I find it troubling to watch both the French and the English leaders’ debate without hearing an interest from all dealers on the issue of human rights. I understand that the economic issue changed the balance of the debate, but even though the collapse of the financial markets is on the minds and tongues of many citizens, the diminution in the leadership role of Canada at home and abroad in the human rights field is an ongoing worry for many NGO and citizens as well. The question of repatriation of Omar Khadr was not asked to the leaders and thus unfortunately it seems that we will be left with the ambiguous position of Canada regarding the closing of Guantanamo Bay. However on the south border, both McCain and Obama in the U.S as contender to the presidency stated clearly that they are in favour of the closing of Guantanamo Bay camp, which became an international embarrassment for the Bush administration and the American people. But it is not only the question of the fate of Omar Khadr, the last westerner to be left in Guantanamo that is left unanswered but it is also the questions of: the Afghan prisoner’s treatment that is still questionable and not widely known by the Canadian population, the questions of the hundred of missing aboriginal women that disappeared and never heard of again are still considered important enough to be raised at the debate. Are these omitting a reflection of the disinterest of the population in humans rights or is it an obsession of our political leaders with their briefing notes and thus sticking to their simplistic, marketing-oriented message that they repeat over and over again. But isn’t this a clear underestimation of the political mind of the population? In countries such as Spain, the right-wing Popular Party government of Jose Maria Aznar was defeated because of the militarist approach it has to send troops in Iraq and the Spanish elected a government on the base of its anti-militarist stance.
Human right is not a luxury theme that we can discuss when our economy is expanding and our plants and factories hiring for recruits. It is an essential theme as much important as the health care and environment. Human rights are the pulse of the country, the vision it can have when all the other power like the US have dropped from their agenda.
Our politicians need to have the courage to speak about issues that hurts, about topics that are controversial and do not make all the electorate happy and cheerful and nodding. Our politicians have a moral duty to represent all the opinions including the one that do not make the unanimity but would have the potential to make Canada be seen and not only perceived, as a champion and a role model in human rights.
This article was published in the Ottawa Citizen in 2008.