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View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the committee members on both sides for being here and for exercising both their privilege and their responsibility as parliamentarians. It really is a tremendous privilege to be a member of Parliament. It allows us to engage in issues and engage in conversation and engage in matters that are on the minds of Canadians every day. It is also a tremendous responsibility, and we bear that responsibility, I think, because our privilege is so great.
When I received the notice of this meeting and the request that had been made, I welcomed that. It's part of our privilege as members of Parliament that if any four of us request a meeting like this, it is incumbent upon us to give full and due consideration to that request. That's what we are doing, but that also comes with tremendous responsibility. Dispassionately, when I saw the notice of motion, I prepared my remarks, but I'm actually leaving them for a moment because I think that the responsibility we have is far greater than to score political points.
I am very distressed—actually more distressed than I was when I simply read the notice of motion—at the tone, at the idea and at the allegations that are being cast about by members of the opposition. I say that advisedly, because I've been on the opposition side and I've been on the government side and I know what opposition members do, because I have done it myself. But there are times in politics, there are times in public policy, there are times in our Canadian shared life when we let some of that go and we actually think primarily, as the government has been doing since December, about two Canadians who are wrongfully and arbitrarily held in detention in China in conditions that have been horrendous and belittling and that have demanded tremendous courage from both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. I have talked to their family members, and we've had consular visits, and there should be nothing more on our minds right now than ensuring their safety and considering their well-being.
We have lives in the balance and we also have livelihoods in the balance, and those have to do with farmers and exporters of Canadian goods that are also being arbitrarily detained. That means we put aside trying to gain political points and trying to make specious arguments for the sake of some gain. I am well known for not having always been in favour of things that our government has done, and I have been quite free to vote against our government. There are times, whether you are in opposition or in government, when you rally together and offer constructive, important conversation and ideas to make sure that we are doing the right thing.
This government consults. This government engages. On every issue we do those things. On an issue like our current very tense and fragile relationship with China, particularly when lives are hanging in the balance, we consult with everybody. We would open the door. This government—I am speaking as a parliamentary secretary now—would open the door to all opposition parties and independent members to offer constructive, helpful ways to negotiate in a very, very difficult situation. We've been doing that with patience. We've been doing that with firmness. I think our foreign affairs minister has a spine of steel as she engages with all these partners in what is a very complex situation. Part of that is ensuring that our professional public servants are also engaged not only with the government but also with civil society, engaged with everyone who is an opinion leader, to make sure that we have an informed public discussion about key foreign issues.
The issue around China—and there are several issues around China—is no exception. Our very professional foreign service has regular meetings with the key people in government responsible for public policy with respect to China. That obviously engages elected officials from time to time. It obviously engages their staff from time to time, including the Prime Minister's Office. Those are important conversations that happen inside the government, and then we go outside the government to engage civil society, too, to ensure that we are not speaking with one voice but speaking with an informed voice. That's what this government is committed to doing.
Global Affairs Canada engages with people outside government all the time. They do that to ensure there is an informed discussion—not one voice but an informed discussion.
The public service issued a statement last week and I want to quote it so that it is on record. The media has already paid attention to it. This comes from Global Affairs Canada and I will just add my own comment. This is a very distinguished public servant, continuing in an extremely important position in Toronto. He said:
The call with Mr. Mulroney was made with this intention....
We welcome the views and advice of informed Canadians such as Mr. Mulroney on these complex issues and regret that this message was not clearly communicated. There was no intention, nor was there any instruction from anyone, including the PMO, that Mr. Mulroney clear his public comments with the government.
Let me be very clear. He said there was no instruction from anyone, including the Prime Minister's Office, that Mr. Mulroney clear his public comments with the government. The public service in Canada is an extremely professional and distinguished public service. They've been clear that the current assistant deputy minister was not acting under the direction of anyone when he made these phone calls.
Our government has the utmost respect for these two former ambassadors to China. We would never attempt to limit their right to speak freely. That doesn't mean we won't engage with them to ensure that we have a Canadian constructive discussion about important issues when lives are at stake.
For me, personally, it is absolutely our responsibility to come here to deal with a motion that is in order, and it is our responsibility to ensure that politics do not get in the way of doing the important work of being government. Whether it's the legislative branch or the executive branch, we share that responsibility together and it's given to us and we hold it in an earthen vessel and we do it the best we can. We should not be wasting public resources to drive down avenues that simply will not help save lives and there is no story there.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Sonia Alimi
View Sonia Alimi Profile
Sonia Alimi
2019-06-18 16:18
Good afternoon.
