Elias: Canadians These Days, Eh?

Canada has increased its presence on the world stage.

by Chantal Elias | 2/1/19 2:15am

 Canadians are being targeted abroad, and it is reflective of Canada’s rising political status. In the last few months, Canadian nationals living and travelling in China and Saudi Arabia have been imprisoned, expelled or sentenced to death. In the midst of this tragic loss of life, however, is evidence that Canada is stepping up its involvement in world politics. Its government is finally willing to get its hands dirty in controversial foreign relationships — and the by-product of detainment is a cost that world superpowers have dealt with for years.  

China and Canada have a rich history of economic trade and inter-migration, which have been so integral to Canada’s prosperity that in the past, Canada has refrained from calling China out on questionable behavior. The arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou brought an end to the nation’s silent approach. At the request of the United States, the CFO was detained on Dec. 1 on Canadian soil for aiding the tech giant in covering up violations of sanctions on Iran. Various Chinese campaigns have lobbied their government and the Canadian Prime Minister to release Meng, retaliating by detaining Canadian nationals on Chinese soil. Chinese officials have detained Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat currently working with the International Crisis Group; entrepreneur Michael Sapvor; and Ti-Anna Wang, her daughter and husband. In a phone call with the Globe and Mail from Seoul, Wang described the Chinese authorities as “unnecessarily cruel,” refusing to even allow her to change her 11-month-old daughter’s diaper. Kovrig and Sapvor continue to be held on the allegation of “endangering national security.” 

The threat to Canadian security, however, is not restricted to China. Canadian human rights activists in Saudi Arabia have been increasingly targeted, with two Canadian women currently behind bars and one, Samar Badawi, on death row. Saudi’s actions are as political as China’s revenge to the Huawei arrest. The Saudi government was not pleased by Canadian foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland’s tweet: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saw Freeland’s demand as a direct interference into internal affairs. 

Both the Saudi and Chinese detainments of Canadian nationals are political statements and nothing more. Canada is moving away from its narrow agenda of “world peace-keeping” and is increasing its involvement in international politics. Finally, Canada is taking action to stand up for the altruistic values the nation prides itself on. One of the trade-offs that comes with Canada’s developing voice is a higher likelihood of offending certain nations and having to make the decision to support certain countries and turn away from others. In the case of the Huawei spat, Canada was acting on an arrest warrant from the United States. With full knowledge of the possible repercussions, Canada decided that its relationship with the U.S. justified aggravating its civility with China. 

Canada may be coming of age too quickly, however. China and Saudi Arabia’s harsh response to Canadian interference is a sign that the nation is taking the incorrect pathway to foreign influence. It is vital to remember that Canada, for the entirety of its history, had a defined role as a neutral nation that shied away from hardline stances. Instead of building up Canada’s might over time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to have taken on the big dogs too aggressively and too soon. Canada does not have the international reputation to challenge global powerhouses, especially countries that the nation’s economy is dependent on. The Canadian government must also be cognizant of its methods used to call out foreign governments. A tweet from the Minister of Foreign Affairs is neither going to release the human rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia, nor bode well with the Crown Prince. The outcome of public condemnation is solely an aggravated foreign government and zero progress toward achieving Canada’s desired goal.

It may be my patriotism as a Canadian citizen, but I herald Canada for its dedication to being heard. The nation is advocating for the values the country was founded on: equality and liberty. The consequences of Canada’s action, however, cannot continue any longer. Prime Minister Trudeau must seek out a neutral zone that allows Canada to condemn countries without harming citizens in its erratic attempt to get on the world stage. Soon enough, Canada will come to learn that it cannot come crawling back to countries for forgiveness after publicly offending them.