Order, please. the hon. member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills is rising on a point of order.
Mr. Speaker, the minister throws out the word “Progressive” as if it were a slur. Yes, she was a Progressive Conservative.
In the Saturday, October 4, 2014, edition of La Presse, Agnès Gruda wrote an article about this war, which is looking grim. It reads:
Australia has done so, as have France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. A dozen countries have already agreed to participate in the American air strikes [not UN air strikes, American air strikes] against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) armed group. And Canada will join them next week. The debate on this military engagement brings back bad memories of the war against Saddam Hussein, in which Canada had the good sense not to participate... However, the Iraq of 2014 is different from the Iraq of 2003. This time, we are not facing an imaginary threat. Since it took Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, four months ago, ISIS has had ample time to show what its men are capable of. A report published by the UN on Thursday describes the abuses that have been committed against Iraqi civilians in the past four months. Summary executions, gang rape, abductions and public hangings: the men of ISIS are slaughtering civilians without remorse. On the ground, jihadists are threatening to expand their territory. Yesterday, the battle continued for the Syrian town of Kobani on the Turkish border. So yes, there are excellent reasons to want to stop these bloodthirsty fanatics, including by means of an international military offensive, if necessary. But not just any military offensive. Unfortunately, the United States' military operation is rather haphazard... “The strikes so far have had a negative impact politically,” notes Robert Blecher, an International Crisis Group analyst who believes that the coalition is repeating past mistakes. One of the main risks associated with this offensive is that it could end up alienating the very people the coalition is claiming to save from the Islamists. Robert Blecher gave the example of Syrian villages that were bombed one day by the American army and the next by the Bashar al-Assad regime. “On the ground, it is very difficult to understand where, exactly, the missiles are coming from. And it is very difficult to explain to the dominant rebel groups why Assad is not being bombed.” Rebel groups that are waiting for western aid are left with the impression that they are being fed to the sharks, whereas civilians feel as though they are the target of fire meant for the Sunni. According to Robert Blecher, “This is creating an extremely difficult situation politically.” And exactly who are the targets? Two weeks ago, the Americans bombed a brigade affiliated with another group of jihadist rebels, the al-Nusra Front. However, this group is fighting on two fronts: it is fighting against Bashar al-Assad AND against ISIS, its arch-enemy. By raining down fire on the al-Nusra Front, the United States lent a helping hand to the “bad guys” they are trying to destroy. That is rather ironic.
Let us come back to Iraq. There too, the line between the good guys and the bad guys is not always clear. According to the UN report, the Iraqi army and various Shia militias are not all sweetness and light. Here too, then, the air strikes might have unintended consequences, including radicalizing those we claim to be protecting, in all the confusion. “No one knows exactly what the coalition's strategy is”, sums up the German weekly Der Spiegel in a lengthy analysis. This current offensive raises more questions than it answers. Is this fight against ISIS only, or all Islamists, including the members of the al-Nusra Front? That raises another question: how do we avoid helping Bashar al-Assad, thereby alienating the Syrian rebels we might not want to alienate? More broadly, is there a post-war political strategy, both for Iraq and for Syria? Finally, is enough care being taken to ensure that there is local support for this offensive, without which is it doomed to fail? When ISIS appeared in Iraq in the mid-2000s, the response did not come from the sky...but from the local Sunni tribes, which managed to contain it. It has been able to expand as much as it has this year because those same tribes no longer trust Baghdad's Shia power. To deal with the very real threat that ISIS represents, we need to offer a “political solution to Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis”, suggests Robert Blecher. He claims this solution exists, even in Syria, where there are still Sunni rebels that are entirely acceptable to the international community. The problem is that the current war against ISIS might convert these potential allies of the West into enemies... With all these religious faiths, tribes and civil wars, the situations in Iraq and Syria are extremely complex. Simply put, yes, ISIS can be fought with weapons, but this war is looking pretty grim. Nothing in the [Prime Minister]'s speech suggests that he plans to use his power of influence to realign things.
That was an opinion piece in French by Agnès Gruda in La Presse.
Peggy Mason, Canada's former UN ambassador for disarmament and special advisor to former Progressive Conservative minister of external affairs, Joe Clark, was quoted yesterday in the Ottawa Citizen, as follows:
“[Prime Minister]'s Iraq plan may make matters worse, says former ambassador”.
[The Prime Minister] will put Canada’s proposed combat military mission in Iraq to a vote on Monday. Recent polls have suggested that Canadians slightly favour the bombing mission to confront the threat posed by the extremist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It comes as no surprise that Canadians want to help and “do something.” But [the Prime Minister]'s plan to send Canadian warplanes to join the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Iraq may just make matters worse. [The Prime Minister] and his allies are underestimating their opponents as a bunch of religious extremists bent on spreading wanton mayhem and terror. Islamic State may be brutally ruthless, but they know exactly what they are doing. Their core is made up of seasoned, motivated fighters and an extremely experienced leadership that go back to the “dirty war” waged by the American and British Special Forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2009.