Before we focus on the points we are discussing today, on behalf of the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada, we want to remind you that we are meeting on unceeded Algonquin territory and highlight the period of truth and reconciliation we are now going through. So let's take this opportunity to focus more specifically on the needs of our aboriginal sisters and on how we can repair the harm caused to improve the lives of current and future generations.
We thank the Standing Committee on Health for inviting our organization to testify and we recognize the other witnesses here today.
We will make our presentation in both official languages.
At the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada, we are committed to denouncing oppressions intersectionally. So we address oppressions stemming from ableism, a system that infringes on the rights and freedoms of people whose abilities do not meet the standards, as well as racism, colonialism, sexism and other systems of oppression.
When it comes to forced sterilizations, we think they are a direct consequence of an ableist society. In that sense, they have specific repercussions on girls and women with disabilities. Jihan Abbas will highlight that painful observation.
Let's not forget that forced sterilization is closely related to a eugenic vision to determine and hierarchize individuals and their possibilities of existence. It is based on the logic of ableist oppression, which has established notions of deviation, by targeting what is missing, what is against nature and what can be oppressed and limited. As a result, we consider that forced sterilization, being a concrete expression of the ableist system, opens the door to racist, colonialist and sexist practices, among other things.
We know that racism and ableism are tightly interwoven. It is very useful to remind you that the eugenics movement, both in the United States and in Canada, had to do with the white supremacist ideas focusing on the degeneration of the white race. An overwhelming number of black women have been subjected to and are still being subjected to non-consensual sterilizations.
Researcher Shatema Threadcarft, in her 2016 work on intimate justice and the bodies of black women in the United States, shows the prevalence of those practices.
Canada is no exception in that respect. Before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, university professor Josephine Etowa revealed that, during a study on the health condition of black women in Nova Scotia, it was noted that hysterectomy was being practised in a worrisome proportion. Here is what Ms. Etowa said, and I quote:
They started telling us their personal stories of how women in their community, especially those with dark skin colour, every time they went to the doctor, even in their early twenties, hysterectomy was one of the answers to whatever problem they went to see the doctor for.
So we understand how racism and ableism are expressed, and we see that this is an important issue in the forced sterilization file.
It is also a problem experienced by trans and intersex individuals.
Alexandre Baril, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, states in his 2013 thesis that the Canadian government requires trans individuals who want to acquire a marital status to undergo changes to their genital organs involving a suppression of the ability to reproduce “naturally”.
Canadian sociologist and anthropologist Morgan Holmes, who represents the Egale Canada group, also reports on the concrete effects of cisgenderism leading to the forced sterilization of intersex individuals, especially children. She also appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Rights, on May 15, 2019. During her presentation, she denounced the paradox of subsection 268(3) of the Criminal Code, which, while prohibiting female genital mutilation, authorizes surgical procedures on intersex children, whose reproductive capabilities are removed with impunity and without consent.
On another note, which still continues to shed light on the situation intersectionally, the issue of sterilization also affects women in prison in large numbers. A U.S. study from 2016 talks about the pressures on incarcerated women to undergo surgeries to remove their reproductive capabilities. That same study confirms that those injunctions always seek to respond to a eugenic and ableist system.
The facts I am sharing here with you are only the tip of the iceberg. It is important to know that many other women at the intersection of multiple oppressions are subjected to forced sterilization. That is why we feel it is important, in the context of our presentation, to insist on the intersectional dimension of this problem and to show that solutions cannot be found outside such an analysis.
I will now yield the floor to Ms. Abbas.
Lily Kuo
View Lily Kuo Profile
Lily Kuo
2019-06-18 12:27
Great. Thank you so much.
In October of last year, Pastor Wang Yi, the head of the Early Rain Covenant Church in southwestern China, asked his audience a question: Have we made a difference? If tomorrow morning the Early Rain Covenant Church suddenly disappeared from the city of Chengdu, if each of us vanished into thin air, would the city be any different? Would anybody miss us?
As of December last year, Pastor Wang and his church have been able to explore that question. Starting on December 9, police arrested more than 100 church members, including Wang and his wife, who was also a key leader in the church. The church was shuttered and many members went into hiding. About half of those arrested were released. More than 50 continue to be held. Wang's wife was released earlier this month, but her husband continues to be detained. He faces potential charges of inciting subversion, which is a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Over the next month, more members of the church were detained. Students who had attended a seminary school affiliated with the church were sent back to their home provinces and were prevented from returning.
I visited Chengdu in January to see what had become of the church, which is one of the largest underground or “house” churches in that part of the country. I'd been told that access to the church, which occupied three floors of a commercial building in Chengdu, would be difficult, but I was able to walk into the building. I took the elevator to the floor of the main church hall and managed to get a few minutes in the former hall before plainclothes police came in and told me I had to leave. The church was bare aside from a dusty Ping-Pong table. The cross that hung in the back, that would be behind Pastor Wang as he gave sermons, was gone. The police watched until I got in a taxi and left.
