Universal or selective human rights?

This week, the Prime Minister is in China to supposedly thaw relations he has been criticized for frosting since the years he was in opposition criticizing the government.

Stephen Harper, and indeed, a number of prominent Conservatives have, for years, roundly admonished China for its poor human rights record since the days of the Reform Party. For this, members of the opposition have suggested that the Conservatives firm stance against China has harmed our economic relationship with that country.

Among the Conservatives who have stood up against China is Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration. My first exposure to Jason Kenney’s breadth of politics came in 2005 when he and members of the Alberta Conservative caucus held a pro-Tibet movie night at the Conservative Party Convention in Montreal. In January of that year, while on a parliamentary trip overseas, Kenney was criticized by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin for embarrassing the Chinese when he visited the home of pro-democracy reformer Zhao Ziyang.


In the Afghan detainee transfer agreement signed by General Rick Hillier and the Afghanistan defence minister, an entente was struck to prevent human rights abuses. Among other important guarantees it declares, “No person transferred from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities will be subject to the application of the death penalty.” This is a strict yet progressive demand for the unstable government of an emerging democracy which in darker days used to slit the throats of thieves like sheep before a stadium of spectators in Kandahar province.

Last week China put a bullet in the back of the head of two company managers in the tainted milk scandal where six children died of contaminated milk. With an estimated 470 executions in 2008, China is believed to be the world’s leading executioner.

In Canada, some of our Liberal Parliamentarians have shown surprise over the past three weeks at allegations that some Afghans treat their fellow Afghans with callous disregard and fault Canadian officials for an uneasy balancing of coddling of a country reborn out of rubble going through the birth pangs of establishing a civil society, with the brutal hell of war against combatants that wear no uniform, splash acid in the faces of schoolchildren, and cut off the ears of those that would work to bring good governance to their country.

Meanwhile, Liberal observers have criticized the Conservatives for pushing human rights in China at the expense of trade. Liberals such as John McCallum describe the “broken Canada-China relation[ship] under the Conservative government” and Scott Brison who prematurely boasted that “the fact that Ignatieff is able to go to China as the leader of the opposition before the ruling party leader does is a clear indication of how good and solid relation[s] between the Liberals and China [are].” Ignatieff subsequently canceled his trip due to a pending fall election triggered by the Liberal leader himself.

This sentiment expressed by McCallum and Brison is not exclusive to the critics of the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. Rebukes of Stephen Harper’s tough stance on China’s abuses have also been echoed by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien who complains that Canada used to be China’s “best friend”. Chretien bemoaned that comparatively, in the first three years that he was Prime Minister, the p’tit gars had visited China eight or nine times. Never mind the fact that Chretien started lobbying the Chinese government within weeks of stepping down as Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister.

According to Amnesty International, China is guilty of a number of human rights abuses,

Growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance, or harassed. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, continued. Falun Gong practitioners were at particularly high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Christians were persecuted for practising their religion outside state-sanctioned channels. Despite the reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases, the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy and continued to be used extensively. Torture of detainees and prisoners remained prevalent. Millions of people had no access to justice and were forced to seek redress through an ineffective extra-legal petition system. Women and girls continued to suffer violence and discrimination.

Conservatives are usually criticized for dealing with issues in absolutes, in rights and wrongs, in black and white. Meanwhile Liberals sometimes suffer a charge of moral relativism from their opponents as they are accused of dealing in shades of grey. On their assessment of a nascent democracy suffering in horrific ravages of war, a country attempting to cast off ages of illiberalism and lawlessness, it is evident that Liberals have little sympathy for the harsh realities of an imperfect situation. Whereas on a country with an often brutal established dictatorial order, a country with a $4.3 Trillion GDP, and a country that actually bans human rights monitoring groups from operating within its borders, Liberals such as Bob Rae suggest:

“The Chinese are very concerned about stability, they’re very concerned about order. They’re very concerned about a billion people. They’re fearful of the consequences of losing that kind of control. Seems to me we just have to keep on trying to persuade them that liberty is the better way. It’s something we believe in and something we should share with them.” — Bob Rae

If you’re looking for Rae in the halls of Parliament these days, his tolerance seems selective and true concern seems focused elsewhere,

The opposition parties say it is not believable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his senior ministers weren’t aware of Colvin’s troubling reports. If true, they could implicate Canada in the war crime of complicity in torture.

