Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Appears the government overplayed its hand in its communication strategy, both with respect to the Ministerial welcome (all too tempting) and the ongoing (and understandable) gap between the welcoming rhetoric and actual numbers.

However, Ms. Alqunun’s social media sophistication and poise in her CBC interview is impressive:

If Canada were a proud and principled beacon unto the world’s most downtrodden, as so many so often claim, then one might have expected Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Saturday with relatively little fanfare.

Canada resettles tens of thousands of refugees every year, after all, and many are fleeing circumstances just as horrific as the Saudi teenager’s abuse by her family. Canadian government officials are guarding Alqunun’s current whereabouts partly on grounds she might still be in danger even halfway around the world — an idea given credence by Dennis Horak, who was Canada’s ambassador in Riyadh until he was expelled over the summer.

Indeed, Saudi-Canadian relations are not in terrific shape just at the moment, thanks to our public rebukes of its treatment of activists, and granting immediate asylum to the world’s highest-profile Saudi refugee seems unlikely to help matters. One might very reasonably not give a damn about the House of Saud’s amour propre, but Ottawa would clearly prefer to repair those relations. Quite apart from anything else, it would give Canada more-than-zero leverage in lobbying on behalf of those activists — including imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife is a Canadian citizen.

There were no good reasons to make a big show of Alqunun’s arrival, in other words, and plenty of good reasons not to. Furthermore, Justin Trudeau has been very clear about what he thinks of using refugees as political props. He was at his most thespian back in 2015 when it was alleged Stephen Harper’s office had been sifting through applications from Syrian asylum-seekers in search of potential photo ops.

“That’s DIS-GUST-ING,” Trudeau hissed at a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C. “That’s not the Canada we want; that’s not the Canada we need to build.”

In the end, though, there was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with her arm draped around Alqunun, announcing that this “brave new Canadian” would not be taking questions. Luckily, Freeland herself had arrived equipped with some crimson talking points.

“I believe in lighting a single candle,” she said. “Where we can save a single person, where we can save a single woman, that is a good thing to do. … And I’d like to also emphasize, this is part of a broader Canadian policy of supporting women and girls in Canada and around the world.”

“Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau chimed in.

It would be well-nigh impossible to argue against hearing, at the very least, Alqunun’s claim for asylum. But at this point, she is certainly also a political prop — a living symbol of the Liberal view of Canada’s place in the world, and an always-welcome opportunity for self-congratulation.

“We are demonstrating our moral leadership on the issue of gender equality,” University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani wrote in The Globe and Mail. “It was another proud moment for Canada,” gushed Catherine Porter, The New York Times’ Toronto correspondent. It “further cement(ed) the country’s status as a bastion of refuge in a world where Western nations have become increasingly hostile to refugees,” the Times’ Twitter account effused.

“Any woman from Saudi Arabia should be able to make a credible case for asylum in this country based on the human rights abuses they endure there,” the Toronto Star’s editorial board averred. And on and on and on.

Saudi Arabia is a country of 33 million people. So no, not every woman there can claim asylum in Canada. I suspect the Liberals might balk at five high-profile claims in rapid succession. That’s what they do. The Liberals made a big show of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees while various European nations accepted many multiples of that; now they brag about how accepting Canadians are of refugees relative to Europe, as if one didn’t largely explain the other. They denounce any worries about asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally as rank intolerance, while waving the new arrivals into an interminable and disastrously under-resourced queue.

There are millions upon millions of displaced people around the world in whom you might expect a giant, wealthy and mostly empty country that prides itself on resettling refugees to take an interest. They aren’t even on the radar. NDP MP Charlie Angus has a more realistic take on what Canada is: “Thousands languish in camps and Chrystia Freeland promotes sale of death machines to Saudis as children die in Yemen,” he tweeted in response to Freeland’s airport press conference. “Foreign policy must be more than smug theatre,” he added.

Well, there’s the rub: Must it?

Canadians of all political stripes take inordinate pride in objectively modest contributions to all manner of global problems. There is nothing inherently disreputable in feeling pride when your country does the right thing — but only if you insist that your country does the right thing continually, coherently and consistently once the warm, fuzzy feeling fades away. Once she’s settled, if she is inclined to remain in the public eye, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun might be the ideal person to hammer that point home.

Source: Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Freeland criticizes Indian diplomats for interfering in Ontario cultural festival

Interesting intervention in the context of the recent India trip (even though this intervention happened before):

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office says it was “inappropriate” for Indian diplomats to interfere in a cultural festival outside of Toronto.

The allegations stem from a controversy last summer in which Indian consular officials reportedly tried to dissuade the annual Carabram festival in Brampton, Ont. – a city west of Toronto with a large Indian population – from having separate Punjab and India pavilions. Punjab is the only state in India with a Sikh majority.

“Interference in domestic affairs by foreign representatives in Canada is inappropriate,” Ms. Freeland’s spokesman, Adam Austen, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

“The federal government has no role in planning Carabram, but supports the right of its organizers to do so however they see fit.”

Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey first raised concerns about “unwarranted and unwelcome interference” by the Consulate General of India in a letter to Ms. Freeland on Aug. 18, 2017.