What happened to the Early Rain Covenant Church is a reflection of a broader campaign by Chinese authorities to sinicize religion in China. One part of that has been cracking down on these unregistered churches, many of which had been able to operate and were tolerated by authorities for years. In recent years, other even larger house churches, such as the Zion Church in Beijing, which had more than 1,500 members, have been shut down. Early Rain had more than 500 members. In January another church in Chengdu was placed under investigation less than a week after the mass arrest of the Early Rain Covenant Church members. A Sunday school in Guangzhou, in southern China, was raided. The previous November, another church in Guangzhou, called the Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church, was shut for the second time in three months.
Chinese Christians and activists say that what's happening now is the worst crackdown on Christianity since the Cultural Revolution, when the leadership under Mao Zedong vowed to eradicate religion. This effort to sinicize religion comes from concerns about western influence in China and systems of belief that connect Chinese citizens with international networks. The government says this oversight is necessary to prevent foreign forces from using religion to destabilize China.
Today there are an estimated 60 million, at least, Christians in China, in both rural and urban areas. This means that congregation-based churches can organize large groups of people across the country. Some do have links with Christian groups abroad. A church like Early Rain was likely especially alarming. Wang was a little different from other pastors. He was a civil rights lawyer before. He was a well-known public intellectual and essayist before he became a pastor.
While other churches tend to be apolitical, Wang's church was outspoken. They had advocated for the parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake—thousands of deaths that critics said could have been avoided had authorities not approved the shoddy construction of schools and other buildings. They also advocated for families affected by faulty vaccines that were approved by authorities. They also commemorated every year the victims of the highly sensitive June 4, 1989, crackdown.
As you know, this is not just Christianity that has come under pressure. All five government-sanctioned religions in China—Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism and Protestantism, to which Early Rain belonged—are supposed to have these sinicization plans. We already know about the efforts to sinicize Islam, so I won't go into those, but one thing I was looking for when I was reporting in Chengdu on this church was any parallels or any techniques possibly being used on Christians that had been similar to those used on Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
When they were arrested, a lot of the detainees—some 20 of them, I think—were sent to a legal education centre, so I wanted to know whether or not there were any parallels between these centres and the re-education centres used in Xinjiang.
As far as I could tell from the people I spoke to who were sent to the centre in Chengdu, there were not. These people were able to read the Bible and weren't subjected to any kind of political indoctrination. It seems to me that the most obvious parallels between the cases of Uighur Muslims and of Christians would be the use of technology to surveil and control the activities of religious believers.
Earlier, I mentioned the Zion Church in Beijing. One of the reasons why they were forced to close down was that they were ordered to install 24-hour closed-circuit television cameras. In a lot of mosques in Xinjiang, they've had to install cameras. When the church refused, the pastor and members of the church said that they were consistently and constantly harassed by state security. They eventually were shut down and the church was demolished. Other churches have been asked by police to hand over detailed lists of attendees and their ID numbers and phone numbers, which is another technique also used in Xinjiang, where people are tracked.
We also see similar efforts in regard to the outward signs of Christianity, as we have seen with mosques and other Islamic structures being torn down in Xinjiang and Ningxia. There was a statement signed by 500 house church leaders, who said that crosses have been removed from buildings and the authorities have forced churches to hang the Chinese flag or sing patriotic songs. They also have barred minors from attending church. This is also a rule in Xinjiang for minors.
Going back to the example of Chengdu, the Early Rain Covenant Church, since being closed and the mass arrests, has continued to hold meetings virtually, where people dial in to a live webcast. Others hold very small group meetings in their homes if they're able to. Others gather in groups in restaurants or parks. As I said, many have gone into hiding, so people communicate over encrypted chat platforms [Technical difficulty—Editor].
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2019-06-13 11:10
—and the cost of keeping somebody incarcerated for an additional year being a million dollars. I don't think the PBO did the research on how many of the Clifford Olsons don't get parole anyway. He's going to be kept in custody. I think it's a difficult challenge for the PBO to quantify those costs.
Would you have a different view than I do? Do you feel that the PBO is in a difficult position in trying to quantify the costs associated with this bill by looking only at incarceration?
Joseph Wamback
View Joseph Wamback Profile
Joseph Wamback
2019-06-13 11:10
That was my issue. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the issues related to the victims were completely ignored. Then there's the cost to Canadian society; never mind the cost to families. We are aware of families in which fathers who have lost a child to extreme violence have ended up alcoholics, ended up being sound asleep at their son's grave for years after the event.
