Tuesday, 06 December 2016 17:53

The ‘One China’ Policy is a Diplomatic Lie

Commentary by Jonathan Manthorpe in Vancouver

How does Donald Trump’s mind work? The Beijing government hasn’t a clue; neither does the rest of the world. Maybe the president-elect’s thinking is a mystery even to himself.

Sensibly, Chinese Communist Party leaders have opted not to interpret Trump’s telephone conversation on Friday with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as a deliberate act jettisoning nearly 40 years of careful obfuscation that has kept the peace between Washington and Beijing.

Instead, the men behind the high red wall of the Zhongnanhai leaders’ compound in Beijing decided to say that the phone call was a “petty trick” by Tsai. “For Trump,” said a state-controlled newspaper, “it exposed nothing but his transition team’s inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.”

So Beijing has decided that for the moment there should be no crisis. Trump, though, seems reluctant to go along with that idea and appears, in fact, to be setting up the Beijing regime as a whipping boy. On Sunday evening he used his preferred method of communication with the world — Twitter — to say:

“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into … their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”

This suggests that, unlike the other promises he has already abandoned, Trump might charge ahead with his campaign vow to stick massive duties on Chinese imports.

That could pose a threat to the survival in power of the Chinese Communist Party — whose Mandate of Heaven is now expressed in the growth of China’s gross domestic product. And that is a far more pressing question for Beijing than the fate of Taiwan

But the Taiwan question cannot be ignored. The Communist Party claims the island and its 23 million people are “a renegade province” that must be gathered into the bosom of Mother China — by force if necessary. Three generations of Chinese have been indoctrinated at school with this mantra, even though it has little historic, legal or political merit. But there is a long history of authoritarian states being mauled to death by the hyper-nationalism they have fostered in order to stay in power.

So there are reasons to applaud the phone call between Trump and Tsai. It is shining a bright light on the iniquities visited upon the people of Taiwan, a vibrant democracy with one of the world’s most successful and sophisticated economies, by the sleazy deal between Washington and Beijing.

The breach of protocol established in 1979 would be far more welcome if someone more trustworthy than Trump were about to become the U.S. president. It’s hard to believe that Trump will see through what he started on Friday, that the ridiculous “one China policy” will be ditched, and that Taiwan will be able to take its proper position as an internationally recognized independent nation.

As with so many U.S. diplomatic follies of the last half century, the blame for this one can be laid at the feet of Henry Kissinger.

Like Trump, Kissinger’s capacity for self-promotion has successfully masked his lack of more useful talents. In 1971, Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor when he went to Beijing to negotiate with Premier Zhou En-lai the establishment of diplomatic relations.

At the time, Washington still recognized as the legitimate government of China the old Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-shek, which had fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.

Premier Zhou played Kissinger like a violin. Despite Nixon’s insistence that Taiwan’s independence must be guaranteed, Kissinger told Zhou that he could foresee the island becoming part of China. He also agreed to “acknowledge” China’s claim to Taiwan. This wording — which the Chinese usually translate as “accept” — has remained part of the problem.

(In contrast, when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was negotiating Canada’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing, he insisted that Ottawa would only “note” the Communist Party’s claim to Taiwan. Most other countries have followed the Canadian model.)

The establishment of Washington-Beijing diplomatic relations meant that the fiction that the Chiang regime in Taiwan was the true government of China could not continue. In 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the U.S. ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan — though, like most other countries (including Canada), it keeps an unofficial embassy in Taipei and continues to have a military and intelligence relationship with the government.

With this ambiguous diplomatic and legal relationship has gone what is known as the “one China policy,” which Beijing has insisted other governments, especially Washington and Taipei, accept as a condition of economic relations.

In essence this policy says that everyone accepts that there is only “one China.” What constitutes China is left undefined. Beijing, of course, says China includes Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party is its sovereign authority.

In Taiwan, around 90 per cent of the island’s people want to keep their independence. If pushed, they will say there is indeed only one China — but Taiwan is not part of it.

The same goes in Washington. So for nearly 40 years, peace has been maintained across the Taiwan Strait and relations between Beijing and Washington have continued without serious conflict because everyone has agreed to accept there is “one China” without asking what that means.

U.S. administrations have added a couple of other ambiguities to this “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach. There is domestic legislation — the 1979 Taiwan Affairs Act — which requires Washington to help defend Taiwan if it is attacked. It is left up to each Washington administration, however, to decide how enthusiastically it rushes to Taiwan’s defence. As U.S.-China economic interdependence has grown, it has become less and less likely that any Washington administration would go to the wall for 23 million Taiwanese, even if they are part of the democracy circle.

And in a sop to Beijing, successive U.S. presidents have kept well away from any formal or even informal association with their Taiwanese counterparts.

