Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Honouring God's bagman in China

A week ago Foreign Minister John Baird stood on a podium in Vancouver and made a lovely speech about the centrality of human rights in the Canadian identity. The occasion was the third annual John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award Ceremony.

Mr. Baird made his speech mere blocks from a downtown neighbourhood where dozens of native women have gone missing over the years.

The recipient of the Diefenbaker award this year was Cardinal Joseph Zen, a Catholic. Seems Catholics win this award every year!

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Many Catholic advocates for human rights have sacrificed their lives advocating for the rights of the indigenous and poor people in places like Honduras and Colombia, countries with which Canada has recently concluded trade agreements. Their advocacy is a part of something once called "liberation theology."

This is not the sort of advocacy for which Cardinal Zen was being honoured. He is more of a political theologian, and what he primarily wants to liberate is the Chinese masses from the horrors of communism. To that end he was embroiled a few years ago in a scandal in which it was revealed that he had used the church to funnel millions of dollars from Hong Kong billionaire Jimmy Lai to "underground churches" on the mainland.

Ironically, Lai made his original fortune by exploiting Chinese workers in garment sweatshops. There is no record of Cardinal Zen proclamations in favour of the rights of exploited garment workers.

The original Diefenbaker recipient was Reverend Ben Yoon, who runs a South Korean NGO largely funded by the National Endowment for Democracy whose mission is to bring freedom and democracy to North Korea. The NED is a "non-government organization" financed entirely by the US government.

That's another irony.

Where freedom and democracy gain a beach-head, low wage sweatshops are sure to follow.

One might wonder if these people are being rewarded for standing up for human rights, or if they are being rewarded for promoting unfettered capitalism.

It's almost as if some rights are considered righter than others here in the most righteous nation of nations.

Only a couple of weeks before Baird's speech, James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur for the rights of indigenous people toured the same neighbourhood as part of his cross-country investigation of the plight of First Nations people in Canada. He called on the government of which Baird is a Minister to launch an inquiry into the fate of the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Anaya also called on the federal government to launch a "comprehensive and nationwide" inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women, something the federal government has so far refused to do.

If we're half as keen on human rights as we like to let on, would we not expect our government to jump on this recommendation?

After all, aren't aboriginal women human too?

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