ISIL is playing a strategical game of chess with its every move, while the West is playing military tic-tac-toe. ISIL is not just a military organization, it is a political movement with a well-thought-out ideology, however abhorrent it may be to the West. It governs the huge areas it controls in Iraq and Syria. Ruthless in eliminating any potential opponents, it also provides electricity, food and other vital services for ordinary people in the areas it controls. That is why American air strikes against ISIL recently targeted not only oil and gas facilities but also grain elevators – a highly problematic course of action in both legal and humanitarian terms, particularly if the conflict is to be a long one. To date Western military action has been disastrously counterproductive. [The Prime Minister] says “we” are not responsible for the chaos in Libya. Yet it is absolutely clear that the NATO-led military victory in Libya was a pyrrhic one which paved the way for the civil war that followed. We have to remember how we got to this point. Time and again in the past, we have chosen war over negotiations. Look at the lessons of Libya. Had we not exceeded the UN mandate in Libya (which excluded regime change), we could have negotiated a power-sharing deal...that would have promoted incremental democratic reform and not left a power vacuum to be filled by extremists, including ISIL. Exactly the same lesson can be learned from Syria. Had the West not insisted on Assad's immediate departure and refused to allow Iran a seat at the table, Kofi Annan's power-sharing arrangement within a transitional government would have paved the way for incremental democratic reforms in Syria and, once again, would have left much less room for extremists like ISIL to operate. A UN mandate privileging inclusive governance and democratic reforms in concert with robust military support has been central to recent progress in Somalia and Mali. A UN mandate is also possible for effective intervention in Iraq and Syria if all necessary players, including Russia and Iran, are brought fully into the negotiations, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are at the core of the political strategy, not just token participants. A comprehensive, broadly supported and UN-mandated approach is long overdue in the heretofore disastrously counterproductive war on terror. Let this enlightened approach be the basis for Canadian action in Iraq and Syria.
As I said, that is from Peggy Mason, Canada's former UN ambassador for disarmament and advisor to then Progressive Conservative external affairs minister Joe Clark.
Twelve years ago, the Government of Canada launched a reconstruction mission in Afghanistan, a country ravaged by the war that began in 1979 with the invasion by the former Soviet Union.
The objective was to bring stability and security to the new government in Kabul. Over the years, the Liberal government radically transformed the mission. What began as a reconstruction mission quickly transformed into a combat mission. This did not change when the Conservatives came to power. On the contrary, the mission and the combat role were extended.
A few dozen specialist members in a mission that had a very short timeframe became 40,000 Canadian soldiers in the longest combat mission in the history of our country. We spent at least $30 billion, 160 soldiers were killed, thousands were injured, and let us not forget—because we tend to forget them—the thousands of men and women who returned suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The Canadian Forces strayed far from the original reconstruction mission, which had turned primarily into a combat mission.
What is interesting—and you know it because you were there, Mr. Speaker—is that despite all the vicious attacks against him by the Conservatives, Jack Layton had the courage to do what had to be done and to say what had to be said.
Jack Layton asked tough questions to the Conservative minister of defence at the time. It was the member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills who was the minister. Here are key questions that the former minister might remember Jack asking him:
What the goals and objectives of this mission and how do they meet Canada's foreign policy objectives? What is the realistic mandate of the mission and how is it being enforced?
What are the criteria that [we will be using] to measure progress? What is the definition of success...?
Does it sound familiar? Of course, it does. Those are the same questions that the NDP are asking today about the deployment in Iraq. In fact, the very same questions were asked about the mission in Afghanistan to the Liberal government just a few months before they were asked to the Conservative member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills, with good reasons. These questions are legitimate, and Canadians deserve answers.
The NDP also forced a debate and a vote in the House of Commons. At the time, the Prime Minister managed to extend the mission in Afghanistan with the support of the Liberals. The NDP opposed extending the mission, and I am still very proud of that today.
Even if we have not always agreed, there is a proud tradition in Canada and in the House of working together respectfully on issues of war and peace. In 1991, for example, NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin was sworn in to the Privy Council so that she could receive classified information on the first Gulf War. The same courtesy was extended to Bill Blaikie, and the Prime Minister himself, at the beginning of the Liberal engagement in Afghanistan. Later, that was extended to Jack Layton as well. It is only fair to say that the Prime Minister continued this tradition at first. The Prime Minister briefed Jack Layton on our mission in Libya, and he briefed me on our mission to Mali. Yet now, as the Prime Minister takes Canada to war in Iraq, there is silence. Worse yet, Conservatives have gone out of their way to stifle informed debate.
The Prime Minister, with the support of the Liberals, launched us into the war in Iraq with what he claimed was a 30-day non-combat mission. He promised Canada's involvement would be “re-evaluated at the end of this first deployment”. On September 15, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence said there were already 69 Canadian soldiers on the ground. On September 26, the Prime Minister himself claimed there were “several dozen Canadian Forces personnel in Iraq”.
