1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 167

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Foreign Affairs


Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: My question also is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and leader, this is on another topic. I had asked you questions on Syria some time ago, and there is not one senator in this place who is not aware of the terrible situation that exists in Syria. I have tracked down figures regarding the help that Canada has been giving as of this morning, so I have a number of questions for you, leader. One is, how will Canada help to make up the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan’s $190 million deficit?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Thank you, Senator Jaffer. Canada is continuing to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as you know. We have provided more than $48 million in support to help Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Jordan, and of course we all watch on a daily basis the horrific situation in Syria. If there is further information that you require on this, Senator Jaffer, I would be happy to try and get it for you.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much, leader. My next question is what additional funds will the government provide for the terrible situation with regard to water, sanitation, hygiene, sector plan, which is only 9.3 per cent funded as of today?

Senator LeBreton: Well, as you know, Minister Kenney visited the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey and made an announcement that our government is contributing another $1.5 million to the Red Cross to help those in need, and this funding will help provide food, water and shelter and items such as hygiene kits, blankets, heaters and clothing for up to 170,000 displaced Syrians.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you, leader. I am aware of what Minister Kenney had said. My question to you is, what additional funds is Canada looking to provide for this terrible situation where 3.1 million children are displaced?

Senator LeBreton: The government, of course, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, are working and attempting to respond to the obvious needs, and of course, as you know, this situation worsens by the day. I will take your question as notice, Senator Jaffer, and get up-to-date information as to what is being done to this point in time.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much, leader. Leader, today, as I stand here, I remember 40 years ago when I was in the same circumstances under Idi Amin’s terrible regime, where Canada came to help, uplift, bring Ugandan Asians to Canada. Are there any programs to help these desperate Syrians to come to Canada?

Senator LeBreton: I will take that question as notice, Senator Jaffer. I am not aware of what exactly — we do have a very good refugee program and to the extent of how it applies to these unfortunate refugees from Syria, I will be happy to provide an answer.


Hon. Hugh Segal: Honourable senators, could the Leader of the Government in the Senate give us any advice on Canada’s strategic position relative to the use of aircraft by Syria against its own people? Even as we speak, critical battles are going on where Syrian air force jets are bombarding their own people, with no regard to civilian life or death.

The Russians are supplying late-stage anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrians. The Iranians and various terrorist organizations are supporting the Syrians against the broader population.

I know that the government has taken the view that it will only give humanitarian aid and not engage in any other way. However, is there a point in this charnel house in which the Assad administration is simply allowed to kill people at will whereby Canada and other allies will have to engage at least with respect to a no-fly zone so as to even the odds between the participants in this circumstance?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for his question. He has expressed his concerns on this very topic several times. It certainly is a very grave situation.

I am not aware of the government’s intentions. I know that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has been working with his counterparts. There is grave concern over the State of Israel and the impact the situation may have on their safety and security in the Middle East. However, I will be happy to take the honourable senator’s question as notice.

Senator Segal: As a supplementary question, I wonder if I could impose upon the minister to use her good offices to facilitate a fresh discussion amongst her cabinet colleagues about this pressing humanitarian and strategic issue in that part of the world.

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator. I am sure he has also made that pitch to my other cabinet colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Regardless, I will certainly consult with him and will make the honourable senator’s views known, although I am quite sure he does know them.

This is a very grave situation, and every day it seems to worsen. More and more innocent civilian Syrians are killed and more and more are fleeing for safety across the borders of the countries that border Syria.

I will certainly try to provide as much information as possible.

Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk: Honourable senators, I have a supplementary question. If the leader will be going back to the minister to revisit this issue, I would ask her to include the issue that the United Nations has pointed out, namely, that civilians have been killed by the rebel forces also. All citizens are of equal value in any country. For a proper assessment, the question should be addressed as to what is going on in the country.

I would also like a reaffirmation that it is still our policy to work towards a peace settlement and then a resettlement of people back into their home country before they are again displaced or given an opportunity to go elsewhere. The movement of the refugees is extremely difficult for families, particularly children, so the best hope is a peace settlement and a return of the people to their country.

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for her question. She knows that the government has no intention of sending arms to Syria; we are focusing our efforts on humanitarian aid. As has been expressed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we are concerned with the involvement of radical jihadists in the Syrian opposition groups and with evidence that they and the Assad regime are receiving outside assistance from various sources. However, we absolutely do remain committed to focusing on the humanitarian side, as well as seeking a political solution.

Hon. Percy E. Downe: Honourable senators, following the excellent question posed by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee, I have a question for the minister. Could the minister find out what assistance the Government of Canada is giving our friends and allies, Turkey and Jordan, who are taking in a large number of refugees, whether that assistance be financial, logistical or anything else to that end? If she does not have that information, could she please report back?

Senator LeBreton: I believe we have been working closely with the Turkish and Jordanian governments, and I will provide the honourable senator with that information.

Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire: I, too, have a supplementary question, honourable senators. As we know, the situation is such that the extensive displacement of people internally and also refugees on the borders are a great source of potential friction and recruitment of individuals to be more engaged in the battle.

The fact that we are providing humanitarian assistance is of course commendable; we have been doing that for years in Darfur and we have not solved that one. The civil war is still going on.

What is Canada doing to prevent both sides from being able to access those internally displaced persons, or IDPs, and what are we doing to ensure that there is no movement from the refugee camps into reinforcing either side for continuing the battle? In other words, what are we doing specifically to engage capabilities on the ground to prevent that from happening?

Senator LeBreton: As the honourable senator knows, we have imposed upon the Syrian government 11 rounds of very tough sanctions to further isolate them and increase pressure on the regime. I am sure we will continue to work through the Minister of Foreign Affairs with our allies to continue to address this serious situation.

As I indicated earlier, our focus is on humanitarian assistance. As I responded to Senator Jaffer, we have provided more than $48 million, such as to help Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

Senator Dallaire: I agree that we are not engaging in the fight and certainly not reinforcing the fight. However, it is being sustained by forcible recruitment and the continued access by both sides to sources of troops in order to sustain the battle. Without a capability to curtail that, we will not necessarily be able to stop the conflict as it continues to grow and sustain itself.

If we are not putting any capabilities on the ground or are not even suggesting that such a thing happen, can the leader tell us what Canada is doing with the Americans in regard to the upcoming conference with the Russians under this current scenario? Are we actually part of it? Are we sitting in the second row? Have we provided any input? Have we any leadership or any ideas as to how we can assist our allies in bringing a solution to this situation?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for his question. He would know that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Baird, is actively engaged in this whole file. Some of the things that the senator said in his preamble reinforce the challenges the minister faces.

Beyond that, I agree with everything the honourable senator says. As I already said, we are not entertaining sending arms or soldiers to Syria. However, I can assure the honourable senator that Minister Baird is actively involved in this file, and I will ensure that he is aware of the honourable senator’s input from today.