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?

Liberals in support of new citizenship guide

The new guide released this week for newcomers to Canada has been generally well accepted by the mainstream of Canada. Of course, some on the left are criticizing the guide for focusing on Canada’s “militaristic” history and for not mincing words when it comes to “barbaric cultural practices” not in line with Canadian values.

Liberals are finding it difficult to oppose the guide as some of their heavy hitters are already backing up the government.

Marc Chalifoux was Michael Ignatieff’s former political assistant and he is quoted in the government’s press release (along with Margaret McMillan, Rudyard Griffiths and Jack Granatstein):

“Discover Canada should be in the hands of not only new Canadians, but every high school student in Canada,” said Marc Chalifoux, Executive Vice-President of the Historica-Dominion Institute. “All citizens, whether they were born in Canada or not, need to understand how the institutions of this country came to be. This guide tells them how.”

Former Paul Martin Director of Communications Scott Reid had this to say on CBC’s Power & Politics:

I think that the citizenship quiz actually is a good initiative. I like the updating. Vimy Ridge, Louis Riel, these are references that ought to be part and parcel of it. You know, when you take a look at the people that guided its reshaping: Canadians of unquestioned qualification.

Former Liberal Party President Stephen Ledrew also gave the guide thumbs up on his CP24 show yesterday.

You can peruse the guide here:

George Galloway won’t be coming to Canada

Infamous British MP George Galloway will not be coming to Canada this month as the bureaucrats at Citizenship and Immigration Canada have decided that Galloway is inadmissible to Canada. It is the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s prerogative to grant an exception, but Minister Kenney has chosen not to do so.

Galloway has a history of being a supporter of organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and has spoken warmly about Saddam Hussein.

The department of Public Safety lists Hezbollah and Hamas as banned terrorist groups in Canada.

Here is a video of Galloway speaking in support of Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah at a protest in London in 2006,

Galloway tells the crowd,

“I am here to glorify the Lebanese resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify the leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.” — George Galloway

Regarding Hamas, Galloway told IslamOnline.net about why he was visiting Gaza,

“My visit has more than one reason. The first one is to walk a step toward lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip.

The second is to tell the whole free world that they can do anything real to you.

The third and the main one is to stand beside the legal Palestinian prime minister, [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniya. The entire world knows that he was elected, apparently, democratically. I have offered him corporeal and financial support.” — George Galloway

Galloway has also offered friendship and comfort to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein,

The NDP, showing that its still not ready for prime time, published a news release on this via their immigration critic Olivia Chow,

OTTAWA – Canadians interested in hearing international experts deliver anti-war messages will now have to leave the country to do so. British MP George Galloway, who was schedule to talk on resisting the war in Afghanistan, was banned by Harper’s government from entering Canada.

“Harper’s Conservatives are wrong to bar MP George Galloway,” said New Democrat Immigration Critic Olivia Chow. “The Minister of Immigration is becoming the ‘Minister of Censorship’. This bunker mentality indicates a government afraid of hearing contradictory points of view.”

The last time I remember Chow defending the indefensible was when US domestic terrorist Bill Ayers was denied entry into Canada.

Canadians seeking “anti war” messages could visit the following countries,

England:

Sweden:

The United States (Ft. Lauderdale, FL):

France:

Iran:

Canada: