Coptic Solidarity thanks MP Dechert for speaking at Conference

July 17th, 2014




Coptic Solidarity


 July 15, 2014


The Honorable Bob Dechert

Member of Parliament
House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario


K1A 0A6


Dear Mr. Bob Dechert,


Thank you for recently speaking to the attendees of our 5th annual Coptic Solidarity Policy Education Day.  It was an honor to have you with us.  Your strong commitment to improving human rights and freedoms for religious minorities in the Middle East is greatly appreciated by the minority communities we represent.  We are grateful that you are willing to speak out on behalf of and stand with communities that face oppression in Egypt and the region.


Coptic Solidarity desires to represent a unified voice and be a leader in advocating for Egyptians and other religious minorities in the region through promoting the values of freedom, secularism, rule of just law, pluralism, and the upholding and protection of the fundamental rights of minorities.


Thank you again for using your position to lead in speaking out on behalf of Copts and other persecuted religious minorities. We are especially encouraged by all that the Canadian government is doing to support international religious freedom.  This is an important message for us to share with the broader Coptic community. We look forward to continuing to work with you to see a peaceful and prosperous Egypt.



Adel Guindy





Adel Guindy

President, Coptic Solidarity

PS O’Toole and PS Dechert Announce Funding to the Canadian Association of Mining Equipment & Services for Export to help the Mining Sector’s Success in Markets Abroad

July 17th, 2014
PS O'Toole and PS Dechert with staff at National Compressed Air. July 14, 2014

PS O’Toole and PS Dechert with staff at National Compressed Air. July 14, 2014

Accessing international markets helps create jobs and opportunities for Canadians


Wednesday July 16, 2014 – Mississauga, Ontario 


Erin O’Toole, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, and Bob Dechert, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, today announced that the Canadian Association of Mining Equipment & Services for Export will receive up to $101,034 to help the Canadian mining sector achieve success in markets abroad.


The contribution is from the Government of Canada’s Global Opportunities for Associations (GOA) program. In all, GOA is contributing up to $3 million this year to 38 industry associations across Canada to create new opportunities for Canadian companies in markets around the world.


The 38 associations will undertake 112 separate projects in support of Canada’s engagement in global trade. The vast majority, 95 percent, are aimed at countries designated as priorities for Canada under the Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP) and 90 percent are in GMAP priority sectors.


GOA delivers assistance across a wide range of sectors of the Canadian economy, including education, financial services, aerospace, infrastructure, and information and communications technologies. GOA provides matching funding of up to 50 percent of eligible expenses to support national associations for the benefit of an entire industry. The maximum annual GOA contribution is $150,000.


Quick Facts


  • Canada’s GMAP is the most ambitious pro-trade and pro-investment plan in Canada’s history. The plan focuses on Canada’s core strengths in priority markets through bold trade policy and vigorous trade promotion, and it sets concrete targets to grow the presence of Canada’s small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets.




“Many small and medium-sized enterprises rely on their associations to represent them abroad. Contributions from Global Opportunities for Associations help those smaller companies make important contacts and meet new clients around the world, allowing them to grow their businesses and create jobs and opportunities back home.”

- Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade


“I am pleased that the Global Opportunities for Associations fund will help the mining industry connect with international opportunities. When Canadian companies succeed in foreign markets, it creates jobs and opportunities here in Mississauga and throughout the country.”

-Bob Dechert, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Bob Dechert, MP addresses Coptic Solidarity Conference in Washington, D.C.

July 4th, 2014
Bob Dechert, MP Speaks at Coptic Solidarity Conference Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bob Dechert, MP Speaks at Coptic Solidarity Conference Thursday, June 26, 2014

Remarks by PS Bob Dechert
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Coptic Solidarity Conference

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.

It is an honour to be here on Capitol Hill to represent Canada at this prestigious and timely event.

I would also like to the thank “Coptic Solidarity” for organizing such an event so that people from all over the world can come together in order to support those in Egypt working for democracy, freedom and the protection of the human rights of all Egyptian citizens.

As you are all aware, the situation on the ground in Egypt is very fluid and the current realities could change by the time I finish my remarks today.

A great deal of change has taken place in Egypt since the Arab Spring Protests in Tahrir Square only 3 years ago.
Egypt is in the midst of trying to forge its own path and create its own form of democracy.

That is why events such as this are so important, they provide the international community with an opportunity to review the most current information, compare our respective views and policies and voice our opinions about the current direction of Egypt.

