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Emergency session of Canadian parliament discusses ceasefire, political solution

[TamilNet, Friday, 6 February 2009 10:41 No Comment]

Amidst demonstration and vigil of thousands of Canadian Eezham Tamils outside, and against the backdrop of Canadian government’s call for ceasefire coupled with 3 million dollars aid to the affected, the Canadian parliament had an emergency debate on the crisis in the island of Sri Lanka Wednesday that lasted four and a half hours. Cutting across party lines members were vocal in stressing the need for immediate ceasefire and federal perspectives of political solution. The balance of the debate was heavily against the Colombo government.

In the emergency debate convened at the request of New Democratic Party MP Jack Layton and many other members, Canadian Minister for International Cooperation, Bev Oda (CPC MP) elucidated on her earlier announcement that day for 3 million dollars aid for ‘life-saving emergency humanitarian aid to those people living in the conflict zone’.

“We will do this through working with our partners, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam Canada, Medecins Sans Frontieres, World Vision and CARE Canada”, she added.

However, members were sceptical.

“ I do have a concern about the aid that has been announced and our ability to actually get it flowing through to the Tamil people”, said Liberal MP Robert Oliphant, while another Liberal MP, John McCallum asked “ How is that the government proposes to ensure that the aid it is committing to today will actually get to the people who need it?”

Minister of State of Foreign Affairs and CPC MP, Peter Kent, started his speech, calling for the LTTE to lay down arms.

He was asked by Liberal MP Dan McTeague who implied that in what way listing LTTE a terrorist organization helped Canadian government “to engage in an even-handed way in a conflict that has existed for some time”.

He also accused the government for hastily labeling the LTTE, spoiling the prospects of the fragile peace efforts of Norway.

Whether Canada, making a 180 degrees turn by speaking a political process now, would be prepared to deploy troops and work with UN, he asked.

Peter Kent got into a heated argument when he started speaking on terrorist funds and LTTE extortions, for which members demanded proof.

“I challenge the minister to say that outside or to table exactly what he has that Canadian Tamils were extorted”, challenged Jim Karygiannis.

Peter Kent has to finally come to the balance saying, “It is time for the tigers to put down their weapons and for the Government of Sri Lanka to do the same.”

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler called for immediate ceasefire, return to negotiation table, political solution based on equitable power sharing in a federal framework, free flow of humanitarian aid to the conflict zone, unfettered access to journalists, respect to civilian rights particularly by the Sri Lanka government by not targeting civilians and restoration of democracy by Colombo curbing its internal failures.

He also called for the appointment of a special UN envoy, regretting “United Nations has not been sufficiently engaged” and “ United Nation’s human rights commission has yet to even take up the question of the conflict in Sri Lanka”.

“The government of Sri Lanka very strongly resists to any notion that the United Nations has jurisdiction over something they regard as an area of their national sovereignty” was the comment of Bob Rae (Liberal)

When asked how to engage the UN when Sri Lanka doesn’t permit it, Cotler said “ We were able to do that with United Nations Security Council resolution 1680 with respect to Gaza. There is no reason that we should not be able to have the United Nartions Security Council convene and put an end to the hostilities here”.

“We want a resolution and that we will use every legal tool and economic argument to get across the need for a ceasefire”, he said.

Another Liberal MP, Maria Minna supported taking the issue to UN, saying “the Government of Canada be aggressive on this issue with the United Nations”.
Jim Karygiannis, Liberal MP for Scarborough – Agincourt, said that the wish of his constituency was that the ceasefire should not be initiated by the Sri Lanka government or by the Indian government but it should be a UN initiated, internationally sponsored ceasefire.
John Mckay came hard on the Colombo government:“ It is delusional on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka to think that somehow the injustices that the Tamil people have suffered over the years will disappear by virtue of driving the Tamil Tigers into the sea.”

Several members, including Bob Rae, discussed at length on a political solution based on federal model and a democratic choice for the LTTE. Bob Rae regretted at the failure of the Sinhalese majority in forging a power-sharing model and blamed it for pulling back from all such attempts in the past.

Liberal MP, Gerard Kennedy, regretted that the occasion for such a debate would not have arisen at all, had there been no 9/11 that led to a mistake in perception.
The debate was also an occasion for some members to raise questions on the Canadian immigration delays, often lasting to three years, in facilitating family reunion of Canadian Tamils.

The absence of the Prime Minister of Canada, at such an important debate, was a point raised by a member, during the debate.
The debate witnessed some of the members making small parts of their speeches in Tamil.

Canada is the home for the largest population of Eezham Tamils outside of South Asia.

While all the participants of the debate used a term ‘Canadian Tamils’ to refer to the population, it was only Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, who referred to them as ‘Sri Lankan Canadians’, an identity repulsive to predominant sections of the population.

The lone member who deviated from the agenda and started accusing the LTTE, saying “This organization was responsible, according to its own statements, for the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister” etc, was the Canadian Indian, Deepak Obhrai, Conservative MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

He was immediately quipped by Andrew Kania (Liberal), “ Mr. Speaker, my friend spent at least half of his time attacking one side of the conflict. I do not think that is constructive.”

[Full Coverage]

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