However, according to Radio-Canada, these claims were false. The first 26 Canadian Forces did not arrive in Iraq until 23 days into the 30-day mission. The Prime Minister did not deny that when I asked him the question specifically in the House last week. How can we evaluate a mission when troops have been on the ground for only a week? It sounds disingenuous. The promise that Canadian involvement in Iraq would be re-evaluated after a month, frankly, was just that; it was disingenuous, if not a sham: a 30-day mission to get Canada into this war without a debate or a vote in Parliament, setting the stage for this escalation.
The lack of clear and honest information from the government only continues. The Minister of Foreign Affairs refuses to state where Canadian aircraft will be based. He said it is an operational detail that he is not prepared to discuss.
However, other countries have been told where their forces are stationed. For that matter, Canada has always revealed where its aircraft have been based in past conflicts. Why the refusal to provide this information now?
In one breath the Minister of Foreign Affairs insisted that Canadian Forces will be under the command of the Chief of the Defence Staff of our country, but he said in the next interview that it will be “working under the leadership of the United States”. What is that supposed to mean?
Just as the Prime Minister has refused to provide clear information about the mission, he has been unable to clearly explain the mission's goals. We are a long way from the boast of the minister at the beginning of his remarks today.
On September 30, when asked how he would define victory in Iraq, the Prime Minister said that ISIS was planning attacks “against large populations in the region” and “against this country”, Canada. He said Canada would “work with our allies on a counterterrorism operation to get us to the point where this organization does not have the capacity to launch those kinds of attacks”.
However, in his speech to the House last Friday, the Prime Minister was already walking back on that description of his goals. Then he said we needed only to “degrade the capabilities of ISIL”, specifically their ability to conduct large-scale military movements and operate in the open”.
This weekend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs lowered expectations even further, saying that if they could “contain this problem, stop it growing”, that alone would be a “significant accomplishment”.
Inaccurate information and shifting definitions of success have been the hallmarks of the American war in Iraq since the invasion began.
Remember the United States has been in this conflict for over 10 years. It has been fighting ISIS, under one name or another, for over 10 years. While ISIS has renamed itself several times since 2004—al Qaeda in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq, and al-Sham, Syria—it is literally the same insurgent group that U.S. forces have been battling for over a decade. Why does the Prime Minister think he can use military force to accomplish what others have been trying unsuccessfully to do since 2003?
The Prime Minister has twice insisted in this House that the mission will not become a “quagmire”. It is his word, and he keeps using it over and over again, saying that it will not be a “quagmire”. Wìth the Prime Minister throwing around the word quagmire multiple times when this mission has barely begun, let me be honest, we do not think it bodes very well.
This weekend on The West Block, with Tom Clark, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was already contemplating returning to the House of Commons for another extension after the next six months, planning for the next escalation before this one has even begun, before it has even been voted on in Parliament.
Robert Fowler, Canada's longest-serving ambassador to the UN and advisor to three Prime Ministers on foreign policy, said, “Our coalition's mission will inevitably creep.... [we] will bomb evermore. ...predators will hunt more widely and more indiscriminately.... [we] will kill and maim many, many more innocent civilians than the caliphate could behead in its wildest dreams”.
In fact, the Prime Minister has already acknowledged that he is prepared to extend the bombing to Syria. What is more, the Prime Minister has even set the bizarre and distasteful standard that he will launch air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria if asked to do so by the regime of brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. The list of Assad's own atrocities is almost unspeakable, and we find it reprehensible that the Prime Minister would give him any credibility at all, much less a voice in determining what our brave women and men in uniform do to defend our country.
Let us look at a list of those atrocities from official sites. Assad's attacks are ongoing. The United Nations has noted that there were 29 massacres by forces loyal to Assad in 2014 alone.
There has been the use of chemical weapons. The attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since 1988 and the worse use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. The United States estimates that just under 1,500 civilians were killed.
There has been the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs. Syrian government forces have dropped barrel bombs on civilian areas, including hospitals and schools, with devastating results. Some believe that barrel bomb attacks have contained the chemical agent chlorine in eight incidents in April 2014.
There has been the targeting of civilians by snipers, including children and pregnant women. There has been the targeting of doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospitals, ambulances and pharmacies for attacks.
There has been the systematic torture and deaths of detainees. As many as 11,000 people in jails have been killed between March 2011 and August 2013. Assad's forces systematically arrest wounded patients in state hospitals to interrogate them, often using torture, about their supposed participation in opposition demonstrations or armed activities.
There have been summary executions and extrajudicial killings, including the massacre at Houla, where over 100 civilians were killed, half of them children, and entire families were shot dead in their homes.
There has been sexual violence against women, men and children in detention to degrade and humiliate detainees. Women and children have been sexually assaulted during home raids and ground operations.
Starvation has been used as a weapon of war with at least 128 civilians starved to death in a besieged refugee camp near Damascus in 2014. Of the camp's 18,000 to 20,000 civilians, 60% suffered from malnourishment as of the spring of this year.
In his speech in the House on Friday, the Prime Minister of Canada said that if the person responsible for those atrocities makes the request, he, the Prime Minister of Canada, will answer positively. We find that shameful.
