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Posted by Al Gordon on 16:41:07 2022/10/05

Abstention is not a foreign policy

The Canadian government, during the Chrétien and Martin régimes, has followed a foreign policy based on moral abstention. On countless United Nations resolutions that cried out for a clear NO , Canada claimed the moral low ground by abstaining.

Our former Foreign Minister, the Honourable Bill Graham, always the perfect gentleman, was ill-prepared for dealing with some of the world s most manipulative tyrants. His replacement, the Honourable Pierre Pettigrew, appears from initial reports to be following the same path.

The government s decision to present Canada on the world stage as a soft power has relegated Canada to a position of abstaining from decisions on international rights and wrongs, whether in multilateral forums or acting alone:

Canada abstained from acting against the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 even though Canadian General Romeo Daillaire was the chief UN official and was begging for help in the face of an impending genocide.

Since 1993, Canada has abstained on 36 resolutions condemning Israel at the UN, and voted against Israel 78 times. Canada has virtually never supported Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

Most recently Canada abstained when the UN tabled a resolution threatening Israel with retaliation if it did not dismantle its barrier against Palestinian suicide bombings. Amazingly, this abstention was in contradiction to Canada s early position that the International Court of Justice had no jurisdiction in this matter. Appeasement trumped consistency.

Canada abstained from joining the United States in its effort to end Saddam Hussein s tyrannical rule in Iraq.

Canada s moral abstention has left the government with very few cards to play when it comes to dealing with the Islamic theocracy of Iran. Voting against our allies to assure that Damascus will return our phone calls , to quote a member of the Liberal caucus, has left Canada a toothless paper tiger that tyrants know they can dismiss without consequence.

Canada s justification is that we are not directly involved in any of these affairs and to take a position could damage our role as a potential mediator. In the words of Bill Graham, Canada does not want to damage the broad regional credibility which we have among the human rights violators.

The shocking case of the murder of Canadian journalist, Zahra Kazemi last July in Iran, puts our government s foreign policy to the test. By all accounts, Kazemi was murdered by officials of a lawless régime while being tortured after her arrest for photographing a demonstration against the government.

With the Kazemi case, Canada is finally on the front lines in the war against terrorism and can no longer take the position that it is not directly affected. Canada can act on behalf of the free world to illuminate Iran s complete disregard of the rules of international conduct. This could encourage a multilateral consensus to keep Iran in line, supporting the United States and diminishing the need for unilateral action.

In the Kazemi case, officials of the Iranian Prosecutor s Office first lied about her fate, saying she had suffered a stroke. Then they buried her and refused to allow her body to be sent to Canada so that evidence of torture could remain hidden. Their invitation to Canadian observers to a trial of an alleged murderer was subsequently withdrawn, the trial held in secret and the accused suspect exonerated.

In this situation, our Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs had at least three options for direct action:

· Withdraw approval of the credentials of the Iranian Ambassador to Canada;
· Sponsor a motion of censure in the UN General Assembly or in the UN Commission on Human Rights, a particularly risk-free exercise considering that three UN officials had already declared the trial of Kazemi s alleged murderer to be a sham;
· Declare trade sanctions against Iran.

Yet, instead of taking any direct action, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs called for the Canadian Ambassador to return home, presumably for a short break to receive instructions before his return and the Minister expressed his disappointment .

This moral failure followed on the case of Bill Sampson, tortured, imprisoned, and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. While Jean Chrétien personally intervened with the president of Pakistan to secure the release of Al Qaeda terrorist, Ahmed Khadr, he failed to extend the same courtesy to Sampson.

In both these travesties, Canada chose the path of abstention and appeasement, even though the offenses directly involved Canadians. If the imprisonment, torture, and even murder of Canadian citizens provoke such an insipid response, Canadians can be sure that theocratic despots and tyrants around the world now know that Canada can be safely ignored as they escalate their war of terror against democracies and innocent citizens.

If Iran s lawless course is to be stopped, even soft powers must stand up and be counted. The United States wants multilateral action to contain Iran s nuclear policy, while Germany and France want to negotiate. Canada has shown it is unwilling to take any action even when its own citizens are murdered. We have no right to complain when the United States unilaterally acts to destroy Iran s nuclear capability.

A foreign policy of abstention and appeasement tells the world that we can be ignored with impunity. If Canada wishes to be a moral superpower, it must start spending its moral capital.

Naresh Raghubeer is the Executive Director and Alastair Gordon is the Communications Director of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, a non-profit organization seeking to change Canadian foreign policy to be more supportive of our democratic allies. For more information, visit

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