Victims of Communism

Hon. Jim Munson: My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Honourable senators, just down the street, a massive monument is to be built on the grounds the Supreme Court and Library and Archives Canada; construction of a national memorial to the victims of communism will begin on the vacant lot between the two institutions in the coming months. We have heard a lot about that, Mr. Leader. Nobody objects to the memorial, but there is concern in the country and in the city over its prominent location and the scale. It will occupy a 5,000-square-metre lot and feature a series of concrete “folds” reaching 14 metres in height opposite the Bridge of Hope, which will be nearly as large. Incredibly, these dimensions have been scaled back from the original proposal.

For a long time, this land was intended to be the site of a new Federal Court building completing a judicial triad around the Supreme Court. But that was quietly pushed aside for the monument in May 2012.

Public Works thought the land would cost about $1 million, but now Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky indicated in an open letter to Prime Minister Harper that real estate experts that he spoke with estimated the value at $16 million to $30 million.

Mr. Leader, given the controversy surrounding this plan for the prominent, valuable plot of land along Confederation Boulevard, will your government reverse its decision and consider other locations for the memorial?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Senator, as you know, this monument will honour the more than 100 million lives that have been lost under communist regimes and will pay tribute to the Canadian ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights. In Canada, more than eight million people are from countries that suffered under communist regimes. In its 2010 Speech from the Throne, our government promised to honour the victims of communism, and we are pleased to be following through on that promise.

[English]

Senator Munson: No one objects to the idea of a monument in honour of these millions of victims around the world. I repeat, nobody. But I get from your answer that you have not changed your mind, or the government has not changed its mind, despite the fact that a lot of people just don’t like the idea of having the monument there. Shirley Blumberg, a prominent Toronto architect and a member of the jury that reviewed designs for the memorial, revealed in December that she has a “massive problem” with the monument being built on such an “incredibly prominent, almost sacrosanct” site and questions both the feasibility and the estimated cost of the project. The same goes for the mayor of the city, Jim Watson, who believes the memorial will overshadow the Supreme Court and who described it as a blight. Then there is Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin who fears it “could send the wrong message within the judicial precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with the space dedicated to the administration of justice.”

Mr. Leader, with your government footing the majority of the estimated $5.5 million bill for the project, what action will you take to address the legitimate concerns of these prominent people about this controversial memorial?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, I believe that erecting a monument to commemorate the more than 100 million people who have lost their lives under communist regimes, a monument that also honours the Canadian ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights, is highly appropriate.

[English]

Senator Munson: Speaking of victims and talking with everyday reality, Mr. Speaker and Mr. Leader, yes, of course we understand that the monument is intended to honour the victims of communism, but today in communist China there are many victims of communism. In fact, one could say there have been millions of victims there at a certain time in life; and today there are hundreds, if not thousands, jailed, as you talk about, human rights activists imprisoned because of their beliefs and values, as you described, like freedom of expression. This includes Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mr. Liu Xiaobo.

Besides building these controversial monuments, what has your government done lately for those who are being victimized by communism right now? What has your government done for those like Mr. Liu?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, as you know, everything we do, particularly internationally, is done to promote Canadian ideals. For example, our government has taken strong positions internationally on what is happening in Ukraine and on the mission against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

[English]

Senator Munson: Just very briefly. That, with all great respect, is certainly not the answer that I think Canadians would want to hear. I asked a specific question. There is a Nobel Peace Prize winner in a prison in communist China, and we would like to have an idea if this government is talking about human rights publicly with Chinese officials. The man still sits in a prison.

Mr. Leader, what about the Canadian Christian couple in China who operated a coffee shop near the border with North Korea? They were arrested last August. These are Canadians. Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt are accused of spying. This is in a communist country. Are they victims of communism? She was released, but he remains behind bars.

In light of the fact of making a big deal with this monument — which will be built in Ottawa somewhere, someplace, I guess — is your government pressing for his release? What is being done to help this victim of communism?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: With respect to Kevin and Julia Garratt, we are pleased with the recent decision to free Ms. Garratt on bail, but we remain very concerned about Mr. Garratt’s detention. We have taken this case to the highest authorities, and we will continue to discuss this matter with Chinese representatives. Members of the consular staff have regular communication with the Garratts, and we are trying to maintain contact with them to provide them with consular support.

With respect to Martin Lee, who is the leader of the Hong Kong democracy movement, as the senator knows, committees are independent bodies of the other place. They set their own schedule and are free to invite any witnesses they wish. With respect to the pro-democracy demonstrations, Canada continues to support the rule of law and the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong.

We recently voiced our concerns about the treatment of political dissidents to the Chinese authorities, and our government will always adopt an approach based on foreign policy principles that promotes Canadian values around the world. That is actually the objective of the monument you mentioned.