This is among the many reasons that so many of our allies have expressed concern with so many elements of this mission. This mission has no mandate from the UN and no mandate from NATO. The Prime Minister and the foreign minister have listed some of our traditional allies that are participating, such as Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Denmark. However, Britain and Denmark refuse to engage in bombing in Syria, even if Bashar al-Assad asks them. Italy and Germany have rejected any involvement in the combat mission altogether.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs has tried to cover for the serious questions being raised about this mission. This weekend he claimed:
...the Security Council has been seized with this issue and has passed a resolution unanimously with respect to the operation in Iraq.
That statement is outright and unquestionably false.
To quote just one source, and it is worth reading the resolution because it is quite long, The New York Times, on September 27, simply stated that the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq and Syria “does not authorize military action by any country”.
That is everyone's analysis because that is what is in the UN Security Council resolution. We cannot make it say something that it does not say.
There is overwhelming agreement here at home and abroad about the need to confront the horrors perpetrated by ISIS. However, there is no agreement that western military force is the answer.
Nearly three weeks ago the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was already reporting that ISIS had recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since the United States began its air strikes in August. At least 1,300 of these fighters come from abroad.
Alexander Panetta of the Canadian Press reports:
...the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that five civilians were killed in airstrikes on oil refineries; two workers were killed in a Manbej grain mill; and six male civilians were killed in the southern countryside at al-Hasakah. The group says it’s aware of at least 73 people joining ISIL in the Aleppo area, in the wake of the first U.S.-led airstrikes.
Peggy Mason, the former UN ambassador for disarmament whom I quoted earlier at length, had this to say:
[The Prime Minister] and his allies are underestimating their opponents as a bunch of religious extremists bent on spreading wanton mayhem and terror....
ISIL is playing a strategical game of chess with its every move, while the West is playing military tic-tac-toe....
To date Western military action has been disastrously counterproductive.
Robert Fowler, our longest serving ambassador to the UN, as I said, who has indeed advised three prime ministers, had this to say:
[ISIS] know the propaganda value of poking sticks into American eyes, or knives into Western throats.... They know full well that ill-informed and poorly executed Western forays into “Muslim lands” have been disastrous for us—and they are anxious to lure us into further folly. They are confident that by so doing they will dramatically increase their recruiting base, their authority, and the scope and impact of their movement; and they simply do not give a damn about the numbers they will lose in the process. Truly, in their eyes, such losses are a blessing....
We have, in other words, responded in precisely the way they counted on us to do.
The German weekly Der Spiegel said, “no one knows exactly what the coalition's strategy is.”
This is what Robert Blecher, an international relations analyst, had to say:
The strikes so far have had a negative impact politically...On the ground, it is very difficult to understand where, exactly, the missiles are coming from. And it is very difficult to explain to the dominant rebel groups why Assad is not being bombed...This is creating an extremely difficult situation politically...
However, military force is not our only option. New Democrats have called on the government to dramatically increase humanitarian aid in Iraq, which at last count stands at just $28 million. I will say, though, that I was very happy to hear an announcement, which we have been calling for, for a specific sum. The sum of $5 million was mentioned for victims of sexual violence. That is a good thing that the government announced today. We wanted to say clearly and on the record that we congratulate the government for that part of its announcement today.
In one of the government's few actions to co-operate with other parties here in the House, the Minister of Foreign Affairs brought his counterparts in the opposition to Iraq. It was humanitarian aid, not air strikes, that leaders on the ground requested.
We can also help forces in the region to build the capacity to confront ISIS itself. Canada is already aiding in the shipment of weapons to Kurdish Iraqi forces. We agree with that. That is the gist of the United Nations Security Council resolution—give the Iraqis the ability to defend themselves.
It should be a priority for Canada to determine exactly which groups can be trusted with such aid. Ultimately, the solution to this tragic conflict will come from those in the region and the international community as a whole, not simply the west. There, Canada's phenomenal diplomats can play a key role.
Allow me once again to quote Peggy Mason, former UN ambassador for disarmament. She said:
We have to remember how we got to this point. Time and again in the past, we have chosen war over negotiations....
A UN mandate privileging inclusive governance and democratic reforms in concert with robust military support has been central to recent progress in Somalia and Mali. A UN mandate is also possible for effective intervention in Iraq and Syria if all necessary players, including Russia and Iran, are brought fully into the negotiations, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are at the core of the political strategy, not just token participants.
A comprehensive, broadly supported and UN-mandated approach is long overdue in the heretofore disastrously counterproductive war on terror. Let this enlightened approach be the basis for Canadian action in Iraq and Syria.
Robert Blecher also said that to deal with this threat, we need to offer a “political solution to Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis”.
ISIS has thrived in Iraq and Syria precisely because those countries lack stable, well-functioning governments capable of maintaining peace and security within their own borders.
Canada's first contribution should be to use every diplomatic, humanitarian and financial resource at our disposal to respond to the overwhelming human tragedy unfolding on the ground and to strengthen political institutions in both those countries. With the well-deserved credibility Canada earned by rejecting the initial ill-advised invasion of Iraq, we are in a position to take on that task.
The tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. It will end by helping the people of Iraq and Syria to build the political institutions and security capabilities they need to oppose these threats themselves.
