Kidnapping of Girls in Nigeria

Mr. Speaker, I join my colleagues in the House tonight with a mixture of emotions, in this critical debate on this profoundly disturbing subject. First, I stand in solidarity with my colleagues on all sides of this place, who find the events of April 14 and the weeks since, abhorrent and repugnant. We feel the need to do something.

I echo the sentiments of many of my colleagues tonight. On April 14, terror was struck in the hearts and minds of young girls, but also their families, with 100 to 300 young girls taken from a school in Nigeria. Even that report is concerning because it took weeks to truly ascertain the number, and for the government of Nigeria to start talking publicly about this brash kidnapping, the snatching of girls, and their potential sale. The events are so abhorrent to any civilized society in any democracy.

It is also unfortunate that it took so long for the global community to become attuned to this act of profound terror. In fact, some commentators have said that throughout April there was more time spent on a missing airliner, of which everyone knew the people on board could no longer be saved. There was more time and attention paid to that, and that puts it in perspective. I am glad that the member for Ottawa Centre and others have put this on our national agenda, where it should be.

I also stand before the House as a father of a young girl of seven years old, Molly. She is the apple of my eye, someone I left at home before school this morning because I had to leave early to come to Ottawa. The very principles of safety and security of our children is probably a common theme among parents, from Canada to Nigeria. I can only empathize with the absolute terror that the families of these girls must be feeling, and the profound sense of impotence they have in not being able to provide basic security to their children.

It is also important to note that these girls were taken from a school. Their parents have sought the best for them. They were pursuing the goals that are universal human rights in this world. Not only was their right of liberty stolen from them, but the message being sent by Boko Haram was one of terror, not just in physical threat, but to cast fear in those pursuing the best for their children, including our girls. These are so fundamental to our principles as Canadians that they truly shock us to our foundations.

I stand as a member of Parliament in this place and am proud that our government and Canada have joined with the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, China, and other nations, that have pledged support to the government of Nigeria, to try to not only locate and bring these girls back to their homes, but to deal with Boko Haram, the group that took them.

As many members of the House have noted, our government immediately offered surveillance equipment in helping to track this terror organization. Beyond that, we also have provided training and operators to help bring that expertise to the ground immediately. Our expertise, particularly on some of the things related to surveillance and intelligence gathering, has been instantly brought to bear on the ground in the country and, I would say, in bordering countries. Boko Haram has also been a threat to Cameroon, Niger, and the whole region. We stand willing to work with our allies and with the government of Nigeria on that.

It is good to note that Canada has a strong relationship with Nigeria. We are the tenth-largest donor to that country on a general annual basis. There has been $66 million in aid delivered in the last fiscal year to that country, on a variety of fronts. That has included education, so that young girls like the ones who were snatched can pursue their full potential as young people in that country, but also in our worldwide fight to end child, early, and forced marriage. Sadly, these issues have been interspliced, as these girls were taken and then forced into horrific relationships and unspeakable harm.

It is also important to call out Boko Haram for what it is. It is a terror group that strikes at the basic fundamentals of our society. We should pursue organizations like this with unrestrained vigour until they are eliminated. It is terror.

It is ironic that just on Friday, at our National Day of Honour, we paid tribute to the 40,000 men and women of the Canadian Forces who spent time on the ground in Afghanistan. That was part of the initial war on terror after September 11, when a failed state allowed al-Qaeda to train within it, to a point that it struck not just at western values, as in this case in Nigeria, but at the western world itself. It is sad that sometimes it takes us to be shaken out of our complacency, from the lovely distance we have from some of this terror.

Here we have been thrust into it, and we should say it for what it is. Boko Harm takes its name from the term “forbidden”. “Haram” means “forbidden”. Locals have called it Boko Haram because they feel that western education is forbidden. That is the root of the term. It is a perverse group that uses terror not just to strike fear, but to actually keep people in that country subjugated. It is terrible.

It is a group that has attributed 10,000 deaths to its activities in Nigeria and countries in the region. Canada placed Boko Haram on its list of known terror organizations in 2013. It is important to reiterate that wherever there are groups such as this, Canada should play a role, alongside our allies, and of course in this case working directly with the Nigerian government, to ensure that these groups cannot operate with impunity. As we have seen, from 2009 to today, this group has escalated in its violence and its acts of terror.

Another interesting development is “hashtag diplomacy”. Some have suggested that it does not play a role and it is just raising awareness, but it is doing more than that. From the First Lady of the United States to the Pope, the awareness has helped shake the complacency that sometimes sets in in the western world, thinking that we are far removed from these gathering threats of terror that occupy developed or challenging states.

Hashtag diplomacy not only affects prominent people like popes and presidents, it also impacts people in my riding of Durham. I would like to compliment the grade seven and eight students at the Good Shepherd Catholic School, in Port Perry, who asked to meet with me on this very subject to ask what Canada can do to help save our girls.

In some ways, hashtag diplomacy seems so far removed from the terror that many Nigerian families are feeling. However, if it raises this issue, much in the way that my colleagues and I are debating this tonight, we will hopefully get to a state where groups like Boko Haram cannot operate in such fashion because the global community will condemn the conduct.

I also want to urge this House and the people watching this debate to remember that tolerance and education are Canadian values. It is appropriate to conclude with the remarks that His Holiness the Aga Khan delivered in this House just a few months ago, in February. It is important to show that Boko Haram has twisted a religious faith and does not represent the faith of Islam. The Aga Khan said in this place:

It has become commonplace for some to talk about an inevitable clash of the industrial West and Islamic civilizations. But Muslims don’t see things in this way. Those whose words and deeds feed into that point of view are a small and extreme minority. For most of us, it is simply not true. We find singularly little in our theological interpretations that would clash with other…faiths — […]

He went on to add:

Yet sadly, what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world gets mistaken for what is normal.

Let us not mistake the abhorrent actions of Boko Haram as we move forward to shut down this terror group, and recognize that diversity, tolerance, and strength, which are Canadian values, should be global values.

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