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Results: 1 - 15 of 323
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much.
Good morning. I'm very glad to have the opportunity to update this committee and to discuss the way forward on one of the most important issues of our time.
This time last year, I was at the Geneva II conference aimed at bringing an end to the bloody civil war in Syria. During that summit, which was unfortunately unsuccessful, I worried about the potential for ISIL, or Daesh, to become a threat to the wider region. Sadly, since the summer, we've all watched with horror as this cancer has spread across the border and embedded itself in a broad swath of Iraqi territory.
At the same time, we've also seen the cancer of Islamist terrorism manifest in many other corners of the world—places like France, Belgium, Australia, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines—ongoing terrorist attacks in Israel, and of course closer to home in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. We even saw it on the other side of that door in this “infidel Parliament”, as the ISIL spokesman described it this week.
This threat isn't going away on its own. That's why Canada has taken decisive action to help curtail ISIL's expansionist agenda and to protect and assist its victims. Since our last committee meeting, I've spent a lot of time engaging regional partners, such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, and of course our partners in NATO. Our actions and those of our allies are focused on five main lines of effort that are interrelated and tremendously important: military operations, foreign fighters, terrorist financing, humanitarian aid, and countering narratives. These areas of focus were agreed on at the last NATO summit. I'll run through them quickly so we can get to questions.
First is military operations. I believe my cabinet colleague Mr. Nicholson has covered this—ably covered it.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: Thank you.
Hon. John Baird: I would just add that these efforts are recognized by our allies. The Kurdish government expressed this again this week, and Iraq's vice-president did so last week. The same goes for our regional partners, and of course our traditional allies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. I wanted to pass that on to the members of the committee.
Second, we are working with partners to impede the flow of foreign fighters. This is an incredibly important component. These fighters pose a risk to the countries they travel to as well as to their countries of origin. We're funding regional efforts to limit the movement of foreign fighters into both Iraq and Syria. On the domestic front, we have also strengthened our laws to limit the ability of radicalized Canadians to become part of the problem.
Third, Canada is actively contributing to international efforts to disrupt and prevent ISIL financing. Domestically, ISIL has been listed as a terrorist organization under Canada's Criminal Code.
Fourth, we are working with partners to address the humanitarian needs in the region. Over the past year, Canada has contributed over $80 million in response to the Iraq crisis. That assistance is helping to provide food for 1.5 million people, shelter and essential household items for 1.26 million people, and 500,000 displaced children will have access to education. Many Canadians were horrified by the level of ISIL's depraved acts of sexual violence. We're leading efforts to deal with that by contributing over $13 million to humanitarian organizations on the ground. This funding will help protect the women and girls most at threat, provide support and assistance to victims, and investigate these barbaric crimes so that the perpetrators are held accountable.
Finally, there's a fifth area where coalition members, including Canada, need to increase their involvement. This is countering and undermining ISIL's poisonous narratives. This terrorist organization systematically distorts Islamic values, yet it presents itself as the defender of true Islam. We must find ways of countering ISIL's message and exposing its true nature. Again, we are doing this at home and we are working with regional partners abroad, such as the Hedayah centre in the United Arab Emirates, to counter extremism.
There are grounds for hope in Iraq. With the support of the coalition air strikes, Iraqi security forces have started reversing some of ISIL's territorial gains. On the Syrian side, it was also encouraging to see the retaking of Kobani this week. The new Iraqi government is legitimate and more representative, even if more must be done. This is an important one: Iraq must have a true government that is inclusive of all of Iraq, including its Kurdish minority and its Sunni minority.
Much progress has been made on the Kurdish side, some progress has been made on the Sunni side, and we will continue to engage with our friends and allies, the Iraqi government, in this regard.
It has taken steps to address the country's security challenges and to curtail sectarianism and corruption. These elements are positive, but the Iraqi government must accelerate the implementation of these reforms. A strong, democratic, and inclusive Iraq is absolutely essential to regional stability. Good governance and inclusiveness are also the best protection against terrorism.
