Image: Flickr/DFATD | MAECD

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The claim: The Conservatives will fight human rights abusers through imposing more sanctions on countries.

Yesterday, Mohamed Fahmy was released from an Egyptian jail. Later the same day, the Conservatives announced their party’s plan to place sanctions on countries that abuse human rights.

Do sanctions work? Or is this more dogwhistle politics from the Conservatives?

Canada’s sanctions regime is laid out in the Special Economic Measures Act. It prohibits certain activities (landing planes, doing business, dealing in property, etc.) in countries that Canada deems to merit imposing sanctions. There are special economic measures under the act related to Burma, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

According to the 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas, the 12 countries with the worst record on human rights abuses were: Nigeria, Yemen, Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, DR of Congo, Sudan and Syria. But, determining who is worst, and why is highly political. The International Business Times had their own list, which also included the treatment of Black communities and people in the U.S., China’s use of executed prisoner organs, Gambia’s treatment of gay people, and Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women.

Canada has not sanctioned Egypt or Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that a Canadian journalist was jailed in Egypt and a political blogger has been jailed in Saudi Arabia while his wife and children wait for him to be released in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Far from sanctioning Saudi Arabia, Canada actively facilitates the trade of weapons and war machines.

Sanctions alone are not enough to drive a foreign power to change their behavior. They’re more useful to get a nation to release a prisoner, for example, than to agree to a regime change. In the case of Iraq in the early 1990s, sanctions combined with a bombing campaign resulted in hundreds of thousands of children dying.

The most recent sanctions placed on Iran caused great harm to the Iranian people. Economic sanctions severely restricted medical supplies and pharmaceuticals from entering the country and poverty among Iranians doubled. Canada gleefully cheered these sanctions along and has maintained them, despite the fact that the Iranian government has agreed to a nuclear deal.

Foreign affairs Minister Rob Nicholson made that announcement from Israel, another country that uses sanctions to subdue and terrorize people: Palestinians. Of course Israel would never appear on Canada’s sanctions list. In fact, the Conservatives prefer to treat calls to sanction Israel as a hate crime.

Canada’s record isn’t all that rosy either. Human Rights Watch has consistently condemned Canada for our lack of action to stop Indigenous women from being harmed, an issue that Harper himself has been accused of not taking seriously.

And, Reporters Without Borders dropped Canada’s free press rating from 10th to 20th in just one year. Once the leader in the Western Hemisphere for reporting, Canada is now behind Jamaica (13th). The actions of the Harper government towards journalists is directly tied to Canada’s new rank.

“This is a warning to those who continue to suppress journalists, activists and minorities….You will be held accountable for your brutal human rights abuses,” said Nicholson in the Conservative announcement release yesterday.



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Image: Flickr/DFATD | MAECD

Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...