Hon. Lucie Pépin: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The Afghan government is apparently preparing to pass a law that might be expected of the Taliban. This law legalizes marital rape, forbids women to go out without their husband's permission and automatically gives custody of children to the father.
Afghanistan must be able to create its own legislation. However, Canada did not take up arms against the Taliban regime, which we opposed because of its backwards laws with respect to women, so that the rights of women would be restricted.
Can the Leader of the Government assure us that our government has already done everything necessary to have the Afghan government re-evaluate this law from another era?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I could not agree more with the honourable senator. Our troops are not in Afghanistan fighting for the rights of Afghan people, and women in particular, to have this terrible news be presented to us.
We have called upon the Afghan government, in the strongest terms possible, to honour its human rights treaty obligations under international law, including respect for the equality of women before the law. Afghans expect their government to promote and protect their human rights.
While participating at the United Nations International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague over the last few days, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has expressed Canada's deep concerns to the Afghan foreign minister and the interior minister. Canadian officials in Afghanistan will continue to raise this matter, seeking clarification on possible implementation of this law with the Afghan government, including their Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, as well as the Attorney General, and the Office of the President.
The government, through our Minister of Foreign Affairs and our officials in Afghanistan, will continue actively to engage in this issue alongside our international partners, who are as shocked and dismayed by this news as we are.
Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: I appreciate what the Leader of the Government in the Senate has said, and it is obvious we are all on the same page. Our troops, our young men and women, were not sent to Afghanistan for what is happening now. Canadians sent our young men and women to Afghanistan because we were upset with what was happening to the women of Afghanistan.
To repeat, the Karzai government wants to legalize rape within marriage, to forbid women from going to the doctor or leaving their homes without their husband's permission, and to grant custody of children only to fathers or grandfathers.
At the conference at The Hague, foreign ministers have been meeting and discussing the issues of Afghanistan. I understand that the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with President Karzai yesterday about this abusive law.
Has Lawrence Cannon, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with President Karzai? If so, what issues has Minister Cannon addressed specifically with President Karzai, and, more specifically, will we empower the women of Afghanistan by providing resources to fight this law?
Senator LeBreton: I believe we were all well aware of the view of the Secretary of State for the United States, Hillary Clinton. The look on her face on the front page of The Globe and Mail this morning said it all.
Honourable senators, I reiterate the government's grave concern about this turn of events. Equality between women and men is an important objective for Canada's work in Afghanistan, and is strongly reflected in its programming priorities, particularly in terms of the delivery of basic services such as education and governance.
Canada's priorities in Afghanistan, as the honourable senator rightly states, in particular our focus on Kandahar, enable projects designed to improve the lives of women. That is why we are there, and surely no one would think that our mission there did not have that as its primary objective.
Honourable senators have heard Minister MacKay, as Minister of National Defence; Minister Day, who is in charge of the cabinet committee on Afghanistan; and Minister Cannon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, all cite many examples, when they have visited Afghanistan, of vast improvements in the area of education, health and opportunities for women. That this improvement would take such a huge backward step is a troubling turn of events.
I assure all honourable senators that promoting and protecting human rights is the core element of Canada's participation in Afghanistan.
With regard to the honourable senator's specific question about whether the minister had an opportunity to meet directly with President Karzai in The Hague, I cannot say definitively whether he did or not. They were at the same meeting, so I presume they met, but I cannot say that with absolute certainty. I will ask if the minister met the president and if they can provide us with information on what that exchange entailed.
Hon. Jim Munson: I thank the leader for her answers. Recognizing that the issue is a domestic one in a sovereign country like Afghanistan, does the leader think it is possible for our government, at least, to initiate a process to ask for the removal of this individual as President of Afghanistan?
Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I do not believe I am in a position to answer that question at the moment. I will leave it to my cabinet colleagues, most particularly those who are working on this matter, including the Prime Minister, who also commented in London about this troubling turn of events.
Honourable senators, as to what Canada and our partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization might do with regard to this particular matter, I am not in a position to comment right now.
Senator Jaffer: I asked the leader whether the Government of Canada would consider providing assistance to Afghan women and empower them with resources and other support to fight this law, if this law proceeds.
Senator LeBreton: As honourable senators know, a significant amount of money has been provided already for other projects in Afghanistan, especially for projects directed to women. I will inquire about whether a decision will be made to redirect that money or direct new sources of funds. I will take notice of the honourable senator's question.