Ultimately, the path towards democracy will lie with the Egyptian people; however it is important that the international community does not stand idly by and remain silent as people’s fundamental human rights are being ignored.

No transition to democracy can proceed if it means that fundamental human rights are being ignored or trampled on.
On June 4th, the Egyptian people elected a new leader; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as President.

Canada recognizes that the new President will have many difficult challenges in leading Egypt toward a more democratic, inclusive, secure and prosperous future, but such a future is in the interests of all Egyptian citizens and the international community as a whole.

Canada has and will continue to stand with Egypt in its efforts to confront terrorism, including in the Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian security personnel are confronting a dangerous insurgency.
President El- Sisi will not be alone.

Our Government remains committed to supporting Egypt in making a peaceful and meaningful transition to democracy, based on respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms including religious freedoms and the rule of law.

With respect to the state of rule of law in Egypt, we are very disappointed with the verdict in the case of Canadian citizen Mohammed Fahmy and other journalists earlier this week.

We are concerned that the judicial process that led to his verdict is inconsistent with Egypt’s democratic aspirations.
I believe that this democratic transition represents an important opportunity for Egypt, one that can provide the Egyptian people with the stability and economic prosperity they desire.

As you may be aware, our Government recently announced the establishment of a new office which deals exclusively with religious freedoms around the world.

The Canadian Office of Religious Freedom was created within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Development.

I understand our Ambassador of Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett was here last year to address this very same conference.

The Canadian Office of Religious Freedom was created in order to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief as a key Canadian foreign policy.

Why did we need such an Office?

I think many of you here today understand why, but unfortunately too many in Canada and other liberal democracies do not, in my view, understand the gravity of the situation.

15 years ago, I was one of those Canadians that didn’t understand the situation. I blissfully believed that, although some nations did not adequately protect the rights of their citizens pursuant to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that not everyone had the same level of religious freedom that I enjoyed in Canada…I assumed that each year, it got a little better.

Sadly, Pew Forum’s data indicates that 74% of the world’s population live in Countries where there exist high or very high levels of social hostilities directed towards people of faith and/or high to very high government restrictions on religious practice.

Most shockingly, this figure is significantly higher than just a half decade ago when 45% of the global population lived in such countries.

Over the last half decade, we have seen the condition of religious freedom around the world get worse not better.
This flies in the face of all of the other advancements we have made over the last 50 years.

We have made tremendous strides in technology, medicine, diplomacy and prosperity, however when it comes to religious freedom, it appears that the situation is not improving.

This is precisely why Canada established the Office of Religious Freedom and our Government deemed the protection and promotion of this core human right a priority for our Government.

We decided that it was time to put a greater emphasis on monitoring and assisting religious minorities around the world.

Canada, like the United States has always been a refuge for people from around the world fleeing religious persecution.

Religious Freedom is a core Canadian value and as such, it is both appropriate and imperative that we promote it as a foreign policy priority.

We will no longer turn a blind eye to religious persecution and just “go along, to get along” in the international community.

We will hold our international partners to account for the way in which they protect the religious freedom of their people.

The other reason we created the office of religious freedom is that our Government holds a fundamental belief that societies which protect religious freedom are more likely to protect other fundamental freedoms.

Throughout history we have seen how religious freedom is often a barometer of the overall freedoms enjoyed throughout a given society.

Once the freedom of religion begins to disappear we often see other core freedoms fall by the wayside.
As Canadians, we enjoy the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society.
But we are also aware of the struggles that religious minorities face around the world.

That is why our Government continues to speak out for what is principled and just.

That is why we have always condemned killings and the hatred and extremism done in the name of religious intolerance that has only lead to violence, pain and suffering.

It is no accident that Prime Minister Harper announced the creation of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom at the Canadian Coptic Centre in my City of Mississauga, Ontario in the Greater Toronto Area.

We specifically had the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in Egypt in mind when we created this office.
That is why Canada condemned the attack in Giza outside a Coptic Orthodox Christian Church that killed four people, including two girls, an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old.

That is why Canada condemned the attacks of Nag Hammadi, where innocent civilians congregating for a religious celebration were viciously attacked and killed.

That is why our Government sent a high ranking delegation to Cairo including myself to witness the enthronement of Pope Tawadros II.

