Emergency Debate on the War on Iraq

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): ): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House tonight in the emergency debate on the grave situation in Iraq.

I would like to first thank our colleagues from the Bloc who sought to have the emergency debate tonight. It seems that all we are left with are take note debates and emergency debates. We have been looking for leadership from the government to hold a proper debate and a vote in the House for months and months. Nevertheless, we are having the debate tonight, although there will not be any vote, and I am pleased to participate in it.

Today we heard the Prime Minister finally enunciate a position that I think is shared by a vast majority of Canadians, and that is that Canada must not participate in an illegal war led by President Bush on the people of Iraq. In congratulating the government on finally taking that position, I too, similar to the member for Halifax, want to call on the government to do more than make that position clear. It now needs to be acted upon. To enunciate that position and then to stand silently by and not follow up on it would, I think, ring hollow and false. We call on the government tonight to use every means possible, diplomatic and political persuasion, at the UN with our American allies to avert the war that we are now on the brink of having.

In hearing what the Prime Minister had to say today in the House I have no doubt in my own mind that it was the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who took to the streets, lobbied their MPs and signed petitions that forced the Liberals to act. There has been a groundswell, a great momentum and mobilization across this country because people know what this terrible war is about. They know that President Bush's actions are illegal and not supportable.

We just have to look at the incredible turnouts in November, on January 15 and on February 15 where around the world something like 20 million people participated in the largest anti-war demonstration ever seen in our history. Last Saturday, March 15, people participated in Vancouver and across Canada. There were 200,000 people in Montreal. In Vancouver, www.stopwar.ca, made up of 145 organizations, assembled tens of thousands of people in Vancouver to call on our government and on the international community to avert this war.

One of the things I found interesting at the rally on Saturday was that a number of speakers, including Dr. David Suzuki who made quite a remarkable speech, talked about how the world's last remaining superpower, the U.S., seemed to be calling all the shots and how President Bush was undermining the United Nations and playing such a dangerous game. Speaker after speaker also said that there was an emergence of a second superpower and that was the superpower of the people who had mobilized around the world and who were holding their own governments to account, not only here in Canada but in Europe, in Mexico, in Central America, in the Middle East and all around the globe.

I find that very heartening. I am very proud of the fact that our leader, Jack Layton, participated in those rallies, was part of the solidarity to stop the war on the people of Iraq and that as NDP members we participated fully and stood in solidarity with Canadians in those mobilizations across the country. We did that because we know the war is illegal.

I would like to quote an article in The Guardian newspaper about a week ago. It states:

We are teachers of international law. On the basis of the information publicly available there is no justification under international law for the use of military force against Iraq. The UN charter outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective self defence in response to an armed attack, an action authorized by the security council as a collective response to a threat to the peace breech or active aggression. There are currently no grounds for a claim to use such force in self defence.

There are now all kinds of opinions from lawyers around the world who are expressing the same kinds of sentiments. I want to congratulate organizations like Oxfam Canada which announced on March 10 that it would not accept direct funding from belligerent governments for humanitarian work in Iraq should there be a war in that country. The executive director of Oxfam Canada, Rieky Stuart, said:

We cannot be willing participants when governments attempt to use humanitarian agencies as instruments of a belligerent foreign policy.

That is a profound statement because it shows that civil society, that NGOs, that people are beginning to challenge what they see in the media; the notions of what we are led to believe are somehow the moments of truth as we hear from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. People are challenging that because they know the war is illegal.

It was chilling to hear George W. Bush say tonight that what he is doing he believes is in the name of peace and democracy, and yet he said not a word about the untold misery, grief, death and civilian casualties that he will cause if he unleashes this awesome military might, the bombs that will be dropped and the potential weapons that will be used. He did not say a word about the devastating impact war will have on ordinary people, on families, on children, on seniors, on people who have no chance to escape.

We have seen a groundswell of opposition in this country and around the world because people know that not only is the war motivated by a political agenda based on U.S. foreign policy about a regime change that it wants to see for political and economic purposes in Iraq, but people also are concerned about the fact that Mr. Bush's agenda undermines the United Nations itself.

Time and time again the member for Halifax as well as other members of our party have risen in the House to point out that the UN process of weapons inspection has indeed been working and it needs to be given a chance to work. Even Mr. Blix, the chief weapons inspector, has pointed out repeatedly in his progress reports that he is making progress. It is all the more disturbing and grievous now that we are at the 11th hour and we hear the address from Mr. Bush tonight.

It was because of the UN process of weapons inspection that I went to the Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre just outside Washington, D.C. on February 22 with a number of citizens and parliamentarians from five different countries on a mission organized by the Centre for Social Justice in Toronto. We wanted to point out that all weapons of mass destruction needed to be inspected and eliminated. The greatest stockpile of these weapons of mass destruction that are not subject to verification or inspection were actually in the United States. We cannot stand by and see a double standard emerge in what President Bush is demanding of Iraq.

Yes, we do support the weapons inspection process but we need to ensure that kind of process is available and is working in all locations, whether it is in the Middle East or in the United States of America. We need to ensure that weapons of mass destruction are eliminated.

The action in which I participated was successful in raising awareness of the contradictions that exist in the kinds of policies that we see coming from the United States. We had a lot of support from civil society organizations in the United States that have also been mobilizing in terms of opposing what their president has been doing.

Today in Parliament we heard some good news from our government but we implore our government, on behalf of the Canadian people, to let us do our job in the House. Let us debate and have a vote in terms of what other measures can now be taken, to call on our American allies and the United Nations to forestall where we are now, which is on the brink of war. That is why we are in this place. We exercise those democratic rights. That is what we are here to do. That is what we want to do.

On behalf of my constituents from Vancouver East and all the representations that I have received, I call on the government to allow that vote to take place in this House so that we can exercise our democratic rights.

This Speech in Parliament was posted on March 17, 2003