That’s why Trump’s phone conversation with Tsai stands out.

It’s not entirely clear that it has dawned on Trump yet that, on January 20, he will become the U.S. president. He is still acting like someone who just won a game show and is revelling in the attention showered on him by groupies.

Whether the phone call means anything more than that will be seen after January 20.

Republished under arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Commentary

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

It’s been 100 days since the Iranian regime imprisoned Concordia University anthropologist Homa Hoodfar in the country’s notorious Evin Prison. As the Iranian Canadian Congress called on the Trudeau government to re-establish diplomatic ties with the country Wednesday, Hoodfar’s family said they fear re-engagement may come too late to help the imprisoned academic.

“The fact that there’s no relationship means that step one is to establish that relationship, step two is to discuss matters such as my aunts’ case,” said Amanda Ghahremani, Hoodfar’s niece and one of the family’s spokespeople. “So we haven’t even reached a point where this case can be properly engaged with the Iranians. For the case of my aunt I worry that the renewed interest in re-engaging with Iran is coming much too late.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a vow to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran and re-open Canada’s embassy in its capital of Tehran.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper severed ties in 2012, citing Iranian support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, its continued nuclear programme and consistent human rights violations as reasons.

However, that decision has raised serious problems for Iranian-Canadians such as Hoodfar because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship and treats any dual Iranian-Canadians visiting the country as its own and has shown a willingness to punish them for things such as criticizing the regime or conducting research in areas it deems unsuitable.

The latter appears to be the case with Hoodfar, who has built a name for herself studying the intersections of gender and sexuality in Islamic religious tradition.

While the exact charges against her are not known and there’s no date set for a trial, she is rumoured to be accused of “collaborating with a hostile government, propaganda against the state, and ‘dabbling in feminism.’”

While Ghahremani says she has been in constant contact with consular officials working to liaise with her about her aunt’s case, she stressed the lack of direct engagement between consular officials and the Iranian government has likely led to unnecessary delays.

“This is of course a constant roadblock in terms of how quickly things can progress,” said Ghahremani.”It’s been 100 days that my aunt’s been in prison and that’s 100 days too many. If there had been direct diplomatic relations, I’m speculating but I assume that a lot of the engagement could have happened much quicker.”

Speaking during a press conference to announce the launch of a new e-petition, Iranian Canadian Congress president Bijan Ahmadi urged the government to prioritize re-engagement with Iran in order to ensure it can protect Iranian Canadians, who he says “have suffered disproportionately” from Harper’s severing of ties.

“After four years it is now evident that this policy to sever diplomatic ties with Iran has failed,” Ahmadi said. “Diplomatic rapprochement at this point will not only ensure Canada stands with its allies … but also will strengthen Canada’s historical role of promoting peace.”

The e-petition, number 553, launched last week and currently has more than 5,500 signatures from Canadians.

It is sponsored by Liberal MP Majid Jowhari, who also spoke to reporters Wednesday and said he thinks the e-petition “provides a piece of evidence that would be hard to ignore” to show Canadians want their government to re-engage.

Jowhari largely stuck to repeating past government statements when asked whether there is a timeline for re-opening the embassy and what concrete steps are being taken to pursue breaking the diplomatic ice.

“There are a lot of common elements that both parties need to reach an agreement,” he said. “We will take this step by step.”

When asked directly what the government is doing to pursue its pledge of re-engagement, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said the same thing.

“We have repeated our commitment to re-engage with Iran in a step-by-step manner,” said Chantal Gagnon, press secretary for the minister.

Gagnon acknowledged not having diplomatic ties as the government tries to secure Hoodfar’s release makes the issue much more difficult.

“The challenges posed by the absence of a diplomatic presence cannot be underestimated,” she said. “Privacy considerations and the fact this is an active case prevent us from discussing Government involvement in further detail, however rest assured that this case is a priority for us.”

It’s expected the issue of Hoodfar’s imprisonment will be a prominent topic at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which Trudeau will be attending next week.

Twenty former UN rapporteurs released a statement Wednesday calling for Hoodfar to be released and adding their voices to a growing global call for her case to be resolved, which includes 5,000 academics from around the world who signed a petition earlier this summer.

The calls are taking on increasing urgency as Hoodfar’s health deteriorates. On Wednesday, an Iranian hard-line judge dismissed her lawyer and appointed one he preferred.

Published under arrangement with iPolitics.ca

Published in International

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.

In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.

Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.

His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.

The launch took the form of a conversation between Segal and Jennifer Ditchburn, Editor-in-Chief of Policy Options, the magazine affiliated with IRPP.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences . . ."[/quote]

More foreign aid

Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.

“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.

“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.

He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.

“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action . . . [/quote]

Increase military capacity

Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.