That is why we deplored the bombing that occurred in Alexandria, which resulted in the lives of over 20 worshippers being taken away and another 70 injured.

That is why, Canada has offered refuge to thousands of Copts fleeing religious violence in recent years.
And that is why, throughout the ebb and flow of democratic and constitutional developments over the past number of years, we have continually made it clear that the democratic transition must respect the rights of all religious minorities in Egypt.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and a vital building block for healthy democracies.
People of faith must be able to practise and worship in peace and security.

They must be free to choose and change their religion, practice and teach their religious beliefs in public and in congregation with others and they must be allowed to build their churches and places of worship without unreasonable restriction.

The persecution against the Coptic community in Egypt must stop.

Our Government has been very clear; the destruction of places of worship and the violence directed toward a community because of their faith is unacceptable.

As Canadians, and as those living in a more mature democracy, it is our duty to defend the rights of the vulnerable, and to give voice to the voiceless.

As Minister John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stated “Our positions will not soften, our determination will not lessen, and our voices will not be diminished until all citizens can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and true.”

Canada stands by the people of Egypt, including the Coptic community, as they work toward a peaceful and democratic transition.

Thank you.

Bob Dechert on Canada’s National Day of Honour:

May 8th, 2014

Jihan and Hani Diab with Bob Dechert, MP in front of the plaque honouring Marc Diab in the Hall of Honour in Centre Block.

Jihan and Hani Diab with Bob Dechert, MP in front of the plaque honouring Marc Diab in the Hall of Honour in Centre Block.

Our men and women in uniform represent the very best our country has to offer. Over the last 12 years the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces fought and served this country valiantly in Afghanistan to defeat terrorism, and to promote security and development so that Afghanistan can build a viable, stable, and secure country.

With the completion of the Afghanistan mission, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made May 9th a National Day of Honour to commemorate the valour, strength and sacrifices of the more than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members who served in Afghanistan.

Sadly, this service was not without loss as Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice for these goals and many others were injured carrying out their duties. Our community of Mississaga, like many across Canada, was home to a young man who made that ultimate sacrifice. On March 8th 2009, Trooper Marc Diab was killed in the service of our country in Afghanistan. His story, that of a young Canadian who came to Canada as a child, became a citizen and chose service in the Canadian Forces is one that should be known to every one of us. I have had the opportunity to get to know Trooper Diab’s family and others close to him in the celebrations of his life and service that followed the tragedy of his death and come to know what a remarkable Canadian he was.

In Ottawa, I will join Trooper Diab’s Mother Jihan and Father Hani, along with Veterans and the families of the fallen as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and General Thomas J. Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff for the official ceremony on Parliament Hill.

We will observe two minutes of silence in remembrance for the service of these Canadians. I ask that wherever you are on May 9th you take a moment to think about how Canada’s Afghanistan Veterans courageously demonstrated the strength, spirit and determination that have defined our nation from the very beginning. Their collective sacrifices represent another chapter in Canada’s long and proud history of fighting for a safer, better world for everyone.

Canadians are forever proud and grateful.

Messages of Condolence

April 11th, 2014

20140410_MPWP_Flaherty_Feature_950x390_V1_EN (2)(1)

Dear Mr. Dechert,

The Peace of the Lord be with you.

On behalf of myself and the Coptic community in Mississauga, I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to you and your colleagues on the sudden passing of the Honourable Minister, Mr. Jim Flaherty. We pray that the Lord repose his soul and the he give comfort and peace to his family and all his loved ones.

He was truly a great leader and a blessing to our great country Canada.

Fr. Angelos M. Saad
Senior Priest, St. Mary and St Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church
Chairman of the Board of Directors, the Canadian Coptic Center

Dear Victor, Bob and Brad,
I am so very sorry to hear that the Honorable Jim Flaherty has suddenly passed away. This is shocking and very sad news. Mr. Flaherty was a passionate Canadian and he was an outstanding servant leader to his country and province. He will be deeply missed. I know that you and your colleagues are reeling from this extremely difficult news. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

My deepest sympathy,
Shelley White
President & CEO
United Way of Peel Region

Bob Dechert mourns the tragic loss of Jim Flaherty

April 10th, 2014

Jim Flaherty
April 10, 2014

Today, Canada has lost one of its longest serving and hardest working public servants, former Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty.

“I would like to extend my most sincere condolences to the Flaherty Family; Christine Elliott, and their triplet sons John, Galen and Quinn” Said Mr. Dechert.

