(December 8, 2011) The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada held an online conversation on the question: is there a “best way” for Canada to promote human rights in Asia? Patricia Adams of Probe International says that there is: by “getting its own house in order and ensuring that Canada does not aid and abet abuses abroad.”
To promote human rights in Asia, the Canadian government should lead by example ‒ by first getting its own house in order and ensuring that Canada does not aid and abet abuses abroad.
Take China, where Canada abetted corruption and demonstrated that a Western nation will turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, particularly when it stands to benefit.
Canada helped make possible the Three Gorges Dam, the single most egregious cause of human rights abuses in China. Since 1986, Canadian governments have financed and given moral cover to this dam project, which has displaced 1.4 million people from their homes against their will and without due compensation. First our aid agency, CIDA, and then our export credit agency, Export Development Canada (EDC) channeled hundreds of millions of Canadian tax dollars to pay for this dam.
Chinese resettlement officials stole resettlement funds. The displaced people who appealed for justice were abducted by police, held without charge, tortured and then sent to jail for “disturbing social order” and for “leaking state secrets to a foreigner.”
Canada did nothing in the face of these outrageous human rights violations. Instead, Canada sent a powerful message to the Chinese government: you can forcibly displace 1.4 million of your citizens from their homes without due compensation or due process, with our blessings, and our financing. The financing then aids favoured Canadian exporters.
No wonder the Chinese government is unmoved by Canadian government finger-wagging over their atrocious human rights violations. Chinese governments have correctly taken Canada’s position on human rights for what it is: hypocritical.
If the Canadian government is serious about promoting human rights abroad, it can start by walking the walk on government transparency.
EDC is subject to the Access to Information Act, but it might just as a well not be – it can withhold virtually everything it wants from taxpayers through cleverly drafted exemptions in the Act. If Parliament removed those exemptions, Canadian taxpayers would know more of what EDC is doing in our name. EDC supports some $4 billion [PDFver here] in Canadian business activity in China alone every year.
Canadian transparency would set an example for China’s leaders. Canadian transparency would also protect those brave Chinese public interest researchers and lawyers who, in admiration of Western liberal values, are risking their own security and freedom by asking their government for justice and accountability on projects such as the Three Gorges Dam.