting to the rest of Europe.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being here and for sharing their insightful comments with our committee.
UNICEF has reported that at the height of the pandemic, 90% of students around the world were affected by school closures. Even in countries like ours, we have seen how much of an impact these closures have had on student motivation and academic achievement. We can only assume that things are even worse in countries facing much more difficult conditions with technology that lags behind, and where some students might be tempted to enter the workforce, while others might be recruited for human trafficking and prostitution, or even join the ranks of child soldiers.
UNICEF further reported that according to a world survey released in August, children were being exposed to a growing risk of violence, exploitation and abuse as a result of the pandemic.
We also received a few answers with respect to the sexual exploitation of children.
February 12 is International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day. Its objective is to gain support from governments to put an end to the recruitment of children as soldiers. According to the director of World Vision, the number of child soldiers has increased by 75% over the past 10 years.
Can the pandemic be assumed to have heightened, increased and intensified the recruitment of children as soldiers and for human trafficking networks?
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
As was noted at the outset, UNICEF is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Humanitarian aid has never been more urgent than during the current pandemic.
To vaccinate as many people as possible, some airline companies are going to lend a hand by helping to transport vaccines. Ten companies, including Air France, KLM and Ethiopian Airlines, have agreed to help UNICEF by transporting vaccine doses. Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet are not among them.
Is there a way of finding out whether they've shown an interest in this? Can any conclusions be drawn from the non-participation of Canadian airline companies in this operation
Again, thank you to the witnesses.
I'm just going to follow up on something that Ms. Whitman said. She talked a little bit about the very big risk of dollars and attention being diverted away from this very pressing crisis. I have the benefit, as the member from the fourth party, to ask the last question of everyone.
I would like to go through our three witnesses and just ask them about the call for one per cent. We know that many of the groups in Canada are calling for a 1% commitment to the COVID response.
Could you talk about what that would mean for your organizations, whether you would support it or anything else you would like to say as your last statement? I will start with UNICEF.
Welcome back, colleagues.
For the benefit of our new panel of witnesses in the second panel, and to ensure an orderly meeting, I would encourage everybody to mute their microphones, please, unless they're speaking and to address comments through the chair.
When you have 30 seconds left in your speaking or questioning time I will signal you with this yellow piece of paper, so just keep your eye on the screen periodically, please.
Interpretation is available through the globe icon at the bottom of your screens.
I'd now like to welcome the second panel of witnesses.
We have Farida Deif, Director of Human Rights Watch Canada.
We also have, as individuals, lawyer Stéphane Handfield and producer Mathieu Paiement.
Lastly, we have Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur at the Special Procedures Branch of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
Ms. Deif, welcome once again to the committee. You have five minutes for your opening remarks.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairperson and honourable members of Parliament, for inviting me to address this committee.
I will focus my remarks on the situation in northeast Syria for three reasons: the scale of the humanitarian needs, compounded by this pandemic; the gravity of the human rights abuses experienced by children; and the opportunities for Canadian leadership to address these enormous challenges.
Roughly two million people live in northeast Syria in areas under the control of the Kurdish-led autonomous administration, the de facto government. Much of the population does not have sufficient access to health care, water, sanitation and shelter, and the region’s health care system has been severely damaged or destroyed by nearly 10 years of conflict.
While more than 60% of the population requires humanitarian aid, in January 2020 the UN Security Council ended its authorization that allowed UN aid supplies to enter northeast Syria from Iraq, leaving aid groups that depended heavily on this critical border crossing unable to meet the population’s needs. They are now dependent on the Syrian government's approval to deliver critical supplies, but Damascus continues to severely restrict aid reaching Kurdish-held areas and has repeatedly withheld vital food and medicine from political opponents and civilians.
Medical supplies and personnel needed to prevent, contain and treat COVID‑19 are also restricted. As of January 9, there were officially over 8,000 COVID cases in northeast Syria, but experts warn that actual numbers are significantly higher. The UN Security Council’s failure to maintain a cross-border aid system also means there's no guaranteed channel for vaccine distribution in the future, with potentially catastrophic results.
These appalling conditions also exist in the locked desert camps of al‑Hol and Roj that hold the family members of ISIS suspects who were displaced from territory previously held by the group. As elsewhere in northeast Syria, there are severe shortages of food, health care and access to clean water in these camps, home to over 64,000 Syrian, Iraqi and third-country nationals, mostly women and children. The detained foreigners include at least 46 Canadians: eight men, 13 women, and 25 children, most under the age of six.