Jim Flaherty dedicated his life to making Canada a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to raise a family. He was a tireless worker who always had the public interest at heart.

He was a warm, generous and kind person with a great sense of humour. He was a man of incredible talent and knowledge and he was a loving father and husband.

“I have had the pleasure to know Jim since 1993 and considered him a friend and role model“ said Mr. Dechert “He has a left a big hole in all of our hearts.”


April 3rd, 2014

April 3, 2014

Mississauga, Ontario

Bob Dechert, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice today to announce the introduction of legislation creating a Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. This legislation will transform the criminal justice system by creating, at the federal level, clear rights for victims of crime – a first in Canadian history.

During consultations held by the federal Government over the past year, many victims of crime shared stories of their interactions with the criminal justice system. Many participants expressed a desire for victims of crime to be kept better informed and involved at every stage of the justice process, and called for an increased understanding of the needs of victims.

By tabling the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights the Conservative Government is delivering on its commitment from the 2013 Speech from the Throne, a commitment which was reiterated in Budget 2014. The legislation is part of the Government’s Plan for Safe Streets and Communities, which focuses on holding violent offenders accountable, enhancing the rights of victims, and increasing the efficiency of Canada’s justice system.

“As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, I am proud to see our Government take such strong and deliberate action to shift the focus of the Canadian justice system onto the victims in order to ensure that innocent Canadians have clear rights in our system.” said Bob Dechert “The new legislation being introduced in Parliament today aims to ensure that victims are at the heart of our judicial system and that they have the right to information, to protection, to participation and to restitution.” Mr. Dechert concluded.

Quick Facts

• The legislation would create the following statutory rights for victims of crime:
o Right to information: Victims would have the right to general information about the criminal justice system and available victim services and programs, as well as specific information about the progress of the case, including information relating to the investigation, prosecution and sentencing of the person who harmed them.
o Right to protection: Victims would have the right to have their security and privacy considered at all stages of the criminal justice process, to have reasonable and necessary measures to protect them from intimidation and retaliation, and to request their identity be protected from public disclosure.
o Right to participation: Victims would have a right to convey their views about decisions to be made by criminal justice professionals and have them considered at various stages of the criminal justice process, and to present a victim impact statement.
o Right to restitution: Victims would have the right to have the court consider making a restitution order for all offences for which there are easy-to-calculate financial losses.
• The Government will provide dedicated funding to support the implementation of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights through existing resources as well as the allocation of new federal resources.
• A study released in 2011 by the Department of Justice Canada found that the total cost of crime is an estimated $99.6 billion a year – 83 per cent of which is borne by victims.
• According to Statistics Canada, nearly 2 million criminal incidents were reported to Canadian police services in 2012.
• All provinces and territories have legislation for victims of crime and currently manage successful victims’ services programs in their own jurisdictions.

Bob Dechert expresses strong support for Economic Action Plan 2014

February 14th, 2014

February 13, 2014, Ottawa, ON – Bob Dechert, MP for Mississauga-Erindale expresses his strong support for Economic Action Plan 2014 today in the House of Commons.

Budget 2014 remains focused on what matters to the citizens of Mississauga– jobs and economic growth. The Plan continues to implement the Government’s focus on connecting Canadians with available jobs, keeping taxes low, and balancing the budget by 2015.

“Mr. Speaker, Canada’s economic action plan 2014 includes many important measures that will benefit the people of Mississauga.

Since 2006, our government has been keeping Canada on the right path for economic growth. This includes lowering taxes in order to save the average Canadian family nearly $3,400 per year. We have also cut taxes for job creating businesses, allowing them to hire more workers and have opened up new markets for Canadian goods and services, most recently through the historic Canada-European Union trade agreement.

We are also introducing the Canada apprentice loan to provide interest-free student loans to apprentices which will help young people in Mississauga benefit from the GTA construction boom

Our government is investing an additional $500 million in the automotive innovation fund to ensure that Ontario and the GTA remain leaders in auto parts manufacturing and assembly.

Our government is providing an additional $46 million in support for advanced research and scientific discoveries at Canada’s leading universities and colleges such as the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College.

This budget delivers for my constituents in Mississauga.”

Canada needs strong economic leadership, and that’s exactly what our Conservative Government is delivering with Economic Action Plan 2014. Our plan will deliver more jobs for Canadians, less debt for our children, and more security for our families.