In the letter, which has never been made public but was obtained by The Globe and Mail, Ms. Jeffrey said her office learned in July, 2017, that officials with the Consulate General in Toronto approached organizers of Carabram to cancel the Punjab pavilion, or merge it with the India pavilion. She also alleges that consular officials tried to pressure organizers to change the name to the Punjabi cultural pavilion. In the end, the Punjab pavilion went ahead.

“This type of unwarranted interference by Indian officials in a local cultural festival in Brampton was shocking,” Ms. Jeffrey wrote in the letter, which asks Ms. Freeland to look into the matter.

Ms. Jeffrey said it is her understanding that consular officials threatened to “go to the highest office in the country and cancel this festival.”

The allegations of improper interference come at a time of heightened tensions between Canada and the Indian government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to face pressure from Opposition MPs to allow his national security adviser, Daniel Jean, to testify in public at committee about the Prime inister’s recent trip to India.

Mr. Trudeau caused a diplomatic stir last month after Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of attempting to murder a visiting Indian politician on Vancouver Island in 1986, was invited to official events. Mr. Jean suggested to reporters during a background briefing that Mr. Atwal’s presence may have been engineered by factions in India that want to prevent Prime Minister Narenda Modi from getting too close to a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India. The Indian government has denied the claim.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also found himself on the defensive over recent revelations that he spoke at a Sikh separatist rally in 2015 and participated in a panel discussion in 2016 where speakers endorsed political violence as part of an effort to create a Sikh homeland separate from India. Mr. Singh says he has always opposed acts of terrorism or violence.

Officials at the Consulate General in Toronto and the High Commission of India in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Jeffrey’s spokesman, Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, said the mayor stood by her letter but wouldn’t comment further. Mr. Sandhu said Ms. Freeland’s office never replied to the letter.

Carabram is an annual festival in Brampton, first started in 1982, where non-profit groups representing different cultures set up pavilions that offer food and entertainment.

Prithpal Chagger, president of the Punjab pavilion, said he believes his pavilion was singled out because of concerns that it would be used to advocate for an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan. Mr. Chagger’s brother is the grandfather of Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger, who told The Globe she was unaware of the situation and had not spoken with Mr. Chagger about it.

“The only objection from the Indian government is they don’t want anybody who is talking about Khalistan,” Mr. Chagger said. “But they label everybody and say they are Khalistani if they wear a turban.”

Angela Johnson, president of Carabram, said she was surprised that the Indian consulate would try to pressure them to shut down the Punjab pavilion.

She said that it’s up to the non-profit groups in charge of pavilions to determine how they would celebrate. “It was their choice and we saw no reason to object to it,” she said. Ms. Johnson confirmed the Punjab pavilion will be part of this year’s Carabram.

Dr. Maher Hussain, one of the organizers of the India pavilion, said it “would be ideal” if Punjab was part of the India pavilion. “If we have a Punjab pavilion, that means the Carabram people are supporting separate Punjab, separatism,” he said, adding he was willing to participate in the festival either way.

Sanjeev Malik, president of Uttar Pradeshies in Canada, which represents a state in northern India, said his group approached the Consulate General’s office to try to merge the Punjab pavilion with the Indian pavilion.

“There are some separatists here in Canada. They want Punjab to be separate from India. And that’s the reason they want their separate pavilion,” Mr. Malik said. “If somebody said that they want a separate Quebec, being a Canadian citizen, I’m going to oppose that.”

via Freeland criticizes Indian diplomats for interfering in Ontario cultural festival – The Globe and Mail

Address by Minister Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities: Diversity and inclusion aspects

Given the efforts by Global Affairs Canada and others to define an international agenda for the promotion of diversity and Inclusion, these excerpts from Minister Freeland’s speech yesterday are of interest:

Likewise, by embracing multiculturalism and diversity, Canadians are embodying a way of life that works. We can say this in all humility, but also without any false self-effacement: Canadians know about living side-by side with people of diverse origins and beliefs, whose ancestors hail from the far corners of the globe, in harmony and peace. We’re good at it. Watch how we do it.

We say this in the full knowledge that we also have problems of our own to overcome—most egregiously the injustices suffered by Indigenous people in Canada. We must never flinch from acknowledging this great failure, even as we do the hard work of seeking restoration and reconciliation.

Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world, Mr. Speaker. No one appointed us the world’s policeman. But it is our role to clearly stand for these rights both in Canada and abroad.

…For we are safer and more prosperous, Mr. Speaker, when more of the world shares Canadian values.

Those values include feminism, and the promotion of the rights of women and girls.

It is important, and historic, that we have a prime minister and a government proud to proclaim ourselves feminists. Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions. These rights are at the core of our foreign policy.

To that end, in the coming days, my colleague the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie will unveil Canada’s first feminist international assistance policy, which will target women’s rights and gender equality. We will put Canada at the forefront of this global effort.

This is a matter of basic justice and also basic economics. We know that empowering women, overseas and here at home, makes families and countries more prosperous. Canada’s values are informed by our historical duality of French and English; by our cooperative brand of federalism; by our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic citizenry; and by our geography—bridging Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic. Our values are informed by the traditions and aspirations of the Indigenous people in Canada. And our values include an unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.

Source: Address by Minister Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities – Canada.ca