In August 2020 alone, eight children died in al‑Hol camp, primarily from malnutrition and severe dehydration They are among hundreds, many of them children, who have died of preventable diseases since March 2019.
Rampant illness, unsanitary conditions that include overflowing latrines and insufficient water, and overcrowding have left detainees in the camps especially vulnerable to COVID. These detainees, including the Canadians, have not been charged with any crime and have never even been brought before a judge. The innocent, such as the children who never chose to be born or live under ISIS, have no hope of leaving northeast Syria without this government’s intervention. The arbitrary detention of these children solely on the basis of their families’ suspected ties to ISIS amounts to guilt by association and collective punishment.
Last June, Human Rights Watch published a report on the plight of these Canadians, and we've actively advocated for this government to repatriate them. Despite our efforts and the Kurdish authorities' calls to repatriate, Canada has only brought home a single orphan, and has not even helped to verify the citizenship of the 20 or more children born in Syria to Canadian parents, leaving them without an officially recognized nationality.
It is astounding that while Canada this week launched a global declaration against arbitrary detention, the government continues to turn a blind eye to the plight of its own nationals in northeast Syria, including children, who are trapped in a war zone amid a deadly global pandemic. The government’s inaction stands in stark contrast to both the rapid evacuations in response to COVID of tens of thousands of Canadians and the actions of Canadian allies who managed to bring home their nationals from these same camps.
Describing her frustration with the government's response, one grandmother with three Canadian grandchildren detained in northeast Syria asked Human Rights Watch: “Do they just want them to die? That's what it seems like. …These children, where are they going to get food, medicine, vitamins? …You're not helping them survive, and you're not letting me help them.”
Thus far, the government has offered only excuses to justify the 's unwillingness to spend political capital to bring this specific group of Canadians home. In doing so, Canada is flouting its international obligations to intervene when citizens abroad face serious abuses, including risks to life, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. These breaches are especially egregious in the case of Canada’s obligations towards child citizens, including the obligation to ensure a child’s right to acquire a nationality.
In closing, we ask this committee to urge the government to take several concrete steps. Canada should engage with like-minded countries to press the UN Security Council to immediately re-authorize the cross-border mechanism to northeast Syria to enable aid to enter the region regularly.
This government should also increase humanitarian aid to northeast Syria, with the goal of ending dire and often life-threatening conditions and ensuring adequate health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation and education for children.
Finally, Canada should repatriate, as a matter of urgency, all Canadians detained in northeast Syria, giving priority to children, persons requiring medical assistance and other particularly vulnerable detainees. Children should be brought home with mothers or other adult guardians absent compelling evidence that separation is in the child’s best interest. Canada should act now to recognize the citizenship of all Canadian detainees in northeast Syria, including by issuing travel documents and coordinating safe passage to Canadian consulates and back to Canada.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Good afternoon, everyone.
What we' re going to discuss today is the vulnerability of Canadian children held as prisoners in refugee camps in northeast Syria.
In a June 2020 report, Human Rights Watch listed 26 confirmed cases of Canadian children held in the Al‑Hol and Roj camps. Their only crime was to have been born of parents who had served in the armed group of the Islamic State.
In connection with the film being made about this deplorable situation, we sent a team of documentary filmmakers to Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria. At the Al‑Hol camp, the largest in the region, the team found that the authorities in charge had neither the financial nor human resources required to maintain minimal health standards. The camp is overpopulated and the refugees live in tents. They have no clean water, and just enough food to survive, with no access to basic medical care. Added to this are the conflicts that break out every day in this micro-society in distress. Living conditions in the camp are unhealthy and inhuman.
According to the Kurdish Red Crescent, in 2019, the year of our visit to Al‑Hol, 517 people died, 371 of whom were children, mostly owing to illnesses. Under these circumstances, it' s not surprising to learn that the Kurdish authorities have been encouraging various countries to repatriate their nationals. The process is slow, and Canada has been dragging its feet in dealing with the situation.
Today, we would like to describe how COVID‑19 has exacerbated the vulnerability of Canadian children detained in camps in northeast Syria.
When efforts began to combat the coronavirus, governments around the world adopted approximately the same health guidelines: physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and mask wearing, with a view to preventing western health systems from becoming overwhelmed. Al‑Hol may well be the place in the world where it would be most unrealistic to apply these measures. How to enforce physical distancing in an overpopulated camp of 65,000 people crammed into an area of only 1.5 square kilometres? How to wash your hands regularly without running water or disinfectant? How to wear a mask when even basic clothing is not available? How not to overburden the health system when only five of the 24 small clinics at the camp are still operational?