For more information contact:
Office of Bob Dechert, MP
(905) 897-1952

Bob Dechert and the Mississauga MP’s welcome the federal budget

February 11th, 2014

February 11, 2014 – Mississauga MP’s welcome the Federal Budget, Economic Action Plan 2014. From left to right, Brad Butt -MP for Mississauga Streetsville, Bob Dechert – MP for Mississauga-Erindale, Stella Ambler – MP for Mississauga South, and Wladyslaw Lizon – MP for Mississauga East-Cooksville.

Bob Dechert and the Mississauga MP’s are welcoming the federal budget, Economic Action Plan 2014, and its focus on job creation, economic growth, and keeping taxes low – along with its plan to get back to balance by 2015 – as a positive for Mississauga and Peel Region.

“Canada has the strongest job creation record among all G-7 countries, with more than 1 million net new jobs created since the depth of the global recession,” said MP Stella Ambler (Mississauga South). “Economic Action Plan 2014 will continue our Conservative Government’s focus on creating more jobs and growing the economy in Mississauga and across the country.”

Economic Action Plan 2014 contained no new taxes on families and businesses, while also continuing to ensure government spending was efficient and effective as possible.

“Economic Action Plan 2014 is good news for the hard working people of Mississauga. I was pleased to see the inclusion of a new interest free student loan for apprentices,” said MP Bob Dechert (Mississauga-Erindale.) “This will help young people in Mississauga take advantage of the opportunities created by the construction boom in the GTA. I was also very pleased to see additional funding for university and college research projects which will benefit UTM and Sheridan College.”

“The additional funding for Automotive Research and Innovation will help keep the economy of Ontario and Mississauga strong,” added MP Brad Butt (Mississauga Streetsville.) “Our Government is continuing to deliver support for small business employers and keeping taxes at a 50 year low for the hard working families of Mississauga.”

Economic Action Plan 2014 includes key measures to support Ontario families and strengthen our economy, while keeping taxes low and returning to balanced budgets in 2015, including:

• Launching the Canada Job Grant: so that Canadians can get the skills training they need to get in-demand jobs;

• Creating the Canada Apprentice Loan: which will provide apprentices in Red Seal trades access to over $100 million in interest-free loans each year;

• Launching a Job Matching Service: this new service will automatically match Canadians looking for work with employers looking to hire them;

• Increasing Paid Internships for Young Canadians: investing $55 million to create paid internships for recent graduates in small and medium-sized businesses and in high-demand fields;

• Helping Older Workers Get Back to Work: investing $75 million in the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers to support older workers who want to participate in the job market;

• Cutting Red Tape for Small Business: cutting 800,000 payroll remittances for 50,000 small businesses;

• Making Landmark Investments in Research & Innovation: $1.5 billion over the next decade for research at universities through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund;

• Conserving Canada’s Natural Heritage: investing in Canada’s national parks and historic canals, conserving recreational fisheries, expanding tax relief for the environmental conservation of lands, encouraging clean energy generation with tax relief to new green technologies, and more;

• Supporting Families: enhancing tax relief for families adopting a child, expanding tax relief for health-related services, capping wholesale wireless rates to make service more affordable, cracking down on cross-border price discrimination, and more;

• Strengthening Communities: improving broadband in rural and remote communities, establishing a $200 million National Disaster Mitigation Program to help communities prepare for natural disasters, introducing a Search and Rescue Volunteers Tax Credit, and more;

• Standing Up for Victims of Crime: implementing the Victim’s Bill of Rights and proving funding for a DNA-based Missing Persons Index;

• And much more.

Unlike the previous Liberal government, who balanced the budget on the backs of the provinces, the Conservative Government continued to grow provincial transfers to record levels. For Ontario, the federal budget confirmed that transfers will total $19.2 in 2014-15 – a whopping 76% increase from the previous Liberal government.

“Our Economic Action Plan 2014 is excellent news for the people and families in my riding of Mississauga-East Cooksville and throughout Canada. We are on track to balance the budget while keeping taxes low,” said MP Wladyslaw Lizon (Mississauga East-Cooksville.) “At the same time our Conservative Government federal support has grown to historic levels, and Canadians can be confident that it will continue to grow into the future.”

Dechert addresses House of Commons on the Situation in Ukraine

January 29th, 2014

DechertB_hi Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying dobry den to all my Ukrainian friends and Ukrainian Canadians who I know are watching this evening.