“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”

He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”

Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”

“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy.”[/quote]

Decline since Chrétien era 

“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.

Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.

Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.

Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.

“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.


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Published in Books
Thursday, 07 April 2016 13:17

Sajjan Launches Defence Policy Review

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan yesterday launched the Liberal government’s Defence Policy Review, including the appointment of four prominent foreign affairs and defence experts to advise him on shaping the direction of the new government’s defence policy.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa, Sajjan pledged to listen to the different perspectives and views that will emerge from Canadians, allies and advisors in the first review of Canada’s military policy in nearly two decades.

In particular, four names will carry special weight as part of Sajjan’s advisory council: former Supreme Court justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, former foreign affairs and defence minister Bill Graham, former Chief of the Defence Staff retired Gen. Ray Henault and Margaret Purdy, former deputy secretary to the Cabinet (Security and Intelligence) in the Privy Council Office.

“My goal is to establish a renewed vision for our military that will be nested in our foreign policy,” said Sajjan. “The role of this panel will be to provide me with the insight and perspective that comes from their many years of experience.”

All four have been appointed by the Privy Council Office but Sajjan did not say how much they are being paid for their insight, nor did he provide a total budget for the defence policy review.

The government is preparing to ramp up on two other high-profile policy reviews of its cyber preparedness as well as its international aid priorities, and demonstrated during its integrated roll-out of the adjusted mission against ISIS that it views issues such as defence, security, foreign affairs and international development to be interconnected.

However, while Sajjan said the teams at Public Safety and International Development work closely together, he did not say whether there would be any kind of an official liaison working between the departments as they launch their reviews.

Sajjan said earlier this year that he planned to have the defence policy review finished by the end of the year and said Wednesday that public consultations will wrap up July 31.

The government has launched a web portal to allow Canadians to submit their feedback for the review, and will hold six stakeholder roundtables in Toronto, Vancouver, Yellowknife, Edmonton, Montreal, and Halifax before the end of July.

The first of those will take place April 27 in Vancouver.


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Top Stories

by Susan Korah in Ottawa 

Approximately 500 Taiwanese Canadians from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver travelled to Taiwan to vote in the country’s recent presidential election. 

They say they are proud of the democracy in their home country and value it as a precious gift for which their parents and grandparents fought so heroically. 

Most of these voters, who spent between $1,500 and $2000 each on an airline ticket, are in their 50s and 60s, says Jack Chen, a Taiwanese Canadian scientist with Environment Canada living in Ottawa. 

Unlike younger people, who often wish they could go, but don’t have the opportunity, this demographic is more likely to have the time and the financial means to make the trip, he adds. 

“Many of them are first generation immigrants to Canada with strong ties to the home country,” he explains, emphasizing that they also have first-hand experience of living without any civil and political rights under repressive governments. They have a deep appreciation of their hard-won right to vote. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Many first generation Taiwanese Canadians] have a deep appreciation of their hard-won right to vote.[/quote]

Growing up in Taiwan 

Grace Bui, one of the Taiwanese Canadians who made the trip to vote, says she remembers the days of repression in the 1950s. 

“My brother, 15 years older than me, lived his high school years in fear because many of his classmates were dragged away from the classroom and were never seen again,” she recalls. “I could see the fear in his eyes. He warned me never to discuss this because the secret police could take us away.” 

Shin-Youg Shiau, an Ottawa resident and community leader, is another of those first generation Canadian immigrants that Chen refers to. 

“It’s a great sacrifice for us in financial terms,” Shiau explains, just before leaving for Taiwan with his wife to participate in the election. “We not only have to pay for our flights, but also hotel rooms because we don’t have any family left there to stay with.”

He adds, however, that the sacrifice is worth it and that they are happy to have had this opportunity. 

Eligibility of overseas voters 

From the Taiwan government’s point of view, there are certain conditions voters must meet to make them eligible. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Taiwanese voters must be physically present in Taiwan to cast their ballots.[/quote]

“Overseas Taiwanese who want to vote must still possess our citizenship,” explains Simon Sung, Director of Information at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the equivalent of a Taiwanese embassy in Ottawa. 

“They need to maintain a valid household registration in any place in Taiwan and must activate that registration six months before the election so that the local election commission can prepare documents and ballot papers for them,” he adds. “When they show up at the polling station they can cast their votes.” 

Chen, who is also the vice chair of the parents’ advisory council of the Ottawa Mandarin School run by the Ottawa Catholic School Board, was unable to go to Taiwan himself, but closely monitored the campaign and the presidential election on Jan. 16 from Canada. 

He points out that unlike Canadian elections in which non-resident citizens can vote by mail, voters must be physically present in Taiwan to cast their ballots. 

