1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 143

Thursday, September 28, 2017
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Foreign Affairs

Myanmar—Support for Rohingya Refugees

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Acting Deputy Leader of the Independent Senate Liberals): My question is also to the leader in the Senate.

Leader, Canada has been a world leader when it comes to preventing ethnic cleansing around the world. When the former Yugoslavia fragmented into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, ethnic cleansing broke out in the region. Canada was among the first countries to call for action. As early as 1991, Canadian Armed Forces members were on the ground and helping with relief and monitoring efforts before most other countries.

When the UN deployed its peacekeeping force one year later, Canadians monitored the ceasefires, brought food and supplies to civilians and have been credited with the saving of countless lives in a conflict that has become known as one of the bloodiest in history.

Myanmar faces its own ethnic cleansing today. According to CBC reports, 480,000 Rohingya have fled the country as security forces burn down Rohingya villages and kill any people unable to escape. However, Canada’s response so far is weaker than before. While we have provided Rohingya refugees with a few relief funds, we are not taking an active role in ending this bloody conflict.

Today we find ourselves faced with a situation just like in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Leader, I believe that Canada must do more than just send a few relief funds and condemn Myanmar’s government. These actions will not end of plight of the Rohingya and allow them to return to their homes.

Leader, we are forgetting our legacy of stopping ethnic cleansing, as we did in Yugoslavia and Sudan, two decades later. While we declared that Canada is back on the world stage and are readying to provide 600 troops to UN peacekeeping operations, we are failing in Myanmar even now.

I again ask you, as I asked you a few days ago: What exactly are Canada’s plans?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Again, I thank the honourable senator for her question and for her ongoing interest and concern about these issues, particularly the Rohingya situation.

The Government of Canada is very active on this file. The senator has in her question referenced the commitment of $9.18 million. Seventy per cent of the Rohingya affected population are women and children, and these funds are dedicated to supporting women and children in these camps. That is the beginning of the immediate relief being provided.

The Government of Canada is also very active on the diplomatic side. Last week the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development were part of a round table brought together in the context of the UN General Assembly to focus on this very issue.

Today, the UN Security Council is debating this situation, and the Canadian mission and the ambassador are very much implicated in this even though we are not members of the Security Council. The Government of Canada is working within the context of the various international organizations that need to concert their efforts so that we can effect greater change in response to the situation by acting together with like-minded countries.

Senator Jaffer: Leader, I very much appreciate your answer and I believe you answered as well as you could in the circumstances. But everything you have said, leader, is to work with others. I believed we were leaders. I was the envoy to the Sudan when Mr. Chrétien and then Mr. Martin took a leadership role in Darfur. They were leaders, not working with people. When will we show our leadership role?

Senator Harder: Again, I thank the honourable senator for her question and for her recollection of the role that she and Canada played in different circumstances.

Every circumstance is unique in terms of what actions countries take, and Canada is in this situation being very active, both directly and indirectly, with concerting our interests with our like-minded colleagues, and we will continue to do that.

The government will undertake an assessment of what further actions are taken, whether they are concerted or otherwise, but as the honourable senator will know, the Prime Minister has taken a direct personal interest in this through private diplomacy with those who are most in charge, as well as asking his ministers of Foreign Affairs and of International Development both to deliver Canadian direct messaging and aid and assistance, and also to work with like-minded countries to bring more concerted pressure on the affected parties.