While data may be very fragmentary, some of the most accurate numbers we have are for the health staff in the camps affected by COVID‑19. They explain why many care centres in Al‑Hol had to be closed, and are also indicative of the spread of the disease.
In August 2020, in a context where tests were not being carried out systematically, the Kurdish authorities reported a total of 54 people with COVID‑19. At the same time, in a single week, seven children under five years of age died in the camp.
The situation is urgent, and other countries acknowledge it.
I'll turn things over to Mr. Paiement now.
Thank you, Mr. Handfield.
I'd like to thank the committee for the invitation.
The situation is indeed urgent, and other countries acknowledge it.
For example, a motion was signed by the members of four parties in the United Kingdom acknowledging first of all that British nationals are prisoners in camps in northeast Syria. The motion further recognizes that these camps are a—
“particular breeding ground for covid-19”,
—including the fact that supporters of Islamic State doctrines have been spreading the idea that only infidels can catch the virus. As we know, people who are already ill are the most vulnerable.
Furthermore, the motion recognizes that refugees living in these camps are suffering from malnutrition. We were able to see it, feel it and film it. They are also suffering from war injuries and untreated illnesses like tuberculosis, jaundice and gastrointestinal diseases. Not only that, but the mortality rate in these camps was already hovering around 10%, and COVID-19 made the situation even worse.
The situation is disastrous even outside the camps, mainly because years of war have destroyed medical infrastructures, as Ms. Deif pointed out. Throughout Rojava, which is in fact Syrian Kurdistan, only two of 11 hospitals were still operational. Not only that, but there are just 40 ventilators available for a population of several million inhabitants. A modest estimate would be that the health system in the region could treat a maximum of 500 cases of COVID-19. To help you understand just how inadequate this is, I can say that in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, which while it gathers more accurate statistics, still does no systematic testing, over 100,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths have been recorded.
In this emergency context, Germany and Finland repatriated 23 children just before Christmas, and in early 2021, France went there to retrieve seven children on humanitarian and health grounds. At this rate, all the Canadian children being held as prisoners in camps in northeast Syria could have been repatriated in only a few weeks.
Canadian nationals, including 25 children, have been suffering in these camps for two years now. On the one hand, a unanimous motion in the Quebec National Assembly demanded their repatriation. On the other, a petition was submitted to the House by Mr. Handfield. The petition, signed by more than 900 Canadians, had the support of all the opposition parties.
COVID-19 Is now threatening the lives and health of these nationals who have been forgotten in camps in northeast Syria, and the Canadian government, it would appear, is still doing nothing.
It's important to recall today that in the weeks following the announcement of the pandemic, Canada repatriated or facilitated the return of some 40,000 Canadian citizens and permanent residents from 100 countries around the world, including 29 from Syria.
We therefore believe that it is now more urgent than ever to repatriate the children of Canadian citizens being held under inhuman conditions, and now threatened by the COVID-19 epidemic in these camps, as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention.
Good afternoon, Chairperson and honourable members of Parliament.
Before I start my remarks, I will just state the waiver that I'm required to make as a UN official before you. My attendance today before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development is in my capacity as special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. I'm here to provide an informal, unsworn oral briefing to the committee and nothing in my remarks should be understood as a waiver expressed or implied of the privileges and immunities of the United Nations, its officials or experts on mission, pursuant to the 1946 convention.
During my remarks I will express my personal views and position on the effects of COVID‑19 on children, and the use of exceptional and emergency powers, and specifically on the obligations of states, including Canada, with respect to the arbitrary detention of children detained in the al‑Hol and Roj camps.
At the very beginning of the pandemic, the mandate I hold issued an early warning with a number of other special procedures colleagues on the misuse of exceptional powers, counterterrorism, security and broader regulations in the context of COVID‑19. We were particularly concerned that measures taken would fundamentally affect the rights of men, women, boys and girls. I underscore that any measures taken to respond to the pandemic must be, under international law necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, given their potentially negative effect.
In addition to that statement and that work, the mandate I hold, with two leading NGOs, has created a global tracker on the use of exceptional powers around the globe in the context of COVID‑19. Here we've been addressing and observing the scope and range of exceptional powers that are being used across the world.