Optimism for the future 

Chen says that regardless of party affiliation, most Taiwanese are proud of the election of Tsai Ing-wen – the country’s first female president – and also of the peaceful transfer of power. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our democracy has become strong and mature and we are all proud of that.”[/quote]

Kuomintang (KMT), the party of defeated President Ma Ying-jeou, was in power for eight years and people wanted a change, but unlike in the election of 2000, there was no violence whatsoever, he adds. 

“Our democracy has become strong and mature and we are all proud of that,” Chen says. 

Louisa Ho, a retired businesswoman from Ottawa, is another Taiwanese citizen who could not make the trip to vote. She also watched the election from overseas and says she is pleased with the final results.  

“Our new president, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen, is very calm and composed and very knowledgeable,” she says. “I’m also happy that her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has won the majority of seats in the legislature because now their new policies and legislation won’t be blocked.” 

Ho adds that most people in Taiwan want to lead peaceful lives with an improved economy.   

Both Ho and Mai Chen (no relation to Jack Chen), a resident of Kingston, Ontario, express hope that the new party in power will restore Taiwan’s ‘space’. They say that under former President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan was leaning too close to China, and they perceived this as a threat to Taiwan’s democracy. 

“If the KMT [party of Ma Ying-jeou] had continued to be in power, there was a distinct possibility that Taiwan could go the way of Hong Kong,” says Mai Chen.

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Published in International

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

The federal government’s 2015 report on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia is in its final stages of preparation, but no date has been set yet for its release to the public, says an official at Global Affairs Canada.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said over the weekend he would release a redacted version of the report upon request when it is completed.

The report, which is separate from the human rights assessment conducted as part of the export approval process for the government’s $15-billion arms deal with the kingdom, is expected to run between 60 to 70 pages and to be similar in style to those posted publicly by the U.S. State Department and the U.K. Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, the human rights assessment completed to meet federal arms export control requirements for the light armoured vehicles deal is not expected to be made public.

It’s been four years since the government last completed a country report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Country reports under the previous Conservative government were not released publicly; Dion said the current government wants to move away from that approach.[/quote]

Country reports under the previous Conservative government were not released publicly; Dion said the current government wants to move away from that approach — and is open to suggestions on how best to balance security concerns with the public’s right to know what the government knows about how human rights are handled in allied countries.

“I have asked my officials to review current practices regarding these reports and to provide me with recommendations,” Dion said in an e-mailed statement. “I want to ensure that we respect the safety and security of identified sources.”

Canada-Saudi relations point of controversy in the past

Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been a source of controversy in recent years. The country has been widely condemned internationally for its treatment of women, religious minorities and political activists; it’s also a powerful Western partner in Middle Eastern affairs.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The country has been widely condemned internationally for its treatment of women, religious minorities and political activists.[/quote]

The State Department’s 2014 assessment of human rights in Saudi Arabia flagged multiple issues ranging from denial of due process and arbitrary arrest to human trafficking, discrimination, citizens’ lack of ability to change their government and “pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children and noncitizen workers.”

The issue of relations with Saudi Arabia popped up briefly during the election campaign, when party leaders were asked whether Canada ought to cancel the deal to provide light armoured vehicles to the Saudi Arabian National Guard — essentially the royal family’s private army.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper defended the deal, saying it didn’t make sense to deprive Canadian workers of the jobs it would bring.

“Look, we express our outrage, our disagreement from time to time with the government of Saudi Arabia for their treatment of human rights,” he said in September. “I don’t think it makes any sense to pull a contract in a way that would only punish Canadian workers instead of actually expressing our outrage against some of these things in Saudi Arabia.”

Speculation of little change to come for Canada-Saudi relations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then debating Harper as leader of the Liberal party, declined to give a clear answer on whether he would scrap the deal — leading to speculation that he would do little to change the relationship if elected.

That’s proved to be the case so far, despite increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is strategically important, for our security and for the security of the region.”[/quote]

Saudi Arabia announced two weeks ago it had killed Nimr al-Nimr, who was charged with terrorism offences over allegations he incited anti-government sentiment during the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’.

Protestors firebombed Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran in response, prompting the kingdom to cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran and urge its allies to do the same.

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and several other countries in the region announced over subsequent days that they were severing or downgrading relations with Tehran — but reaction from Canadian political leaders was tepid.

“Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is strategically important, for our security and for the security of the region,” said interim Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose in a press release.

Dion also issued a press release in which he stressed that Canada regularly chats with Saudi Arabia about what it should do better to protect human rights.

“The Government of Canada raises concerns about human rights and due process with senior Saudi Arabian officials on a regular basis and will continue to do so,” the release said.

“In the wake of these executions, we reiterate our call to the Government of Saudi Arabia to protect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings.”


