Canada’s image on the world stage has taken a severe beating over the last while. If we were unaware of how far we had fallen from international grace, our failure to capture the UN Security Council seat at the beginning of October forced us to realize the truth: Canada is no longer an international darling.
And, for the most part, commentators agree that it has been our recent foreign policy decisions that lost us the seat. Apparently, the world did not look kindly on our reduction of African aid, our undying and unquestioning support of Israel, and our lack-lustre peacekeeping efforts. Our reputation for protecting the underdog is dead, and apparently, that reputation was a large source of the international community’s respect for us.
So, did our failure to achieve the Security Council seat impact subsequent foreign policy discussions? Did we make efforts to return to the principles for which Canada has been respected in the past? Absolutely not.
Since the beginning of October, Canada has dealt with two important foreign policy bills: Bill C-300, or the “Responsible Mining Act”, and Bill C-49, or the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing the Canada Immigration System Act.”
The mining bill would have imposed supervision from the Canadian government on Canadian mining companies operating internationally.
Essentially, the bill would have ensured that all Canadian mining companies, either operating within Canada or abroad, would have to adhere to the same standards for environmental safety and good corporate practices. The bill was meant to address the lack of similar legislation in some of the developing countries in which the companies are operating.
The mining industry, however, claimed that such an act would put Canadian companies at a competitive disadvantage and suggested that companies would leave Canada in search of less demanding legislation. On October 27th, the Canadian Parliament actually voted against the bill, choosing to allow mining companies to continue their unsupervised operations based on their “but everybody else is doing it” defense.
So much for defending the little guy – by voting down the bill, the government has essentially given big business free reign to squish him under their giant boot.
For the past month, the Harper government has been trying to sell Canada on a new bill addressing human smuggling and immigration. Bill C-49 is the government’s reaction to the two boats of Tamil refugees that arrived here in British Columbia this year. The bill, released on October 21, is supposedly meant to crack down on human smugglers, both by imposing stiffer penalties on the smugglers themselves, and by making Canada a less appealing destination for their human cargo. In truth, the bill appears to be as anti-refugee as it is anti-smuggler.
Under current immigration law, a refugee has to be on Canadian soil in order to ask for amnesty. In order to get to Canada to make that claim legally, the refugee must be able to obtain a visa, which is often next to impossible to obtain in their home countries. So, many refugees get to Canada illegally, without a visa. If the new act is instated, these migrants would be automatically detained for up to a year, and would lose their right to a detention hearing within 48 hours of their arrival. Also, they would be put on probation for five years, unable to travel outside Canada, with no right to sponsor their families and no right to apply for permanent resident status.
Several organizations, including Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have said that the new bill violates several treaties and charters and unfairly punishes refugees.
This is not the Canada the world wants, and it is not the Canada I want. When we as citizens discuss our Canadian identity, don’t we usually cite our generosity and social justice as some of our most important traits? Aren’t we proud of the fact that Canada has always been a close partner with the UN, particularly on humanitarian issues? Lately, we have been acting like we value big business and isolation above human fairness. When did we start believing that every refugee is a threat? When did we become so infatuated with big business that we are willing to turn a blind eye to their moral failings? And why, when the world is so obviously disgusted with our behaviour, are we refusing to change?