It is for these reasons that I move:
That Government Business No. 13 be amended:
a) by deleting clause iii) and replacing it with the following:
iii) accept that, unless confronted with strong and direct force from capable and enabled local forces, the threat ISIL poses to international peace and security, including to Canadian communities, will continue to grow;
b) by deleting all words after “accordingly” and replacing them with the following:
a. call on the Government to contribute to the fight against ISIL, including military support for the transportation of weapons for a period of up to three months;
b. call on the Government to boost humanitarian aid in areas where there would be immediate, life-saving impact, including contributing to building winterized camps for refugees; and investing in water, sanitation and hygiene, health and education for people displaced by the fighting;
c. call on the Government to provide assistance to investigation and prosecution of war crimes;
d. call on the Government to not deploy the Canadian Forces in combat operations;
e. call on the Government to seek House approval for any extension of the mission, or any involvement of Canadian Forces in Syria;
f. call on the Government to report back on the costs of the mission on a monthly basis to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs; and,
g. continue to offer its resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who stand on guard for all of us.
Mr. Speaker, I must say that this is one of the more interesting debates that we have had in this House in a while. I do not doubt the sincerity of the government side in what they are saying, in spite of the heckling that goes on from time to time.
However, the fact remains, that as the official opposition, people bring concerns to us they may not want to share with any particular government. The concerns that we have raised from the various stakeholders and people of interest out there bring us to a place where we are in conflict with the view of the government side.
We believe that Bill C-6, in its current form, would contradict or, worse, undermine the international treaty it is supposed to implement.
During the committee review of the bill, NDP committee members attempted to amend the bill, but the Conservative members only allowed one very small change. I have to say that those amendments we put forward were in response to some experts and other folks who had brought their concerns to us.
Sadly, Bill C-6 is seen, internationally, as the weakest and worst legislation on this matter in the world. That is not the NDP saying that. That is other people who have come to us with that. In fact, it is broadly believed it would undermine the very spirit of the treaty it is supposed to implement.
I am not saying that is something deliberate on the part of the government. We are saying that, for whatever reason, it has reached the point with this bill where it needs more work. We are prepared to do that, in spite of the fact that the NDP has worked successfully alongside Canadian and international civil society groups to try to persuade the government to totally prohibit the use of munitions by Canadian soldiers in any manner. I understand that there was testimony from military folks asking for this to happen, but we are saying, as legislators, we have a responsibility to respond, perhaps in a different way.
Sadly, we believe that there are many dangerous and unnecessary loopholes in the bill, and I will get to those a little further on.
We hope that the government will understand from this debate tonight that it is important to further amend Bill C-6 to ensure Canada's humanitarian reputation is not tarnished by this piece of weak legislation.
We have heard people in here talk about the damage done because cluster munitions can release hundreds of explosives over a very large area, in a short period of time. Again, speaker after speaker has spoken about the impact of the devastation on civilians, in particular, that lasts many years after the conflict. We are all aware of that, and so is the government side.
Think for a moment back. For many decades following the Second World War, countries were clearing bombs, primitive by today's standards, of course, and from time to time some would explode. Many people, particularly, in the early 1950s, were injured and some killed by them.
To its credit, Canada, in another time, participated actively in what was known as the Oslo process to produce a convention to ban these cluster munitions. That process came on the heels of the success of the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines.
Sadly, as we have heard in this debate today, the U.S., China, and Russia chose not to participate in that process and, again, they continue to stockpile these munitions to this day.
Very concerning to the NDP is the fact that, over the very serious concern expressed by a majority of participating states and non-governmental organizations, the Canadian government succeeded in negotiating into the final text of the convention article 21, which explicitly allows for the continued military interoperability with non-party states, people who are not signatories to the agreement.
The NDP has very serious concerns because Bill C-6 would even go beyond the interoperability allowance of article 21.
I would offer that the main problem with the bill lies, in fact, with clause 11, which would establish an extremely broad list of exceptions.
Sadly, in its original form, this clause permitted Canadian soldiers to use, acquire, possess, and/or transport cluster munitions whenever they were acting in conjunction with another country that is not a member of the convention, and to request the use of cluster munitions by another country.
To my mind, that is using other countries as a blind to hide behind, to allow our forces to use these munitions, when Canadians clearly do not want them under any circumstances.
At the foreign affairs committee, in response, the NDP worked closely with the government, not only in public session but also through direct dialogue, to work to try to improve Bill C-6 before it became law.
I am pleased to say we were successful at committee in persuading the government to formally prohibit the use of cluster munitions by Canadian soldiers. The member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills made that point during the debate here tonight. I was pleased to see that. He is an individual with great experience in our military, and it is worthy to take his advice.
Having said this, other serious loopholes remain, and as a result, the NDP believes that without further amendments to fix these loopholes, Canada's commitment to ending the use of cluster munitions will appear at best to be superficial.
I would suggest that, even worse, Bill C-6 may well damage this convention, as it may lead to other international precedents or one that other nations would use to justify themselves opting out or seeking further exemptions.
