O Canada!

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In April, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, said “Canada didn’t get involved in the Commonwealth to accommodate evil; we came to combat it. We are deeply disappointed that Sri Lanka appears poised to take on this leadership role”.  At one time it seemed that Canada would not be represented at the CHOGM in Colombo in November because of PM Stephen Harper’s criticisms of Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Baird said that the Commonwealth was failing its greatest test by letting Sri Lanka host the November summit. “We’re tremendously concerned about the deteriorating and authoritative trend of the government in Sri Lanka”. He might also have said that he was concerned about the large numbers of Tamils living, voting and donating in Canada.

Douglas Adams, creator of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wrote that if the USA often behaved like a teenage hooligan, Canada was an intelligent woman in her mid-30s. There was once a rather condescending game: “Name ten famous Canadians”. Huffington Post has a feature on important Canadians which attracted this comment: “The worse is those top 50 or top 25 lists of Canadian inventions. A Swedish inventor, who  taught in Canada, and then moved to the US, where he invented something, counts as a Canadian, just because he briefly spent some time teaching in Canada.” Wikipedia’s list of noteworthy Canadians includes European monarchs who once had jurisdiction over parts of the territory now known as Canada.  More ludicrous still there is a list of “famous” fictional Canadians.

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In all fairness now, there are Canadians of real stature. Canada is the land of The Band – or at least Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel. How could we forget Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young? Many distinguished Canucks go south. JK Galbraith managed the difficult task of writing elegantly about economics. He was six foot eight and Canadian but was US ambassador to India. Marshall “the medium is the message” McLuhan did not write so elegantly but came up with some memorable phrases – “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness”. He also said:”I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say”.

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Canada still retains some of its reputation as a country in North America which is not the USA and which is relatively decent. There are no signs of Mexico achieving even this faint-praise status. However, Canada’s role as a boring but decent human rights champion was always somewhat illusory. In 2012 three UN expert committees rated Canada’s performance on meeting rights commitments — and found it wanting. An Amnesty International report found “a range” of “ongoing and serious human rights challenges,” especially for indigenous peoples. Those “challenges” have been “ongoing” from the time the white settlers first encountered the indigenous population. According to Reverend Kevin Daniel Annett, there was a “Canadian Holocaust” which killed 25 million people. Annett claims that over 50,000 aboriginal children are still missing and unaccounted for.

Canadian prosperity has long been tied to the existence of an “extractive frontier” where population densities were very low, and natural resources were abundant, untapped and essentially free. Inexpensive access to new lands depended upon a policy of keeping Aboriginal peoples separate and unequal, with neither the rights nor the power to demand full value for their labour and materials – or the land which was stolen from them.

Canada is today more than ever confronted by the resource curse. There are large deposits of bitumen under a forest in Alberta and oil companies invested $160 billion to exploit them. The Projects approved so far could excavate a forest area six times the size of New York City. The expected market in the US has been disappointing and the Canadian government has been looking to China. Three notoriously untransparent and environmentally-unfriendly state-owned Chinese oil companies have spent more than $20 billion buying oil sand rights in Alberta.

A secret document leaked to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) said: “To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.” That means “get the cash and forget about the environment and human rights”.

The Economist is not normally thought of as left wing or bleeding-heart. It describes Canadian PM Stephen Harper as a bully with a determined habit of rule-breaking. Political analyst, Lawrence Martin, says that Harper has broken “new ground in the subverting of the democratic process.”

Environmental protection laws, such as the Fisheries Act, have been rewritten to favour the oil companies. National park funding has been cut by 20 percent. CBC has suffered cutbacks as punishment for criticism of Harper.

The leaked document makes little reference to Canada’s traditional peacemaking role or to providing aid in disasters. Canada used to be represented by a highly respected diplomatic corps. Harper appointed the head of his security detail to be ambassador to Jordan. When he first came to office Harper said: “I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide and we do that. But I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values, our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights. They don’t want to sell that out to the almighty dollar. Six years later, foreign policy is little more than a tool to give Canada profit or access to China.

According to the Sunday Observer dated August 18, representatives of Canada were in Sri Lanka on an advance visit to inspect the arrangements for the forthcoming CHOGM 2013. It seems that Harper himself will not personally defile himself by attending but will be sending Baird.

He that fracks tar sands will be defiled.

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