Lloyd Axworthy and Paul Heinbecker, both of whom have extensive experience representing Canada in world affairs, both of who are almost rabid “fans” of the United Nations, and both of who are nearly charter members of the Laurentian Elites, have penned a thoughtful article in the Globe and Mail which is headlined: “Canada should take the diplomatic lead on the global refugee crisis.” Given that I have scant regard for either man’s views it might surprise some to know that I agree with them … in broad, general terms.
I agree that “The plight of the refugees is seen by many through the immediate humanitarian imperative of finding enough resources to support the basics of life. And let’s hope that there will soon be a surge of international aid to meet the desperate plight of the Rohingya as monsoon season looms and a cholera epidemic threatens … [and we must] … also remember that the tragic situation unfolding on the borders of Bangladesh is only the latest such human catastrophe. Consider the million refugees from South Sudan streaming into Uganda; the many hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania; the continuing agony of the Yemenis; the strife and stress faced by millions of Syrian refugees and displaced persons as the patience and tolerance of the border states housing them wear thin; the thousands of Venezuelans crossing the border into Colombia threatening the fragile peace of that country as it tries to transition from a civil war of 30 years standing; and indeed the prospect of 60,000 asylum seekers crossing the Canadian border fleeing increasingly draconian American policy measures – all beg for reform of the global refugee system.“
Further, I agree that “The agents of conflict and violence act with impunity; the funds for the care and sustenance of refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, come up immorally short; rich countries shift the burden of responsibility for hosting refugees to the poorer countries; walls sprout up where pathways are needed; and some well-endowed northern hemisphere governments retreat to the politics of xenophobia and nationalism … [and they are correct to say that] … The point is that, while the Rohingya are in desperate need in appalling conditions, their plight is part of a larger global challenge – the breakdown of the global refugee framework. Unless that system is fixed through skillful and committed diplomatic measures, we will see further refugee tragedies and the potential collapse of existing support systems. Stability even in rich countries will be jeopardized as a consequence, as Britain’s Brexit experience shows.“
Messers Axworthy and Heinbecker suggest that: “There is a great need for a renewed and broad-based diplomatic effort to fix the existing refugee system’s failings.” They affirm, and I agree, that “Political crises have to be prevented … [and] … Accountability has to be established.” Both are worthy goals … I doubt the first is achievable by anyone in the short to mid-term and the second begs the question: so what? If we manage to say that country X or group Y is responsible for human tragedy Z, what do we do about it? Shall we invade and defeat country X or movement Y and hang its leaders as we did in Nuremberg? Finally: “Funding,” they say “has to be reset … [and] … Burdens have to be shared.” Good luck with that!
Where I part company with them is when they also say that “Fuller use of the International Criminal Court has to be made, as Ms. Freeland has stated; the International Court of Justice should be asked for a legal opinion on the rights and responsibilities of states and refugees.” That, I suggest, is a recipe for disaster. They conclude by suggesting that “A new protocol could be added to the existing treaty; the UN Human Rights Council should be seized of the issue of protecting refugees and asylum seekers.” The UN Human Rights Council is a sad, even sick joke … it is disgrace to the word “rights” that Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and Zambia are members of the council. The only reason that the international courts are more dangerous is that the UNHRC is a joke, the courts have some real power.
But I suspect that where I really break ranks with Messers Axworthy and Heinbecker is in what’s not written down. They conclude by saying that “What’s required is to frame the specific Rohingya situation in an adequately resourced and clearly articulated global diplomatic refugee strategy, designed to build an international network capable of meeting one of the most significant moral, economic and strategic issues of our time. This is leadership that the rest of the world would welcome, and that in its own interests, Canada can supply.“
OK, lead how? Doing what?
Taking in more refugees who will have extraordinary difficulty in adapting to and surviving in Canada is not the right answer.
But let’s look at what they said:
“Political crises have to be prevented.” OK, I agree … and I agree that a “leading middle power” could bring its considerable influence to bear to help do that … but Canada is no longer a ‘leading middle power.’ It was one from about 1947 until Pierre Trudeau published his Foreign Policy White Paper (A Foreign Policy for Canadians) in 1970 ~ then Canada said that it renounced Louis St Laurent’s “leading” role and wanted to be free-loader (as Liberal heavyweight John Manley described us) instead. For a few years, in the first decade of this century, Canada stepped up, again, under both Liberal Paul Martin and Conservative Stephen Harper to take a leadership role but in late 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau reaffirmed his father’s position: Canada is not any sort of leader, we don’t want to help with the military, diplomatic or political heavy lifting … we just want to be liked. Other middle powers like Australia and Denmark, Germany and Italy, the Netherlands and Norway, Poland and even Portugal may step up with an appropriate mix of diplomacy and military muscle to make their voices heard but, under Team Trudeau, Canada will be busy, hiding in the washroom when the bill is presented, as it were.
“Burdens have to be shared.” Canada could help. It is unfair that e.g. Bangladesh, Jordan and Kenya should be asked to bear the enormous burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Canada should be sending 1,000 soldier strong military engineer regiments to each country to help to provide better services in those camps ~ helping many tens, even hundreds of thousands of refugees in a real, tangible way. We would do that, I think, if we had even one engineer regiment with more than 500 soldiers in it. Canada has an abundance of goodwill … but it doesn’t have enough muscle.
That isn’t all Justin Trudeau’s fault … the decision to degrade our military was taken by his father in 1969; Prime Ministers Clark, Turner, Mulroney, Campbell, Chrétien and Martin all followed along … Prime Minister Harper seemed, until 2012, like he might be different but when his direction to reform the military was ignored by his own minister of defence and the military service chiefs he lost interest and treated the military as had his predecessors ~ as a fat cow to be milked for funds for other priorities. But Justin Trudeau has been in power for almost three years ~ by his third year in office Stephen Harper had ordered or taken delivery of new Leopard II tanks, big, new C-17 cargo aircraft and new Chinook heavy lift helicopters. It’s actually pretty simple and easy if there is both some political will at the top and a tough-minded defence minister who will not be led around by the nose by the admirals and generals ~ Team Trudeau has neither.
My problem is not that Messers Axworthy and Heinbecker are totally wrong, it is that they both supported the emasculation of Canada and now, suddenly, 50 years after Pierre Trudeau set about disarming Canada (diplomatically, economically and militarily) they want Louis St Laurent’s Canada to step up and play a leadership role. It’s too late for that; Pierre Trudeau ruined it and convinced Canadians that they didn’t want it back. They may have seen the problem, they may even have a useful suggestion … they just picked the wrong Canada.