It has been just over one week since the tragic events in Ottawa and Quebec occurred that have given us all pause to reflect, mourn and in many cases share personal feelings on these disturbing events. In turn I have also received a large amount of feedback from citizens on a variety of issues. Some of the issues I have heard from citizens on range from not repairing the bullet damage within the House of Commons for historical perspective, to ensuring that honor guard is armed and in some cases increased. Feedback I have also heard is for security to be increased within the House of Commons but generally not to the extent that Parliament Hill is off limits and inaccessible to Canadians. While many citizens have expressed an understanding for changes to occur most are also concerned that changes are measured and carefully implemented. The need to achieve a balance and not significantly compromise rights and freedoms of Canadians is another concern I have heard from many citizens. Lastly, I continue to receive supportive messages and well wishes from constituents that have been greatly appreciated throughout this ordeal. I am listening to these concerns carefully and ensuring that they are passed on in Ottawa.
One Bill that has been introduced this week is Bill C-44 “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act”. It should be noted this Bill was not drafted in response to last week’s events; in fact the Bill was due to be tabled into the House of Commons on the very day the shooting occurred and as a result was delayed until this week. Ultimately Bill C-44 seeks to modernize Canada’s ability to collect foreign intelligence and investigate threats including the ability to provide security assessments. In order to achieve these objectives Bill C-44 proposes a number of measurers that in large part will increase the investigative tools available to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Some of these measures include confirming the Federal Court can issue warrants for CSIS to investigate threats to our national security outside of Canada. Another measure is providing the Federal Court with “the authority to operate within the scope of relevant Canadian law when issuing warrants to authorize CSIS to undertake certain activities to investigate a threat to the security of Canada outside of Canada”. It is also proposed to protect the identity of CSIS sources from disclosure in a similar manner as would be afforded to informants to Canadian law enforcement agencies. This same protection would also apply to employees of CSIS. Although there was some speculation and concern raised that the identity provisions would be exempt from judicial oversight, the legislation does contain language that ensures judicial oversight is respected in this act. In more plan language this means that provisions within this act ensure a Judge ultimately has jurisdiction over identity protection.
Bill C-44 also proposes amendments to the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” that will, and I quote directly “will enable the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, and treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence received.`` Although many citizens I have heard from are supportive of individuals with dual citizenship having Canadian citizenship revoked in the event they engage in acts of terrorism there are others who disagree with such measures. As always I welcome your comments, questions and concern on this or any Bill before the House of Commons.
Before I close this week I would like to sincerely thank the many citizens who have taken the time over the past week to share your concerns, thoughts and feelings. In times of great tragedy and loss, the ability of Canadians to come together and collectively mourn while standing proud for our values and what we stand for as a country has helped many through what is a difficult time. Last week I expressed my concern that we do not allow events such as these to change Canada. After the past week I have been reminded that brutal acts of senseless violence will never change who we are as Canadians. That is what sets us apart and is what we collectively celebrate together on the 1st day of July for over 147 years.
There may not be words that can convey this week in Ottawa. Having spent close to 10 hours in a hastily secured lock up while emergency responders bravely secured the Parliamentary precinct was an unprecedented experience for all of us. The sound of gunshots, the gunman being killed mere feet away, and later learning of the tragic death of a member of our armed forces while performing his service as an honour guard is more than can be conveyed or reflected upon in the brief space of this column.
On behalf of the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla I know our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those armed forces members who were tragically executed over this past week. I would also like to take a moment and thank the many citizens who took the time to express concern during this ordeal– it is an experience that I believe all Canadians will not forget.
It has been suggested that the day in question will forever change Canada. I submit it cannot and should not. In the weeks and months ahead while we learn more about this week we must never forget what we know about ourselves. As Canadians we have always stood bravely to fight for freedom, for democracy and against those who would do us harm. We welcome and embrace our vastness and our uniqueness. We may at times disagree however our way is to do so respectfully and peacefully. It is our diversity that has united us as Canadians in values that we share that make us proud. Our Canada is one that will always be united and as Canadians we will stand together to defend those principles that have long helped to build our country.