Everybody, every human being, will react to grief differently. Everybody does. The people who have lost a child will live with that grief for the rest of their lives. To have it brought again in front of their faces is absolutely horrific, and we should not allow this to happen in Canadian society.
View Phil McColeman Profile
CPC (ON)
Minister, I'm going to read from a card that's in my hand, and you're receiving a copy of it.
This is on the back of the card. On the front side, there's a picture. It says, “Constable Catherine Campbell - Pay it Forward with Kindness in her Memory”. It continues, "In 2015, the life of Catherine Campbell was tragically cut short. Catherine was a dedicated police officer with the Truro Police Service, a volunteer member of the Stellarton Fire Department. She was a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. In Catherine's professional and personal life, she truly believed in kindness. One simple act of kindness can make a difference. In her memory, we ask that you take this card and perform an act of kindness. Then, pass this card onto others and ask them to do the same. Remember the passion, integrity and kindness Catherine exuded in her life. She will never be forgotten.” This says it is courtesy of the Central Nova Women's Resource Centre.
On the front of the card is a picture of Catherine Campbell holding a sign that reads, “#ReasonToRise One act of kindness can go a long way!” You can view that picture, sir. That picture inspires me every day.
Christopher Garnier, age 30, of Halifax, was convicted in 2017 of second-degree murder in the 2015 death of Truro, Nova Scotia, police officer, Catherine Campbell. An expert at trial testified that Garnier developed post-traumatic stress syndrome as a direct result of strangling Campbell, putting her body in a compost bin and dumping her under a bridge.
While behind bars, Garnier has been receiving treatment from a private psychologist funded by Veterans Affairs. That ties into today's discussion of the estimates. This money is allocated and dedicated in the estimates.
Christopher Garnier never served a day of his life in the military. He's getting his PTSD treatment paid for, while so many veterans must fight Veterans Affairs for theirs.
Sir, I've come to know you. We've travelled together. You are a fine gentleman. You are a person of integrity. You are a person who has served this country for over 30 years in your capacity as member of Parliament. You are now the minister. Your predecessor chose to maintain the benefits for Christopher Garnier.
On September 25, 2018, this motion was put before the House of Commons:
That, given the Prime Minister has told veterans that they are “asking for more than we are able to give”, the House call on the Minister of Veterans Affairs to revoke the Veterans Affairs Canada benefits that have been extended to Chris Garnier, who is not a veteran, is incarcerated for second-degree murder and for interfering with the dead body of police officer Catherine Campbell, and is currently receiving benefits for a disability he sustained while committing his heinous crimes.
I chose not to gloss over any of the facts in this or sweep this under the carpet because I've spent time with her parents Dwight and Susan, both in Truro and in Ottawa. On September 25, they watched every member of your Liberal government vote to maintain the benefits—including yourself, sir—of Christopher Garnier.
You have the power, as minister, with the stroke of a pen to revoke those benefits in your position. Will you do so?
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Thank you very much.
Certainly I know you're very passionate and concerned about the issue. I was, of course, in the House when this was an issue in the House. I understand. I certainly want to pass my condolences on to the family. I think you're fully aware that the veteran's family is also qualified to receive benefits. It creates a difficult situation if you take it away from all the veterans' families. That is what the problem is.
I will let my deputy explain as to what—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
—the facts are on it, but the thing is that, when you make a change on one issue, it can affect all veterans.
Just give me a minute. I would like to answer the question that you put forward.
I would not agree to make a change that would hurt veterans' families—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
—but I certainly couldn't be more sorry and more sympathetic to Catherine Campbell's family, and you know that I would be.
View Phil McColeman Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
I believe all of you were in the room when you heard my questioning of the minister regarding Christopher Garnier, who is receiving benefits, is not a veteran and is a convicted murderer. I'm sure that somewhere along the line this was not the intention of the program, because if it was we're in big trouble.
I think there's probably a good answer in the process of what happened, or at least I hope there's a good answer about what happened in terms of this decision. I want to ask each of you, as individuals who are in the management team of Veterans Affairs, to describe to this committee and to me the process—in particular, if you can comment on it and if you're familiar with the Garnier application for benefits for PTSD suffered by him in the act of murdering Catherine Campbell. It was witnessed in the courtroom as the reason he would receive these benefits.
To correct the record, quite clearly, the minister—and I've had a follow-up conversation with him after his testimony—was not absolutely clear in terms of what had happened when the government voted on the motion that was before them. I'm sure you're familiar with it because you carry out the policies of the government.
