Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quiet diplomacy fails Canadians

Quiet diplomacy fails Canadians

May 26, 2008

The Canadian government likes to claim that it cares about citizens who are in trouble in foreign lands.

In fact, Canada's record of assisting citizens in trouble is abysmal -- a record that stretches over the years, be it Liberal or Conservative governments.

Last week, to its credit, the Globe and Mail front paged news about a couple of Canadians in trouble, one of which the Sun has agitated about, the other of which had largely been ignored.

The first case is Huseyin Celil, a native Uighur from China who became a Canadian citizen and was arrested for no apparent reason while visiting relatives in Uzbekistan. Although he travelled on a Canadian passport, Canadian authorities were not interested in rescuing him from the Uzbeks, who were acting on behalf of Beijing, which wanted the guy back.

It was only after publicity, and after he was secretly sentenced in 2007 to life imprisonment, that the government began pressuring Beijing.

"Pressuring" is being generous. Canada seems to accept Beijing's view that Celil is a "terrorist," even while not believing it. Our national fixation on not making waves makes us diplomatic eunuchs.

Maybe Celil will be freed to return to Canada after the Olympics. Yeah, that's what they always say: Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, never jam today.

The other case is more savage -- Mohamed Kohail, who was attending school in Saudi Arabia, is to be beheaded, along with a Jordanian, while his 17-year-old brother Sultan Kohail has been sentenced to 200 lashes.

Their crime -- the death of a member of a Saudi gang of a dozen teenagers who were chasing the three, got into a scrap, and a stone gate collapsed on a gang member. An autopsy showed no broken bones, no cuts, but internal bleeding and a weak heart.

Canada's reaction? An appeal to the Saudis for clemency. If clemency is given, the Saudis will be praised for humanitarianism.


It's mindful of the government's shameful behaviour when Bill Sampson was framed by the Saudis for murder, tortured and condemned to death. Canadian MPs who visited him chained to a hospital bed, said nothing because the believed in "quiet diplomacy."

Sampson identified his torturers, but the government preferred to believe the Saudi ambassador's insistence that Saudis don't torture. Sampson was released after 31 months, but is still angry at his treatment, still totally innocent. Meanwhile, Canada views Saudi Arabia as an ally.

Turn the clock back. In the 1970s David Somerville was arrested in Tanzania with the Canadian government doing nothing on his behalf. When he was eventually released, Mitchell Sharp, who was then external affairs minister, claimed credit and quoted Somerville's gratitude -- which was news to Somerville, who by then was a Toronto Sun reporter and refuted Sharp's claims.

Recently Brenda Martin returned to Canada after two years of awaiting trial in Mexico, always proclaiming her innocence.

Media attention persuaded government to act.

Without publicity, Canada does little for citizens in trouble.

And I refer to innocent citizens, not obvious law-breakers or criminals -- not the likes of Omar Khadr, quickly becoming a media darling because at age 15 he was with the Taliban in Afghanistan and is charged with killing an American soldier. He's now 21 and in his sixth year held at Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr gets oodles of sympathy from the likes of the CBC, but there's relative silence about Celil and Uighurs, whom the Chinese view as terrorists as they do the Dalai Lama and Tibetans.

Quiet diplomacy be damned. Ottawa should raise hell when citizens are abused.

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