In bid for UN Security Councils seat, Canada was far from a shoo-in
By David Kattenburg June 22, 2020
There’s a lesson to be learned from Canada’s defeat at the hands of Norway and Ireland: international law and just governance are not a ‘smorgasbord’ to pick and choose from.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland once said, during her tenure as Canada’s top diplomat, that the country would act as Israel’s ‘asset’ on the UN Security Council. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
Like a tossed coin, bitter defeat is two-sided. Along with defeat comes opportunity. In Canada’s case, having recently lost its bid for a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, the Trudeau government now has the chance to transform itself from an opportunist on the world stage—saying one thing and doing another; pursuing the politically expedient—into a true champion of international law, human rights, peace, justice, and planetary health.
In a secret, hugely anticipated last week, Norway and Ireland beat out Canada for two temporary seats in the world’s most august governing chamber, alongside five permanent, veto-wielding members, the US, China, Russia, the U.K., and France.
Canada has occupied a seat on the council six times since the UN’s foundation in 1945. In its last bid, under Stephen Harper, in 2010, it lost to Germany and Portugal. This time around, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his chief diplomats invested vast energy and some two million dollars promoting Canada as a tireless supporter of all things good.
“Whether it’s been on COVID, whether it’s been on development and financial reform, whether it’s been on climate change, whether it’s been on a range of things from peacekeeping to security to women, we have been moving forward and leading the way,” Trudeau boasted on the eve of the June 17 vote.
Canada’s actual record tells another story. In an elaborate campaign to thwart its bid for a council seat, a team of grassroots activists circulated a pair of petitions across Canada and around the world. (Full disclosure: I was one of the organizers.) Among those who signed were: David Suzuki; Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters; renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Judy Rebick; and former UN special rapporteurs John Dugard and Richard Falk. UN ambassadors were deluged with emails and tweets, calling on them to vote Norway and Ireland, not Canada.
Canada doesn’t deserve a seat on the council, activists argued, not at this pivotal moment in human history. Their list of complaints was long, including that Canada is among the world’s largest arms exporters, which has helped fuel conflicts from Colombia to Yemen. At the 2017 UN conference on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, Canada refused to sign on. It refuses to ratify the Basel Ban on the export of waste to nations of the impoverished global South; the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and more than 50 International Labour Organization conventions. Canadian mining companies devastate communities and landscapes around the planet, with fulsome government support. Ottawa has taken the lead in destabilizing the elected government of Venezuela, in partnership with some of Latin America’s most brutal human rights abusers.
And, as the Earth hurtles towards five degrees warming, the Canadian government continues to subsidize fossil fuels—it’s even purchased an oil pipeline—all the while claiming to be a climate change champion actively engaged in confronting humanity’s greatest crisis.
Nowhere is Canadian government hypocrisy more flagrant than in its approach to the Israel-Palestine “conflict.” On the one hand, Ottawa publicly acknowledges (on the Global Affairs Canada website) that Israel’s settlement enterprise violates the Fourth Geneva Convention—incorporated into Canadian law as the Geneva Conventions Act—and that settlements undermine a two-state solution. On the other hand, it welcomes settlement products into Canada, tariff free, and extends charitable status to Canadian supporters of Israel’s settlement enterprise.
Most toxic to its bid for a council seat, in absurdly lopsided votes in the UN General Assembly, Canada routinely joins Israel, the U.S. and a handful of Pacific island states in opposing pro-Palestinian resolutions, while 150 other countries vote in favour of Palestinian human rights.
And, while pursuing a council seat, Ottawa continues to ignore UNSC resolution 2334 (December 2016), calling on State Parties to “differentiate” in their relations with Israel between Israel “proper” and the settlements. Article 25 of the UN Charter obliges state parties to “accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.” Canada doesn’t. On the contrary, back when she was foreign minister, now-Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland vowed to act as Israel’s “asset” on the UNSC—defending Israel’s right to violate international humanitarian and human rights law with impunity—should it win a seat.
Thankfully, it hasn’t. Re-coining an idea of Ms. Freeland’s, there’s a lesson to be learned from Canada’s defeat at the hands of Norway and Ireland: international law and just governance are not a “smorgasbord” to pick and choose from. An EKOS poll released recently showed that a majority of Liberal, NDP, and Green Party supporters want Canada to do more to support Palestinian human rights, international development, and environmental protection. Should Canada transform itself into a true champion of these, its next bid for a UNSC seat could be a shoo-in, rather than a coin toss.
David Kattenburg is a university instructor, journalist and member of Independent Jewish Voices in Winnipeg.