I stand here with a great sense of frustration. As my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development mentioned, we were all here in December debating this very same issue. I myself have made four visits to Ukraine on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Canada in the last two years. I visited Kiev, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sambir, and many other places. Wherever I went, I saw the people of Ukraine striving for democracy, freedom, a chance at a better economic future, integration with Europe, and yet the government of President Yanukovych refuses to listen to the people of Ukraine.

We sent a 500-person election monitoring mission to the last parliamentary elections in Ukraine, and we found many problems there. Canada sent the largest international election observation mission. Whether the next presidential election is held this year or in 2015, Canada will again be sending a large international election observation mission. Canada cares about Ukraine.

We should be here tonight celebrating the success of Ukraine. We should be celebrating Ukrainian democracy. We should be celebrating Ukraine’s integration with Europe. Instead, we are here to once again condemn this repressive government that wants to continually repress its people’s right to freedom and democracy. It wants to repress the rule of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. It wants to hold back people’s economic opportunities. In short, the Ukrainian government refuses to listen to the people it professes to govern and support.

I would like to begin by thanking all of the parties for agreeing to have this important emergency debate this evening. This is an issue that is near and dear to all of us in the House, given that Ukrainian Canadians have played such an instrumental role in building Canada.

More than 1.3 million Canadians have Ukrainian heritage. That number of people mixed among the total population of Canada, approximately 34 million Canadians, in my view makes Canada the most Ukrainian country in the world outside of Ukraine.

Whether we have Ukrainian heritage of our own or just have a good neighbour or friend of Ukrainian heritage, people all across Canada know the efforts Ukrainians have made for over 120 years to build this country. They are integrated in all levels of Canadian society. They are doctors, lawyers, athletes, musicians, and academics, and they are Canadians.

The first wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada came in, rode on a railway to the end of the line, were given a bag of seed and a shovel, and were told to walk another 100 miles, where they would find some land. Then they were to make it work. They opened up western Canada.

In my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, they came to work in the steel industries and built those industries. The neighbourhood where I grew up in Hamilton was 50% Ukrainian. Every day I saw how they contributed to this great country.

A few years ago I had the distinct honour of practising law with the Right Hon. Ramon Hnatyshyn, former Governor General of Canada, who was the first Governor General of Canada of Ukrainian origin and who held many roles in this very House as a member of Parliament for many years and in many different ministerial portfolios.

As we know, Canada has a long and proud history of supporting democracy in Ukraine. It is appropriate that Canada is having this emergency debate tonight, because on December 2, 1991, Canada became the very first western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence. Ever since that day, Canada has had a strong connection with Ukraine. That recognition was initiated by former prime minister Mulroney.

In 2004, Canadians across this country watched their television sets as Ukrainians came together in that very same Maidan, asking for freedom in the Orange Revolution.

We were all glued to our TV sets to hear of the latest developments, and we were encouraged to see the outpouring of democracy in Ukraine. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worse in recent years.

We implore the Ukrainian government to protect their people’s right to peaceful, democratic protest and free speech. With tonight’s emergency debate, we have the opportunity to send a strong message back to Ukraine and back to President Yanukovych and his regime.

Today Ukrainians in the Maidan and across Ukraine are rejecting their Soviet past and instead embracing western ideals of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and balanced justice. That is what the people of Ukraine are saying with the recent protests. They are fighting for a better future. They are fighting for hope.

Canada’s position has been clear. We are deeply disappointed with the Ukrainian government’s reaction to these peaceful protests. The new laws passed by President Viktor Yanukovych give the Ukrainian government, police, and security services harsh new powers that severely limit individual rights and freedoms. Our government believes that this is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic practice and of grave concern to all those who are committed to a free and democratic Ukraine.

While in Kiev just this past December, our Minister of Foreign Affairs met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Minister Kozhara, to express Canada’s grave concerns about the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on mass protests. Our minister also expressed to Minister Kozhara Canada’s expectation of the Ukrainian government to carry out an independent inquiry into the killings.

As a Canadian and a parliamentarian, I was proud to see our Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kiev defending the values we all hold dear. This was mentioned a few minutes ago in debate. Our minister, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, went to the Maidan, to Independence Square in Kiev, to stand with those protesters. I do not believe any other foreign minister in the world has done that.