Let us imagine, as a result of Bill C-6's exemptions, that Canada's legislation could be viewed as the weakest and the worst of all countries that have ratified the convention to date.
Overall, I would suggest the government's approach to the cluster munitions convention further demonstrates an overall pattern of weakness on arms control. I am sure that will be debated, but that is the view from this side.
We often hear the government side in the House touting NATO, but now the Conservatives have refused to join all of our NATO allies in signing the UN arms trade treaty, except the United States, and worse, loosening restrictions on arms exports. That puts us in a very questionable position on the world stage.
I want to be clear. New Democrats fully support the creation of a treaty to ban cluster munitions. However, this bill would undermine the convention, rather than just implementing it.
We oppose the bill as presented at committee stage. Again I repeat, we worked hard, and that is everybody's job in this place, as I see it, to try to make legislation better. We have civil society groups, and I know there are some, not all, on the government who frown on civil society groups, but I know from experience that those are groups of people who work hard to keep all of us accountable in this place.
Although the one amendment the Conservatives allowed is an improvement, it certainly is insufficient for the NDP to come to a point where we could support this bill.
At this point, the NDP believes the best option would be to remove the problematic clause 11, so the NDP is proposing to delete this section from the bill before it passes report stage.
There are some statistics and facts around this: 113 countries signed the convention and 84 have ratified it. We signed it on December 3, 2008. It was tabled in the House of Commons on December 15, 2012. That was a significant gap in time.
A very striking statistic I think we all should consider is that 98% of the victims of the use of cluster munitions are civilians. Let us think about that for a moment. I understand that the people here are not cold-hearted. I understand there is some belief in the necessity of having weapons of this nature or at least in working side by side with countries that have them.
However, I would ask the members on the government side to consider for a moment that 98% of the victims are civilians. How many are women and children and non-combatants?
With that, I will end my comments.
As the member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills knows, the range of relevancy here is so broad that just about anything is permissible. The argument, quite frankly, in terms of comparison, is made regularly by both sides of the House in debate. So in fact the debate is quite within the normal room we allow for relevancy.
First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish everyone a happy Yukon Francophone Day today.
I listened to the hon. member and it is as if he is telling us that he supports CBC/Radio-Canada.
My question for him is whether he agrees with his party colleague from Carleton—Mississippi Mills, who asked if we should not get rid of CBC/Radio-Canada's English television. That is what he said in the House.
I would like to know what he feels about that. Is that what the government thinks, or does he disagree with his colleague from his party?
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to join this very interesting debate so far on the motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I want to review the wording of the motion as a starting point, because although the debate has ranged around the suggestion of the mover that the entire fair elections bill is utterly without merit and has nothing redeeming about it, that is not what the motion he put before the House said.
The motion before the House made reference to three very specific proposals within the proposed legislation and then identified several very specific groups that, as argued in the motion, would be selectively disenfranchised. It says:
That, in the opinion of the House, proposed changes to the Elections Act that would prohibit vouching, voter education programming by Elections Canada, and the use of voter cards as identification could disenfranchise many Canadians, particularly first-time voters like youth and new Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians and seniors living in residence, and should be abandoned.
The assumption I am making is that the hon. member feels that those three groups, or four groups if one chooses to consider as separate categories first-time young voters and the first-time voters who have just recently become Canadian citizens, are selectively negatively affected by this proposed legislation. I will address those assumptions.
I want to start by pointing out some of the assertions that must be made as we cross the first column dealing with all those groups that might be deprived of the ability to vote. Here one assumes that he means de facto disenfranchisement, not de jure disenfranchisement. If that were the case, this would be an unconstitutional proposal.
All those groups in the first category or column, namely, youth, immigrants, seniors living in residences, and aboriginal Canadians, are linked with the specific problems, including the end to vouching, the provision stating that the voter identification card or voter information card cannot be used as ID, and the limits on the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to carry out advertizing programs. These can be linked so that in each case there is a problem occurring because of each of the reforms.
I would maintain that on its surface that is not a plausible hypothesis. I will give a couple of examples that will make this point. Vouching is presented as something that, if it is not permitted, will cause seniors living in residences to be unable to cast ballots. That is part of the assertion being made here.
That clearly cannot be true. In the last election, the 2011 election, there was a controversy over whether the Etobicoke Centre election had been won by the Liberals or the Conservatives. The issue revolved around the fact that senior citizens living in closed access residences and who were therefore serviced by a mobile poll could not vote because the existing rules did not permit any vouching for them.
Vouching can only occur when another person who lives in the same poll vouches for the person. So they were already excluded from any vouching. Had vouching been permitted, one assumes that this issue might not have arisen.
There is nothing in this bill that takes away a vouching proposal dealing with senior citizens living in closed residences, who are specifically mentioned as one of the enumerated groups most at risk under this proposal.
Not only is it not part of the status quo that these individuals can be vouched for, but as far as I know the hon. member is not proposing that we change the rule and permit vouching where one person at a mobile poll can vouch for another, or people who live outside of the mobile poll can vouch for people who live in the mobile poll.
