Canada, Progressive eh?

Wednesday 9 July 2008, by Ceyda Turan

In Canada, we like to think that we live in a progressive country, a country that stands for peace, human rights and democracy. However a quick look at Canada’s stance on some of the most pressing issues at home and abroad suggests otherwise.

While Canada condemns other countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan for their human rights violations, the Federal government does not shy away from violating the rights Canada’s indigenous population which includes some of the world’s most marginalized and frequently victimized peoples. The Canadian government has admitted to the United Nations that the situation of Indigenous peoples is “the most pressing human rights issue facing Canadians.” Yet on 13 September 2007, Canada rejected the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the UN General Assembly by an overwhelming majority vote of 144 to 4. As to why, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, John McNee, said that Article 26 of the UN declaration which states that “Indigenous peoples have the rights to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired” was “overly broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations.” Stephen Harper’s apology to the indigenous people earlier this year did not take any concrete steps to set things right, but was rather followed by his refusal to fast-track payments to the very people to whom he apologized.

Let’s talk about our supposed peace-loving nature. Despite growing public opposition to Canada’s involvement in NATO’s Afghanistan mission, Stephan Harper and Stéphane Dion recently joined hands to extend the Canadian combat mission in Afghanistan until 2011.
Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier set the record straight for those that might be confused. Talking about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, he infamously said on July 14,2005 “We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people.” Unfortunately, we cannot pride ourselves on the fact that Canada did not become involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Canadian companies continue to make great financial gains in supplying the United States with weapons and military equipment (See Stephen Kerr’s book, Meet Canada, the Global Arms Dealer).

On the democracy front, Canada cannot really enjoy a clear conscience either. While Harper cut all aid to the Palestinians, in essence starving them for having won a democratic election Canada supported, he happily proceeded to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the Colombian government. He seemingly chose to ignore the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his top government and military officials are connected to paramilitary death squads. The implication being that Canada can stand firmly behind regimes that have perpetrated violence against civilians during 60-years of armed conflict.

As we celebrate Canada day, we need to acknowledge that Canada is not the country that we imagine it to be. It is time to wake up and face the facts. Canada can be the peace-making, democracy promoting, human right defending country that we aspire for it to be, but we need to get going and start building it.

À propos de Ceyda Turan

Titulaire d’une maîtrise en développement international de l’Université de Londres (SOAS) en Angleterre, Ceyda détient également un diplôme en science politique et développement international de l’Université McGill. Originaire de Turquie et ayant étudié dans le monde en développement, elle connaît bien les enjeux du développement international. Elle a un intérêt marqué pour des questions touchant les droits humains et a entre autres collaboré au Kurdish Human Rights Project de Londres comme traductrice en plus d’assumer le poste de secrétaire de la section locale d’Amnistie Internationale à SOAS. Avant de se joindre à l’Institut des politiques sociales et de la santé de l’université McGill en tant qu’assistante de recherche et de communication, elle travaillait au sein du programme immigration et employabilité d’Alternatives. Elle continue contribuer au Journal Alternatives.

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