The policy on the day of the debate changed. It changed in that every individual, from that point forward, who makes an application, who is a convicted murderer or convicted of a serious crime and is put into a penitentiary, would no longer qualify for such benefits even though he or she was a family member of a veteran, so that it would never happen again.
Again, this reinforces my contention to you—and I'd like your response individually, one or more—as to the process. It confirms the contention that somewhere a mistake was made along the line. Lead me through, if you can, as the top management team, from the time the application arrived, who evaluated it, who saw it and who made the final decision whether this murderer got benefits, because he has them. This government decided to maintain them. To this day they maintain them and this minister is unaware, so please answer.
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2019-06-12 17:08
I am quite aware, given that this falls under my responsibility—not the policy but the operation.
As you well know, I cannot discuss the case of an individual. I can talk to you about an individual who would have been in that type of context, but I cannot talk about this individual. I just want to be very clear that it's privacy and I can't get into that.
In a case such as this, as the deputy minister was alluding to, the benefits to an individual are always through the veteran, not in the individual's own right. If the parent was a veteran and the parent was dealing with mental health issues and it was recommended by a mental health professional that—for the parent, not the individual, and again, I can't talk about the case—supporting the family would be beneficial for the well-being of the individual, then a decision would be made to support that individual, because as the deputy said, when a veteran serves, everybody serves.
That decision is made by the case manager, if that person has a case manager, with a recommendation from the mental health professional the veteran is dealing with.
Natalia Arno
View Natalia Arno Profile
Natalia Arno
2019-06-10 13:18
Thank you very much, Chairman and distinguished members of the committee, for taking the time to hear our testimony regarding a significant and concerning increase in the number of political prisoners held in Putin's Russia today.
We are grateful that you have offered us this hearing to talk about the astonishing, detailed and tragic report we've produced and that you are open to hearing how the Canadian Parliament and Canadian people can act with solidarity and help put an end to my country's national disgrace.
Out of the current 296 political prisoners in Russia, which is a very conservative estimate, more than 220 people were prosecuted for religious beliefs. A large number, more than 40 people, are Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin. We have filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, torn up inside because he watched his homeland of Crimea be swallowed up by an all-powerful nation-state, reminiscent of the Soviet Union takeover. We have two groups, called “New Greatness” and “Network”, consisting of a dozen young people who would just get together and discuss political news. We have a single mom who just wanted to organize a debate. We have a professor who participated in a professional discussion. His colleague died in prison for the same charge. We have a historian devoted to exposing the truth about Russia's past. We have many others. We have people in jail for just simple tweets or Facebook posts.
The seemingly random use of prison sentences isn't really random at all; it's actually the point. If a mom or a filmmaker or a kid playing Pokémon can be jailed, then everyone has to figure that they too can be facing a prison sentence for crossing the Kremlin's world view. Are any of them guilty? It hardly matters. Fear and terror are the point. An atomized society of scared people is much more easily dominated. This is how the Kremlin wants to keep its more than 140 million people under control—by arbitrarily singling out a few hundred people, thus sowing fear in others.
I have an affinity with the prisoners that extends beyond the fact that I personally know many of them and their stories tear at my heart. I myself could have ended up on this list of political prisoners for my pro-democracy work and activity. I could be serving my seventh year in jail. I would be one more name and one more story in this report. My crime? I worked for an American democracy promotion organization. They sought free and fair elections and the same rules for candidates who had different ideas from the regime on how to better run a country. For that, I was given the sad choice of leaving my country and my heritage or facing 20 years in jail for state treason. It was a very easy choice, but the hardest decision of my life.
However, the Russian authorities miscalculated. I am still in the fight. That's why I am here talking to you today. I hope I don't look to you like a dangerous criminal who should be beaten and tortured in a Russian prison. The same for the others who have been politically persecuted; they are nothing more than people who believe in a better Russia. Our report catalogues the number who are in jail today, but behind each number there is a human life, a human story, a human tragedy. The report tells us not only about the categories of prisoners but also about concrete people.
Rather than talking about this report today, it would be much more pleasant to talk about the new documentaries produced by filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, or the new articles written by journalist Igor Rudnikov or the new research conducted by Professor Bobyshev. Instead, we are discussing people's lives and the cruelty of the regime that is destroying these lives. In a civilized world, we shouldn't tolerate that political prisoners exist in the 21st century. We shouldn't tolerate that fair trials are the exception and torture is common and widely spread. We shouldn't tolerate that people who want free and fair elections are in jail and those who falsify them are not. We shouldn't tolerate that those who speak out and want Russia to be free and democratic are in jail but those who impose censorship and conduct propaganda are not. We shouldn't tolerate that the people who dare to criticize the corrupt and criminal Putin regime are in jail but the corrupt officials engaged in criminal affairs inside Russia and beyond are not.