On Thursday the House of Commons resumed and the democratic debate and discussion that will fill the halls serves as a reminder that Canada cannot and will not be intimidated by senseless and disturbing acts of brutal violence. It is understandable that changes will occur on Parliament Hill however from my own standpoint we must ensure that our democratic institutions remain in operation and that they are always accessible to Canadians who are served by them. It is also important that we remain open minded and continue to learn from this week’s events and take whatever measures are necessary to protect citizens from harm, whether they be Parliamentarians, security forces, public servants or citizens.
As I write this week’s report, our House ceremonies have just re-opened with a well- deserved tribute to the bravery of our Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers, who alongside his team courageously defended the House of Commons from an armed assault. After the ceremony our Prime Minister, along with the leaders of the opposition expressed unity as we move forward to ensure our democratic process stands above the threats of violence and terror. Collectively Members of Parliament represent Canadians and as much as we often agree to disagree in this place the unity among the House on this day was a reminder that Canada is a united country that will always stand together in the fight for freedom, for democracy and the rule of law.
I welcome your comments and questions and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday this is a break week from the House of Commons before the House resumes again on Monday, October 20th, 2014. Also occurring in Ottawa this week is a case that is before the Supreme Court of Canada on assisted suicide. It is unknown at this point if this matter will come before the House of Commons or not in the immediate future however it is a subject that I know many citizens can have strong views on. On related subject that has also arisen is the need for improved access to palliative care in Canada. Currently it is estimated that only 15% of Canadians have access to palliative care and while it is more common in Okanagan-Coquihalla there are many regions in Canada where it is unavailable. The 2013 Economic Action plan budget increased funding to the Pallium Foundation of Canada to increase palliative training for front line health care workers, however more work needs to be done in this area. From the many families I have heard from who have lost a loved one palliative care can make some of life’s most challenging times more comfortable. This is a subject I will continue to support increased progress on in Ottawa.Another subject that I remain actively involved with in Ottawa involves Federal regulations with respect to invasive freshwater species such as the Zebra and Quagga mussel. Although the 2014 boating season may be soon coming to an end, the need to have increased regulations in place at the border is of critical importance for the protection of our freshwater lakes and not just here in Okanagan-Coquihalla but across British Columbia. This will be a subject that not unlike my private member's bill, I will continue to pursue until such time these regulations are in effect. My thanks again to the work of the Okanagan Basin Water Board and many citizens who have also taken the time to share concerns on this important subject.
Recently the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy released the 2013-2014 Members Expenditures Report; this is the public document that forms part of my annual accountability report that I will be releasing in an MP report in the near future. As always if you have a comment, question or concern on matter before the House of Commons I can be reached at email@example.com or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
This week in the House of Commons, a majority of Members of Parliament including Government, Independents and one Green MP, voted in support of a Government motion to engage in a six month aerial combat mission against the terrorist group ISIL. As I believe in the significant importance of this motion I have included the full text for your review:
That this House (i) recognise that the leadership of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has called on its members to target Canada and Canadians at home and abroad, (ii) further recognise the clear and direct threat that ISIL poses to the people of the region, including members of vulnerable religious and ethnic minority groups who have been subjected to a sustained campaign of brutal sexual violence, murder, and barbaric intimidation by ISIL, (iii) accept that, unless confronted with strong and direct force, the threat ISIL poses to international peace and security, including to Canadian communities, will continue to grow, (iv) affirm Canada’s desire, consistent with Canadian values and interests, to protect the vulnerable and innocent civilians of the region, including through urgent humanitarian assistance, (v) acknowledge the request from the Government of Iraq for military support against ISIL from members of the international community, including from the Government of Canada, (vi) further acknowledge the participation of Canada’s friends and allies, including numerous countries of the Middle East, in the broad international coalition committed to the fight against ISIL, (vii) note that the United Nations Security Council has become seized of the threat posed by international terrorism with the unanimous passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, and, accordingly: (a) support the Government’s decision to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists allied with ISIL, including air strike capability for a period of up to six months; (b) note that the Government of Canada will not deploy troops in ground combat operations; and (c) continue to offer its resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who stand on guard for all of us.
For the purposes of accountability, I would like to share the reasons why I voted in support of this motion. In early October the United Nations issued a disturbing report that documented some very serious atrocities committed by the group ISIL. More specifically, and I quote from the UN report directly: “gross abuses of human rights perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups, including “attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children, forced recruitment of children.”
