Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Diminishing Our International Reputation:

During a recent visit to Canada, a prominent American professor told his audience that people outside our country are wondering what is happening here. It’s like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he said.  We’re not what we used to be.

1a) Canadian mining companies, with $20 Billion in government subsidies, are wreaking havoc in several countries.  There have been assassinations, attacks on villages, health and environmental damage, and human rights abuses related to their work. In Guatemala, January, 2007, Rights Action reports: “… then Skye Resources, now HudBay Minerals, participated in the forced evictions of a number of Mayan Qeqchi communities.  Hundreds of huts were burned to the ground or destroyed; personal property was destroyed or stolen; subsistence crops and animals were destroyed or stolen … Mariano Abarca, a community leader … opposing the health and environmental harms and human rights violations caused by barite mining. On November 27, 2009, he was assassinated in the town of Chicomuselo, state of Chiapas.  The alleged assassins are employees of and/or linked to Blackfire Exploration Inc, a Canadian mining company.” 

1b) Human Rights Watch recently confirmed allegations of gang rapes and other abuses by security guards at Barrick Gold’s Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) mine in Papua New Guinea.  

1c) Canada has virtually no criminal or civil laws to hold Canadian mining companies to account.  Efforts to pass Bill C-300 last year – which would have provided government oversight and possibly sanctions – failed.  Mining companies claimed it would make them less competitive.

2a) Once admired and respected, Canada wanted a seat on the UN Security Council, as it has had every decade since 1948, gaining power, respect, and influence. But it appears that the Harper government’s “I’m right you’re wrong” attitude alienated too many countries. 

2b) The Conservative government has helped prevent the UN from declaring asbestos a dangerous substance, and still promotes exports to poorer countries.  Canada took a lead in preventing GMO seeds – which stop farmers from replanting – from being banned under the UN convention on Biological Diversity. It also cut Canadian funding for the poorest countries in Africa. Even Harper’s personal cause maternal and child health is compromised by the fact that he opposes funding for safer abortions. More than 350,000 women die every year because of childbirth and pregnancy problems - 99 per cent in developing countries, causing children to suffer.

3) Harper seems to like authoritarian regimes. He has signed free trade agreements with Colombia – a militarized, right-wing country with government death squads – Jordan – which experienced similar protests to those in Egypt – and Panama – also a human rights abuser.  As well, it is negotiating with the regime in Honduras, which came to power in June, 2009, after a violent military coup – and is not recognized by most Latin American countries. 

4a) As Egyptians were peacefully demonstrating for democracy, Harper was blatantly dragging his feet on the subject.  His lack of enthusiasm put Canada in the company of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, and Israel.

4b) During the uprising, Harper was in the corrupt Kingdom of Morocco pushing free trade on behalf of his corporate backers. He has since delayed freezing the assets of the former Tunisian dictator’s family members here.

4c) During the popular uprising in Egypt, the Conservatives were mainly worried about the impact on Israel. The Conservatives’ almost unconditional support for Israel has raised questions internationally. Harper’s comment that Israel’s massive bombing of Lebanon in 2006, which led to many civilian deaths, was a “measured” response shocked many.

5) Days after the uprising and vicious reprisals in Libya, many nations had managed to evacuate their citizens. But the Conservative government didn’t assist a single Canadian. The government was “not much help.”  Instead, it was plagued by “confusion,” even though Harper claimed to care.  Our citizens had to hitch rides with other countries. Defence Minister Mackay blamed Foreign Affairs.

6) The Harper cabinet killed its own plan – announced by Peter Mackay in 2008 – to spend $70 million yearly on a Canadian Centre for Advancing Democracy. The Centre would have promoted democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in developing countries. Last fall, CIDA stopped funding the Parliamentary Centre of Canada's program in Haiti, which helped advise legislators as that country began to prepare for an election. The Centre also supported local politicians searching for more accountability in aid spending.

7) As well as KAIROS, the Conservatives are cutting $3.7-million from one of Canada’s most active international agencies, the Forum of Federations, which helps entities, such as South Sudan, create federal structure. Instead, they continue to make Ethiopia, a country whose democratic record is worsening, a priority for receiving aid. 

8) Under Harper, many more respected groups have experienced funding cuts or been totally de-funded, with little media attention, including the Canadian Council For International Co-operation and Match International. “Never mind that many de-funded organizations were promoting maternal and child health, ostensibly Mr. Harper's big personal cause. Yet because they also pursue issues that Stephen Harper will not abide – human rights for Palestinians, women’s equality, climate change – they are anathema in his eyes,” Gerald Caplan

9) “The same is true of the international human-rights organization Rights & Democracy. Suddenly, all of its good work around the world counted for nothing compared to small grants it gave to three groups, one of them Israeli, defending the human rights of Palestinians. So dangerously single-minded is Stephen Harper about punishing dissent that he hasn't hesitated to wreck R & D, an institution that had enhanced Canada's reputation wherever people embraced human rights and democracy,” Caplan.

10) Canada spends $4.5 Billion on aid, putting us at 14th out of 23 OECD countries. Worse, it is very difficult to determine where the money goes, and what kind of impact it is having. The international coalition Publish What You Fund, ranked Canada 23rd out of 30 countries for aid transparency. The Conservatives once claimed that transparency and accountability were important.  Therefore, Canada should join 18 of the world’s leading aid donors and sign the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which sets a global standard for aid transparency. Liberal Glen Pearson says we are witnessing “… the decline of CIDA as a powerful instrument of Canada’s collective compassion.”