Now we're all on our computers, we're all obviously dealing with the effects of the pandemic, but it remains clear that if we wake up the day after the pandemic and the rule of law and the protections that we have spent decades building for human rights and the rule of law have disintegrated, much more than health will have been lost during this really challenging period.
I want to underscore that what we are seeing with negative effects on children in many places is that emergency powers and exceptional law have been used in many contexts to consolidate government power, securitize government responses and undermine democratic process. Moreover, we're seeing extensive and expansive infringement on individual rights, including children's rights, that undermine society's challenge to affect the underlying conditions that are creating vulnerabilities to COVID.
And more than that, I think we should all be aware that the changes implemented during the pandemic, like emergency and exceptional powers around the world, have a tendency to persist and become permanent.
In particular, I want to highlight the widespread use of data tracking, including the most sensitive data including in relation to children's biometric health data, in some contexts without any protections or sufficient protections on storage, use or transfer.
I'm also particularly concerned that we're seeing extensive use of counterterrorism practice as the means of addressing the pandemic in multiple national contexts. What that does, as other special procedures mandates have highlighted, is exacerbate discriminatory patterns of abuse by security services and agencies that primarily work in this arena that have little or no experience or relevant experience of working in a health context.
As we know, epidemiological evidence across a number of states reveals that COVID‑19 is causing disproportionate deaths among racialized minorities and other historically vulnerable groups. Consider then the proposition that the tools of the surveillance state and the use of force capacity by states will be further mobilized against those communities that experience ongoing trust and harm deficits in relation to the security sector.
Let me now turn to the issue of the complex humanitarian situation and the particular challenges of protection in the context of COVID‑19 for the most vulnerable in Syria, specifically northeast Syria. Last week my office, with 12 other mandate holders and two working groups of the United Nations Human Rights Council, issued a communication to 57 states, including Canada, urging them to repatriate women and children from the squalid camps in northeast Syria. We expressed serious concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in al‑Hol and Roj.
I have set out with my fellow special rapporteurs the dire humanitarian conditions in the camp and the need for a collective action response to a collective problem.
This is a list that no state should want to be on, and in that regard I include Canada. Thousands of people, including children, are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions that, in our view, meet the standard of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment under international law.
Let me also be clear that unless individuals are returned, the need for victims of terrorism to have a clear accountability for the harms they have experienced will not be met as there is absolutely zero prospect of a meaningful, fair trial in that part of the world.
Let me close by saying—and I'm happy to take questions—that the communication issued to the government highlighted a data collection exercise that was undertaken on camp nationals, including Canadian women and children last year. We are deeply concerned about that exercise and the evidence of the information that may have been gathered and its sharing with security services.
There is a solution, and we are seeing many states engage that solution by returning their nationals. Unfortunately Canada is not one of those countries, and I urge the government and this parliamentary committee to focus its immediate attention on the need to ensure that Canada is a leader in this area, not a state that sits on a list of shame in the failure to return its women and children home.
We believe that legal obligation lies in a number of respects.
The first is under the counterterrorism resolutions of the Security Council, those two resolutions that address foreign fighter obligations of states, where it is really clear that the only international law-compliant response to the challenges posed by foreign fighters and their families or associated individuals is return. It's the only way that one will get prosecution, which is an obligation for serious crimes under international law if evidence exists to prosecute.
It's the only way in which victims of terrorism will actually see a process that will meet their needs. From the long-term strategic and security perspective, which the mandate regularly engages with security services around the world, there's also a clear sense that this is in the long-term security interest for states like Canada. Leaving these nationals in a place where they will fester, which will create the ideal breeding grounds for further violence, is not in anyone's long-term interest.
Under human rights, I would just say that under the treaty obligations in relation to torture and extrajudicial and arbitrary execution, there's a really clear and compelling positive obligation on Canada to prevent serious harm to its nationals, which it is in a position to prevent.
I think there are three buckets of action I would stress for this committee.
The first is actually the passage of it, the rush to pass counterterrorism legislation during COVID, when Parliaments are limited and unable to meet, and when the kind of parliamentary scrutiny you need on that kind of legislation doesn't happen. I will offer two examples. Both of them are our friends, but the mandate is both in France and in the United Kingdom. We've also seen extensive counterterrorism legislation in Peru and in Turkey. We'd be happy to share the list of countries that have been passing such legislation.
