Remember Bono’s line, “the world needs more Canada.” I don’t think he had last week in mind – a week of one humiliation after another for the old maple leaf.
First, there was the case of Amy Goodman, the crusading host of Democracy Now, detained at the Peace Arch border crossing for six hours by Canadian border guards who grilled her on whether she was coming to Vancouver to criticize the Olympic Games. She wasn’t.
However the episode played all over the US media, and not just through Goodman’s very impressive alternative media network. It also headlined last Monday’s MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann show Countdown. In a satirical segment called “best persons”, Olbermann gave Canada the award for “best paranoid freedom of speech suppression.”
A day later, Canada’s profile was lifted again from Europe by the sizzler article from columnist George Monbiot in the British newspaper The Guardian accusing Canada of “threatening the well being of the world” by its obstructionist role to derail a deal on climate change in Copenhagen. “Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong.,” wrote Monbiot, “The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.”
The Monbiot article caused quite a stir, and there is now a weak kneed response from Jim Prentice on The Guardian site. More to the point is a follow up piece by Canadian journalist Heather Mallick, with the appropriate title: “It’s embarrassing to be Canadian now.” The debate over our dirty role on climate change doesn’t seem to be quieting down. Monbiot’s article, posted November 30 was yesterday still the most viewed opinion piece on The Guardian web site.
Then Harper was flying off to China to really climb on to the world stage, and to be greeted by the now infamous rebuke from China's Premier Wen Jiabao. The Canadian spin on the Chinese greeting is that the Chinese were saying, “Hey – how come you haven’t been visiting us for five years. Five years is too long, but we are sure glad you are here now.” In reality, the Chinese were very critical of Harper’s past cold war rhetoric about China, and they made it clear that the “thaw” in relations is entirely on their terms.
Check out The People’s Daily, China’s newspaper of record, and the picture that is presented is one of a chastened Harper agreeing to be more respectful in the future. The Peoples Daily reported that Harper “promised … to stick to the One-China policy, respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and properly handle discrepancies in a friendly, candid and respectful way."
As for human rights, Amnesty International’s Alex Neve and a coalition of ten groups concerned with Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur rights, called for Harper to press for the release of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen of Uyghur origin, imprisoned after what Amnesty called an unfair trial.
There is no mention in any of the Chinese reports of Harper raising the Uyghur issue or Huseyin Celil, but The People’s Daily did report that they raised with Harper the matter of Lai Changxing, who the Chinese want arrested and extradited for allegedly running a multi-billion dollar smuggling operation and paying off corrupt government officials. Lai is currently selling real estate in Vancouver. According to the Chinese press, Harper said Canada now wants to “hand over” Lai.
To finish out the week and to pull all of this together very representatively, we learned of the politically motivated cancelling of funding for international development and human rights by Canada’s progressive church coalition, KAIROS.
KAIROS has been receiving funding for its international work since 1973. Currently it is working in countries with some of the most egregious human rights violations – Colombia and Philippines. Suddenly and without warning or explanation, KAIROS learned that all of its international funding has been cancelled.
Why would the Conservatives end more than 30 years of funding for a church based humanitarian organization with a stellar record? According to Canadian Press, a likely reason is that KAIROS last May organized a tour of the oil sands with leaders from the Anglican, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian and United churches, and a representatives from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The church group met First Nations in Alberta and criticized the tar sands environmental record.
In November, a KAIROS group lobbied all the parties in Ottawa for Canada to take a more constructive stand in Copenhagen, and they are sending a group off next week to the international talks to keep up the pressure. The Conservatives, of course, have nothing to say about the attack on KAIROS, but the message couldn’t be clearer.
All together, a particularly bad week for Canada that makes us our country look paranoid, vindictive, hypocritical, obsequious and villainous.
Way to go, Team Canada!
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