Adjournment Proceedings – Foreign Affairs

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to bring up again a matter that was first discussed when I put the question to the Prime Minister on April 24 of this year. It was one of those rare occasions when I put a question to the Prime Minister and he answered it himself.

The question was to explore the contradiction between his government’s position that in the Summit of the Americas, which deals with Latin America and Canada and the U.S., we would not allow Cuba to participate, and we joined the U.S. in this exclusion, while at the same time we are expanding our agreements for trade with China. We are expanding the access to Canadian resources for Chinese companies that are increasingly buying up Canadian energy resources and other resources. In answer to the question, the Prime Minister was, at best, attempting to be humourous, saying that China could not be in the Summit of the Americas because it is not in the Americas, and he went on to say that the Summit of the Americas was exclusively for countries that were recognized as democracies.

It weakens the Summit of the Americas to exclude a country as important to the region as Cuba, and we really are on thin ice here in terms of any kind of distinction that can be made in terms of human rights and reasons to exclude communist Cuba while embracing communist China. Having gone through records of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, I see clearly that Cuba is making far more progress than China at being open to, for instance, religious freedoms.

In Cuba in March there was an open mass in which Pope Benedict was able to perform a mass for Cuban Catholics with President Castro in the front row. In contrast, in China any Roman Catholics who wish to have services hold them in houses in private and are at risk of arrest or detention if they are caught. Certainly the most repressive region on earth, according to many of the reports, is within China, with what is happening now in Tibet with suppression of Tibetan monks and the Tibetan Buddhist religion. We also see repression of other religious groups in China, whether Falun Gong or others. Freedom of religion does not exist at all in China. Since the Olympics in China, Human Rights Watch reports there has been a greater crackdown on freedom of expression within China. Regarding the record on capital punishment, the Chinese government executes prisoners at a very alarming rate. On the other hand, Cuba has commuted the sentences of some people who were on death row, and as of 2010, which is the last year for which I could find statistics, there were no prisoners in Cuba on death row.

There is very clearly some reason that the government prefers communist China to communist Cuba. The obvious reason is that communist China is prepared to pour billions of dollars into the oil sands. However, I ask members opposite if this is sufficient grounds for Canada to sell away our principles, our concerns for human rights, our concerns for freedom of religion or our concerns that we exert ourselves on the world stage as partners with other nations. Surely we should invest in and trade with Cuba. We should also invest in and trade with China. However, it is very important for Canadians to ask how much of Canada we want China to own.

If we are to proceed with a greater relationship with China, we surely must see the text of the agreement that the Prime Minister has already signed with President Hu of China, so we know what rights the Chinese corporations will have to sue Canada whenever they do not like our laws.

Deepak Obhrai: Mr. Speaker, before I respond, may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on being elected to the office of Deputy Speaker. We are looking forward to working constructively with you, having known you for many years.

In reply to my colleague from the Green Party, let me say there is absolutely no contradiction between our policies towards China and towards Cuba. We treat both of them with four Canadian values. We raise the issues of human rights when we have bilateral meetings with them, and Canada’s foreign policy includes promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Canada has had with a relationship with Cuba that goes back to 1945, and not only that: Canada maintains a relationship as one of the only two countries in the hemisphere never to have broken diplomatic relations with the island.

Canada’s policy on Cuba is different from that of the United States. We do not have an embargo against Cuba and we do not support their isolation. We believe that by engaging Cuba, we can support its move towards democracy and greater human rights. It is the same policy that we apply to China.

Canada supports democracy and human rights. It is very important for the member to understand what happened at the Summit of the Americas in 2001 in Quebec City, when the Conservative government was not in power. The leaders unanimously agreed that countries would only be joining OAS if they had showed movement toward democracy.

At this current time, the movement to democracy has not gone forward. That is why we are very adamant, but that does not mean that there is isolation toward Cuba; rather, we believe what we are doing here will open up Cuba.

On what the member is talking about, the great things that are happening in Cuba, this will encourage all of that. We will be partners with Cuba in trade and development and we will also be partners in the promotion of democracy and human rights in Cuba.