Monday, June 6, 2016

The Cowardly Canadian Liberal Government

Michael Petrou: Dion’s silence was embarrassing as China’s foreign affairs minister berated a Canadian reporter

rs WChina's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (left) and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion leave following the press conference.
Justin Tang / The Canadian PressChina's Minister of Foreign Affaiang Yi (left) and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion leave following the press conference.
There may have been a scenario in which Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and came away looking more subservient than he did Wednesday, but it takes some imagining.
Wang could have blown his nose on a Canadian flag and handed it to Dion, for example, or maybe given Dion a wedgie
As it was, Dion simply looked on and said nothing as Wang berated iPolitics reporter Amanda Connolly for asking a perfectly reasonable question (agreed to with journalists from other media outlets present) about China’s atrocious human rights record — specifically the disappearance of several Hong Kong booksellers, and the arrest and detention of Canadian Kevin Garratt on espionage charges. His wife Judy was also arrested, but later released.
For the record, here is exactly what Connolly asked: “There are no shortage of concerns about China’s treatment of human rights advocates, such as the Hong Kong booksellers, and its detention of the Garratts, not to mention the destabilizing effects of its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. Given these concerns, why is Canada pursuing closer ties with China, how do you plan to use that relationship to improve human rights and security in the region, and did you specifically raise the case of the Garratts during your talks?”
Wang told Connolly her question was full of prejudice and arrogance and was “unacceptable.”
At this point, the honourable thing for Dion to do would have been to remind Wang that Canada is a democracy in which journalists have the right to ask whatever they damn well please.
There is a precedent for a foreign dignitary coming to Canada and abusing Ottawa’s hospitality by acting like a chest-thrusting popinjay. In 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle stood on a balcony at Montreal City Hall, surveyed the crowd beneath him, and told them that the cheering throngs he had witnessed earlier reminded him of returning to Paris following its liberation from the Nazis. Then uttered his famous cri de coeur: “Vive le Québec! Vive le Québec libre.”
The message was that Canada was fascist state whose citizens, at least the French ones, needed to be freed.
De Gaulle’s offence was worse. But then, Canada’s response to it was greater
Wang neatly inverted this narrative. The problem with Canada, he implied, is that Canada isn’t quite fascist — or Communist, or socialist, or however China brands its brand of totalitarianism these days — enough. It allows journalists to run around willy-nilly questioning authority figures about things that are not of their business. In China, that sort of thing just isn’t done.
De Gaulle’s offence was worse. But then, Canada’s response to it was greater. Prime minster Lester Pearson said Canadians, all of them, were free and did not need to be liberated. Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau publicly wondered how the French would react were a Canadian prime minister to visit France and champion Breton independence. De Gaulle went home early.
Pierre Trudeau’s son, of course, is now prime minister. Justin Trudeau once responded to a question asking what nation he admires most by saying, “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.”
Well, yes. Having hundreds of thousands of effective serfs at your disposal does give one’s economy a certain agility.
But now Wang has highlighted one of the concomitant effects of economic dictatorship, namely total dictatorship.
His outburst may seem like a small thing, and compared to the treatment the Chinese government inflicts on dissident journalists in China, it is. And yet by telling a journalist what is or isn’t an “acceptable” question, he was attacking a foundational freedom of Canadian democracy: that of journalists to hold politicians accountable.
Trudeau gets this, when it suits him. During the campaign last fall, he chided his supporters for heckling a journalist.
“Hey! We have respect for journalists in this country. They ask tough questions and they’re supposed to,” he said then.
That’s all Dion needed to say to Wang Wednesday. It’s a message Trudeau could have delivered, too. As of Wednesday night, he hadn’t. His Twitter feed showed a photo of him meeting Wang in Ottawa. Trudeau said he was honoured to host him. Making nice with China may be good business, but as Wang reminded us, there’s nothing honourable about it.
National Post
Michael Petrou is a non-resident fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. His latest book is Is This Your First War? Travels Through the Post-9/11 Islamic World.