The second is a more challenging problem, which is the use of counterterrorism legislation to regulate COVID, meaning that instead of using health provisions if needed, or health law, we are using the security apparatus of the state to do COVID‑19 work. I'm going to use the example of Sri Lanka in that regard. The use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Sri Lanka is of deep concern. Again, we recognize that measures will need to be taken, but counterterrorism measures are not fit for purpose for a health pandemic, and we ought to be clear about that. What we see is rife opportunism in expanding security measures in states that have highly problematic human rights records, in the context of COVID.
Just to be clear, the resolution that has left one remaining open humanitarian path into Syria is up at the Security Council. That resolution will have to be renegotiated in Security Council. Actors, such as human rights actors, can only lobby for that emphasis and the need to keep that humanitarian passage open.
What we need are states like Canada standing up and speaking to their Security Council partners and saying that this matters to us. Humanitarian access into Syria is an issue for Canada. You want to put our political will behind that. As you know, this is a very complex political issue. It involves Russia, it involves Syria, it involves a number....
Just bear in mind that we used to have four humanitarian access points. We're now down to the last one, so, if that goes, the consequent disaster that will be seen in Syria will be in many ways unmanageable. Here we need a collective political will. We need the Security Council to understand that this issue matters for all states, particularly states that are committed to doing humanitarian action in Syria and ensuring the integrity and independence of that work.
This has to be an issue for the Canadian government. Special rapporteurs have much less capacity to influence than governments who make this a really key issue for themselves.
Once again, I'd like to thank the witnesses for sharing their relevant and insightful comments with our committee.
Mr. Paiement said that allowing Canadian nationals to remain in the northeast Syrian camps would have an impact on their health and their lives.
Ms. Ní Aoláin argued that the repercussions could be even more serious and possibly extend beyond issues pertaining to people's lives and health.
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the acting Deputy Ambassador of the United States, told the United Nations Security Council that citizens should be repatriated because the threat from the Islamic State armed group was going to increase. He added that an estimated 90% of children in camps were under 12 years of age and 50% under five years old. This is certainly the case for most children detained in Syria.
The Canadian Press reported that: “… Human Rights Watch Canada say[s] the Trudeau government isn't living up to its new international campaign against arbitrary detention because it is abandoning 25 Canadian children trapped in northern Syria.”
When we asked the about it, he said that the lack of a presence there was making things more complicated. Surprisingly, many countries in the exact same situation as Canada's, meaning that they don't have a presence there, have managed to repatriate their young nationals.
What action were these countries able to take, and why haven't we done so yet?
I am happy to start, because the mandate has been...and I am deeply involved with many of these returns. I was in Kazakhstan last year when they repatriated over 500 women and children. I have seen first-hand what states do in order to extract their nationals.
There are a couple of things to be clear about.
One, when Canada and other countries say they have an absence of representation, that does not mean they do not have the capacity to engage with these de facto authorities. I want to be clear that we are aware that many third-country national governments are in de facto conversation with the de facto authorities, whether that is publicly acknowledged or not, as are their security services.
Two, the SDF—as my colleague from Human Rights Watch indicated—have indicated their absolute willingness to co-operate to ensure all of the things that need to be done, whether it's DNA testing, identifying the individuals, whether it's making the practical preparations for their departure....
Three, there are countries that are prepared to help. The United States, for example, has been instrumental in many of the exits by enabling passage and transport.
There is no deficit here in terms of means to extract your nationals. Countries are doing that. Kazakhstan did it last week: seven nationals. The week before that, we had Finland extracting its nationals. This is not impossible. It is more challenging under COVID, but it is not impossible. It is political will that is missing here, not the means to extract these individuals.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all of our presenters today.
This is very disturbing testimony, of course. I am a new parliamentarian—probably the newest on this call—hearing this testimony. I have no skin in the game; I have not yet been part of any administration that has been in government. However, from what I am understanding, it is vital that we take action. It is possible that there are people who are eager to assist and to help with this action being taken—other countries are doing it—and that fundamentally Canada is falling down on its obligations.
This could be the last opportunity I have to speak to you.
To all three of the panellists, I would like to hear how you were able to move Canada on the one instance where we were able to repatriate one of our citizens. What were the steps that worked with that?
How are you able to move other governments? What can we do right now to ensure that Canada recognizes its obligations and that this government acts on them?
I could start perhaps with Human Rights Watch.