I think you all know that a confident leader such as Putin would see no reason to jail his opponents, and that a leader who claims great popularity should find no need to worry about a single mother, or about two young people who just made two posters and 30 flyers, and purchased a megaphone. They shouldn't be worried about people's tweets and Facebook posts, or those who catch Pokémons and blog about it.
These are the signs of a desperate dictator. I hope you view them the same way.
Again, my colleagues and I are very grateful for your listening to us, and we hope you will consider placing sanctions on those who are directly involved in such gross human rights violations.
Thank you.
Irwin Cotler
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Hon. Irwin Cotler
2019-06-10 13:24
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am very happy to be here and to participate in the common cause that unites us: the pursuit of justice.
I'm delighted to be here with representatives of the global coalition to free the Kremlin's political prisoners and the launch of the first-ever landmark report on this matter. Now while we know of Russia's external aggression—in Ukraine, Crimea and Venezuela—we are largely unaware of the domestic repression that is taking place as we meet, which includes the criminalization of fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, association and political participation; the persecution and prosecution of the leaders of Russia's courageous civil society, political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, Ukrainians, religious leaders, the LGBTQ community and the like; the sixfold increase in the number of political prisoners, from 50 to 296, in just the last four years; and finally, the culture of impunity, wherein the very architects of repression named in the report are not only not held accountable for their criminality, but have even, in some cases, been rewarded for it.
May I conclude, therefore, with a number of recommendations for this body? For reasons of time, I'll do so in a series of one-liners.
Number one, combat the culture of criminality and impunity by imposing Magnitsky sanctions on the architects of repression detailed and documented in our report. I remind you that Boris Nemtsov, the courageous leader of Russian democracy who came to Canada before this committee and supported Magnitsky sanctions, and who was ultimately assassinated in Russia, always spoke of Magnitsky sanctions as being the most pro-Russian legislation one could enact because such legislation was on behalf of the Russian people.
Two, take the lead in multilateral engagement, whether at the UN, the OSCE, the G20 or the like.
Three, hold Russia to account for its breach of its international treaty violations, treaties that Canada is a state party to with Russia, and thus of its violation of its obligations made to us.
Four, take up the case and cause of the Kremlin's political prisoners, something that I've been doing for the last 40 years, having been inspired by them. It began with Anatoly Sharansky's release after eight and a half years; continued with Vladimir Nikitin, the environmental activist who was the last political prisoner before the Putin regime, but interestingly enough, was imprisoned by Putin, who was then the head of the FSB, or the former KGB; and finally, right now, Anastasia Shevchenko, one of the most recent courageous Russian political prisoners, whose case I have the honour to take up as her international legal counsel.
Let us also remember that even if we don't succeed immediately in bringing about their release, what experience has shown is that our actions will help to relieve their conditions in detention, the torture and other inflictions they may be suffering.
Five, support the courageous Russian civil society. Let them know that they are not alone.
Finally, as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, whose organizing theme in principle seven was the right to know and act upon their rights, those who undertook to know and act upon their rights in Russia are now languishing in prison. As a leading sponsor of the Helsinki Final Act, we have an obligation to hold the Kremlin leadership accountable.
As Vladimir said, “It is time to break the silence” and to do so in the pursuit of justice.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for your testimony today. More importantly, thank you for your courage and ongoing advocacy in the face of great difficulty.
Before I get into questions, Mr. Chair, I want to give the committee notice that this week I intend to move motions with respect to the independent investigation of allegations of genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war, and also a motion with respect to the listing of the IRGC as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code. I wanted to give the committee information about that.
Back to the testimony here, there are two questions I want to ask. I'll put those out there and let whoever wants to respond to do so. We can go through them that way.
The first question is for Mr. Kara-Murza. You spoke about “political and religious prisoners”, which is different terminology from what we sometimes use in this area.
Can you share a bit more with the committee about the anatomy of religious persecution in Russia, the co-opting of the Orthodox Church and the challenges faced by religious minorities such as Muslims, evangelical Christians and others, and how that should work its way out in our specific response to those issues?
Secondly, on the issue of Magnitsky sanctions, it's clearly an important tool in the government's tool box, but it is only as good as it is used. Some points were made about the people we need to add to our sanctions list.
I'd like to hear your thoughts more broadly at a policy level.
What can we do as Parliament to ensure that this tool is used more often? There are some terrible human rights abusers in the world, none of whom have been listed yet under the Magnitsky act, and there's clearly a need for more people to be listed.
