Not the Canadian way
In an article I wrote recently, I mentioned my belief that Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was a strong and highly visible member of the Trudeau Cabinet and that it would not surprise me if, in due course, she sought to become Prime Minister. This week, she signalled pretty clearly that this is what she has in mind as well, and she did it in a manner that was a huge mistake and potentially dangerous. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has every reason to be looking over his shoulder.
Yesterday, a young Saudi Arabian woman arrived in Canada, having sought refugee status here, because she believed her life was in danger from dominant male members of her family who felt she was “dishonouring” them. Chrystia Freeland thought it was a wonderful idea for a photo op and took full advantage of it. About that, according to CBC Radio, a former Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia said this: “If the government insists on ‘milking’ her arrival in Canada, it could put the young woman in danger.”
Canada, as it should be, has always been at the forefront of welcoming refugees seeking asylum status.
Some may remember the time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper, returning from the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg, diverted his government plane to pick up refugees in Cyprus. While there are no figures yet available for 2018, in 2017, Canada opened its arms to 47,800 asylum seekers. I wonder how many of them were personally welcomed by a Minister of The Crown. But then, that was not an election year.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is in danger to a much higher degree than she may have been if Minister Freeland had just stayed out of the picture. It is true that the young woman’s plight went viral, since she barricaded herself in a Thailand hotel room, refusing to go back to Saudi Arabia. Had she done so, she quite likely would have been subjected to Sharia Law and possibly be executed by now. At best, she would have been told to whom she would be married and obedient to. It is good that she came here. But her entry into Canada could and should have been handled differently.
Saudi Arabia is already unhappy with Canada and they have retaliated simply because our government was critical of them on a human rights issue. To see a Saudi citizen given asylum in Canada because her life in her homeland was at risk will “dishonour” the Saudis from their point of view. To see a senior member of Canada’s government visibly sanctioning the accusation will infuriate them.
So what? one might say. Who cares if the Saudis are pissed off at Canada? Well, there is a ‘so what?’, and it is not so much about Canada as it is about Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun. One need go back only a decade to remember the horrific “honour killing” near Kingston, Ontario, where four members of the Shafia family were murdered by their parents and brothers. That was right here at home! And, of course, there is the small matter of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was often critical of the government in Saudi Arabia. He was chopped to bits quite recently, in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. Clearly, they are not known to be kind to people who tarnish the image they wish to portray to the world.
Chrystia Freeland’s appearance with Ms. al-Qunun was nothing more than political football. There was simply no other reason for it. It put a larger target on the young woman’s back than was already there and it will make ensuring her safety in Canada much more difficult. Photo ops happen all the time in politics, but this one was a serious mistake. It is too much to hope that Mr. Trudeau will remember that when he shuffles his cabinet tomorrow.
Canada has always been generous when welcoming immigrants and refugees seeking asylum. In 2017,
286,000 people were granted permanent residency here and it is projected that one million immigrants
will come to Canada over the next three years. We rank ninth in the world for the number of new
residents we welcome. But we have always done this under the radar with little fanfare. In my view, we
should keep it that way. Using immigrants and refugees as political trophies is just plain wrong. It is not
the Canadian way.
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