Debate on the Motion to Call Upon Chinese Government to Release Liu Xiaobo from Prison

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I was in Tiananmen Square, and I would not mind attending with Senator Di Nino as well.

I do have a few words in response. I commend the honourable senator for what he has just said. Mr. Liu is a very brave man. In fact, I met Mr. Liu, and it is hard to believe that it was 21 years ago in Tiananmen Square. He is a very gentle man and a very brave man.

People like to think of Tiananmen as three days, June 2, 3 and 4, but it was building up long before that. Mr. Liu was part and parcel of a group that was trying to negotiate something very peaceful in Tiananmen, and was trying to avoid the massacre in the square, which I witnessed. I saw hundreds of students die.

It was not easy, but to watch him at that particular time, 21 years ago, and live in real time what one voice, one person trying to say something, and actually trying to live within the constitution of China. All of his work is coming out of the right to free speech in China, allegedly, within their constitution.

This is not, as sometimes the Chinese government would talk about, a troublemaker, someone wanting to overthrow government. He just wants to make government more open, transparent and make it work.

I do have some written notes here for this very brave man. As Senator Di Nino noted, he will receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in spirit, on December 10. Our human rights critic, Irwin Cotler, will be present. It is important that the Canadian government also be present. I sincerely hope that there is some representation.

For 20 years, Mr. Liu has advocated peaceful political change within his country. I remember being in Tiananmen Square, in the rainstorms and dust storms during his hunger strike, and watching him go about doing his work there. As reporters at that time, we knew we were living a moment in history. However, at the same time, we felt that China had its own history and that the government would crack down on these young men and women sooner or later.

For two decades, Mr. Liu has endured a succession of arrests. Throughout years of persecution, he has continued to petition the government and convey his ideologies in writing. As Senator Di Nino mentioned, Mr. Liu helped to author the manifesto emphasizing the need for free speech and free thought. In December 2008, one day before the manifesto was released on the Internet, Beijing authorities arrested and imprisoned Mr. Liu and, of course, he remains in prison today. I have been outside that prison, but I was never allowed to look inside to see what goes on there. Since being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Beijing authorities have been holding Mr. Liu’s wife under house arrest.

I think back 21 years and I remember another dissident, Professor Fang Lizhi. He was sort of the Andrei Sakharov of China. When we tried as reporters to talk to him, it was amazing to watch, as he quietly talked to students on campus and to watch the secret police surrounding him and watching him. Sooner or later, he would be arrested, but he obviously found his way outside the country and I believe he now lives in the United States.

It is not just one man or one woman; it is hundreds of thousands of men and women in China who simply want to have the same voices that we have as members of Parliament, and the same voices that we hear outside of Parliament demonstrating for what they believe in. Goodness knows, we do not have to agree with many of the protesters who come to Parliament Hill, but we respect their right to be heard. They are allowed to be heard and they are not thrown in prison for what they say.

Like the manifesto Mr. Liu helped to create, China’s own constitution outlines a commitment to respect and protect human rights. However, in my opinion, the Chinese government does not follow its own rule of law.

With its new economic strength, China has relieved millions of Chinese from poverty. Although the Chinese people may be better off in financial terms, they remain deprived. Their government denies them a valid system of justice. Mr. Liu speaks the truth and, if heard, his ideas could well prompt the millions of ordinary men and women who have built modern China to pursue political reform.

In an article published in Monday’s Globe and Mail, John Ralston Saul gets at the heart of China’s treatment of Mr. Liu. He stated:

Freedom of expression, while it can guarantee nothing, is nevertheless the key to making reform possible.

At the end of the day, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has chosen to honour Mr. Liu for his moral courage. This should be a time for the Chinese to celebrate Mr. Liu, as should Canadians and citizens of countries throughout the world celebrate him. We should likewise demand, as Senator Di Nino has said, that Mr. Liu be freed.

This is a reflection of another time, but I can never forget this. I feel honoured and privileged. In 1989, I ran through Tiananmen Square, listening to a woman as I ran. Just before that, an armoured personnel carrier had run over four or five Chinese. People were standing there with their fists up, saying, “Long live democracy.” I then turned to my left and the person was gone. You look and you want to be sick, but then you are running to the square. As you run to the square, the people beside you say, “Please tell the world what is going on in our country.” One has to remember that everything was cut off. We were sending out news tapes via students to Hong Kong, and even those tapes were being intercepted. The Chinese secret police were looking at these tapes to see who was on the tapes, because once it is on the air, everyone knows.