Perhaps he is suggesting that, but if he is making that suggestion or is planning to make it, he has not done so so far. He might actually want to comment on that.
I mention that because when the member introduced the motion today, I specifically asked him about that issue. What about the seniors who, in Etobicoke Centre, could not vote, could not be vouched for? Is there some solution?
This is a population where I think, unlike many of those who are actually vouched for in real life, it is highly unlikely that person A is going to turn up to vote ineligibly in person B's place. We can see how a mobile poll is one spot where people cannot simply walk in off the street and say, “Hey, I'm a resident of this facility. I would like to vote.”
I mention that as one specific area where his proposal just does not make sense.
I want to turn to another example, the voter identification card. I keep on saying “voter identification card”. It is the “voter information card”. The motion suggests that if the voter information card could be used as a piece of identification, it would make it possible for individuals living at these residences to vote. The suggestion is also made that if it could be used for this purpose, it would ensure that some young people would be able to vote. I want to comment on this.
I am looking at a report issued by Elections Canada itself, the 2011 general election national youth survey report. In the summary of findings, it divided youth in Canada into five sub-groups and asked why participation rates were as low as they were. The five groups included aboriginal youth, ethnocultural youth, unemployed youth not in school, youth with disabilities, and youth in rural areas. For three of those groups, ethnocultural youth, unemployed youth, and youth with disabilities, not receiving a voter identification card was indicated as one of the primary reasons they were not participating.
Just to make the point, the voter information card is not being received by many of these people. This is exactly why they are unable to determine where they should go to vote. It is highly unlikely that use of this card as a piece of identification would make it possible for them to cast a ballot. So, no disenfranchisement is going on here at all.
On the contrary, it appears to me that there is an indication that in both of these cases a different problem exists, one that is not addressed by the rhetoric of the opposition today, and one that unfortunately does not seem to be addressed by the Chief Electoral Officer, even though he submits a report after every election in which he tries to point out ways we can improve the electoral system.
What is missing is an adequate system of databasing Canadians, determining where they live and who is able to vote in what location.
The voter identification cards are given to voters on the basis of the preliminary list of voters. We hear the Chief Electoral Officer telling us that he has a list of voters that is over 90% accurate. Now, if we turn that around, that means that 8% or 9% of it is inaccurate. That is a large number of voters.
However, the voter ID card is not based upon the final list of electors. The final list of electors, as every candidate knows, does not get issued until a couple of days before the election. A day or two before the election, we can get this list, usually only on paper, not actually in electronic form, although that might differ in some ridings. Up until that point, both the candidates and Elections Canada are relying on the preliminary list of voters, which, by the Chief Electoral Officer's own testimony in his report on the 41st general election, is only 84% accurate.
Just to be clear about this, I am looking at his report on the 41st general election. On page 28, the Chief Electoral Officer says that “The preliminary lists for the 41st general election included 93 percent of Canadian electors, and 84 percent of electors were listed at the correct residential address”. This means that 16% of voters, if they received any card at all, received it at the wrong address or were present when the card for the wrong person came to their address.
He goes on to say that “The currency of the lists in 10 ridings was estimated to have dropped to less than 75 percent”. He does not tell us what ridings he is talking about and this is a major frustration for me. The CEO is far from transparent when it comes to providing information of this sort. We, and the committee that oversees him, have to prompt him over and over again to find out this kind of information. He does not make it clear if the 75% was 75% of people who were at the correct address. He did not even know who the 25% of voters were in certain ridings. I am not sure which of those two things he means.
The point is that the preliminary list is very problematic. It is more problematic in certain ridings than in others. There are some, and I suspect mine would be one of those ridings, where it is very good as a consequence of the fact that fewer people move and there is more security in the sense that old information will be reliable information.
The Chief Electoral Officer's list is suffering from significant database problems. As anybody who maintains a database knows, there is a very high error rate, over time, and it gets worse as old information is unreliable. Simply acknowledging this is a problem and reporting on it openly would be helpful. Instead, we have to parse this information from the Chief Electoral Officer and he tries to develop methods of dealing with the problem that essentially boil down to saying that we will continually widen the basis on which we will accept that somebody is able to vote whether that individual can prove eligibility or not.
In the case of the election in Etobicoke Centre, which is the most studied example we have, many people voted. Nobody is arguing that they voted fraudulently. Many people voted who were not accounted for in a way that ensured they were eligible and that this could be demonstrated after the fact, thereby potentially putting the outcome of the election at risk.
As we know, the Supreme Court ruled on that case. In the Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj ruling, a four-person majority of justices said that the election should not be overturned on that basis. A three-person minority, headed by the chief justice, decided on the contrary, that the election should be overturned because of the unreliability of the accounting for the voting, despite the fact that nobody was asserting that fraud occurred.
When we hear the sponsor of this motion and many others in the opposition benches saying that there is no problem with fraudulent voting, I am not sure whether that is true. The fact is that the record-keeping is so bad we cannot tell, or at least we cannot prove anything. What we do know is that even in the absence of fraud, mistaken voting is potentially going on, and the potential for elections to be overturned or controverted is considerable.