“The fact of the matter is that if there was ever at any time a view that there was a serious risk of people being mistreated, those prisoners should never have been transferred and such transfer is a breach of international law,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Torture is abhorrent and is a fundamental violation of human rights. I’m confident that most would agree that such a violation is terrible no matter where or against whom it occurs. Yet can we reasonably expect perfection from Afghans in an imperfect situation in their war-torn country while diminishing and invoking willful ignorance of the abuses by a modern, industrialized and enviably affluent state such as China?



  • east of eden

    You know, it strikes me as hypocritical that the left screeches about the rights of the poor, the underpriviliged, etc. but when it comes to mass human rights violations (China, Taliban, etc) the left is strangely silent. Well, perhaps not strangely because I've come to expect gross hypocrisy on the part of the left. The hypocrisy is stunning. Let me see: Harper hates women, aboriginals, gays, immigrants, anybody who is not white and yet he is being criticized for taking China to task for human right violations. Am I the only one who sees the stupendous hypocrisy?

  • Gayle

    Of course, you have made a great case to establish the CPC hypocrisy here.

    In any event, you have dismissed allegations of torture by both suggesting the prisoners deserve it, and by placing the blame totally on the Afghanistani people. They are, of course, responsible for torturing their prisoners. The Canadian government, it is alleged, is reponsible for ignoring that torture and failing to take any steps to protect people.

    So – they preach human rights on one hand, and ignore them on the other.

  • wilson

    Liberals seem to only be concerned with Afghan detainees, Khadr etc, when sitting in opposition.
    For 4 years Chretien/Martin had NO agreement for detainee treatment, and it was under that govt that the Red Cross mostly criticized Canada for lack of tracking of detainees and 3 months wait for papaerwork.

    The media is thrilled that the Chinese cuffed PMSH over his human rights stand,
    while still trying to make him wear 'complicite to war crimes' ….go figure.
    Harper took a hit from the Chinese govt, so what is he getting in return? Something is up.

    The Harper-haters in the media are in overdrive too because to the exposure of fraud in the Climategate file. No way, after all these years of bashing Harper and Alberta over the environment,
    can he be right! no way!!!

    In the China-Canada joint statement

    6. Both sides recognized that each country and its people have the right to choose their own path, and that all countries should respect each other’s choice of development model. Both sides acknowledged that differing histories and national conditions can create some distinct points of view on issues such as human rights. The two sides agreed to increased dialogue and exchanges on human rights, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to promote and protect human rights consistent with international human rights instruments.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Is it safe to say the vested financial interests in China are greater than Afghanistan and as a result China is given an exemption from the LPOC ?

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Colvin is the lone voice who had made unsubstianted allegation refuted by the Red Cross, three retired generals, top military brass active, Prison Inspectors.

    Do we have evidence of torture in China or Human Rights Abuses that the LPOC have ignored for financial gain?

  • lowertaxes

    It should be noted that a recent economic study, contrasted our trade balances with various countries that were blessed with Chretien led trade missions or high level Mandarin led with current levels. It seems our “neglect” of China and others has led to an immense improvement for Canada.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Great point. The rule of law, equal rights were ignored by the LPOC in their attempt to expand international trade.
    The media keep recycling the LPOC talking points but trade between China and Canada has only increased from 2006 every year. The global recession has slowed down every economy but the growth has been in the double digits for years.
    The CBC were forced to cite a blogger to find a negative comment about Harper. Today they are spinning the first visit as “too long” and Harper reminded his guests it cus both ways. Kudos for standing up to a controlled national media who were escorted out of the room.

