Ashamed to wear the Maple LeafMaude Barlow
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Jan. 04, 2010 5:42PM EST Last updated on Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2010 8:30AM EST
As a new year and a new decade begin, it is time to accept an unpleasant reality: Canada's international reputation as a progressive middle power is gone. Instead, our country is increasingly seen as a human-rights-denying eco-outlaw that has lost its way and its special status as a standard bearer for a better world. This change is largely the doing of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the ideology that has motivated him and his mentors for decades.
Let's start with the fact that while Canadians were resting over the holiday, Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament, thus cancelling the committee hearings into his government's handling of the Afghan detainee affair. This move allowed the Prime Minister to duck allegations that Canadian troops turned over innocent civilians for torture at the hands of Afghan authorities as well as his government's shameful treatment of Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, whose testimony before a House of Commons committee in November blew the issue into an international story and embarrassed Mr. Harper on the eve of his important first trip to China.
There are growing calls in Canada and internationally for an investigation into whether Canada has violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by knowingly turning over civilians to torture, calls that the government hopes will get lost in the post-Olympic euphoria when Parliament resumes.
Proroguing Parliament also puts time and distance between the Prime Minister and his shameful performance at the December summit on climate change held in Copenhagen, where Canada was held up as an example of the worst practices. Not only is Canada among the top 10 greenhouse-gas emitters in the world, but it is the only country to ratify and then abandon the Kyoto Protocol, announcing weeks before the talks that it would be a failure.
Mr. Harper's government continues to promote unlimited growth in the Alberta oil sands – Canada's Mordor – the fastest-growing source of pollution emissions in the country, and this fact was repeatedly cited by delegates from the global South as a barrier to their commitment to reducing their own emissions. Author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot called Canada a “corrupt petro-state” and said the country's failure in Copenhagen outweighs all the good it has done in a century.
During the summit, climate-change activists in London took down the flag at the Canadian High Commission and drenched it in oil, an action that received widespread attention there, though not in Canada.
Under Mr. Harper, Canada has also abandoned its traditional support of human-rights initiatives at the United Nations. In 2007, Canada was one of a handful of countries to vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which sets out global human-rights standards for indigenous communities and was supported by the vast majority of UN members. Human-rights and aboriginal groups pointed to a well-funded campaign of the Harper government to derail the accord and charged it with giving in to big-business demands for access to the lucrative energy and mineral wealth on native lands.
Similarly, Canada has refused to support the call at the UN for the right to water, even though billions of people are suffering from the inability to get a clean supply simply because it has a price they cannot meet. A powerful international movement is calling for a covenant to ensure equitable access to the dwindling global supplies of fresh water; to the bafflement of the international community, Canada is not among the growing list of countries on side.
And let's not forget that the global expansion of Canadian mining operations has been accompanied in many cases by environmental disaster, displacement of indigenous peoples and numerous human-rights abuses. In many communities in the global South, the name Canada is connected with injustice. Yet Mr. Harper refuses to support calls to set even the most basic standards for these mining emissaries abroad.
I am personally ashamed of my country as I travel internationally. In a world calling out for new models of justice, conflict resolution and environmental stewardship, Canada could be playing such a powerful role as it has done in the past. Stephen Harper with a majority frightens me.
Maude Barlow is national chair of the Council of Canadians