In the long term, we are committed to helping Iraqis build the social and economic foundations for recovery and growth. In June, Iraq became one of Canada's development partners. At the same time, Canada will continue to build its diplomatic and commercial relationship. To do this we can build on our excellent reputation in Iraq, especially with our recently opened mission in Baghdad, and our presence in Erbil.
As I conclude, I think it's clear that we're taking a well-rounded approach in our response to this threat, and we can be proud of what Canada is doing. Canada's playing its part in partnership with over 60 nations, indeed taking a genuine leadership role. I'm conscious that there is always more that can be done, especially with a challenge of this scale. We may not be able to do everything, but we should do everything that we're able to do. As I said during the debate about committing to air strikes, when our house is on fire you have to call the firefighters as well as the ambulance.
I believe in a Canada that is strong and compassionate, and in these times we certainly need both qualities.
There are legitimate questions about the nature of our engagement and how we can make it even more effective. We will try to answer those as clearly as we're able. But as we have a constructive dialogue, let's not lose sight of the nature of the threat. After all, the issue is bigger than that, this House is bigger than that, and in my view Canada is bigger than that.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions and comments.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
His father was a good man. I think he was an NDP MP.
Voices: Oh, oh!
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
As of today, our total humanitarian assistance to Iraq has amounted to about $67.4 million. This makes us the fourth-largest contributor of aid to the humanitarian crisis since the beginning of 2014. I can speak to some of those highlights.
Just this month Minister Paradis announced $40 million, and $10 million of that went to the World Food Programme to help provide food assistance to about 1.5 million people. I believe we are the second-largest contributor to the World Food Programme. The United Nations World Food Programme does excellent work.
We have given $9 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help about 1.3 million displaced people in accessing legal assistance, blankets, warm clothing, heaters, and 50,000 emergency shelters. We have provided $5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross for safe water, sanitation, food assistance, financial assistance to some 77,000 people, and supporting three hospitals and nine health centres.
In October Minister Paradis announced $8 million to UNICEF. This is to support the No Lost Generation initiative in Iraq. This initiative will reach as many as 200,000 at-risk children in Iraq and will focus on education in emergencies, child protection, and social cohesion. In September I announced $5 million to provide emergency shelter and emergency relief supplies to the people of northern Iraq and $2 million for urgent health care services to support the victims.
Other humanitarian assistance in 2014 included $7.4 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq; $6.5 million was provided in March in response to the yearly humanitarian appeals, and some $900,000 to various Canadian NGOs and the Canadian Red Cross through pre-approved rapid response drawdown funds, including the costs of deploying those supplies to Iraq. This is obviously a tremendously important part of the response. There is no doubt though that while the humanitarian assistance we're giving is important, we have seen humanitarian aid workers summarily executed by the terrorists. So I think the biggest humanitarian assistance we can provide is to stop the expansion of ISIL into new areas where more people would have to flee their barbaric practices and so that far fewer people have to live under their barbaric regime.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
I think the Minister of Immigration has spoken to these issues. We have accepted 10%, about 10,000. That is tremendously important. Many people who have been displaced would like to stay in the region. When I visited one refugee camp in northern Iraq along with some of our colleagues, I met a Christian family who literally in less than five minutes had to flee their homes to save their lives. One of their neighbours had ratted them out to the terrorists. They want to stay in the region. They don't want to return to Mosul, but they would be quite happy and prefer to resettle in Erbil. So those will be some of the initiatives that Canada will have to explore as well.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
We've provided to the Office of Religious Freedom some $800,000 to assist religious minorities. One of the key elements in the values that we promote abroad in the department under this government is religious freedom. That, in many ways, exemplifies the pluralism that we have built in Canada, where people of different faiths can live in peace and harmony and build a strong country together.
This is one of the real breakdowns that we see in Iraq, where you have a central government that has not governed for all Iraqis in the past. They've made significant progress in recent months. A lot more work remains to be done, but I think they're going in the right direction.
The reports of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia being summarily executed in large numbers horrified the world. This is I think one of the important areas where Canada's voice and our action can play a constructive role. That's why we established the Office of Religious Freedom.
