Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is unquestionable that we face an urgent situation in Egypt at the present time. Any Canadian watching the news tonight will be aware of the level and degree of violence in the streets, as it appears that there is active fighting between the forces that are closely tied to President Mubarak and those who are demonstrating for significant change in Egypt.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Don Valley East, but there are some events taking place even now.
We have just learned that CBC employees were attacked in the streets and, without the intervention of the Egyptian army, they could have been seriously injured by the physical attacks.
My comments will primarily focus on two issues: the protection of the Canadian government’s consular operations—the government’s policy in response to the problem and the situation—and the crisis, which is not limited to just Cairo or Egypt and remains a major challenge for the entire region.
I want to say a couple of things in the debate and there will be a chance for questions. There will also be a chance for questions to the government with respect to the activities of Canadian officials and what has happened.
I want to make it very clear that our side recognizes the great hard work of people who work on behalf of the citizens of Canada and the very difficult circumstances in which our embassy officials in Cairo have found themselves over the last several days.
The underlying challenge, and we saw it emerging from the Lebanon crisis, is that Canada consistently finds itself under-resourced, without enough people on the ground and without a sufficiently determined response time from the government in Ottawa. We were behind in our response with respect to the Lebanon situation.
A valuable report coming from the other place refers to some of the difficulties and challenges that we see in this particular instance. Many Canadians had a great deal of difficulty finding out about the circumstances affecting their loved ones, their children, their cousins and those who are part of their families. We also saw those people themselves facing a challenge as they tried to find out information about how they could possibly get out of the country.
The minister took great offence yesterday when I asked a simple question based on facts. The fact of the matter is that Canada faces a problem. Far too many of our personnel are here in Ottawa and not enough of our personnel are working on behalf of Canada overseas. That is a problem and a challenge which must be faced. We are also not always using the most up-to-date technology to get in touch with Canadians or to make sure they are available.
The one thing we know for certain is that this is not an issue about looking back and saying who did wrong and who goofed up. One thing we know for certain is that we will face in the future more of these situations. This is the world we are living in. We are living in a world in which there are either man-made difficulties, political difficulties and challenges, or difficulties involving natural disasters. We simply have to improve our capacity as a government to respond to the critical situation. That is the first point I want to make.
The second point I want to make is that none of us could have anticipated the extent and the pace of change which has taken place in the Middle East. Countries which seemed from the outside to be extremely stable are now profoundly unstable. Deeply repressed, yes. Oppressive, yes. Hierarchical, yes. Virtual dictatorships, yes. They are profoundly unstable because their people are expressing a very simple reality; they have had enough.
More than half the population of Egypt is under the age of 30. It is a young country. It is a country with a 5,000 year old civilization, but it is a young country. It is a young country in which people are becoming better educated, in which people are increasingly learning of all of the challenges of globalization. It is a young country where all of the opportunities are in place. Its people see an economic and social system of which they are taking advantage. The revolution and technology of Twitter and Facebook, and the social media which has taken over the younger generation which allows them to communicate one with the other, allowing people in Tunis to communicate with people in Cairo, allowing people on the street in Cairo to tell others to come out for a demonstration and tens of thousands of people come out.
It is not possible to ascribe what has taken place and what continues to take place to political radicalism or to a particular ideology that is in place, although that obviously has a role and we must recognize that presents us with a challenge. We have to understand that this is a part of the world in which all of the theories about social change and political change are actually being put to work on the street.
Our party, the government and others have made the same point, that it is not for us as Canadians to determine what the outcome in Egypt is going to be.
However, it is important for us to state today that it is very clear that the steps that have been announced by President Mubarak with respect to his own plans and with respect to the plans that he is supposedly putting forward for political reform are simply not sufficient to deal with the extent of the concern and with the extent of popular reaction to the regime.
This is not any form of outside interference. This is a simple statement of the facts. This is a simple statement that what has been done so far is clearly not having the effect that we all want to see.
There is a legitimate concern in stability as much as there is a legitimate concern in democracy because we all know from our own lives that without a degree of stability and without personal security it is not possible for us to see working democracies really advance. However, we do not want to see a time when governments use the security and the stability arguments as an excuse for further repression.
We want to state categorically on behalf of this Parliament that we affirm the dignity of every person around the world. We affirm their dignity, we affirm their human rights, their right to the rule of law, their right to democratic assembly, their right to peaceful assembly, their right to freedom of religion and their right to freedom of expression. We do not see these as being confined to any one country. We see these as values that are indeed universal and they are contained in the documents that are expressed by the United Nations itself in terms of the rights of every person in the world.
There is a profound movement for democracy that is under way in the Middle East. It is an extremely encouraging and profound movement. It is important for this Parliament to state very clearly to the Egyptian people that we are with them in their struggle, we are with them in their quest for democracy, we are with them in their quest for stability. We say to all the people of the Middle East, and I would say most emphatically including the people of Israel, that we value the peace and stability which has been achieved at such great costs. Canada will stay involved and stay engaged in the peace process to ensure that the democratic change, indeed the democratic revolution that is now under way in Egypt and Tunisia and many other parts of the Middle East, does not take away for one second the need for peaceful co-existence between Israel and all its neighbours in the Middle East.
I appreciate the chance to speak on this debate. I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with the members opposite. I do not see this debate as an opportunity to take partisan shots one way or the other. It is a chance for us as members of Parliament to have a thoughtful exchange on what we think is taking place, on what we think Canada can usefully and productively do to be a constructive partner for peace as well as a constructive partner for justice and democracy.
That is the kind of foreign policy we want to see, a Canada that is deeply engaged in the world because, as I often say, the world is in us and we are profoundly in the world.