I just want to ask a question about this repatriation process. We are talking about concerns here from the government with regard to children who may have been incorporated within ISIS. I think that this cannot just be taken as lack of political will. There have been a lot of concerns from the former government about repatriating people who had ties to ISIS, and we see that this is a question that is constantly asked by other governments, especially the opposition parties.
How do we square that, and how do we know when we bring those children back that there will be an ability to ensure that we are going to have all of us working in the same direction as a Parliament to say that this is the thing to do and not play political games with it? I think political games are what we are at.
I agree with you that these children should come back, but then again, if we all agree that this should happen, there should be a way of ensuring that when these kids come back, they get incorporated into our society and don't have that stigma of wandering around with people calling them terrorists, etc. I have seen that happen in our country in recent years.
Can somebody tell me how we do that without that happening? It's not simply that no one wants to bring the kids back. It's how you do it without having the kids stigmatized when they get back by various other political parties.
We haven't received a response. The government has 60 days to respond to the letter. The list of the countries is public and the press statement is also public.
I really would say to Canada that it has 60 days, so use those days well. Use them to action and to figure out what it can do in this circumstance.
As we clearly laid out, there are a number of instant measures, including checking on the status, health and the situation of those in the camps and verifying nationality. We've seen how these things can be done, including COVID.
These 60 days are really a test case for the government. What can you do in 60 days to respond to the Human Rights Council's special procedures mechanism and the attention of being on a list of 57 countries, which demonstrates the collective action problem that has to be addressed?
Use those 60 days wisely. Show us that you can actually respond meaningfully to address your international and human rights obligations in terms of women and children in the camps.
The motion I would like to bring forward and that I would like to table is the following:
That the committee recognizes that, due to failures by the government to ensure adequate supply of vaccines for Canadians through national manufacturing and international procurement, Canada is the only G7 country accessing vaccines through COVAX, an initiative intended to provide vaccines to high risk individuals in low and middle income countries. The committee further recognizes that this failure by the government to secure domestic supply makes Canadians more vulnerable to dangerous variants and extends the detrimental global economic impacts of COVID-19 by delaying vaccinations to high-risk people in poor countries. Finally, that the committee report this motion to the House.
I bring this motion forward because I'm deeply concerned about the fact that Canada is the only G7 country that has accessed the COVAX vaccination. We know, regardless of the rule of law, that this vaccination program, this program of COVAX that was put in place in 2020, was put in place to help low- and middle-income countries, of which Canada is not one. Because we are taking those vaccinations away from other countries, or potentially taking those vaccinations away from other countries, there are important things that could result. One of them is that we could have up to 30% higher morbidity around the world, 30% more people could die because we do not have an equitable way to share our vaccines. The second thing is Canadians are at risk. If variants are developed because we are aren't able to address the needs of the most vulnerable around the world, variants will develop that we may not be able to be protected from by the vaccines we've already received.
Finally, we live in a global economy, and Canada's economy cannot recover while our global economy is being hampered by COVID-19. It is bad public health practice. It is extremely unethical, and it is also very bad for our global economy. This is why I would table this motion for your consideration.
I just want to say that although I understand the sentiments of Ms. McPherson on this, I do have some remarks to add to some of the language of the motion. I think some of the language puts undue or unfair criticism on only this government.
It says that “due to failures by the government to ensure adequate supply of vaccines”. I don't think that the situation the government is finding itself in right now is due to a failure of the government to secure supplies.
We have secured five times the amount needed for our population in supplies. There has been a decrease in production or a temporary delay in production, and due to that we find ourselves in this situation. I think it's a global circumstance. Right now it's one that is impacting not only Canada but also many countries in the world. I don't believe that if any other party were in government right now the situation would be all that different.
I think we've all had discussions about the fact that we wish there were domestic capacity right now to manufacture vaccines, but we have done our level best to try to create that capacity once again, and that's well under way. That situation is not due to this government. That is due to many consecutive governments and it was under a Conservative government in which we lost our capacity to begin with.
I won't say that I would go all the way back just to blame that Conservative government or anything either; it's no one government. This is just the situation we find ourselves in. Canadians expect us to take responsible measures in order to make sure that Canada and the world can face this pandemic together.
Back in the fall we invested quite a lot into three different facilities in Canada. There was $173 million through the strategic innovation fund that was invested into Medicago to support Canada's response to COVID-19 and future preparedness. We're seeing the results of those investments right now. We invested $18.2 million in the Vancouver-based biotechnology company Precision NanoSystems, and we also invested $24.27 million in a project to help advance the development of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate through pre-clinical studies as well.