I think the same could be said within Syria, where we had real concerns a number of years ago whether a new government represented by the opposition, should Assad fall, would govern for the whole country and govern in a pluralist way. We initially had concerns that they might single out and target religious minorities, you know, and with large parts of the opposition we now have a concern that religious minorities could face slaughter, so this is a tremendously important issue for us. This is why Canada was one of the only major western countries that didn't recognize the Syrian opposition as the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Obviously, those same concerns unfortunately are manifesting themselves with ISIL in Iraq. Religious freedom is important. Pluralism is, I think, a tremendous gift that Canada can promote around the world.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
I often speak of the threat we face and the threat the civilized world faces from terrorism. I look at the experience of my grandfather who left Canada in 1943. He was in the war for two years and then stayed in the Canadian Forces for 25 years after that. The great struggles of his generation were fascism and then communism.
In the 21st century the great struggle of our generation is terrorism, and this most recent example with ISIL probably represents the most barbaric, evil form of it we have seen. This requires us to be up to the challenge.
I believe one of the most important responsibilities a Parliament has is to keep Canadians safe. That's why we're in Kuwait on a combat mission with the air force. We're advising and assisting with the 69 men and women providing help there. We're working on the financing with Bahrain. We're working on a counternarrative, and we're working on humanitarian aid because Canadians expect their government to do its share of the heavy lifting. But we're not simply there to hand out warm blankets, when we're facing this great struggle. I think Canadians can be tremendously proud of the mission our men and women in uniform are taking on, on behalf of all Canadians.
But unfortunately, I don't think it will end in Iraq. We saw, whether it was the Air India bombing or the terrorist incident we had just outside these halls that we need to be strong and to have 21st century tools to take this fight to the people who are fundamentally at war with modernity and our way of life. I can tell you when I'm at international summits and meetings people look at Canada as a country that won't get up from the table when the cheque is presented. We're up to the challenge and we do our share of the heavy lifting. Canadians can be very proud of that.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
Our bilateral relationship with Iraq has been strengthened considerably in the last two years. I visited Baghdad about two years ago. I met with my counterpart, with the Iraqi Prime Minister, and a number of representatives of the government and Parliament. Our ambassador has been there for more than a year now. He has strengthened the relationship with Iraq considerably as the situation has become demonstrably more complex in recent years. We have a physical presence now, which we didn't have in the past, and he obviously makes a lot of visits to Erbil.
We have made it a country of focus for development, which I think is important. I think one of the most important parts of tackling the problem in Iraq is ensuring that the central government in Baghdad is truly representative of the entire population. Inclusiveness is tremendously important. I think one of the real tragedies with ISIL is that there was such a strong degree of dissatisfaction, particularly among the Sunni minority, with the central government in Baghdad, that it found some fertile ground. An inclusive government, a government with an inclusive program is tremendously important.
That's not just the case with the Sunnis but also with the Kurds. Because the Kurds have the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government, they have an institution with which to have a relationship with the central government in Baghdad. The deputy prime minister and the minister of finance are both Kurds. So good progress has been made there. I think they've begun to make good progress with respect to the Sunni minority. This is absolutely essential, and we regularly engage with senior officials in the Iraqi government to work collectively with the United States, with European countries, and with our Arab allies in this effort, particularly in the Sunni Arab world, to press this. It is tremendously important. I think the new government in Iraq has welcomed Canada's active role and engagement.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
There's been a lot of discussion about what you call it. Do you call it ISIS, or do you call it ISIL, or do you call it Daesh? In many respects, it exhibits all the attributes of a cult, even a death cult. Anyone who doesn't subscribe to their view of Islam, to their view of the world, is an enemy. The horrific crimes undertaken against women—women being sold into slavery—and against people, with as many as hundreds at a time being summarily executed.... It must be, for some, a living hell.
In some parts of the country you are seeing ISIL providing government services, perhaps in a way that the central government of Baghdad didn't. That's why it's tremendously important for us to try to liberate the people in these affected areas by cutting off the funding to ISIL and stopping more foreign fighters from making their way there, by the air mission, for example, the training mission, and the advise and assist role to help the Iraqi forces to be able to liberate these people on the ground.