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Politics

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Canada needs to know it limits before its next intervention abroad, be it military or humanitarian. And be humble about it.

This is the message foreign policy experts apparently want to convey to prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau after he told a rally in Ottawa, “On behalf of 35 million Canadians – we’re back [after having lost our] compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years.”

The experts gathered at the Munk School of Global Affairs on Monday for the launch of Elusive Pursuits: Lessons from Canada’s Interventions Abroad, a Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) book under its Canada Among Nations series.

“Canadian foreign policy will certainly undergo a shift, as Mr. Trudeau has already indicated regarding our role in the fight against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria),” said Fen Osler Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at CIGI, who co-edited the book.

“From global summitry and international coalitions to humanitarian crises, Canada has much to offer on the world stage,” Hampson continued. “Elusive Pursuits offers a unique lens on where Canada’s military presence and foreign aid has been and where it might be heading.”

Making a difference abroad

To be clear, Canadian Forces never stopped deploying, but rather the focus went from United Nations missions to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) efforts, he said.

“But as Canada has always not just been among nations, as the series title suggests, but in them, our politicians may as well be humble about what we can strategically do.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“No world leader gets up wondering what Canada is doing today.”[/quote]

As a middle power, our options will always be limited, said Hampson.

“We are strategy consumers, not producers. The big decisions about military operations are generally made by the United States, our main ally.”

Canada’s tendency is to intervene under the auspices of international institutions as it cannot operate by itself anywhere and can only send a fragment of what is needed to complete any operation. 

“This is not to say that Canada cannot make a difference in many difficult places in the world, but intervention is hard, it is complicated, and it requires more patience than we usually have.  Choosing not to intervene also has consequences,” Hampson explained.

“Today’s wars do not burn themselves out. We need the stamina to stay the course and cannot just get bored and exit.”

Selecting instruments of intervention

Emphasizing Canada’s strategic limitations, Hugh Segal, Master of Massey College and former senator, who wrote the foreword for the book, said, “No world leader gets up wondering what Canada is doing today.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Every choice we make, military or humanitarian, has a collateral implication.”[/quote]

Segal said while the option of looking away is a serious abdication of our role among nations, it is important to carefully select the instrument we choose to intervene with.

“It need not always be deployment of troops,” he stated. “We may let regional players do the job while we help with money. But if we don’t have the right instrument in our tool box, then we shouldn’t intervene.”

However, there is no single magical instrument, cautioned Aisha Ahmad, a panelist at the discussion who wrote a chapter in the book on Canada and Somalia titled “Learning from the Legacy of Failed Intervention”.

“Every choice we make, military or humanitarian, has a collateral implication,” said Ahmad. “Interventions are never neutral.”

Good intentions need to be carefully examined for their practical impact, she added. Feeding people is a great aim, but it could alter existing power relations, as food aid becomes a commodity in the war economy as it did when Canada intervened in Somalia.

Being realistic about our role

Jane Boulden, who wrote a chapter in the book on Syria and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), said the genocide in Rwanda brought the R2P concept to the forefront.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"There is always the need for assistance instead of interference.”[/quote]

But there has been resistance when it is seen as being used for regime change like in the case of Libya and currently Syria, continued Boulden.

Given the interest of the new government in peacekeeping operations, it makes sense to look at past Canadian efforts without the misplaced nostalgia, said Stephen Toope, director of Munk School of Global Affairs.

“I think we have to be realistic about the kind of role we can play. There is always the need for assistance instead of interference.”

In a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen McGill University professor William Watson effectively summed up the need for humility, which anchored the whole panel discussion:

“We apparently never tire of telling the world it needs more Canada,” he wrote. “I find it all cringe-worthy. The best test of that is to ask yourself how the boast you are making about Canada would sound if an American said it about his country. ‘The world needs more USA!’ ‘Yeah, right, buddy.’”

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Published in International
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 16:04

Diaspora Sees Return of Hope Over Iran Deal

by Aziza Hirsi in Toronto

After months of intense negotiations, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations (the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom), plus Germany, struck a deal.

The six countries agreed to lift sanctions on Iran earlier this week on the condition that the country’s nuclear program was to be regulated to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.

The accord not only signals the beginning of the end to the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Iranian regime, but also for many Iranian-Canadians it marks the beginning of restoration of ties between their homeland and the West.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In a survey of just over 200 Iranians living across Canada, the [Iranian Canadian Congress] found that 80 per cent viewed the agreement favourably and felt it would benefit them.[/quote]

“Many Iranian-Canadians feel an agreement is the best opportunity to avoid a devastating war,” announced Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, president of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), in a statement released Tuesday. “Also, many of those in favour of a nuclear agreement believe a negotiated deal will lift the sanctions on Iran, which will improve economic well being of the Iranian people.”

