Honourable Senators, I rise today on the occasion of the visit of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, to Canada this week.  I want to praise the Prime Minister for agreeing to see the Dalai Lama.  This is a good thing.  But I am puzzled as to why this meeting has been placed into a so-called spiritual frame.


I am sure that when the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury meets with political leaders, the discussion covers more than just spirituality.


In this complex global village, the Pope’s views on many issues such as the horrible violence in the Middle East are well received and respected in political circles.


History has taught us that the views of religious leaders go well beyond the spiritual and very much into every day realities.


On a personal level, as a reporter in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I witnessed the brutality of the Chinese police in the Tibetan capital Lasha.  I watched as my cameraman videotaped the Chinese police beating defenceless monks.


I then listened in the Jokang Temple as the monks told their stories of harassment by the Chinese authorities.  As a result of these experiences, I had the not so welcome opportunity of spending a number of hours in a Chinese jail in Lasha.  We were then ordered to give up the tapes.


Fortunately, the authorities didn’t get all of them and we were able to transmit their story to Canadians.


Now, fifteen years have passed since my experiences in Tibet.  What disappoints me is to hear that our Department of Foreign Affairs has recommended that when meeting with the Dalai Lama, political leaders should bear in mind that “emphasis should be on spiritual and civic matters, as opposed to political issues which might appear to confer recognition of sovereignty.”


The visit is described as an extremely sensitive political issue because of the public opposition by the Chinese government.  Well, Honourable Senators, here is the reality check.


The Dalai Lama has met Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens around the world while Canada, as a sovereign nation, is worried about upsetting the authorities in Beijing.


It has been argued by some that meeting the Dalai Lama may affect our trade relations with China, trade relations which are by the way, very, very much in China’s favour.


Honourable Senators, this is nothing short of diplomatic blackmail – there should not be a price tag on human freedom.


Canada and China have forged a great friendship over the last few decades, but I don’t think that we need any lessons on how we should treat a guest in our own house.


I am standing here today as a witness to history.  I am standing here as a person who has some understanding of the issue of human rights.  I am standing here today urging others to stand up and listen to whatever message the Dalai Lama will deliver.


At this point in time, Honourable Senators, the issue is not so much about recognizing the autonomy of Tibet, it is first about recognizing the autonomy of the mind and the fundamental right to speak it.