But again, I come back to that inclusiveness. It is tremendously important. We have to try to detach the Sunni minority from anyone who has any sympathies with this death cult. It's tremendously important. The role of the Shia militias is incredibly counterproductive and has done the opposite of winning friends.
I think the most scary part, not just for the people who live in these areas but for the rest of the world, is that ISIL, through using new communications technologies, through the Internet, is seeking to recruit and inspire people around the world, whether they be here in Ottawa, or in the streets of Paris, or in Belgium. That poses a huge risk, frankly, not just to the people of Syria and Iraq or the people of the region but to the civilized world. In many respects, it's a war against modernity, and anyone who doesn't accept their view of the world is living in fear.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
The largest number of victims are fellow Muslims who may not share their view of Islam. That's why it is so tremendously important that there be strong Arab participation in the coalition. I think you have to give President Obama credit for building a very expansive coalition in this regard. It's not easy but he has done it. That's why the support of the Emirates, of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain is tremendously important.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
I met with John Kerry on Saturday morning, and he did not ask for Canada's support in that area.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and colleagues.
Just a few short days ago I got back from Iraq where I was joined by two of our colleagues here today, Paul Dewar and Marc Garneau. We went to demonstrate Canada's solidarity with the people of Iraq in this incredibly challenging time, to see the situation for ourselves, to urge Iraqi leaders to come together in a united and pluralistic government, and to learn about what more needs to be done.
I have to tell you that it was an emotional trip at times. It was just absolutely horrifying to see the literally hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes, and to listen to the stories about what they are fleeing from.
I think I can speak not just for this government and this Parliament but for this country when I say that we are determined that Canada will do its part in dealing with this crisis, on both a security, and just as important, a humanitarian level.
I'd like to take a few minutes to reflect on the rise of ISIL, the nature of the challenge that it has created, and some of the steps that need to be taken in tackling this challenge. After that I'd of course be keen to take any questions, ideas, suggestions, or comments you may have.
When confronted by the Arab Spring—now nearly a deep winter—Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite Shia, embarked upon a bloody campaign against his own people. Regional Sunni jihadists found their clarion call. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forebear of ISIL, grew increasingly sophisticated as they effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, Sunni tribes and leaders in Iraq grew increasingly disenchanted by the overly sectarian government in Baghdad. ISIL and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the so-called Islamic State, filled that void.
As we've all watched in shock at the speed of their advance and the brutality they have employed, they have captured Mosul and other cities, and have taken over key infrastructure, including dams, oil fields, and military facilities. In doing so, they have executed hundreds of Iraqi troops. They have ruthlessly targeted anyone they don't agree with, and there are growing reports of them using rape as a weapon of war, a horrible phenomenon against which Canada has been campaigning with the United Kingdom and others.
We know about some of these actions because they themselves document them to fan the flames of terror in the hearts of those they seek to rule. They don't hide their brutality; they in fact promote it. They film it; they tweet it, and they bask in the reaction that it causes. The despicable beheading of two international journalists in particular has raised the profile of the terrible threat they pose. But let's not forget the thousands who have been victims of the same treatment. Those who happen to believe in God in a different way have tragically taken the brunt of their wrath.
Our government has consistently spoken out on matters with respect to religious freedom, and I'm glad that Canada's ambassador for religious freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, has joined us to brief us on that aspect.
The reality is that ISIL intends to eliminate the very notion of religious freedom through bloodshed and through fear. Repugnant reports continue to stream in of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen Shiites, and others, including women and children, being ordered to convert to ISIL's barbaric interpretation of Islam or face death.
I remember talking to a Christian family at an IDP camp last week. Their neighbours had informed on them to ISIL and within five minutes they had to escape for their lives. This is one of just so many stories of the scale of human tragedy. Really, it's hard to comprehend, just as it is frankly hard to stomach.
What we are facing here is one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever seen. This is not someone else's problem. We are talking about a group of people who want to impose their barbarism everywhere from southern Spain through to India.
Their world view is a direct challenge to the values of western civilization, and it is a threat to international security and stability. It is obviously in all of our interests not to allow them to have a foothold from which they can launch attacks abroad. This battle against terrorism is one of the great struggles of our generation.