In a survey of just over 200 Iranians living across Canada, the ICC found that 80 per cent viewed the agreement favourably and felt it would benefit them.

Saeed Rahnema, a professor of political science and public policy at York University, agrees the deal will be positive for the region.

“If there was no deal, there would have been more sanctions and the Iranian regime would have resorted to other means,” says Rahnema. This would have created more problems for the U.S. and its allies, eventually leading to another war in the region, he adds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some believe that a nuclear agreement will not have any impact on the human rights condition in Iran or will result in a strengthened Islamic Republic of Iran becoming even less considerate of people’s rights.” - Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, Iranian Canadian Congress[/quote]

The ICC and others continue to express doubts, however, over the impact the nuclear deal will have on efforts to improve human rights in Iran.

“Some believe that a nuclear agreement will not have any impact on the human rights condition in Iran or will result in a strengthened Islamic Republic of Iran becoming even less considerate of people’s rights,” Kahnemuyipour adds. “Others believe that the economic benefits will lead to a strengthening of the middle class – the back bone of any progressive change – ultimately leading to an improvement in individual freedoms and human rights in the country.”

Sayeh Hassan, an Iranian-Canadian lawyer and blogger from Toronto, criticizes what she calls a U.S. agreement with an ‘Islamic dictatorship’. In one tweet, she writes: “#Iran will continue public execution, torture of political dissidents and oppression of religious minorities #IranDealVienna Successful Deal.”

Rahnema agrees.

“A major weakness of the deal is that it has no provision preventing the Iranian regime from its continuous abuse of human rights against Iranians,” he contends. “Obviously the U.S. government, and the Troika (a three-part commission comprised of the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) couldn’t care less about human rights in Iran, and Iranian opposition outside the country was incapable of demanding this.”

Canada-Iran relations at a stalemate

For some Iranian-Canadians, the punitive sanctions on Iran have significantly restricted their connection to family members back home.

Arash Abadpour, a research scientist and blogger based in Kitchener, Ont., finds that the lack of political relations between Canada and Iran has been rather detrimental for the Iranian-Canadian community. “Iran doesn’t have an embassy and as an Iranian-Canadian that hurts me because I want to be able to participate in the elections and I cannot.”

Similarly, Reza Ashkevari, a realtor in the Greater Toronto Area, believes that the economic impact on Iranians, including Iranian-Canadians has been dire. “My parents have property in Iran and collect retirement income from it,” says Ashkevari, “but because the value of the Iranian currency is dropping drastically, my parents are becoming poorer and poorer.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Canada’s position and policies on Iran are very much influenced by its close relationship with Israel. So its position will be different from its American and European allies, but will eventually change.” - Saeed Rahnema, York University professor[/quote]

The lack of positive relations between the two countries can also negatively impact Iranian-Canadian families. “One of my sisters is living in Iran and she applied for a visa for herself and her family,” explains Ashkevari. “One of the effects is that I haven’t seen my sister in 15 years.”

Canada-Iran relations continue to be at a stalemate. A statement released Tuesday by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said: “[Canada] will continue to judge Iran by its actions not its words,” and that the federal government will examine the agreement carefully before making any policy changes. It’s a view echoed by Israel, a close ally of the current Canadian administration.

“Canada’s position and policies on Iran are very much influenced by its close relationship with Israel,” Rahnema says. “So its position will be different from its American and European allies, but will eventually change.”

‘Moon landing’ moment

On Twitter the #IranDeal is inundated with tweets praising the agreement as “historic” and an example of diplomacy succeeding over armed conflict.

The Economist magazine tweeted that while the Iran deal was “not perfect, [it] appears much better than any plausible alternatives.”

One Iranian student, Nima, tweeted, “I won’t forget today. This is our generation’s “moon landing” moment.” And an Iranian based in Tehran, Milad Mansoori, tweeted, “We will come back to our golden ages… Say Hello to world… I am Iranian. Thanks @JZarif @JohnKerry #IranDeal #IranWinsPeace.”

Abadpour confirms that the response on Facebook and Twitter from Iranians has been overwhelmingly positive.

“After the Green Movement (the political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election) you could definitely see a lot of pessimistic views that nothing is going to happen and there is no hope. It was just going to be a disaster all around,” he explains. “But now with this we can definitely see some hope coming back.”

Rahnema is also cautiously optimistic. “It is hard to anticipate what will happen after 10 years,” he says, “but I think there will be changes in Iran for the better.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by Humberta Araújo (@iafuture) in Toronto

While France remained a constant in the news at the top of 2015, with the Charlie Hebdo shooting being covered immensely, there are some stories from the Western Europe region that may have gone less noticed. Here’s a look into what’s been going on in Western Europe and its diaspora, as reported on by a variety of ethnic-media outlets.

