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Marie-P. Charette-Poulin

The Hon. Marie-P. Charette-Poulin, O.St.J., B.A., LL.B., M.A. Called to the Senate of Canada in September 1995, Senator Marie-P. Poulin was the first woman to chair the Senate Liberal Caucus, and the first senator to chair the Northern Ontario Liberal Caucus.

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Sri Lanka

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Statement made on 13 May 2009 by Senator Mobina Jaffer

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:

Honourable senators, thousands of Canadian Tamils came to our parliamentary doorstep asking the government to stop the killing of their family members in Sri Lanka. After 26 years of bloodshed, the Sri Lankan civil war is coming to a bloody end. In this war, thousands of Tamil civilians were caught in the crossfire between two opponents who refuse to give an inch.

Honourable senators, these civilians did not choose this war and have no control over the Tamil Tigers who presume to act in their interests. They are victims who have suffered a long time without intervention from the international community. The fundamental freedoms that Canadian Tamils have exercised, specifically the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, are what makes Canada a human rights leader.

No parliamentarian accepts any association with a terrorist organization, but we do have a responsibility to hear the voices of Canadian citizens. In this instance, the voices are those of Canadian Tamils.

In 2004, as your Canadian envoy for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, I worked with Canadian Sri Lankan women across the country in partnership with the South Asia Partnership Canada, the Forum of Federations and the Canadian Committee on Women, Peace and Security as well as the Canadian government. The result was a report entitled Ripples Across the Ocean. I also attended, on your behalf, discussions in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with the Sri Lankan foreign minister.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacekeeping and humanitarian response while stressing the importance of their equal participation in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

We know, honourable senators, that women and children account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict. During our consultations in 2004, women's voices were strong and the participants came from diverse, professional, religious and cultural backgrounds. The resulting report was full of promise and suggested ways the Canadian government and the Canadian Sri Lankan women's community can work together to help empower women in Sri Lanka.

One suggestion included in the report was that Canadian women use their experience and influence in Canadian civil society to educate and empower their counterparts in Sri Lanka on issues of governance and peace process. It also included the development of grassroots programs dealing with gender issues, such as physical and sexual violence as well as the economic marginalization of women. The report advocated for the formation of community links to establish healing and wellness programming, and to set up community structures benefiting women and children affected by war.

Honourable senators, it was an enriching experience to have an opportunity to meet with a united Canadian Sri Lankan women's community. We had hoped the consultations would be a first step toward healing, and that they would help the Canadian government understand Sri Lankan culture as well as the importance of forming meaningful partnerships with Sri Lankan women.

Today, thousands of people are being mutilated or killed, and Canada should take steps to stop the slaughter. Canadian citizens have come to the doors of Parliament looking for help for their families. We must act. The report sets out what we can do.

I ask honourable senators to reflect on how we would feel if one of our family members were in peril. Canadian Sri Lankans are part of our Canadian family and we need to work with fellow Canadians to stop this violence.

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