The relationship between Britain and Canada is deep and strong. We have fought side by side against tyranny and in defence of freedom in two world wars, and most recently in Afghanistan and in the skies over Libya. We share our core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As Prime Minister David Cameron said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: “We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values.”
Foreign Minister John Baird and I work closely together to promote those values, and nowhere is this more urgent than in Syria where the Assad regime is using indiscriminate shelling, aircraft, helicopter gunships and militias to terrorize Syria’s citizens.
Tens of thousands of people have died and 230,000 have been made refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and Iraq. Like Foreign Minister Baird, I have seen the desperate plight of these refugees at first hand.
All nations have, in our view, a responsibility to act together to stem the bloodshed. Britain and Canada have stood shoulder to shoulder from the Balkans in the 1990s to North Africa now and we shall continue to work together to help end the violence in Syria.
This crisis was top of the agenda in my discussions with Foreign Minister Baird. We have committed to work together to support a transition to a more democratic and stable Syria, to collaborate to ensure safe, unhindered access to humanitarian actors and to encourage the United Nations Security Council to take firm action to support a political solution.
So far, despite our best efforts, the UN Security Council has been unable to put its full weight and authority behind a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Britain and Canada remain absolutely committed to robust and united diplomatic action.
We want to see the same level of international unity at the Security Council. But the people of Syria cannot wait. They are at the mercy of a regime that is hunting down its opponents, an army that has turned its weapons against civilians, and militias that are committing barbaric crimes.
This is why Britain, while sharply increasing our work to help the people of Syria, is not pausing for a second in our efforts to secure a robust diplomatic solution. We have increased our aid to the humanitarian crisis – we are providing emergency food aid to over 80,000 people a month in Syria, as well as urgent medical care for over 50,000 people affected by the fighting. We are working with our EU partners to impose sanctions on individuals and entities close to the regime to cut off its finance.
We are also working with a wide range of allies to plan the rapid assistance we will deliver as soon as the doomed Assad regime falls from power. Canada and Britain are working together on this, just as we have worked together over the past year to support the democratic reforms taking place in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Perhaps most importantly, Britain is providing non-lethal, practical assistance to unarmed opposition groups and supporting human rights activity. We are providing communications equipment to unarmed opposition groups, and training to human rights activists to document human rights violations. We are also encouraging the opposition to develop their vision for a stable, democratic Syria where all communities are respected and secure. It is by encouraging the opposition groups to unite to provide a viable political alternative to the Assad regime that the UK and Canada can do more to help bring a sustainable peace to Syria.
I believe this is a moral imperative. This crisis began when the people of Syria demanded their legitimate rights and freedoms. The Assad regime has tried to crush their aspirations and extinguish their hope. Britain and Canada believe in those rights and freedoms, and that is why we must use all diplomatic means available to us to help the Syrian people claim them.