Justice McLachlin, along with Justice LeBel and Justice Fish, dissenting, determined that:
The federal election in the riding of Etobicoke Centre should be annulled because of votes cast by individuals who were not entitled to vote under the Act.
They did not state that the individuals were voting fraudulently.
What happened here was that the definition of the word “entitled” came under dispute, and in the end the one-person majority of the court argued in favour of a wider interpretation of the word “entitled”. We came very near to seeing an election overturned as a result of that.
In consequence of the fact that there was a court case under way, Harry Neufeld was commissioned by the Chief Electoral Officer to write a report dealing with these issues. In his report, he concluded that the number of irregularities that occur under vouching amounts to something in the neighbourhood of 40% of all incidents of vouching nationwide. He has a breakdown for a number of different things, such as the general election and the number of byelections. On the whole, the number comes down to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40%. It may be as low as 25% in one of the byelections.
Clearly, the issue of vouching that occurs in a way not allowing for a proper follow-through to confirm that everything was done in a valid manner is very high. That is a serious problem.
I am going to turn now to a few examples from my own life to make the point about what is wrong with using the voter information card as a method of determining whether a person is eligible to vote. I have three stories. Two of them I have given before in committee and one I just learned about today.
The first story comes from the election of 2004. When my riding boundaries were changed, we had a new deputy returning officer down in Napanee, at the far end of my riding from where I live, who inherited a substantial chunk of the riding and was unfamiliar with how things worked. When they merged the database, a large number of erroneous voter information cards were issued. This included the issuing of three voter cards to Scott Reid. At 142 Arthur Street, my house, I received a voter information card for Scott Jeffrey Reid, which is me. I also received one for Scott Reid and one for Jeffrey Reid, and I was living alone at the time. Clearly, there is a problem when that sort of thing happens.
As I pointed out to the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, when he appeared at a committee shortly after that, I could have taken one card and voted at the returning office. They would have struck my name off the list. I could have then taken the second card and gone to the advance poll. My name would have been struck from another list. Then on election day, I could have voted at the third place and my name would have been struck off the list. No one would have been the wiser. I would have been using a piece of identification that had been issued in triplicate to me. That is my first example.
Here is my second story. After that point I moved, got married, and at the new house, which is about 100 yards on the boundary between the riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, which I represent, and the riding of Carleton—Mississippi Mills, I wrote down my address as being at that street address in Mississippi Mills, Ontario. My wife, my ex-wife actually, but at the time we were married, wrote down her name and same street address at Rural Route 1, Carleton Place, which is also correct. Both addresses are correct and both will cause the mail to be delivered to the same address. They both have the same postal code, obviously. However, Rural Route 1 starts in Carleton Place and goes into Mississippi Mills, so we got voter identification cards that told us to go and vote at two different locations in two different ridings.
Here is an interesting question. Had we not spotted this problem, had she gone and voted in the wrong riding, would that have been voter fraud? I do not know. It was Elections Canada's fault because it has an inadequate database. It was not her fault that she had a voter card telling her to vote in the wrong constituency but relying on a card and assuming it is accurate. Also, her name would not be picked up as one in the error rate that Elections Canada cites, when it says it is 84% accurate and only 16% wrong. There is another error that is going to lead to people voting mistakenly if they use the voter information card as the basis for their vote. Also, having a second piece of ID with her address would not solve that problem.
The third story comes from my legislative assistant who told me today as we were discussing the bill that in the last election, he and his wife had just moved and received voter information cards addressed to the people who had lived in the house before them. They are of British ancestry, but the people who had lived in the house before them were of Vietnamese ancestry and the names were obviously Vietnamese. His wife went to the voter station, taking the card along because it told her what location to go to. When she got there, she went in, holding the card in her hand, and was issued a ballot and told she could vote. It was not her card, but it was being treated as a piece of identification. That is how lax security is when it comes to the use of the voter information card as a piece of identification.
Is there a problem with its use? Absolutely. That is why it was not permitted as a piece of ID, except on an experimental basis in the past. However, the Chief Electoral Officer said in his report to Parliament that he would expand its use nationwide, something he had not done in the past. That is now being prevented because it is unwise.
Far from being about disenfranchisement, as the member suggests in the motion, this is actually about keeping our system open, fair, honest, and competent.
Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to present from my riding of Kitchener Centre. They are mainly signed by women, and total over 200 signatures, all of whom are concerned that our 400-year-old definition of human being does not recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. They are asking Parliament to address that in light of 21st century evidence.
I have another petition to the same effect from the riding of St. Catharines, with over 420 signatures, and another from the riding of Ajax—Pickering, with almost 50 signatures. The petitioners call on Parliament to amend section 223 of the Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century knowledge.
I have another petition from the riding of Calgary West, with 50 signatures, and two from the riding of Carleton—Mississippi Mills, with over 138 signatures, and another from the riding of Cambridge, with over 120 signatures. I could go on but I am out of time.
The electoral district of Carleton--Mississippi Mills (Ontario) has a population of 128,915 with 99,002 registered voters and 263 polling divisions.
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