Canada's NDP


March 18th, 2024

MP Mathyssen Calls for Ceasefire and Shares Experiences from Trip to Palestine and Jordan

There are many reasons I am proud to be a New Democrat. New Democrats work to make government responsive to the needs of Canadians; we are building the social programs that create fairness, equality and social democracy; we build people up; we celebrate not only what makes us different but also what brings us together; and we know that only by working together, neighbour to neighbour, shoulder to shoulder, are we stronger. Unlike other parties that only work to secure their own power or work to tear people down and pit them against each other, we know that government is for people and by people, and New Democrats fight for that for everyone, everywhere.

We truly understand the importance of human rights. We know that justice or fairness cannot be a slogan; it cannot be used to manipulate people into voting for one party. It is not something that only applies to a certain group of people, and it certainly does not just apply to those with the deepest pockets or those who expect power and wield it in a self-serving manner.

As New Democrats, we are used to doing the right thing before everyone else does. We are the party that knows the value of medicare, pharmacare and a pension plan. We are the party with leaders such as Alexa McDonough, who stood with Maher Arar without question, and Ed Broadbent, whose human rights advocacy was celebrated globally. The fight for equality and human rights is why New Democrats have brought forward today's motion, which I am proud to support.

Many people know that, two months ago, I visited East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I went because of my constituents. In London, we are so lucky to have one of the largest communities of Palestinian Canadians, but I see the pain in their eyes and I hear the desperation in their voices when they ask me to help get their families out of Gaza. My constituents have repeatedly told me that Gaza is but one part of occupied Palestine in which the human rights of Palestinians are denied. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the insecurity and the targeting of Palestinians by settlers and Israeli forces have only increased in recent months. This is a serious crisis of global proportions that has deeply affected members of my riding in London, and I had to go see it for myself.

I can honestly say that the trip was one of the hardest things I have done, but it was also one of the most important. I visited refugee camps with families who had lived there for generations; families who still hope for a day when they can be reunited with their loved ones, returning to their former homes on their land; and families who live in villages where every single building is riddled with bullet holes, where the infrastructure and the people are attacked daily. I have never experienced such systematic dehumanization. I have never seen what many human rights groups call a system of apartheid. I saw injustice, despair, poverty and generational trauma. I also saw children playing with such innocence and joy, and I will never forget their beautiful faces.

I was greeted by people who were so generous with what little they had. They invited me into their homes with incredible kindness. However, they carry unimaginable trauma. They have seen an incredible amount of violence. The reality of living in a refugee camp, where death and destruction permeate everything they know, is untenable.

I spoke to young people at the UNRWA school in Amman, who asked their teachers why they were being taught about human rights when they would never know them. I must never forget what I witnessed, and I will never stop fighting for their future and for their human rights.

The past five months have been incredibly painful for many in my community. As members of our communities mourn friends and family in Israel who were killed in the Hamas attacks, many are also watching Netanyahu’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza in horror. In London, I meet with many people who live in fear every day that they may never see their sons, their parents, their brothers or their cousins again.

Muslims in London, in Canada and around the world are observing Ramadan and, despite the heaviness in our hearts, I want to wish them Ramadan Mubarak. I have broken the fast with many in my community over the years, but this year is very different. Instead of a joyful coming together at Iftars, last week, I spoke with so many who are angry, scared, frustrated and devastated by the lack of action and courage from the Canadian government.

My riding and my city are still scarred from the heinous murder of a beautiful Muslim family. My city is still dealing with the aftermath of this terrorist attack on a member of our own. Our London family stays in our hearts, and after that attack in 2021, I watched tens of thousands of Londoners come together and promise that we would remain united and fight for each other. However, this will leave a scar on my community for many generations.

Now, on top of all that pain, my constituents watch what the International Court of Justice says is a plausible genocide in Gaza, and the Liberal government does nothing.

My office helped a grandmother escape from Gaza a few months ago. She cannot celebrate the safety she now has with her family. Instead, she constantly watches the television and the news in fear, desperately hoping for a ceasefire. She is terrified for the children, grandchildren, family and friends she has left behind. She finds no solace in Canada.

Many others on both sides of this war also find no comfort living in Canada or being Canadian. They have told me they feel like second-class citizens here. They are treated differently. They are discriminated against. They see anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hatred grow. They see their government, which once had a reputation in the world as a leader against that kind of racism and violence, now hide away from taking real action or being a leader in the world.

