Having just returned from Israel, Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler recently described what he calls the “critical mass of threat unlike anything that we have seen” surrounding that country.
“It’s one thing when you’re reading about it, it’s another thing when it’s happening literally next door,” he said in his annual talk at the Cummings Centre.
Among the threats Cotler mentioned is the increasing number of missiles Hezbollah has amassed. “When I was there in 2006, Hezbollah had 10,000 missiles capable of reaching only the northern part of Israel. Now there are 65,000 missiles capable of reaching any part of Israel and this has occurred not only during what was supposed to have been a UN-monitored ceasefire but where the Security Council resolution had called for the disarmament of Hezbollah.”
Speaking eight days before the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria, Cotler said, “At this point nothing good is happening for Syrian people who have been the targets of daily crimes against humanity, with women and children being the primary victims.” He said that at the beginning, the conflict was a civilian uprising, which should have been assisted by the international community.
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“Those of us who were calling for support and assistance for the people of Syria under the Responsibility to Protect were told, ‘If you intervene, what you will get is more killing, more sectarian strife.’ Everything people told us would happen if we intervened happened because we didn’t,” Cotler said, adding that inaction has fuelled the killing in Syria. He said that behind the danger surrounding Israel is the four-fold threat from Iran, including the “nuclear threat, ongoing state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, involvement in international terrorism and the final threat we should never ignore: massive domestic repression.”
Cotler says he fully supports the Canadian government’s position on Israel, but that support should not become politicized and associated with voting for the Conservative Party. “That undercuts support for Israel because it links that support with a particular political party rather than with the justness of Israel’s cause.”
Anticipating correctly that Parliament would be prorogued, Cotler touched on issues that most affect seniors, beginning with health care. “It is regrettable that the federal government has abandoned its involvement in health care,” Cotler said, noting that the Canada Health Act is federally legislated.
“For the Harper government to say it’s a matter of exclusive provincial jurisdiction is to deny the constitutional responsibility that the federal government has for health care.”
He said that the idea behind the 2004 Health Accord, which ends next year, was to set up—in partnership with the provinces—a national standard, a system of equitable access to care. “The whole idea is to concern ourselves with the protection of the vulnerable, to do something about a holistic approach to home care, emergency, palliative care.”
Cotler expects the government will say the accord will not be renewed, this partnership will come to an end and the eight strategic objectives he had participated in creating will go by the wayside.
Regarding pensions, former justice minister Cotler says he anticipates the age to collect will rise to 67 or 68, “even though the expert report was that the pension system is sustainable now at 65 years.”
He spoke out against mandatory minimum sentencing, mentioning that the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the release of thousands of inmates because it ruled that overcrowding amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
“They said overcrowding had to come down to 137 per cent. In Canada, the overcrowding rate is 200 per cent and it’s increasing.” Mandatory minimum sentencing is the cause and is said to affect the most vulnerable. The black and aboriginal communities, Cotler says.
In terms of the environment, Cotler says we need leadership in a federal role. “Regrettably, the government is dismantling a lot of evidence-based institutions that provide us with important data in regard to what is happening in the environment and policy prescriptions of what needs to be done.”
In final remarks, Cotler said that it seems as if the government has marginalized the presence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He recalled his time in federal government when the charter was “the centrepiece of our policy, to put that commitment into practice.”