Is there a change in mechanism that can strengthen our use of that tool? Are there things that we can do as Parliament to more effectively ensure that the minister or the government of the day isn't, let's say, holding off on sanctioning people who should be sanctioned?
View Chrystia Freeland Profile
Lib. (ON)
Marta is, I believe, the first woman deputy minister of global affairs. Congratulations. It's great.
Arun Thangaraj is our Chief Financial Officer. He is the guy who keeps the trains running on time. It's a huge department. You do a great job, Arun. Thank you also.
Here's a man who needs no introduction: Steve Verheul, our chief NAFTA negotiator and CETA and section 232.
Having recently attended meetings of the Arctic Council in Finland, I would also like to take the opportunity to publicly thank the members of this committee for their shared, collective, cross-party leadership on the Arctic and for the excellent report and recommendations.
The most pressing issues facing the Arctic, such as climate change and advancing the interests of indigenous people in the north, require broader public attention, and your work has helped to advance these important issues. Thank you very much. It's very impressive.
Around the world we see a growing trend of leaders and voters who question the value of the rules-based international order and, indeed, of liberal democracy itself. That's why countries, like Canada, who believe in liberal democracy and the rules-based international order now need to fight back. Doing so is vitally important to our national interest. Canada, with just 36 million Canadians, can never thrive in a great power world where might makes right. That's why Canada today is one of the most ardent defenders in the world of liberal democracy and the rules-based international order.
Earlier this spring I represented Canada at ministerial meetings of two of the most important multilateral institutions of which Canada is a member: NATO and the G7. These gatherings offered the opportunity to reiterate Canada's strong support for the rules-based international order; to discuss how we can further work together to defend this order from maligned foreign interference and the rise of authoritarianism; and to discuss how, working together, we can solve some of the greatest global challenges of our time, like climate change, the hollowing out of the western industrial middle class, and global refugee crises.
Allow me to highlight some of the key areas in which Canada is working concretely to defend and maintain rules-based international order, starting with trade.
Rules-based trade doesn't guarantee peace between nations and doesn't make the multilateral system infallible, but it does help.
That is why working together for free trade is essential. Last fall, Canada concluded negotiations on the new NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico. In November, we signed the agreement on the margins of the G20 summit in Argentina.
Throughout our intense negotiations, we stayed focused on what really matters to Canadians: jobs, growth and expanding the middle class. We held out for a good deal and that's what we got. We guaranteed continued access to our largest export market for Canadian workers and Canadian businesses, and we succeeded in preserving key elements of NAFTA, including chapter 19, the all-important dispute settlement mechanism, and the cultural exemption.
We addressed important bread and butter issues by cutting red tape to make it easier for Canadian businesses to export to the U.S. market. Despite this success, one major hurdle remained. The U.S. section 232 “national security” tariffs on steel and aluminum.
When the U.S. imposed tariffs, Canada retaliated, imposing dollar-for-dollar countermeasures. We stood firm in our position that these tariffs were not appropriate between two countries which, in addition to being important national security partners and allies, also had a free trade agreement. This was a point we made clearly to the U.S. administration, to members of Congress and to labour and business leaders south of the border.
As a result, just over a week ago, Canada successfully negotiated the complete lifting of U.S. tariffs. As I said last week when I visited Canadian steel and aluminum workers in Regina and Saguenay, that is why we succeeded. We knew that the facts were on our side. We knew we were not a risk to the national security of the United States. We knew that our steel trade with the United States was balanced. We remained united. We have been patient. We have been persistent.
The result was that Canada successfully negotiated a full lift of the tariffs just over a week ago. Here is why we succeeded. We knew the facts were on our side. We know that we are not a national security risk to the United States. We know that our trade in steel with the United States is balanced. We stayed united. We were patient. We were persistent. I think persistence and unity are some great Canadian values, and I'm really proud of the way our whole country came together in this effort.
Our government's position was that it would be difficult to move ahead with the ratification of the new NAFTA while the tariffs were in place. Now that the tariffs have been lifted, our government intends to move ahead with ratification. We know that having the new NAFTA ratified will provide economic certainty for Canadians.
Elsewhere in the world, Canada is using its voice to advocate for the rules-based international order. I recently travelled to Kiev, following the presidential elections in Ukraine. This was an opportunity for me to meet with the newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky. I reiterated Canada's continued support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as our commitment to continue working with the international community to maintain pressure on Russia.
To support elections and democracy in Ukraine, our government contributed short-term and long-term election observers as part of the Canadian election observation mission. It has been very ably led by former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. Our observers will be back for the parliamentary elections in July. We have also provided a $2.8-million assistance package to counter foreign disinformation in the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and presidential elections now past.