  • wilson

    And anyone (media/low level politician) critical of the Chinese government would be allowed to enter (or exit) China?
    Remember Boob Rae being turned away from entering (?)…

    Our media and Liberals bow to China,
    they bite their tongues out of fear.
    But feel the freedom to attack our brave soldiers on human rights.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    After the witchunt regarding the Somalia Inquiry, you would think some from the “left” would understand how everyone including the front lines get swept up unfairly.

    The doctor that made allegations never bothered to communicate with the pathologist who refuted his testimony about the victim. The Airborne got disbanded for the bad behaviour of a few men.

    The NDP, Bloc and a large number of the Liberals voted against extending the Mission. This is just another smear job to weaken the support for the mission and tar the current government.

  • N Waters

    Really tired of the MSM and how negative they are!
    Could you set up a Media Watch?

  • tedbetts

    Colvin, the Red Cross, the Afghanistan Human Rights Agency, etc.

    Some lone voice.

  • feyenoord

    Very well written. Liberals will bend over backward to appease Chinese brutality.

    Yet go crazy if a Taliban thug doesn't get coddled by the Afghan authorities.

  • tedbetts

    Made a comment to East of Eden but it just disappeared so I'll try again.

    It may very well be that lots of people can point out hypocrisy on the left.

    It is quite irrelevant.

    No amount of hypocrisy on the left makes government incompetence and lack of accountability OK.

    Let me take an example. It mattered not one bit to Canadians that the Conservatives were merely taking advantage of Adscam as an opportunistic issue to grab power. It did not matter and should not matter whether the Conservatives were hypocritical in making those claims. But, and this is the point, that does not mean they are wrong to attack the government on accountability.The Liberals were the government and they f**ked up and needed to be held accountable and ultimately booted for their lack of accountability. The government should always be held to a higher standard than the opposition. Only a political partisan or ideologue would think differently.

    Similarly, it does not matter that the Conservatives are utterly hypocritical in their criticisms of China's human rights abuses. When it comes to Columbia and other states, trade trumps human rights abuses, and so it is hypocritical for them to try to claim some moral high ground. But, and this is the point, that does not mean they are wrong to point out the human rights abuses.

    So whether the Liberals are perfect and completely consistent in highlighting Harper's incompetence, lack of care for human rights abuse in Afghanistan and his self-serving use of soldiers as props, and his cover up to save his own butt… that is not the issue.

    There was torture of combatants and non-combatants that Canadian soldiers were ordered to hand over. Lots and lots of evidence from multiple sources now confirm that the Harper government knew about this. Why did they do nothing? Why are they more concerned about suppressing evidence and gagging witnesses and trying to cover everything up than in the allegations of torture?

    Whether the opposition parties are hypocritical on this point or not, seems to me a distant distant issue compared to whether our current government is lying to us, incompetent and permitting torture to take place in avoidable circumstances. Only a political partisan or ideologue would think differently.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Please link the evidence from the Red Cross, HRC regarding detainees from Canadian military. Thanks

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Can you provide links to back up those allegations?

  • Switchyard O'Taylor


    Just because you say something doesn't make it true. Please post relevant docs or stop spreading your damn dirty lies.

  • Liz J

    We have to assume the PM and his government are doing a very good job of governing when we have opposition MP's of all stripes up in the HOC funny hour whining about the Taliban detainees ad nauseum, it even trumps the economic update. If they're not trying to pin the torture label on our government and Forces, what is their cause? We do not condone torture, the allegations of torture cannot be proven absolutely and certainly have nothing to do with Canada and her Forces fighting the terrorist thugs under NATO. They appear to believe the Taliban ahead of our own Generals. Sad.

  • Philanthropist

    Liberals are hypocrites along with their crooked friends in the old liberal media/adscam agencies. Everyone knows crooked Chretien is getting wealthier by the minute dealing with the communists, and people understand that, wealthy Liberal corporations want to be wealthier regardless of the human cost. But for them to lecture anyone about what is right is truly an insult.

