Defending human rights still important

The proxy war in international trade is now being fought in the arena of human rights.

So, Canada must be a strong voice for justice. That way, foreign governments that try to intimidate Canada will know what they’re getting into.

Last August, The Western Producer published an editorial headlined, “Canada right to speak out on human rights abuses.”

The first line read, “How much inhumanity does a country get to inflict on people before countries with which it does business speak up?”

Considering the developments that have happened since, that question is even more relevant now.

At the time, we supported Canada’s position to speak out — through a tweet — on Saudi Arabia’s detention of human rights activist Samar Badawi and her brother Raif (whose wife lives in Quebec).

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacted indignantly, cutting off trade, cultural and diplomatic ties with Canada.

The Saudi moves had little effect on agriculture. Canada exports about $34 million in cereals (most notably barley) to Saudi Arabia, but Canada ended the year with a 22 percent increase in barley exports, so other markets were found.

Some observers wondered whether the editorial should have supported Canada’s actions, since trade was affected.

Then Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, after which the Saudi government engaged in a farcical coverup.

Now it’s China’s turn. In December, Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech company Huawei, at the request of the United States, which is in a trade dispute with China.

Since that time, China has arrested 13 Canadians. The Chinese ambassador to Canada admitted that the detention of two Canadian academics was a response to Weng’s arrest.

And on Jan. 14, Robert Schellenberg, who in 2016 was convicted of attempting to smuggle drugs out of China and sentenced to 15 years in jail, was retried and sentenced to death.

One would have to be wilfully blind not to see the connections.

So where do we draw the line? Canada does a lot of trade in agriculture with China.

If Canada shows that it is so easily silenced, other countries would be tempted to resort to the same tactics.

Speaking up for human rights was always about doing the right thing. Now, it’s also about protecting Canadian citizens abroad.

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