In another important show of support for Ukraine, on March 15, Canada, the EU and the U.S. announced new sanctions in response to Russia's aggressive actions in the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait and Russia's illegal annexation and ongoing occupation of Crimea.
I was also pleased to announce a three-year extension of our training mission to Ukraine, Operation Unifier, through which Canadian soldiers have helped to train more than 11,000 Ukrainian troops. I've heard first-hand about how valuable that training has been.
Russian aggression to Crimea and eastern Ukraine poses an existential threat to Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine faces serious domestic challenges, particularly the need to reform its post-Soviet economy. To support this work, Canada will host the third annual international Ukraine reform conference early this summer in Toronto.
Last year, Canada deployed about 1,000 Canadian soldiers to provide NATO and Euro-Atlantic security, including under the leadership of the NATO mission in Iraq and NATO's enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Latvia, the air force in Romania and our military support to Ukraine.
Canada is proud to lead the NATO mission in Iraq. As part of this non-combat-oriented training and capacity-building mission, NATO supports efforts to train Iraqi security forces in their efforts to prevent the re-emergence of Daesh and other terrorist groups.
In terms of peacekeeping, the United Nations and partner countries strongly and publicly support Canada's work. At the recent UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, the Secretary-General praised Canada's contribution, in particular the Elsie Initiative, which aims to increase the meaningful participation of women in peace operations.
In our own hemisphere, the world has watched with great concern as Venezuela, under Nicolas Maduro's rule, has systematically dismantled democratic institutions and violated human rights. The Maduro regime has created a political, economic and humanitarian crisis. As a result, millions have fled the country and millions more are suffering due to severe shortages of food, medicine and the necessities of life.
Canada has been leading on this issue alongside our partners, the other members of the Lima Group, which has met 13 times since its formation in August 2017. The members of the Lima Group are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and St. Lucia. These countries joined—indeed, led—almost 50 others around the world in recognizing Juan Guaido as interim president, in line with the Venezuelan constitution.
Two weeks ago, I was at a meeting in Havana, Cuba, to discuss the economic, political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the work we can undertake together to address it. We will continue to support the path forward as outlined by the national assembly and interim President Guaido and to oppose outside military intervention. A peaceful transition of power needs to be led by Venezuelans themselves.
Last fall, the House of Commons recognized that the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya by Myanmar's security forces constitutes genocide. I commend many members of this committee for your leadership on this issue. I would also like to recognize the work of Bob Rae, who was appointed as Canada's special envoy to Myanmar. He published an important report on his work and findings there.
The atrocities committed against the Rohingya, including terrible sexual violence, have led nearly one million Rohingya to flee the country into neighbouring Bangladesh. Canada has committed $300 million over three years for humanitarian assistance, development, and peace and stabilization efforts. We will continue to work with our allies and partners, very much including Bangladesh, to resolve the crisis and ensure justice for the survivors of this genocide.
In our work to support liberal democracy and the rules-based international order, we recognize that we are most effective when we work with like-minded partners. That is why we are so pleased that Canada will join the U.K. in co-hosting the first global conference for media freedom. The conference will take place in the U.K. in July. We will be working together to further advance the cause of a free and independent press globally. This is such an important pillar of liberal democracy.
Mr. Chair, I would like to end on a difficult but important note. I am sure members of this committee, like all Canadians, are concerned by the arbitrary detentions of Canadians in China. This is indeed a difficult time in our relationship with China.
Chinese officials have been clear that from their perspective, these difficulties began with an extradition request from the United States. We complied, as we are committed to doing under our extradition treaty with the United States in place since 1976. I am confident that was the right thing to do, and I am confident Canadians know that. We are a rule-of-law country, and we are a country that honours our treaty commitments.
This was not a political decision. It was not a political message, and there has been no political involvement.
We strongly condemn the arbitrary arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The Government of Canada continues to call for their immediate release. I want to assure everyone here and everyone listening that this is a top priority for the Prime Minister, for our whole government and for me personally.
Many countries share our concern, and we have rallied an unprecedented number of partners around the world in support of Canada's position. Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained Canadians and the rule of law, including: Australia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the EU, the G7 and NATO.
Our government is seized of these cases and is using any and every opportunity to raise them with our allies and partners. Here and in China, we have made our position clear to the Chinese authorities. Just last week, my parliamentary secretary, Rob Oliphant, was in China as part of a parliamentary delegation, where he raised this issue directly with the officials he met.
Thank you for doing that, Rob.
We will continue to advocate on behalf of these brave Canadians.
In conclusion, I do want to express how much sympathy I have for the Spavor and Kovrig families. They are supporting both Michaels with incredible grace and determination.
With that, I will be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you.
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