This is in addition to the $220 million that we have become leaders in investing into COVAX. We did that so that there would be a global supply. We've invested far more, of course, to make sure that those low-to-middle-income countries that Ms. McPherson has mentioned do have supply.
In fact, even in the agreement, or even in the statement when you look at it—and I think we had this discussion in one of our meetings previously as well—the intention was always there that Canada would have first access to these vaccines. It is stated that a core objective of the WHO global allocation framework is to promote fair and equitable access to all, and, in the first phase of vaccine availability, that the vaccines will be offered to all participating economies at the same rate to allow them to vaccinate the same percentage of their population.
This was stipulated in the agreement to begin with. Yes, I understand that you are pointing to the G7 factor, but Canada is not the only developed country going down this path. Around the world we're hearing that New Zealand's response to this pandemic has been exceptional, and I wouldn't argue with that, but New Zealand is also relying on the COVAX vaccine supply. So is South Korea. So is Singapore and so is Indonesia.
I just feel that some of the language could be amended.
My first comment would be that we remove the word “failure” and we put in “due to global circumstances”. “That the committee recognize that due to global circumstances, the government has had delays in the supply of vaccines for Canadians”. I think that would be more appropriate.
My second comment is that a lot of important work is happening in the House itself right now and a lot of legislation that is equally important to serving Canadians and this pandemic. I think that at the end of this, although there are some other comments I'd like to make, I don't want to reword the whole thing by any means, but I do think in the last sentence, where it says, “Finally, that the committee report this motion to the House”, I would request that be removed from the motion as well and that we deal with this issue at committee.
There are other ways that perhaps we can have that discussion here and look into investigating why we're having to use COVAX. I'll throw out that we should maybe invite the minister to talk about this issue in a public hearing, where we can ask the important questions as to why this decision has been made by the government, but I don't think it's in any Canadians' interest that we take up valuable House resources. Reporting this back to the House could possibly take a whole day when we could be debating something else. At a minimum, it would take at least four hours of House time. I know the NDP is looking forward to debating legislation and seeing it passed in the House as well.
Those would be my two big points, that this circumstance is one we find ourselves in, but it's not due to any fault of one particular government and then, second, that we remove the reporting to the House.
We are now speaking to Ms. Sahota's amendments, so I will stick to Ms. Sahota's amendments. However, in my instance, the whole motion is a misinterpretation of things that I would have liked to discuss. I'll discuss that when we discuss the amended motion.
Now, to the amendments, from what I know, the issue of vaccines is this: Normally, a vaccine takes 10 to 24 years to develop. When it is developed it goes through the in vitro trials and it goes into clinical trials, and it takes a heck of a long time to get accepted by countries to be used. We saw how long it took when Salk brought in the polio vaccine. This is an extraordinary feat, for vaccines to be available and having to undergo clinical trials in only six months.
One of the things it also created was this need for everybody to jump on it and say, “Oh my gosh, let's all agree with these vaccines; let's all get moving on them”, only to find the global demand did not allow the vaccine manufacturers and producers to be able to produce the amount of vaccines to meet that demand. They had to pause and expand their facilities and their capability to be able to churn out the billions of vaccines they needed. That is not any one government's fault; that is a reality. That's a fact. This is the truth. They can't do it.
We're seeing that everybody is moving forward and working quickly. In terms of global circumstances, we should talk of not one government's fault, but instead about the fact that global circumstances and global capacity for vaccines have led to this issue. We now also see that it is not a government's fault that some countries are not using these vaccines because they do not act against the variants that we see coming up. Even South Africa is turning down the use of certain vaccines because they not able to protect against variants.
Again, clinical trials do not happen in two days. You don't suddenly find out how people react to something and what the downsides of it are. This is medicine. This is about people's needs and the ability to be effective and to be safe. Those are two important things in vaccines.
This is a real thing. We have a pandemic. This is not about Canada being the only country that doesn't have supply, so I want to speak to that. I want to speak also to the second part of the amendment, which is that the committee report this motion to the House.
If we are going to begin on standing committees to report to the House every single motion that should be debated by the committee and agreed on or disagreed on by the committee, we will begin a procedure or a set of procedures that will not allow Parliament to even be able to function. Therefore, I think we have to ask ourselves why we want to do this, unless it's just something that we feel would score political points or be partisan.