They have also told me that some of what the government has done is actually more harmful to them. In December, as Canadians appealed to the government to help their loved ones reach safety, New Democrats asked for the introduction of special immigration measures for Gaza. While the government did finally announce some measures, the actual rollout included a discriminatory and arbitrary cap of 1,000 applications, as well as demeaning questions. To date, not one applicant has arrived.

My constituents told me directly that these actions by the Government of Canada were racist and made them question whether they were truly seen as citizens. In the House today, we have the opportunity to take a stand against that hatred. We cannot turn our backs on people, using the excuse that the situation is simply too complicated. It is actually very simple: We must uphold international law.

Canada can and must do what New Democrats have outlined in our motion. We have to reinstate the UNRWA funding and protect against the suspension ever happening again. Canada must respect the ruling from the International Court of Justice and support the court’s work. We have to ban extremist settlers and impose sanctions on Israeli officials who incite genocide, just as we have imposed sanctions on Hamas leaders.

We have to stop fuelling this crisis with weapons and abide by the UN's and the International Court of Justice's calls to stop all arms exports to Israel, as they are concerned about the violation of international humanitarian law. We need to work with international partners to counter terrorism in the Middle East. We need to officially recognize the state of Palestine and work toward a two-state solution.

We need to do the hard work diplomatically to help end the decades-long occupation of Palestinian territories and invest in building a just and sustainable peace for Palestinians and Israelis. We need to stand up for human rights and the dignity of all Canadians, for my constituents in London, for the people I visited in the Jenin and Jerash refugee camps and for the millions of people in Gaza who are not responsible for the actions of Hamas, but who deserve to live.

As the NDP’s critic for national defence, I need to take a few more moments to speak to growing concerns about our role in this conflict. Through operations Artemis, Impact and Proteus and our participation in Operation Prosperity Guardian, Canadian Armed Forces members had been deployed in the region long before this conflict began.

I have tried to get a briefing for the Standing Committee on National Defence on their role, but I was told officials were unavailable. I requested a briefing from the minister and have received no response. It is unacceptable that the government refuses to provide clear explanations and transparency with the public around our military roles in the region.

As parliamentarians, we have a sacred obligation to every person in uniform to ensure that, when we are asking them to risk their lives abroad, we are doing so to serve Canada’s highest values. We need to have transparency in this. We cannot repeat the same grave mistakes we made in Somalia or Afghanistan.

As parliamentarians, we have a lot of tough decisions to make, but I am determined to make a real difference and improve the lives of my constituents. Today we discuss Canada’s responsibility to its citizens, its place in the world and its reputation for doing the right thing.

I implore all members. They have the choice and the chance to vote for this motion, which is something that could put us on the right side of history, and to say to those children I met in the West Bank and Jordan and those tens of thousands of children now at risk of starvation and death in Gaza that they are worth protecting. They can have a peaceful future if we build it together.

Mr. Speaker, when we had a chance to visit the Jenin Camp in the West Bank, we saw that violence. It occurs every day. In fact, every night, settlers will come into the camp to destroy all the infrastructure: the water storage units and the roads. They even go so far as the destruction of garbage cans so that they cannot collect garbage, and it piles up. They attempt to do everything possible to drive people out.

It was incredible to see, like I said in my speech, the children who run around that camp. As soon as they know that a stranger is safe, as strangers are not always safe because of the nightly and daily violence they see, they run over to them and want to practice their English. They want to hug them. There is a chance we have here to save that innocence and to save those children, and I ask the House do that today.

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry the hon. member does not understand what the motion actually calls for. It calls for the ceasefire. It calls for that peace. It calls for the recognition of two states in order to create a two-state solution. It does not recognize anything beyond what Hamas has done, and we certainly call that out in terms of the violence that has been created.

Ultimately, violence has to stop before conversations can begin, and that has taken a long time. That may continue to take a long time. We have to take a stand, and we have to show the courage to do so. I ask the hon. member to take a serious consideration of what that courage looks like.

Mr. Speaker, I think those are really great questions for the Liberals within caucus. I certainly have seen some come forward to openly support this and some of those who do not. I am frustrated by the fact that the government seems to want to be able to take two sides on this, when calling for a ceasefire is what I truly believe is necessary, and coming forward.

Again, I call for courage within the House. I advocate for all members in the House to do so. I know that, within my community, the frustration with Liberals trying to hold both sides will not continue to hold water.