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.