I also want to remind everyone of one thing: Canadians and people around the world are scared. We have seen a first wave. We have seen a second wave. We are now talking about a third wave. People are frightened, and if we feel that it is responsible of us to increase that anxiety and fear amongst our own citizens by discussing where governments have risen and governments have failed, without actually speaking to the facts of the issue, we are actually doing a disservice Canadians. I think it's mischievous, but I don't believe it's meant to mischievous. I think it's in good faith that this is brought up. However, let us remember that we need to look at reality; we need to look at facts; we need to look at this as more than just a government. We need to assure Canadians that we, all of us, every single political party in the House of Commons, have their backs and are prepared to do whatever we need to do to be able, within practical circumstances, to deliver for them in the way we do.
Later on, if we come back to the actual motion, I would like to speak to certain elements of the motion that I also think are not based in fact.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to begin by pointing out that, like other colleagues, I have to attend another committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. For my meeting, I have to go to another building. I'd like details like this to be taken into consideration, particularly when last-minute decision are made to call another meeting in the same time slot. It's very important for us to be able to sort out logistic issues like this.
As for the amendment itself, or even the motion, I generally agree with Ms. Gladu: when all is said and done, I don't really care about the wording. But I think it's important for us to say something. Why is it important for us to say something? Not to frighten people, as Ms. Fry mentioned in her intervention, but simply to recognize that we could have done better. Nor is it to blame anyone in any way, because there is no point in crying over spilt milk. It won't change anything about the fact that for weeks now we haven't been receiving the number of vaccines to which we're entitled, and that in the meantime, people are still being infected, variants are still spreading and people are still dying. That's what concerns me the most. While pharmaceutical companies and governments are playing politics, people are dying. In each of our ridings, our fellow citizens are dying and I find that completely unacceptable.
I' d like us to be able to acknowledge, one way or another, that we could have done better. It's not a matter of blaming anyone. No one is saying my dad is stronger than your dad and it's not like we're having a pissing contest. It's nothing like that. The goal is simply to say that we could have done better. Contrary to what Ms. Fry said, it's not simply a factual matter. If it were just a question of fact, the government would quickly tell us about whatever negotiations were held with the pharmaceutical companies. But it's not telling us.
All that we've been told is that there is an unbelievable number of vaccine doses that Canada will be obtaining at the end of a long process. As for vaccinating the population, we've dropped from the top of the list in December to the bottom today. How did we go from being among the best in December to being among the worst today? It's extremely worrisome. How did a country like Israel, whose population of seven or eight million is comparable to Quebec's, do so well in vaccinating so many of its citizens, rather than only the most vulnerable and the health workers. What was Israel able to do that we' ve been unable to do? What led to our being in this situation?
The aim, or at least my aim, is not to blame anyone at all, but simply to acknowledge that something didn't work very well. If we've been reduced to getting vaccines from India and COVAX, it's because something didn't work properly.
Meanwhile, as I've said before, people are still being infected, variants are still spreading and people are still dying. While it's true that we are concerned about our fellow citizens, it's not enough to simply say that the situation is how it is because that's the way it is around the world. We need to simply look at what's happening in other industrialized countries to realize that it isn't. Canada has clearly lost ground and is falling behind.
I haven't forgotten that the had blamed the provincial premiers for not vaccinating their populations quickly enough. The provinces are ready. They are simply waiting for the vaccines so that they can vaccinate their citizens. What are we waiting for? What happened in terms of supply that has led to our being in this situation?
For God's sake, let's agree on wording for a resolution on this state of affairs.
To start I want to say that this motion was not brought forward because I was wearing a partisan hat. This motion was brought forward because I was not wearing a partisan hat. I was wearing my international development human rights hat, and I am so appalled by what's happening around the world with regard to this.
I'm more than happy to get this moving forward, to get it passed. I'm more than happy to accept the wording of the first sentence, “That, due to global circumstances, the government has been unable to ensure an adequate supply of vaccinations for Canadians.”
That said, I am not willing to accept the committee not reporting this to the House. This is not just a foreign affairs issue. This is an issue that affects Canada's response and we need to talk about it. That is the job of the government and the opposition, so I would like to put this to a vote. We can talk in circles for another three hours. Goodness knows this committee has the capacity to do that.
I would think at this point that we have compromised. We have changed the wording of the first sentence to make it clear this is not something that was done just by the government but by 10 administrations and six prime ministers. Can we just accept this motion? Then Mr. Bergeron can get to his meeting and we can have this important, vital debate about vaccine procurement and manufacturing and international vaccines in the House of Commons.