Hon. John McKay PC, MP Speech during the House of Commons Emergency Debate, Feb. 4, 2009

February-04-09

Mr. Speaker:

I thought that I might start with a little history. In some measure this conflict is the product of colonialism. When Sri Lanka was called Ceylon it was a British colony. The British had a divide and conquer strategy to pacify the Island. It involved using the minority Tamil population to occupy significant government positions so that the British interests would be protected. Not surprisingly the majority Sinhala population was aggrieved that Tamils were given preference in the civil service and education. When independence came the majority moved to assert itself preferring Sinhala students over Tamils and making Sinhala the sole official language. Over time the oppression of the Tamil minority became more and more oppressive.

Moderates on both sides were silenced, sometimes violently, and a civil war erupted pitting Tamils against Sinhala, Buddhist against Hindus, and leaving minority Muslims and Xian peoples very exposed.

Each side engaged in outrageous acts of violence and intimidation. The Tamil Tigers have been condemned by Human Rights Watch for egregious acts of violence as has the Government of Sri Lanka. There are no innocents in the combatants and the Sri Lankan people suffer terribly.

There was a window of potential for peace a few years ago brokered by the Norwegian government. Many nations including Canada were ready to step up with significant support. My honourable colleague the Member for Toronto Centre was among those who attempted to broker a peace.
The Forum of Federations worked tirelessly to propose a devolved form of federalism such as we enjoy here in Canada. The Government of Canada supported that initiative but there was not enough good faith between parties to see any success.

I had the good fortune to travel to Sri Lanka during that period of reduced hostilities with the Secretary of State the Hon. David Kilgour. We talked to as many people as we could about a potential solution such as a devolved federation but the political dialogue was so immature as to virtually preclude success.

As we left it was pretty obvious that this window of opportunity was closing and each side blamed the other. Cease fire violations occurred with disturbing frequency.

The peace monitors that we talked to shared with us their frustrations.

Then the solidarity of the Tamil movement broke and the government was able to play one group against the other. The tsunami came to the Island with a terrible loss of life and destruction of property. The international community raised millions of dollars to support the rebuilding but much of the support was either squandered or not delivered as the Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka resumed their hostilities. The government changed and decided to pursue a military solution to the conflict.

There is no military solution to this conflict.

We read the news reports, see pictures of dead, maimed and terrorized people and watch on T.V. with horrified fascination as this conflict plays itself out. It appears that the government of Sri Lanka is “winning” the war. This is not a “winnable war.”

Sri Lanka is a tiny island of 23 million people – 1/3rd of which are Tamil. The 2 populations will co-exist long after this phase of the conflict closes. If the government of Sri Lanka thinks that it will “win” that would be a grave error. There is no win – there cannot be any win. The morning after “victory” there are still millions of Tamils looking for peace, justice, fairness and respect. Unless there is a peace with justice there will never be a peace. This conflict will go on & on & on. It may be suppressed from time to time but if the government of Sri Lanka thinks that the termination of this phase of the conflict is a win – it is sadly mistaken.

It used to be that Canada had a voice in these matters. Not only did Secretary of State David Kilgour and I travel to Sri Lanka as the first official representatives of the Government of Canada but others followed including the former Prime Minister Paul Martin.  Canada is home to the largest Diaspora in the world yet the government of Canada is strangely silent. This is not unusual in and of itself as the Government of Canada has little to say about any world conflicts. It used to be said that Canada punched above its weight in world affairs. Now Canada doesn’t punch at all.  I’d reference you Mr. Speaker to an article in the Globe and Mail by John Ibbitson today entitled: As Obama bestrides the world stage, Canada has nothing to say. I agreed with him completely but nowhere is it more tragic than in Sri Lanka.

The government has only with the prodding of the Liberal Party adopted our call for a ceasefire and a humanitarian intervention. The Government of Canada has only reluctantly come around to positions enumerated by Norway, Japan, the E.U., etc because the Government of Canada supported the Government of Sri Lanka by its silence with terrible consequences for all.

Mr. Speaker I have the great honour to represent the largest or possibly one of the largest Sri Lankan ridings in the country. I have spent many hours listening to the laments of many of my constituents. I along with my Liberal colleagues have attended a variety of Sri Lankan events and from time to time been accused of supporting terrorists by our attendance. This is nonsense.

The level of dialogue is so politicized as to render many observers mute. Those that would wish to help – including those delivering aid – have been silenced.

Mr. Speaker I am in despair. This conflict cannot be won militarily. It has to be resolved through negotiation.

Hon. John McKay PC, MP