Stephen Harper is on a charm offensive this week at the United Nations in New York, in advance of an October vote where Canada is hoping to land one of the temporary seats on the Security Council.
As a Canadian, I have no qualms saying that I hope this bid fails. It's not that I think highly of the Security Council, a club that protects the prerogatives of the big powers at the expense of democracy and equality in international relations; it's just that I believe that the world needs less of Stephen Harper and what Canadian foreign policy now clearly represents. If UN representatives vote based on Canada's record of late, Harper's diplomatic campaign will go down in flames.
Addressing the main UN chamber Tuesday, as part of a three-day conference on the Millennium Development Goals, Harper vowed: "We must get results. We must all be held accountable. And people in the developing world must see that we deliver on our word."
After a quick trip back to Ottawa to vote against the national gun registry, Harper is back in New York today to address the General Assembly. Harper has not given a major speech at the UN since 2006, and in many ways he is a fish out of water, emerging as he did from the ranks of the atavistic western Canadian Reform Party that eventually merged into (or took over) the revamped Conservative Party. Talk of multilateralism, global cooperation and compassion for the world's poor -- the rhetorical currency of the UN -- do not come naturally to Harper. But he is a quick study and a shrewd politician. So to avoid being bamboozled by the Prime Minister's speech today it's worth reviewing the actual record and results of Harper's Canada in world affairs.
What follows, I’m afraid, is only a very partial list.
--Indigenous rights. Canada was one of only four countries to vote against the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights when it was passed in 2007. Three years after this shameful vote, Harper's government has still not signed on, despite an active pressure campaign that includes Indigenous leaders from across Canada. Harper is so cynical on this issue that he has even asserted that Canada has "no history of colonialism," even as he obstructs a landmark international declaration aimed at ending still ongoing colonial crimes.
--Global warming. In climate negotiations, Canada has been noteworthy for its obstruction of meaningful and serious efforts to tackle this most urgent of global issues. At last year's COP15 UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen, climate justice activists singled-out the Harper government for condemnation. George Monbiot was blistering in his assessment: "This thuggish petro-state is today the greatest obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen." Even the infamous pranksters The Yes Men got in on the act of shaming Canada. Before he was prime minister, Harper once criticized the UN's Kyoto Protocol as a "socialist scheme."
--Omar Khadr. Stephen Harper has ignored repeated Court rulings that his government must press for the repatriation of this Canadian citizen from the dungeon of Guantanamo Bay. This child soldier has now spent one-third of his life in extra-legal detention, abandoned by his own government to suffer torture and now to face the indignity of a sham trial for war crimes. Canada is the only western government to leave one of its own citizens languishing in Gitmo.
--"Aid." Harper is expected to make this country's provision of so-called aid money a centerpiece of his pitch to the UN. But close observers are highly critical of Canada’s actual record. Writing in the Globe and Mail this week, Gerald Caplan takes the federal government to task for the reactionary ideological axe it’s been grinding when it comes to NGOs and aid: "… The Harper government has canceled funding this year for a number of prominent Canadian international NGOs, including International Planned Parenthood Federation, Kairos, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and Match International... Why were they cut off? Because all of them advocate for international development based on solidarity and respect. What the Harper government offers instead is charity and handouts, fish for some rather than all learning to fish."
--Haiti. Harper is expected to extol the virtues of Canada's post-earthquake aid to Haiti in his UN address. But Haiti solidarity activists say that the real record is shameful. Canada Haiti Action Network member Roger Annis describes "Canada’s failed aid to Haiti," including: inflation of announced dollar figures for aid, failure to deliver promised aid money in a timely manner, misallocation of aid money to police and prisons rather than the urgent needs of rubble removal and shelter. Prior to the earthquake, Canada was already investing heavily in building the repressive apparatus in Haiti which has carried out systematic attacks against members and supporters of the Lavalas movement, whose democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 2004 in a coup backed by Canada, the U.S. and France.
-The Middle East. Canada under Stephen Harper has been called “Israel’s best friend,” even as that state has grown ever more aggressive in violating international law to maintain its occupation and collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Fittingly, Israeli PM Netanyahu was visiting Ottawa in May when Israeli forces massacred nine members of an international aid flotilla seeking to break the siege of Gaza. The Harper government took the lead in enforcing the siege, backed Israel’s brutal military assault on Gaza, and has taken steps towards criminalizing and suppressing criticism of the state of Israel.
--War. But then Harper's unstinting support for Israel is consistent with his sympathy for war and illegal occupation more generally -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. In the days after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Harper and Stockwell Day wrote a letter of apology of sorts in the Wall Street Journal, responding to then Prime Minister Chretien's announcement that Canada would not be sending combat troops into Iraq. Calling this decision a "serious mistake," Harper and Day stated that they "[support] the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values." In addition to the apologetic letter, Harper rose in the House of Commons and delivered a pro-war speech, sections of which an aide later admitted were plagiarized from a speech by Australian PM John Howard.
Even though he was Bush's advocate, I doubt anyone will accuse Harper of leaving a smell of sulfur behind at the UN rostrum today. But the Canadian Prime Minister will be speaking with a forked tongue, attempting to cover over his real record with a patina of platitudes.
The people of the developing world have seen what Canada has delivered on the international stage, in both words and deeds. Their UN representatives would do well to hold Harper accountable by denying his bid for a seat on the Security Council.
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