NO LECTURES ON HUMAN RIGHTS, PLEASE

I completely agree with the column by Azeezah Kanji published today by Toronto Star (We are not all immigrants here). This story reminded me about a column I wrote for The Hill Times on December 20, 2004, talking about our tendency to lecture others and to forget our own shortcomings.

by Angelo Persichilli
THE HILL TIMES (Dec. 20, 2004)

It’s become fashionable, even trendy, here in Canada to lecture Americans on everything under the sun.

            I saw it first-hand again last week in Toronto when a Canadian scolded a member of our federal forces at a press conference about the American’s track record on human rights and how much better Canada is on this front.

            This kind of reaction is widespread among Canadians, unfortunately. And it’s a problem because, although I have no intention of defending the American approach, most Canadians who look down their noses at Americans should look at our history first, before talking about it.

            Reactions to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks events by Americans and Canadians is definitely different: if anything, it was the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center that were hit, not Toronto’s CN Tower. And this seems to escape many here in Canada when we judge Americans’ reaction.

            The difference is huge, and Canadians have reacted just like Americans when their interests have been hit in the past.

            Canadian history has many black pages on human rights.

            Let’s go through them quickly.

            The way we treat our Native peoples remains a stain on our record one that the United Nations and other international organizations keep reminding us about. In 1846-48, we let many Irish refugees die in the Montreal harbour by refusing them entry. At Grosse Ile we quarantined over 20,000 sick people, in a place that could host not more than 200. On that island, during the “Summer of Sorrow” we buried 5,000 Irish immigrants. Others were stopped and many died on Partridge Island off St. John’s, Nfld.

            In 1905 we stopped Indian refugees in Vancouver Harbour, we imposed a “head tax” on Chinese, Japanese, Ukrainians immigrants, among others.

            During the Second World War, thanks to an order from then prime minister Mackenzie King, we interned, among others, 3,000 Canadians of Italian origin over 90 per cent of whom held Canadian passports ­for three years without a trial and without any formal charges in camps such as Petawawa (our Guantanamo), considering them “alien.” In the same period the Americans interned “only” 600 citizens of Italian origin. And, the U.S. Congress has already officially apologized to them. We also turned away boats of Jewish people trying to flee Nazi Germany.

            It’s not just our history that is “stained” because of the failure of our leaders to respect human rights. In 1970, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, a politician who was never into collegial fishing or golfing weekends other Canadian PMs have enjoyed with U.S. presidents, invoked the War Measures Act in response to the terrorism perpetrated by the FLQ, whose actions amounted to a drop in the ocean when compared to the attacks on the twin towers in New York city in 2001.

            Our open-arms philosophy towards immigrants has always been based on the need for this country for more manpower; people in real need have always had difficulty getting help. In 1988, we had to reconvene Parliament to let 67 Indians knocking on our door in the Halifax Harbour.

            Not to mention events in Somalia in the 1990s and the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia and the book of Peter Desbarats, Somalia, the cover-up.

            This doesn’t mean everyone in our military is corrupt or inept; it only means that we will find bad apples everywhere and generalizations are a bad tool to judge people and countries. Our selective memories of the past, shouldn’t obfuscate our national spirit of forgiveness that we profusely apply to our downfalls.

            Again, I’m not defending the American record on human rights and I’m not saying that we do not have the rights to criticize other countries for not respecting them.

            I’m only saying: no lectures please!

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