OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats are calling for an emergency debate in Parliament over Canada’s response to the abduction of hundreds of Nigerian teenage girls by Islamic extremists.
The request comes amid reports that Nigeria is asking Canada to supply surveillance equipment to battle terrorism in the wake of the April kidnappings by the Boko Haram rebel group.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar made the request Wednesday in a letter to House of Commons speaker Andrew Scheer.
“These girls were taken while writing a high school physics exam, an indication of the extent to which Boko Haram terrorists seek to undermine the education of young Nigerians, particularly girls,” Dewar wrote.
“Hundreds of young innocent lives are at stake, along with the political and social direction of a country and the region. Parliamentarians need an opportunity to discuss an appropriate Canadian response to this crisis.”
Nigeria’s vice-president reportedly issued a statement Wednesday after meeting with Canadian Development Minister Christian Paradis in the Nigerian capital of Abuja a day earlier. It said Vice-President Namadi Sambo asked for Canada to supply “surveillance equipment and other vital security hardware” to help Nigeria battle the Boko Haram insurgency.
Nigerian media reports say Sambo expressed his government’s deep concern over the insurgency by Boko Haram during the Tuesday meeting.
The militants abducted hundreds of the girls, aged 12 to 15, in Nigeria three weeks ago, sparking worldwide attention.
The United States, Britain and France are sending experts to Nigeria to help with the search for the girls.
Paradis, who is in Nigeria for a previously scheduled international development meeting, had no immediate comment.
On Tuesday, Paradis told The Canadian Press in an email that Canada was ready to assist Nigeria, but he offered no specifics.
“Canada strongly condemns the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram,” he said. “These cowardly acts are morally appalling. We will continue to support Nigeria in their fight against terrorism.”
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird condemned Boko Haram in the House of Commons, and said Paradis “had recently offered Canada’s full assistance to Nigerian authorities.”
Nigeria has been fighting Boko Haram’s Islamic uprising for five years, during which time it has claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims and Christians. So far this year, an estimated 1,500 people have been killed.
Boko Haram wants to impose an Islamic state in Nigeria even though half of the country’s 170 million citizens are Christian.
Hundreds more were killed in an a Boko Haram attack Wednesday on a border town in northeast Nigeria, close to where the abductions took place.
In all, Boko Haram — the name translates in English as “western education is sinful” — is holding 276 teenage students.
Muslim leaders from across the globe are condemning the kidnapping. An editorial from a leading newspaper in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, said Boko Haram’s leader “wrongly” cited Islamic teaching as an excuse for kidnapping the girls into slavery.
The Jakarta Post evoked the 2012 Taliban shooting of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan.
“Malala’s message needs to be conveyed to all people who use their power to block children’s access to education. It is saddening that religion is misused to terrorize people and to kill the future leaders of the world.”
An Egyptian cabinet minister said Boko Haram’s actions were “pure terrorism, with no relation to Islam, especially the kidnapping of the girls.”
Boko Haram’s leader has threatened to sell the girls, while pledging to attack more schools and abduct more girls.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find the girls.
Obama also said the crisis might finally mobilize action against Boko Haram, “this horrendous organization that’s perpetrated such a terrible crime.”