Greek-Canadians Apprehensive about Future of Country

Greek Canadians are well aware that things in their homeland’s government are not as they should be. Nevertheless, some good news hit Athens last month, as the Eurozone finance ministers backed reform proposals submitted by Greece.

The European Commission called it a, “valid starting point.” The measures proposed by Greece include combating tax evasion and tackling the smuggling of fuel and tobacco.

According to Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, the agreement, “averted an immediate crisis.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The crisis forced thousands of Greek workers to leave the country last year. The Canadian embassy in Rome has seen applications for work permits and visas nearly double.[/quote]

The firm response of the German authorities to the Greek request for an emergency loan extension had put extra pressure on the new government, which came to power with promises it would halt austerity and renegotiate the country’s bailout (which threw Greeks into despair) with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Hope and optimism have been dwindling for Greek-Canadians who are well aware of the country’s challenges. According to the news portal, http://canada.greekreporter.com/ Helenians have been following the developments coming from Athens with great interest through radio broadcasts and social networks following the January 25 election.

The crisis forced thousands of Greek workers to leave the country last year. The Canadian embassy in Rome has seen applications for work permits and visas nearly double.

Portugal: Let’s be Frank, You Can’t Expect to Get Without Giving 

Portuguese newspapers in Toronto have been echoing the position of the Greek government concerning its relationship with the European Union. The Portugese Sun reported Portugal Prime Minister Passos Coelho’s stance: it is unacceptable that the Greek newly elected government would want money from Europe without assuming responsibilities, he said.

“The Greek government requested the extension of loans,” said Coelho (pictured to the right). “It wants the right to be able to use the money the way it sees fit. However, Athens doesn’t want the responsibility to match up with the obligations framework within which the money should be allocated to Greece. This is not acceptable.”

In addition, the paper reported the reactions of the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rui Machete, who reacted to the statements made by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, indicating the  European rescue program “did wrong to the dignity,” of the Portuguese, Greek and Irish. It proved Portugal should be compensated, added Machete.

Italians, Portuguese and Polish Take Ottawa to Court

A dark shadow hangs over the future of many migrant workers in Canada – particularly from Portugal, Italy, Poland and some Spanish speaking countries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s becoming impossible for migrant laborers who work in areas such as  construction, the food service industry and mechanics to stay in this country as permanent residents.” - Richard Boraks, immigration lawyer[/quote]

According to the Portuguese Sun, about 150 migrants working in construction, 100 of them from Portugal, are taking legal action against the Canadian government for alleged discrimination. The reason: the Canadian authorities are giving priority to immigrants from England, Ireland and France. “It’s becoming impossible for migrant laborers who work in areas such as  construction, the food service industry and mechanics to stay in this country as permanent residents,” said Richard Boraks, immigration lawyer, in the article.

These workers laboring in Canada under the Federal Skill Trades program, “have to go through a very demanding English test to become permanent residents (…) The government is not looking at the workers’ professional skills, but to language proficiency. The test is very difficult, and designed for people from the Commonweath. The government should follow the law and place language skills as a second priority.” According to the Portuguese Sun, around 30,000 temporary work permits have been given to candidates form Ireland, England and France, while a very small number was given to countries where English is not the first language.

This problem has also been voiced by the Spanish language newspaper El Centro, as well as Portuguese newspaper in Toronto, the Milénio Stadium, which reported concerns that these immigrants may be repatriated by the Canadian government in retaliation for their action. This is a fear voiced by many migrant workers and construction businesses in these communities.

SkyGreece Airlines SA to fly to Canada

Good news for Greek-Canadians. According to Greek Reporter the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) has granted permission to SkyGreece Airlines SA to schedule international flights between EU member states and Canada.

“We are extremely happy with the CTA decision and it simply shows our determination to meet and surpass the requirements of the agency as well as the Canadian and Greek consumers,” said Nikolaos Alexandris, account manager and co-founder of SkyGreece Airlines SA, a company with the goal of connecting the Greek diaspora with its homeland by offering non-stop flights between Greece and North America.

The website reports that this private company was founded in October 2012 by a team of Greek-Canadian entrepreneurs “with extensive backgrounds in aviation and tourism.” It is based in Athens with offices located in Montreal, Toronto and New York.