  • m123T

    If one of those prisoners had killed a friend, family member or someone you knew would you still love them. And remember, when the red cross complained, it was on what was happening pre 2006.
    Just like the media is hyping a so called slap in the face for not having a PM visit China for 5 yrss. So what liberal PM did not visit for 2 years prior to PMSH being elected in 2006. OOPS, could that have been Paul Martin.

  • m123T

    We must remember that MO Strong, of the oil for food scam and kyoto global warming, scam is in China waiting to sell billions of dollars of carbon credits to us suckers. You remember him, Bob Rae's uncle.
    With the scam unravelling, he just might have to get a real job.

  • leftdog

    Mr. Taylor states, “For this, members of the opposition have suggested that the Conservatives firm stance against China has harmed our economic relationship with that country.” ….
    Well, not just the ‘opposition’ cautioned Mr. Harper! Fully 3 years ago, temperate, conservative Editorial Boards also tried to warn Mr. Harper that his position on China needed to be revised.
    Canadian business interests have been undermined for years by the Reform Party ideology that Mr. Harper has stuck to.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    The Canadian and Chinese media both chose to omit SH reply, showing our PM does not take it lightly.

  • m123T

    As I mentioned above, PMSH has been PM since Feb 2006. No PM has visited China for 5 years.
    Who was that guy talking about. Could it have been a slap at the liberals also.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Yes AGW appears to be falling apart, but our government should have already contacted Ross McKitrick is a Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph where he focuses on environmental economics to set up a Judicial Inquiry to get the raw data and computer models from the CRU-UN bodies before setting up a Policy to transfer billions.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    The LPOC has been “B-slapped” so often since 2006 they have forgotten to how to count.

  • batb

    tedbetts ” … Colvin, the Red Cross, the Afghanistan Human Rights Agency, etc.”

    The Red Cross did not inform the Canadian government or the military about any torture of Afghans but, rather, their transfer. The Red Cross, according even to the CBC reportage, has clarified this point.

    Get with the program, ted.

  • batb

    ALSO, ted, “the Afghanistan Human Rights Agency”???????????

    Who would THEY be, BTW? I mean, Afghanistan is really known for their regard for human rights, right?

    Why are we there??????

  • Omanator

    You bet. It cannot be an accident that Mr. Chretien raced to China as soon as he left office and participated in the creation of the New Chinese Power Corp. Don't tell me that he did not have that in mind long before he retired.

  • Gayle

    Wow, you are so clever the way you exaggerate my concern into love as a pathetic attempt to undermine my comment.

    That is just astounding. I bet you win lots of debates in your elementary school debate club.

  • bocanut

    “The Canadian government, it is alleged, is reponsible for ignoring that torture and failing to take any steps to protect people.”

    “Any steps”? Really.

    How long have you been saving that pantload?

  • Liz J

    Not a shred of doubt the Liberal/Left are selective on the human rights file, they're proving it every day in the HOC. Listen to people like Bob Rae and his nemesis Iffy rant on, all concerned about the treatment Taliban detainees, then from the other side of their mouths get fluffed up about not getting to China soon enough, a place where the Commie regime rules their people with an iron fist, human rights abuse is entrenched, they have no rights at all. With all of this our PM isn't supposed to voice concern, just ignore it and push for more trade with the industrial powerhouse manned by people who are not assured basic human rights. Hypocrisy reigns among the Liberal/Left on this file.

  • http://freeryantoday.com Ryan

    Good article. You make some great points although I don't agree on all of it this time. Harper should have been to China long ago.

  • east of eden

    The Harper-haters' stupidity is beyond belief. Think about it: on one hand they call him down for being anti-just about everybody and when he stands up for the oppressed in China, they criticize him. Hunh? The logic behind the attacks on Harper just boggle my mind. Let's face it – they are nothing but a load of hypocrites who have no idea what they are saying or doing. Here is our PM standing up for the rights of the oppressed in China and the LPC is criticizing him. That makes absolutely no sense.

  • east of eden

    Point taken, Gayle. Now, just for a moment, let's isolate the issue of the Chinese record of human rights and let's put aside (for the moment) all other issues and situations. Do you think that PM Harper has done the right thing by calling the Chinese government to task over its human rights record? Just that one question, Gayle, without any added commentary. Yes or no.