What we are facing here is one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever seen. It is not somebody else's problem. It is not a problem that will remain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. It's obviously in all of our interests to not allow them to have a foothold from which they can launch attacks abroad. The battle against terrorism I believe is the great struggle of our generation. We don't know how long the struggle will take or exactly how it will unfold, but there are actions that can be taken now to stem the flow of the threat, both by Iraqis, and just as importantly, by the international community.
There are three key areas for action. We need a firm and focused response from Iraqi authorities. We need to assist those who are on the front lines of this fight. We need to continue to help those who are its victims.
First is a strong and united government. Like the fingers of a hand coming together into a tight fist, the stability and security of Iraq depend on its government presenting a united front against terrorist threats. This was a key focus of our meetings with leaders in Baghdad last week, so I was very pleased to see yesterday that the Iraqi Parliament has approved a new government and cabinet under the leadership of a new prime minister.
The unified leadership must put aside ethnic and religious divides and work together to meet the needs of all Iraqis, whatever their creed or colour. As I made clear to the government last week, Canada has committed to work with them as they seek to do this. It is tremendously important that this government have not just an inclusive cabinet, but an inclusive program that reaches out to Kurds, to Sunnis, and to other minorities.
Minister Nicholson has covered what we're doing so far on the security front. The humanitarian challenge is just as daunting.
The violence has displaced some 850,000 people over the last two months alone. That adds up to a staggering 1.4 million since the beginning of just this year. In response to this, Canada is providing additional humanitarian support that will directly help to alleviate their hardship. Practical aid is being provided: food, hygiene kits, cooking materials, blankets, tents, medicines, and other important supplies.
Much of our security and humanitarian assistance is focused on the Kurdish region, which we visited as part of our trip last week. Ambassador Saccomani has also been spending time there, and I'd like to pay special tribute to his hard work. ISIL has been testing the peshmerga while the KRG leadership also works to provide humanitarian relief. Also, our international allies have assessed that Kurdistan is where Canadian military help is needed. Canada stands with the Kurdish peshmerga soldiers who are bravely fighting these terrorists and holding back their advance in the north.
As I conclude, I ask that as we consider whether or how to act we also consider what happens if we don't act. What happens if Canada does not do everything in its power to stop this barbarism? Will we be willing to look ourselves in the mirror in 10 years and ask if we have done enough? In a situation like this, there are no easy options, quick fixes, and win-wins. It might seem easy to ignore as we go about our comfortable lives here in Canada. It might seem convenient to brush off options as leading to mission creep in the future, but the hard reality is that inaction is not an option.
The reality is that inaction is not an option. We must fight terrorism from a position of strength and unity. We also have to stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people during this incredibly difficult time.
That's all I wanted to say. I now look forward to hearing from Ambassador Bennett, who will deliver a few words.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
If I could briefly—
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
I'll be very quick.
Prime Minister al-Maliki has not led an inclusive government and it has been problematic in this interim period. With the formation of the new government, which Parliament approved last night, that should follow in short order.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
If I could, we have two short-term goals. One is obviously to stop the advance of ISIL so we can contain the growing humanitarian catastrophe. Two is to provide support to the KRG and Iraqi officials and forces to turn back the advance, to support, to help them help themselves. This thing is moving very quickly. The advance was very quick.
On a positive side, the airdrops to support the Yazidi and religious minorities on the mountaintop went demonstrably faster than anyone could have imagined. This thing is moving very quickly. The Prime Minister has obviously said he will review it after 30 days, which I think is intelligent.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
Obviously President Obama will be speaking to this in terms of the like-minded coalition that is emerging.
Obviously the United States is providing a substantial amount of assistance. The United Kingdom is providing humanitarian aid and is transporting arms and munitions from European partners to the Kurds. They have deployed six Tornados to the theatre and four Chinooks. France is providing humanitarian assistance and is willing to join the United States in airstrikes. They are shipping weapons to KRG authorities. Germany is providing humanitarian assistance like Canada has announced, that it would send arms to assist the KRG, and is committed to provide other non-lethal military assistance. It has deployed a small number of military officials to oversee delivery. I could go on and mention Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Albania, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Norway, Sweden, and Japan.
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