This unprecedented level of savage brutality against innocent victims is disturbing but it is also a reality for innocent men, women and children in the region. It should not be overlooked that there have been individuals who have left Canada to join with ISIL in these savage killings– as I mentioned in a former MP report this is why our Government is revoking the passports of these individuals; an act opposed by the leader of the Liberal Party. The question on how best to respond to ISIL is one that has been the subject of much debate this week in Ottawa. The opposition has made it clear they oppose military action against ISIL terrorism and in many cases support increased humanitarian aid or the supply of weapons to local fighting against ISL. Our Government also supports increased humanitarian aid and will increase funding for victims of sexual violence in this region combined with other aid related measures. However we must also recognize that ISIL has demonstrated they will abduct and publicly behead international aid workers demonstrating the serious challenges in administering aid against a terror organization without military support.
As a result the Government of Canada will be joining our allies, including countries such as United States, France, United Kingdom, Denmark and others in doing our part to provide military support against ISIL. The stated goal of our Canadian support is not to defeat ISIL per se but to diminish their capacity while national and regional Iraqi ground forces in the region become better prepared to deal with this serious threat. We do this not just to alleviate the suffering of others and to restore order; ISIL has made direct threats against Canada and we must negate their ability to train, fund and carry out missions against our country. Of our fleet of 79 CF-18 aircraft, 6 will be deployed including 1 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft and 2 Aurora surveillance aircraft including required pilots and ground personnel to support these aircraft. As mentioned in the motion, this will not be a ground combat mission involving Canada and is subject to review in six months.
The decision to support this mission in my view is supporting long established Canadian values to stand up and protect those who are innocent and most vulnerable from oppression and terror. Canada as a country has always answered the call to stand with our allies in the fight for democracy and for freedom. Turning our back and expecting others to answer the call to serve has never been attributes that define Canada. I appreciate that my views on this subject may not sit well with some citizens and I welcome all views on this matter if you support or oppose our mission against the terror group ISIL. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can reach my office at 1(800) 665-8711. Let us never forget the sacrifices we have made to live in a free and democratic society where we can debate and discuss how we build a better Canada and best help those in need in other countries.
It was my intention this week to provide a further update on Canada’s current non-combat deployment in Iraq, a subject last referenced in my September 10th report. However at the time of my writing this report there is not yet a significant update to provide. What I can pass on is that should there be a decision to engage in any type of combat– including aerial assault that any combat role involving Canadian forces will be brought before Parliament for a debate and ultimately a vote.
As some will know this was not past practice when the former Government made the decision to engage in Afghanistan, nor is it a requirement or obligation for Government to provide Parliament with an opportunity to vote. Ultimately the commitment to potentially bring this matter before Parliament should a combat aspect be contemplated is a decision by Government to involve our democratically elected members of Parliament to have a voice in what remains a very serious subject. This remains a matter that I believe is of concern to all Canadians and I welcome comments and question in this or any area. While Canada has a long and proud history of standing up for innocent victims against tyranny and oppression, these kind of decisions should never be taken lightly nor for granted.
Another subject that has come up recently is question period in large part because of a questionable exchange last week between a Parliamentary Secretary and the Leader of the Official Opposition. The episode in question led to a subsequent apology from the Parliamentary Secretary in question and a motion this week to potentially change part of how question period works with respect to the ability of the Speaker to engage in interventions during question period. This is a subject that could easily fill many reports however to focus on the positive aftermath there has been a noticeable change in tone on both sides of the House as questions and answers have become far more focussed towards what most would agree is the original purpose of question period. It is also fair to say that this episode has served as a reminder that elected officials are ultimately held to account by the citizens who elect us. If Members of the House engage in the use of profanity or otherwise make comments that demean the House in turn we demean those whom we represent. I believe that all elected officials should be mindful of the need to take responsibility for our own behaviour and conduct ourselves in a manner that honours the good people we represent.
While on the subject of elected officials as the nomination period for candidates in local elections is soon to close I would like to sincerely thank mayors, councillors, regional district directors and school district trustees who are not seeking re-election for their past service. Local Government, as it is often called, is a huge commitment and often a thankless one – overall we enjoy a high quality of life in our region and this is in large part for the ongoing efforts of local government to provide amenities and services that we depend upon. I would also like to welcome those citizens who are putting their name forward to run in the upcoming election to serve. Win or lose having the courage to make a difference is ultimately how we all succeed. Thank you. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.