Other members of this House, such as the member for Etobicoke Centre, were also there in December, standing shoulder to shoulder with the freedom-loving protesters in the Maidan and asking for a better future for all Ukrainians. At the same time, there were those in the opposition who were criticizing the Minister of Foreign Affairsfor being there, suggesting that perhaps he should not be at a protest, because that would indicate that Canada was taking one side over the other. I think it was the right thing to do and I think most Canadians think it was the right thing to do.

Our government has been engaged on this file, and we will continue to be. We urge the Ukrainian government to find a political solution by engaging in a real dialogue. We urge all Ukrainians to avoid violence. Continued violence will further undermine democracy and freedom in Ukraine and bring serious consequences.

We will review and consider all possible options, together with our international partners. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs Is meeting with the European Union foreign minister, the Hon. Catherine Ashton, and with other foreign ministers from the United States and from our other allies around the world so that we can collectively speak with a strong voice to condemn these actions in Ukraine and hopefully bring about some changes in Ukraine that will ensure freedom of protest and democracy and freedom of speech for the people of Ukraine. We will stand with the Ukrainian people, who courageously continue to speak out in support of democracy.

When we are discussing the current situation in Ukraine, I think it is also important to address the issue of religious freedom. I was pleased to see that Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, the Hon. Andrew Bennett, was just in Ukraine over this past weekend in order to raise Canada’s concerns regarding the oppression of religious freedom and the attacks by the Yanukovych regime on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The last time we saw such repression was under Joseph Stalin, and no one wants to see Ukraine return to those days.

While in Kiev, Ambassador Bennett met with various clergy, including His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Patriarch Filaret of the Orthodox Church. I would like to note that instead of suppressing the voices of religious groups, Ukraine should be embracing the important role that can be played by clergy and faith-based organizations in encouraging dialogue among all parties.

As history has shown us, the suppression of religious freedom is often a predictor for the abuse of other fundamental human rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion are important principles of any truly democratic country. Canada has shown that we are committed to advancing democracy in Ukraine, and despite Ukraine’s recent tilt toward Russia, our government remains committed to long-term democratic development there. In fact, in 2012 Canada fielded its largest-ever international electoral observation mission by sending 500 Canadians to Ukraine.

Overall, Canada provided $11.4 million in support of the 2012 election process, particularly through Mission Canada, but also through support to Ukrainian civil society organizations that mobilized thousands of young volunteers to conduct their own election monitoring and public awareness campaigns.

Canada understands that a functioning and growing democracy needs active informed citizens, a free press, well functioning public institutions and the rule of law. Over the last 20-plus years, Canada has made an investment of approximately half a billion dollars in the development of democracy in Ukraine. That is because the people of Canada care about Ukraine. They want to see their friends and relatives, their brothers and sisters, the relatives of those who gave so much to our country have the same freedoms and opportunities for prosperity that we have here in Canada.

Canadian development assistance to Ukraine has always reflected this and will continue to do so. Despite Canada’s ongoing contributions and those from many other countries wanting and working for a more free and democratic Ukraine, recent events demonstrate that a democratic deficit still exists.

Earlier this evening mention was made of the report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to the House on the situation in Ukraine. That happened in May 2012. I was a member of that delegation, as was my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, and many other members of the House.

We visited Kharkiv, Kiev, Lviv and Sambir. We met with people from all walks of life in Ukraine, ranging from members of parliament, members of the government, and members of the opposition to academics and people in the media. We found that there were many problems that needed to be addressed in Ukraine. We submitted the report to the House and it is very instructive. I would encourage all members of the House to read that report, because there are issues going on in Ukraine that started quite a few years ago and continue. We have seen them get worse and worse these last few months in Maidan and other places across Ukraine.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for granting us the ability to discuss the situation in Ukraine this evening. It is important for us to send a message that Canada and the world is watching. Canada is deeply troubled by the anti-democratic trends emerging in Ukraine. On that I will say that I have read quotes today by opposition leaders in Ukraine who know that this debate is taking place tonight in the Canadian Parliament. They are watching. Tomorrow the Verkhovna Rada will be meeting in Kiev. They will be debating these issues. I hope that these comments they are hearing tonight from us will give them courage to stand up for democratic principles and freedoms in Ukraine.

Canada is deeply troubled by these anti-democratic trends emerging in Ukraine, and our Prime Minister and our Conservative government will continue to stand with those Ukrainians who believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Slava Ukraine! Slava Canada!