Rome Forced to Face Terrorism Head On

The Isis beheadings of Coptic Christians from Egypt working in Lybia have brought a new challenge to some countries in Western Europe. Fears are mounting, particularly in Italy, after Libya-based Isis associates announced that the terrorist group was looking at Rome. This led the Italian government to call for a UN commanded international intervention. According to several Italian newspapers, the country, “has never been as exposed to the jihadist threat,” as it is now.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Portuguese Sun emphasized statements made by the president of the Observatory for Security, Criminality and Terrorism, Filipe Duarte, declaring Portugal is not a target for terrorist acts, but rather a part of the jihadist puzzle as a passage place.[/quote] 

Portuguese media in Canada reporting on Italian fears have also highlighted the issue of terrorism in Portugal. The Portuguese Sun emphasized statements made by the president of the Observatory for Security, Criminality and Terrorism, Filipe Duarte, declaring Portugal is not a target for terrorist acts, but rather a part of the jihadist puzzle as a passage place. British youth have recently used Portugal as a passageway to join the jihad in Syria. To tackle the issue, last month the Portuguese government approved its national strategy to fight terrorism. Its main objective is to “detect, prevent, protect, persecute and respond,” to “the phenomenon on all its expressions.”

Italians remember the Hogg’s Hollow Disaster

The 55th anniversary of the Hogg’s Hollow disaster is fast approaching. March 17, 1960 marks the day of a tragic accident that happened in a tunnel under the Don River in Toronto claiming the lives of five Italian migrant workers.

According to the Italian-Canadian magazine Panorama, “this upcoming March 17 is a day of remembrance in Toronto for the families,” of these workers. The tragic accident forced Canadian authorities to revise the occupational health and safety laws, which had not gone through any change since 1927.

The Hogg’s Hollow disaster was the inspiration for a quilt by artist Laurie Swim that hangs in Toronto’s York Mills subway station.


Humberta Araújo was born in Vanderhoof, B.C., to parents who migrated from the Azores. As a reporter, she has worked in the Azores and Canada, both in television and newspapers. She is putting together a book on Azorean Migration to Canada. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Western Europe

by Amanda Connolly 

The West needs to stop intervening in the Middle East and allow Bashar al-Assad to regain control of Syria if it has any hope of stabilizing the region over the long-term, a panel of diplomats and policy-makers at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s Conference on Defence and Security said Thursday afternoon.

Intervention by Western countries aimed at combatting ISIS will succeed but it won’t stop the problem from happening over and over again in the future unless governments back away and allow the situation to work itself out organically, the foreign affairs experts said.

“Our solution is only throwing fuel on the fire. We have to bite the bullet on this one,” said Dr. Chris Kilford, Canada’s former defence attache to Ankara, Turkey. “When ISIS is gone there will be a vacuum. What happens the day the last fighter is gone? Hopefully one day Assad will go, but we need stability to solve the problems in the region.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Until the warring regions are able to become economically and socially stable, extremism will continue to breed among alienated young people...[/quote]

Michael Bell, a former ambassador to Jordan, Egypt and Israel, and Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, agreed with Kilford and said the problems in conflict-riven countries in the region are not driven so much by religion but rather by the alienation of young, angry men who are drawn to fight for a cause bigger than themselves.

And while the West has a clear short-term strategic objective in mind as it works to root out ISIS, it is not seeing the bigger picture of how best to bring stability to the region for long-term peace, Cordesman said.

“Destroying the Islamic State is a strategic objective. The air campaign may do that but it won’t bring stability,” he explained.

One audience member compared to situation in the Middle East to what happened in Western Europe when the Roman Empire fell.

After centralized power disintegrated in the fifth century AD, a vacuum opened up and power became more localized in the hands of ethnically-unified barbarian groups like the Vandals and Visigoths, which established their own fiefdoms and kingdoms from the ashes of the Empire.

At the same time, the Eastern Roman Empire remained intact for another several hundred years, with power based in Constantinople – or as it’s known today, Istanbul.

“The [Western] Empire fell because it couldn’t resolve the economic, social or cultural issues,” Cordesman said, noting that countries like Morocco and Algeria are more likely to remain intact in the same way the Eastern Roman Empire did. “That’s what we are seeing now.”

A big part of the problem is that the West is currently trying to use its own models of federalism as a way to hold the warring regions together.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our solution is only throwing fuel on the fire. We have to bite the bullet on this one,” said Dr. Chris Kilford[/quote]

However, it’s missing the glue to hold its plans together — which is social cohesion and integration, Bell said.

“The situation in the Middle East is like warring little state-lets, like how things were in the Middle Ages,” he said. “I’m worried by the fact that I don’t see the glue that will bind these little warring factions together. It worked in Egypt because they shared a nationality but most other parts of the region don’t in the same way.”

Until the warring regions are able to become economically and socially stable, extremism will continue to breed among alienated young people, the panelists said.

By continuing to jump in and attempt to impose solutions that have worked for the West, panelists said governments are fostering a future of continued violence and strife.

“It’s a constant cycle of intervention in the Middle East,” said Kilford. “The question is, will it ever stop?”


Re-published with permission.

Published in International
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