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September 16, 2009

The Fallacy of Harper's Principled Foreign Policy

Dr. Mohamed Bakr

Mohamed BakrDuring a trip overseas almost three years ago, I met with a Middle Eastern professor whom I had known for a long time. We talked about many issues, such as freedom of speech and human rights. I bragged to him about Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and how our government is keen on pushing for human rights worldwide.

To my embarrassment, he referred me to an article published in one of their newspapers on that day. This article mentioned that Syria summoned the Canadian ambassador to express its condemnation of Canada’s stance regarding human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. A few days earlier, Canada was the only country to vote in an international meeting against a resolution condemning land dispossession by Israel and other inhuman practices against the native Syrian population. This was my first experience of the Conservative government’s stance on human rights.

I remembered this conversation as I listened to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech, which was leaked last week. I did not bother that much with the part where he claimed that Liberals would raise taxes, whereas he would not. Raising taxes may not be popular but it may be the right thing to do in some cases. I did not bother either with his labeling the NDP and the Bloc Québécois as socialists and separatists. After all, name-calling is always a part of the political game.

The part that really annoyed me came when Mr. Harper talked about the change that he made to Canada’s foreign policy. He said: “we are taking a principled stance when it comes to human rights and democracy around the world.” He was attributing principled stances in Canada’s foreign policy to Conservatives and claiming that Liberals lacked such ideals. This statement has hardly any truth in it!

When Pierre Trudeau made his visit to Cuba, he was taking a strong, principled stance against the U.S.’s blind boycott and suffocation of the island nation. When Jean Chrétien refused to join the neocons’ illegal war on Iraq, he took a historic, principled stance that he will always be remembered for. Mr. Harper was not only a supporter of this war, but he also wanted to get the Canadian army involved. Now, several years later, the thick neocon fog is dissipating from the skies over the U.S., and Canada’s Conservatives do not want to talk about how they wanted to send Canadian youth to die in a foreign land in a war that lacked any moral grounds!

In his speech, Mr. Harper was wrong to claim that Liberals lacked principled foreign policies, and it was hard to identify any specific principles in his government’s foreign policy. For example, while we condemn human right violations in China, we turn a blind eye to well-documented gross human rights violations by Israel, most of which were exposed by local Israeli human rights groups. While we condemn electoral fraud in countries like Zimbabwe and Iran, we turn a blind eye to gross electoral fraud in countries considered as allies, such as Egypt and Jordan. Our government did praise the recent “free” elections in Afghanistan, but it was the first country to cut all aid to Palestinians as punishment for holding a rare free election in the Middle East. We can simply say that Canada’s foreign policy is shaped not by any constant moral principles but rather by interests.

The U.S. holds an annual international vote to see how the rest of the world sees its policies. I hope one day that our government will have the courage to organize such an independent referendum. When this happens, it will realize how much Canada’s international image has deteriorated during the Harper era. Maybe then the Conservatives will admit that their alleged principled foreign policy is nothing but a fallacy.

Dr. Mohamed Bakr is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Ontario.

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