    Now, this question: does trade with China trump the rights of its citizens? Yes or no.

    Last question: Should the LPC be criticizing PM Harper for standing up for human rights in China? Yes or no.

    I know how you feel about PM Harper and I've heard all about Afghanistan – I'm just speaking of China and its records of human rights so please…do me the honour of just answering my three questions in isolation. I know we have to look at the big picture but I want to know how you feel about the China issue.

  • east of eden

    When did Tiannemen Square occur? Was it during a period of LPC reign? BTW – has Ignatieff publicly recanted his former, American, stand on torture? Has Layton recanted his stance on the Taliban?

  • east of eden

    Now, now, no personal attacks, Gayle. No matter the context, a personal attack is a personal attack.

  • east of eden

    I have to wonder why the LPC and NDP are so hepped up on this Afghanistan thing but I never hear a word from them about the treatment of women in that country. I do hear from the left that PM Harper is tossing Canadian women back into the stone age (funny, my boss is a woman but let's not let real life get in the way of rhetoric) but never a word in support of the poor oppressed women in Afghanistan. Gee, is that not just too funny. Screw the women in Afghanistan who are forced to wear the burka, who are beaten by men for minor transgressions, who are denied education, a voice…etc. But, let's dump on PM Harper for hating women. Yup, sounds plausible to me. Selective human rights, indeed.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    East of Eden,

    The problem with Gayle and her “posse” of haters is they try to derail the thread and attack anyone who does not share their disdain for the current PM.

    The left have not been consistent in their concern for human rights abuses all over the world. Their outrage is a calculated attack against “right of centre” governments. They will turn a blind eye if they don't see a tactical benefit. If the abuses are done by a left leaning government they rarely step up and criticize. William Sampson was left to rot in a Saudi jail for years by the LPOC led government. Omar spent four years (he was captured in 2002) and they only changed their position after losing power.

    Gayle is very upset neither the NDP or LPOC whipped their MP's over the LGR vote.

    For many left leaning activists it is about increasing state control and reducing individual freedom in society for their version of the “greater good”. The respect for provincial automony by the CPC led government is clearly keeping the coalition divided.

    The HST exposed a clear divide between the coalition on the federation and federal powers. The Bloc were not going to back their coalition partners. The NDP are inconsistent in showing disdain for the democratically elected provincial governments.

  • Liz J

    The HST has widened the divide in the Liberal party, it may be the Grinch that stole Christmas for them, making merry will be tough.

    Wondering what their new brain, Donolo ,has in mind to deal with it aside from not taking the PM on in a game of chess.

  • batb

    Ryan, please be specific about what you don't agree with other than your thinking that PM Stephen Harper should have visited China “long ago.”

    What about the point our Prime Minister made to his counterpart in China when he was chastised for not having visited China sooner? It's a two-way street. Where was China's visit to Canada in the past five years?

    What is totally beyond belief is the Liberal$' and the MSM's disingenuousness in not highlighting the fact that the Liberal$ — Mo Strong, Chretien, Martin, the Desmarais Boys, one of whom is married to France Chretien, le p'tit gars' daughter — are up to their yin-yang in profiteering from Chinese businesses, and have been for years. Why is Chretien such a cheerleader for China?

    Liberal$ have a totally VESTED INTEREST in Canada's trade with China and care nothing about the human rights of the Chinese — nor, for that matter, for Canadians' human rights as witnessed by how selectively the CHRCs have ruled on our rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. They care only for the personal profits to be made from trade with and carbon credits (sic) to the Chinese. The Liberal$ are apoplectic that the CPC are in power, thus blocking their access to all of the goodies of their so-called “Kyoto Accord” (which they sat on and did very little to implement in the 13 years the Liberal$ were in power), which runs out in 2010. No wonder they — and their lackeys in the MSM who are shilling for them — are trying everything in the book to discredit our fine Prime Minister and his party.

