It gets better despite the United Nations

The Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui describes how Canada suffered a “humiliating failure” at the United Nations for failing to get that coveted seat on the Security Council:

CAIRO—The sizeable Arab and Muslim bloc at the United Nations did play a big role last month in Canada’s humiliating failure to get elected to the Security Council.

This is the assessment of Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, which represents 22 nations with 280 million people. These states are also members of the Organization of Islamic Conference, which represents 57 nations with 1.4 billion people worldwide.

When Canada failed for the first time in the history of the UN to win a council seat, it was speculated that Europe had voted as a bloc for Portugal, the winner.

Or that many African states may also have done so, because Stephen Harper had reduced foreign aid to parts of that continent.

Or that the Arab-Muslim states, the biggest UN bloc, may have retaliated for Harper abandoning Canada’s long-standing neutrality in the Middle East and making Ottawa an apologist for Israel. Moussa confirmed this in an interview here.

In the latest news from the UN,

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Arab and African nations succeeded Tuesday in getting a U.N. General Assembly panel to delete from a resolution condemning unjustified executions a specific reference to killings due to sexual orientation.

Western delegations expressed disappointment in the human rights committee’s vote to remove the reference to slayings due to sexual orientation from the resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

Canada should experience no shame in losing out on the Security Council seat.

In fact, our country is acting to make it better despite the best efforts of the United Nations,

OTTAWA – The cause of gay refugees who flee persecution in Iran only to face harassment in Turkey has caught the attention of the federal immigration minister, who says Canada is willing to facilitate their resettlement here.

Jason Kenney wrote the Canadian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to urge quick processing of their applications after a story appeared last month in the Toronto Star.

That story centred on Iranian Arsham Parsi, now a Toronto-based advocate whose “Iranian Queer Railroad” project tries to help gay and lesbians in legal limbo in Turkey reach Canada or the United States.

“I can’t imagine more legitimate grounds for protection than folks who are facing potential execution in Iran for their sexuality,” Kenney said in an interview. “These are people who are clearly in need of protection, and Canada has already received a number of gay and lesbian Iranian refugee claimants through the UNHCR, typically through Turkey.”

Rob Ford – Toronto’s Next Mayor?

It’s Saturday at noon in the Rob Ford campaign headquarters in Scarborough and the background noise from the activity that surrounds me is chaotic.

However, the noise is incongruent to the scene around me. A well-oiled machine is in place and judging by recent polls, it appears that the unlikely candidate, the boorish, unpolished, yet small c-conservative and grassroots candidate is about to become the 64th mayor of Canada’s largest city. Internal nightly poll summaries of the Ford campaign are also showing the same; Ford leading by about 9 points and growing over the past couple of days.

The geography encompasses 22 federal and 22 provincial ridings, the population exceeding 5 million, in a jurisdiction that represents more people than the entire province of British Columbia. The fight for Toronto is by no means a small operation. Ford has two fully staffed offices, this one in the east end and the other in Rexdale. The Rexdale office used to be an old Swiss Chalet counter that had grease infused into the walls when I toured it a few short months ago, before I was offered and accepted work on the campaign. Thankfully, the building is all cleaned up and serves as Ford’s campaign hub west of Yonge. At the start of the campaign, when they cleaned the ducts, the office was so rank that campaign volunteers set up outdoors for a day. Ford’s label factory in Etobicoke has even served to house some campaign workers including Nick Kouvalis, Ford’s deputy campaign manager, who slept in the office and had access to a shower just off of the factory floor. The scope of any competitive campaign in the city is complex, rounds of tele-townhalls and robo-calls have been conducted by both the Ford campaign and that of his main competitor, former McGuinty cabinet minister George Smitherman. The technology is fairly new in the Canadian context. Indeed many process stories have been written about the tactics during this campaign. On the topic of tactics, a campaign volunteer told me that earlier this week, there was an amusing opportunity to acquire a huge hot air balloon shaped like a train for election day. The campaign planned to put a banner on it with “Stop the Gravy Train. Vote Rob Ford”, however, the balloon was in the Netherlands at the time and the Toronto-based owner couldn’t get it back to the city by Monday.

The “Gravy Train” has become the mainline message of the Rob Ford campaign. A huge swath of voters — prior to the municipal campaign — were found to respond strongly to messages that acknowledged waste and mismanagement at city hall. Lucky for Ford, as a city councillor he had a strong reputation as a combative figure at city hall on these same topics.

It is also no wonder that Rob Ford has become the topic of conversation around the cabinet table in Ottawa. The implications of a Toronto mayor, a conservative mayor, and an unpredictable factor in Rob Ford has the Conservatives wondering about the shifting electoral landscape in Toronto. If Rob Ford represents the populist anger of the exploited yet neglected taxpayer in Toronto, will Ford provide a safety valve to vent pressure against incumbent governments? Will he blaze a path in the Toronto wilderness for Conservatives? How anchored to Ford are federal and provincial fortunes in Toronto?

For Conservatives, their advance scout in Toronto and the evolving demographic landscape has been Jason Kenney. The Minister of “curry in a hurry” was in also in Toronto this week speaking about the Conservative government’s new human smuggling legislation. This bill is the other half of the government’s earlier and successful efforts on refugee reform, legislation that became law just a few months ago. Liberals are still scratching their heads on the Conservative pivot vis-a-vis connecting with new Canadians. Waves of immigration came to Canada under Liberal governments in the preceding decades and many by default found their allegiance with the Liberal Party. Painted as anti-immigrant and anti-ethnic by their opponents, Conservatives are finding that appealing to the values instead of the identities of new Canadians is winning them over. In religion, as in politics, the most faithful are often the converts.

A campaign worker looks up from a phone call and asks if anyone in the busy office speaks Mandarin or Cantonese, the phone is passed to Bo Chen, another worker and the call is answered without missing a beat. “She’s voting for Rob,” the mandarin-speaking Bo explains after finishing the call. Ford’s fortunes among New Canadians has been another unwritten and snidely dismissed story of this campaign. Polling among voters born outside of Canada has been favourable to Ford according to an Ekos report that was released earlier this week showing a 20 point lead among people whom have been traditionally treated as a block and as one to be pandered to by the former political establishment. Ford famously said that “Oriental people work like dogs”. Bo admits that this statement by Ford was his first exposure to the uncouth councillor. His interest was peaked and he signed up for the campaign shortly after, “We do work hard”.

For Rob Ford, the political establishment cannot fathom how the plain-talking, politically incorrect Ford is winning over ethnic voters. “Ethnic voters, like anyone else, are concerned about wasteful spending at City Hall. Where the left panders to ethnic communities, Ford has treated these constituents like anyone else. And, he provides great service,” said Richard Ciano, Ford’s pollster.

Every good campaign is won by hard work, innovation of new techniques, successful execution of previously learned strategies, understanding your voters, seamlessly passing the torch from one tired group of workers to another, and by managing the chaos of the maddening exercise of mass persuasion into an effective machine. We’ve got about 48 hours until the polls close here in Toronto. We are on our way to seeing a conservative mayor in the city of Toronto.

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.

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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?