11) Liberal Bob Rae highlighted the problems Canadian diplomats experience when they want to talk to the media and more. "Our ambassadors overseas ... are not allowed to comment on anything, ever, without first referring anything they might say or could say, to be approved by people in the prime minister's office," Rae said. He added that people in the prime minister's office who “have probably never been to the country in question, they don't know anything about it, probably in some cases could not find it on a map,” are telling people who have been “in the field for 30 years” how to do their jobs.

12) In March, 2009, UK MP George Galloway was refused entry to Canada because Immigration Minister Jason Kenney declared him a threat to national security – a terrorist. Many Canadians felt Kenney was motivated solely by his disagreement with Galloway’s opinions on the Middle East.  The Supreme Court agreed, noting that CSIS "had no concerns with Mr. Galloway's visit from a security perspective." Should the government get away with such forms of “defamation”?

13) Scheduled to speak recently in Calgary, Harper’s turf and riding, the renowned Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva was denied entry into Canada March 9. There was “an issue with her visa.” Shiva was going to receive a Consortium for Peace Studies award from the University of Calgary.

14) Again, there is the question of the Harper government contravening international law – in this case on child soldiers. The government’s abandonment of teenager Omar Khadr, leaving him as the only Western prisoner in Guatanamo Bay, raised many questions.
15) Six years ago, Canada enacted legislation to take the lead in providing low-cost, generic medicine to victims of AIDS, malaria, and other treatable diseases in the developing world.  Since then, only one shipment has been sent.  Now, Bill C-393 is designed to make the original legislation more effective, and it will be discussed in Parliament in early March.  Most Conservatives voted against the bill.


  1. The international head of Amnesty International has said that the Harper government’s policies on the Middle East, corporate social responsibility, and refugees means Canada is no longer seen as a champion of human rights—and Canadians should think about that during the election.

  2. The international head of Amnesty International has said that Canada is no longer seen as a champion of human rights—and Canadians should think about that during the election. “The world has always seen Canada as a human rights champion, but it’s increasingly ending up on the wrong side of important human rights debates,” said Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty. Canada’s longstanding reputation as an international human rights champion has all but disappeared in recent years, with the country now seen as “part of the problem, rather than the solution,” Shetty noted as he released a report in Ottawa on March 31.“The world has always looked to leadership from Canada and it has benefitted from Canada’s strong position on human rights … That leadership however seems to have disappeared from the world stage.” The report listed several reasons for Canada’s new, negative status: the refusal to impose tougher rules for mining companies working abroad, the treatment of asylum seekers, recent cuts to NGOs working on development, as well as women’s and human rights, and Ottawa’s Middle East policy, specifically Harper’s “unflinching refusal” to criticize Israel’s human rights record. Shetty also pointed out that the Harper government was one of the few not to call for President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate resignation during Egyptian uprisings in January and February.

  3. Jason Kenney rapidly changed the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. According to journalist Jim Cresky: “The migration department he was given by Stephen Harper was a house built on policy and practice laid by Liberals and Mulroney Progressive Conservatives and shaped by Charter rulings, public consultations and politics—lots of politics …. Correctly seen from outside Canada, it was one of the best immigration and refugee systems in the world. But it was also inclined to dysfunction … In the course of undertaking his ministerial responsibilities for the protection of refugees, Kenney came across a vote-harvesting scheme that actually had nothing to do with refugees or their protection. Its subject was fear. Kenney—with some help from Prime Minister Harper and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews—used the arrival of two boatloads of Tamil asylum seekers in an attempt to prod public opinion toward the idea that "bogus" refugee claimants were overrunning Canada. Pretending to punish smugglers—who were largely phantoms out of reach of Canadian authority—he put forward Bill C-49, which resolutely set out policies that would punish the refugees themselves. C-49 was a profoundly flawed piece of work that proposed building special prisons for refugees who had the good luck to escape to Canada from foreign murder and mayhem but the bad luck to have been caught using the help of a smuggler … Kenney's refugee legacy has been deeply disappointing. The number of asylum seekers needing protection and allowed into Canada has declined markedly on his watch. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report released this week charted a 30 per cent drop in the number of applications for asylum in Canada … At the same time, Kenney's publicly disparaging comments about whole groups of refugees have raised concerns that his department's appointed refugee judges are being influenced. For that reason, the immigration minister holds the power of life and death over a refugee claimant … If he said, as he did, that Mexican and Czech Roma refugees were systematically abusing the system or that US Iraq War resisters were fraudsters or "bogus," how many of his department's judges would want to prove him wrong? ..."

  4. From Rights Action: “The March 28, 2011, filing of this gang-rape lawsuit against HudBay Minerals, by 11 Mayan Q'eqchi' women from the remote village of Lote 8, follows upon the December 1, 2010 lawsuit filed against HudBay for the killing (wrongful death) of Adolfo Ich.

    Klippensteins is the law firm representing both the Lote 8 rape victims and Angelica Choc, widow of Adolfo Ich. Rights Action is funding and working directly with Mayan-Q'eqchi' families and communities in the nickel-mining affected region of El Estor, Guatemala, including the families and communities involved in these two lawsuits.

    In response, HudBay has claimed "This Canadian legal action is the first and only account of these shocking accusations received to date by HudBay or its subsidiaries."

    Rights Action, Dr. Catherine Nolin and the student signatories are surprised at this response, given that the Human Rights Complaint was sent to HudBay by email on October 19, 2010, as was the original Complaint, sent July 5, 2010.

    We submit this information, again, to the Canadian government and elected officials and to HudBay Minerals.”