    THIS is the real story, not Prime Minister Stephen Harper's belated visit to China. The real story is also the integrity shown by our PM and his CPC party in standing up to the bullies and thugs of the Chinese regime — not to mention the bullies and thugs in the Liberal Party of Canada.

    And, BTW, I forgot to mention that Bob Rae's brother John is a VP at the Desmarais' Power Corporation. 'Anyone else smell something rotten?

  • Gayle

    Oh stop scolding. If you are not going to hold your colleagues to the same standard it just makes you look as if you have nothing intelligent to say.

  • east of eden

    Ted, you went to a lot of trouble to prove nothing. The hypocrisy of the left is very relevant. It's called walking the walk. If PM Harper had kowtowed to China, you can bet your boots that the LPC would be ragging on him for ignoring China's human rights record. The LPC, instead of doing what's best for Canadians, simply rags on our PM for the sake of ragging on him. The hypocrisy is stunning and it is very important. BTW, has the LPC ever come out in support of the oppressed and abused women in Afghanistan?

  • east of eden

    Gayle – I am not scolding – I think you are a bit old to require a scolding. I am, however, pointing out your personal attacks. I do hold my colleagues to the same standards but it is you, Gayle, who pointed out many times that personal attacks are an indication of having nothing substantive to say. If you believed in the merit of the point which you tried to make, you would not have to resort to a personal attack. As for my having nothing intelligent to say, I do believe that what I said in my comment to you and, indeed, my other comments did contain intelligence. And, I said all of it – as I am saying to you right now – without resorting to anything resembling a personal attack. You see, Gayle, I listened to you when you said that personal attacks indicate a lack of anything substantive to say and have refrained from personal attacks toward you for some time now. N'est-ce pas?

  • east of eden

    Gayle – in one of my comments, I posed three questions to you. I notice that you have not responded. I am disappointed because, as I said on Janke's blog, a while back, I am quite willing to enter into an adult discussion with you. It is too bad that you did not reply to my questions – I think it could have led to a good, intelligent debate. Oh well – I think I can live with it.

  • Gayle

    East, if you are going to scold me for something I have said before, at least have the basic courtesy to accurately relate what I said before.

    I do not know how many times I have corrected you on this, but I am tired of it. Go ahead and lie about my previous comments if it gives you a thrill. I am moving on.

  • Gayle

    If things were all black and white, I would answer according to your dictates.

    But they aren't. I suspect you know that, which is why you demand an answer without an explanantion. Sorry, but you do not get to set the rules. You are not seeking a real discussion and I am not interested in letting you dictate terms of any argument.

  • Omanator

    Yes Tedbetts. Colvin is the unsubstianted lone voice. May be he is looking for a new job and trying to get the attention of people. There are too many qualified voices who tell us otherwise. Besides that is not reason for the Libs to ignore China’s constant violation of Human rights.

  • Liz J

    OT, but our PM has done us proud in China, he's getting the job done in spite of those who want to concentrate on what they call a rebuke for not going there sooner. He handled that one well also.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Great post. Some in the left are not interested in any debate. They have their Agenda and refuse to answer simple questions.

    Yes PM Harper is done the right thing by expressing his views over HR in China. To do otherwise would be insconsistent. Canada is allowed to disagree with their friends.

    Yes trade does trumpet HR with China.
    Yes, the LPOC should be critical of the Federal Government when it makes sense. Attacking the PM for being consistent on his views regarding China will reflect badly on the LPOC.

    “A mutually beneficial relationship is not incompatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” Harper told his business audience.-TS 12-05-09 Harper Stands Firm on Human Righs.

    ST noted the human rights groups and activists who have an ally in the Stephen Harper. The other parties are less critical of China.

    Michelle Den Tant wrote a nice piece on “whipped dog syndrome” regarding the media and the opposition.

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    Great post. The money trail may lead back to climategate. How else do you explain why the LPOC led government with a majority did nothing on the reduction of Carbon?

    The were not going to win back the “west” so why did they refuse to put in NEP part 2 before leaving office?

    Cap and Trade would benefit companies in China through through the Carbon Exchange in Montreal and Chicago.