Gurski: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Good piece by Gurski:

I never worked in foreign affairs or for Foreign Affairs (or Global Affairs Canada, as it is now known, having once been designated External Affairs and many other names), but I know a little about the subject. After all, you cannot work in intelligence for three decades without picking up a thing or two on how nations manage their relations with other states.

I do know that at times a country has to hold its nose when engaging with a foreign partner whose actions are seen as, at a minimum, distasteful or, at a maximum, grotesque. In this light, I cannot imagine how the current crew at the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa are handling Canada-U.S. ties, given the present occupant of the White House.

There are also those who maintain that some level of relationship is better than none. A complete cut in ties removes any form of influence or dialogue, although there are other fora (the UN for example) where national representatives can grab a coffee and chitchat about all things statecraft.

On the other hand, there are times and circumstances where a government has little choice but to close doors. Sometimes a state will engage in activities that are truly heinous and no country should allow such to go unpunished.

Saudi Arabia is now in that club. Canada has chosen, at least under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to criticize the kingdom over a variety of incidents; ranging from its treatment of women activists, to its disastrous war in Yemen, which is directly causing a massive humanitarian crisis. The event that overshadows everything, however, is last year’s murder and dismemberment of a Saudi dissident, Jamal Kashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Everyone knows that he was killed on orders from the very top of the Saudi royal family, their incredulous denials, notwithstanding. In return, the Saudis have suspended relations, booted our ambassador in Riyadh out and recalled their own man from Ottawa. There has not been a lot of movement on this file in some time although Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Saudi counterpart have been “discussing ideas to de-escalate.”

Into this mix comes the Conservative Party, whose foreign affairs critic, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, has said that a government led by Andrew Scheer will try to “win some trust” with the Saudis by focusing on improving business links. O’Toole acknowledges that for some Canadians re-establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will be a “tough sell.”

Ya think?

I fail to see why so many states are still fawning over Saudi Arabia, and especially over the king-in-waiting and international star Muhammad bin Salman (or MBS as he is called: some say the acronym stands for “Mister Bone Saw,” a reference to how Kashoggi was cut up). Yes, yes, it is all about oil and MBS’ plans to modernize his nation and the need to have a stalwart ally against the real menace: Iran.

Except that the crown prince’s words are probably just that: words. Saudi Arabia remains a heavily conservative Wahhabi Muslim state that has exported its hateful strain of Islam worldwide for decades and crushes any internal dissent forcefully. True, there has been some crackdown on the more egregious religious hate-mongers, but this leopard is highly unlikely to change its spots any time soon.

I find it hard to believe that many governments, including the U.S., have been giving the kingdom a pass in the post 9/11 period. Recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis, bred on Saudi Wahhabi Islam. And for all the noises about a mellowing of Islam in the desert kingdom, there is ample evidence that Saudi-trained imams are continuing to spread Wahhabi poison around the world. And this is what an ally does?

I realize that money trumps values a lot of the time. In this regard, there is a lot of money to be made by having a robust relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly in the defence sector. But what is more important: trade or the values Canada stands for?

So O’Toole, if your party indeed gains power in October, have a re-think over going cap in hand to the Saudis. We really don’t need them. Their actions are antithetical to who we are. I’d like to suggest that you be a little more Canadian yourself and ditch this idea.

Source: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Canada’s immigration detention program to get $138M makeover

Another shift compared to the previous government:

The Canadian government is committing millions to upgrade immigration detention centres across Canada.

Immigration detention facilities in Vancouver and Laval, Que., are also set to be replaced.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the $138-million announcement Monday morning at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre. He said the objective is to make detention a last resort.

“In my first few months as minister responsible for Canada Border Services Agency, I have certainly heard the concerns about immigration detention, and I’ve studied those concerns with great care,” Goodale said.

“The government is anxious to address the weaknesses that exist and to do better.”

Samer Muscati, the director of the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program, said it was reassuring to hear Goodale address concerns about excessive use of detention in his remarks today.

“He’s saying the right things and it’s a positive development that he’s saying these things, but of course we’ll need to see what happens in terms of actions that follow,” he said. “The proof will be in the pudding.”

The government will soon begin consultations with stakeholders with the aim of finding alternatives and ways to minimize the number of minors in detention.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, there are, on average, 450 to 500 people who are detained at any given time under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The End Immigration Detention Network says 15 people have died in detention while in CBSA custody since 2000. It says reforms are welcome, but the system is inherently unfair.

“Immigration detention including in immigration holding centres is imprisonment without charges or trial. It should end, not be expanded by throwing over a hundred million dollars at it,” said the Network’s spokesperson Tings Chak.

A Red Cross investigation in 2014 found numerous shortcomings at facilities for immigrant detainees, including overcrowding and inadequate mental health care.

Newcomers are often held in provincial jails or police facilities alongside suspected gang members and violent offenders.

The government’s reform objectives include:

  • Increasing the availability of alternatives to detention.
  • Reducing the use of provincial jails for immigration detention to prevent the interaction of immigration and criminal detainees.
  • Avoiding the detention of minors in the facilities as much as possible.
  • Improving physical and mental health care offered to those detained.
  • Maintaining ready access to facilities for agencies such as the Red Cross, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as legal and spiritual advisers.
  • Increasing transparency.

Source: Canada’s immigration detention program to get $138M makeover – Montreal – CBC News

A selection of more critical views, largely focusing on the need for oversight:

Migrants advocates welcome Ottawa’s reforms of the immigration detention system, but say the government is falling short on creating proper oversight of the agency responsible for the enforcement operations.

“It is encouraging the federal government is promising actions and reforms to the immigration detention system. Detention of immigrants needs to be absolutely the last resort and the government recognizes that,” said Josh Paterson of the British Colombia Civil Liberties Association.

“The thing is we need to put an end to housing migrants in criminal population. The money dedicated to the immigration infrastructure must not become the reason to detain more migrants and for longer period of time.”

….Anthony Navaneelan of the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers said what was missing in Goodale’s announcement was creating an independent oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for enforcement of immigration laws including immigration detention.

“Building more detention beds is not enough. We need to keep people out of detention,” said Navaneelan.

 New Democrats immigration critic Jenny Kwan agreed.

“We need a complete and strong oversight to ensure these issues are addressed and the agency is accountable to the public. So many lives are in jeopardy,” said Kwan.

In July, more than 50 immigration detainees in Ontario held a hunger strike to protest prison conditions that include increasing lockdowns and the use of solitary confinement. They demanded to meet with Goodale — a request that was denied.

“We need an overhaul of the laws and policies governing detentions, including placing a limit of 90 days on detentions, not build new prisons,” said Tings Chak of the End Immigration Detention Network.

“Immigration detention is imprisonment without charges or trial. It should end, not be expanded by throwing over a hundred million dollars at it.”

Ontario Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Renu Mandhane said the federal government should be applauded for recognizing the need to provide adequate services to immigration detainees with mental health disabilities.

“We need to make detention more humane. Some detainees are caught in legal limbo for years,” Mandhane said. “They are faceless and hidden from the public, but their human rights should be respected.”

Conservative public security critic Erin O’Toole said there was no money in the federal budget earmarked for the immigration detention reforms and he felt the Liberal government was rushed to make the announcement without a plan.

“The devil is always in the details. This is a considerable amount of money,” said O’Toole. “A community supervision program has not been developed. Are we going to detain only the high-risk detainees? Are we going to stop using the provincial jails? These are the details I want before we decide if we need to build the new facilities.”

Immigration detention reforms fall short on oversight, critics say