Greens to Stephen Harper: Don’t Sell Out Human Rights to “Almighty Dollar”

Canadian Greens recognize the importance of trade and it will continue to be a key policy for Canadian governments in the future. However, what is equally important to all Canadians is that trade should never trump the rights of individuals here or abroad.  As the Canadian delegation heads for China, the concerns and discussions about human rights should be as important as trade. 

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands) recently stated, “There are Falun Gong practitioners in my riding who have visited my office and have made sure I am aware of the conditions that Falun Dafa practitioners face in China. I am very aware that your practice is one of non-violence, individual responsibility, and grace and that makes it doubly unacceptable that you should be subjected to torture and imprisonment and harsh conditions, only for following a practice that is liberating to mind and spirit.”  May urged Canadian and Chinese leaders to remember that both countries are signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Therefore, any trade negotiations should be considered in the light of improving human rights and the preservation of ethnic cultures.

In 2006, Stephen Harper was making the same points.  At a stopover in Anchorage (Nov. 15, 2006), he stated, “I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that, but I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values — our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights. They don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.”

In the past week, rallies have been held on Parliament Hill by both Tibetans and practitioners of Falun Gong, asking the Prime Minister to work for reforms when he visits China February 6th to 12th.  Green Leader May spoke to both rallies.  “If Canada wants to be a partner with China, we also have a responsibility to play a role in ending persecution and human rights abuses.  This is particularly relevant given that Canada is allowing the Chinese government to actually own Canadian resources, with over $20 billion invested in the oil sands.”

Members of the Conservative caucus seem to agree.  Tory MP Garry Breitkreuz noted, “Some of the most serious atrocities are happening in China at the present time and I think we have an obligation to speak up.” Other MPs, including Rob Anders and Stephen Woodworth, also voiced their support.

Zhang Tianxiao, one of the demonstrators, noted, “There is only one principle about trade, it is just that Canada should never sacrifice human rights and moral principles for any material benefit.”  Zhang’s sister, Zhang Yunhe, disappeared in China in 2002 and Zhang’s brother-in-law is among the confirmed 3,400 dead, murdered by the regime for refusing to renounce his belief in Falun Gong.

Former MP and Secretary of State for Asia Pacific David Kilgour added, “Selling production plants in Canada to Chinese state-owned companies with terrible environmental records and histories of playing political roles in the countries they operate in is another matter entirely.”

“Will our children remember us for promoting trade, or for using trade as a vehicle for improving human rights in developing countries?” asked Joe Foster, Green Human Rights Critic.