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April 6, 2012

Kenney, Faux Defender of Human Rights

Reuel S. Amdur

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In his recent condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, charged that IAW organizers had misplaced priorities.

“While singling out the only liberal democracy in the Middle East for condemnation,” he said, “the organizers of IAW ignore Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal slaughter of his own people and the suppression of basic human rights throughout many countries in the Middle East.”  Liberal leader Bob Rae has made similar comments.

To begin, Kenney’s criticism is highly contentious.  How does he know what organizers of IAW have or have not said or done about other human rights violations in the world? 

In fact, many of the IAW protesters, Canadians from the Middle East and their allies, have been in the forefront of protests against human rights violations throughout the region.  Their concern about Palestinian rights is part of the package.  Let us not forget that Harper’s Tories were lukewarm about the democracy movement in Egypt, out of its consideration for Israeli interests.

A liberal democracy, one would suppose, respects minority rights and freedom of expression.  Is Kenny aware of Israel’s law making it illegal to call for a boycott of the West Bank settlements?  Amnesty International is concerned about this law.  Is Kenney? 

Is he aware of the ongoing campaign of house demolitions in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Negev?   Human Rights Watch has been critical about serious limitations on freedom of movement in the West Bank.  They have noted that even ambulances are held up at checkpoints for extended periods of time.  Any comment, Mr. Kenney?

But let’s take Kenney’s point.  There are more serious human rights violations than those perpetrated by Israel.  China is a prime example.  It leads the world in the number of executions.  It persecutes Uighur and Tibetan minorities, actively working to undermine their distinctive cultures.  It imprisons human rights lawyers and other human rights activists.  It persecutes the Falun Gong religious movement.  Torture in custody is commonplace.

While singling out IAW for supposedly ignoring other even more serious human rights violators, Kenney and his cabinet buddies fail to speak out forcefully about Chinese human rights abuses, even at a time when China is doing everything in its power to protect Assad from criticism of his behavior in Syria. 

Not only are they not denouncing the Chinese human rights violations, they are crawling in bed with these torturers and executioners who are actively engaged in cultural genocide.  Would Kenney and the Conservative government endorse and give active support to an annual Chinese Cultural Genocide Week?

Of course, there are other human rights issues in the world today.  Russia is a graveyard for investigative reporters.  Treatment of Roma in Italy and Central and Eastern Europe, not to mention France, has even resulted in murders.  There is physical violence, third-rate segregated education, and forced residential segregation.  Kenney has spoken–to condemn Roma who attempt to get status in Canada.

Then there is Guantanamo. 

Has any criticism of the United States for its behavior in Guantanamo passed Kenney’s lips?  And in fact Canada has played a role in the serious mistreatment of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr in Guantanamo, and the Harper government is still dragging its feet to delay Khadr’s return to Canada. 

There are other cases in which the Tories have violated the rights of Canadian citizens.  Take the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik, whom Lawrence Cannon, the then-Foreign Minister, publicly denounced as a threat to national security.  It took the courts to force the Tories to allow him to return to Canada.  What about that, Jason Kenney?  The Harper government also hamstrung the investigation by the Military Police Complaints Commission into Canada’s role in abusive treatment of Afghan detainees.

In short, Jason Kenney and the Tory government more generally are hardly the ardent defenders of human rights–not in China, not in Guantanamo, not in Europe, not in the Middle East, not in Afghanistan, and not even for its own citizens. 

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