At the end of the day, I never thought that I would be standing in the Senate of Canada — at least I did not think that 21 years ago — and having the opportunity and the position such that I can speak on behalf of Mr. Liu’s and his wife in this country, because it is so important. It is important never to forget. It is so important that a person like Mr. Liu be allowed to stand up and speak. In the end, I simply ask this question: What is the Chinese government afraid of?

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Di Nino: I thank the honourable senator. A year and a half ago, we held an event to mark the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Senator Munson attended and he was as eloquent then as he was today. I want to thank him for that as well.

My question is a simple one. I would like to urge our colleagues to see if we can deal with this motion, if not today, then tomorrow, so that we can have it completed before Friday when the ceremony will take place. I wonder if the honourable senator would join me in that as well.

Senator Munson: I thank the honourable senator for the question. As Senator Di Nino knows, and as I certainly know, the whip has a certain amount of power here, but not a lot of power. However, in this regard, I would hope that we could come to a unanimous decision. The honourable senator’s motion simply states that Mr. Liu should be freed from prison. I do not think that is complicated. I would wholeheartedly endorse that concept, and I hope that my fellow senators would agree.

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: I would like to thank Senator Munson once again for bringing to our attention the issue of Tiananmen Square. This is one way in which the honourable senator is helping those people he saw in China, by keeping the issue alive. I thank Senator Munson, and I also thank Senator Di Nino for his motion.

I have a question for Senator Munson. In light of all he knows, what advice, if asked, would he give to our government as to how we can help to get this individual released from jail?

Senator Munson: I thank the honourable senator for the question. There are, of course, diplomatic boots that are employed in pursuing this kind of issue.

When I left China after five years of living there, I had a lot of anger and sorrow. Nevertheless, I fully believe there is only one way to bring about change. This is not about interference, but the words I have always used in my life are: engage, engage, engage.

We need to engage our Chinese counterparts, whether through the Canada-China Legislative Association, of which I am proud to be a member, or through our foreign minister. To me, this matter has reached a point where there should be some intervention and a request for meetings with the foreign ministry and the highest levels of government in China.

I have discovered that the last thing one wants to do in this world is to point a finger and say, in harsh terms, that what someone has done is wrong. The way I like to look at this is that what they have done is not right.

At the end of the day, China is a wonderful country and a beautiful place. I once spoke with the Chinese ambassador who has recently left his post here. About a year or so ago we were having a debate in a meeting of the Canada-China Parliamentary Association. We talked about Tiananmen Square and about all these issues. We did not specifically talk about Mr. Liu, but we talked about several things and he mentioned how wonderful it was that we were having this conversation.

I agreed that we had come a long way, but I pointed out that the conversation was happening in a parliamentary restaurant anteroom with 10 members of the Canadian-China Parliamentary Association and officials. I also said to the Chinese ambassador that if we were to have the same conversation on the issue of human rights and talk about specific citizens on China Central Television at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, then to me that would be the day China comes of age on the issue of human rights, but engagement is what we must have.

Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool: Honourable senators, I also want to thank Senator Di Nino for moving this very important motion. Since Senator Munson has the floor, I will ask him my question.

Senator Di Nino’s motion says, “That the Senate of Canada call upon the Chinese Government.” Should the motion not say, “That the Senate of Canada call upon the Canadian Government” in order to give the motion more teeth? Can the Senate of Canada call upon the Chinese Government?

Could Senator Munson tell us how we could include “the Government of Canada” as well as “the Senate of Canada” in this motion? We usually say, “That the Senate call on the Government of Canada.”

Senator Munson: One day, I will be back in government. Today is not the day, so I will defer to Senator Di Nino to answer this question.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Di Nino cannot answer under our rules.

Senator Di Nino: May I ask a question of Senator Munson?

Does Senator Munson remember some years back when we had a similar motion? I do not believe it was in relation to the Chinese government, it was for some other issue. The motion we were discussing was a motion that asked the Government of Canada to do something on our behalf, and the discussion was a long one. Although the issue was not totally resolved, it was felt that the Senate of Canada should do this on its own by saying we, the Senate of Canada — this is not a law, this is not a resolution — urge the Government of China to release this man. That is my recollection of a discussion we had some time ago. Does the honourable senator remember that?

Senator Munson: Yes: Honourable senators, I believe what Irwin Cotler said to our caucus today — I may be breaking caucus privileges but he was talking about good things here — is that he was going to Copenhagen. I talked about what was happening in the Senate with Senator Di Nino’s motion and that I did not know how far the motion would go today. After caucus was over, Mr. Cotler said that for me to carry messages in my pocket to Oslo from different institutions would be a strong statement, and the more messages from separate institutions, the better. As a separate institution, it would be rare but important that we agree today or tomorrow on Senator Di Nino’s motion for calling on the Chinese government to have Mr. Liu Xiaobo released from prison.