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Thu. February 21, 2019
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International Affairs Forum

Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

The Al-Qanun Affair

Comments(14)

Just when one might think that the Canadian government had exhausted the jack-in-the-box of policy miscues in foreign affairs, the latest Saudi coup arrives on our doorstep over the weekend. To be sure, one has to be happy for the good fortune of Ms. Al-Qanun who fled her unfair destiny in the KSA. Despite benefitting from recent baby steps in reform, Saudi women are still poorly treated and a lesson in Islamic law and its treatment of women will not do much to change this erstwhile judgement.

On the other hand, to posit that the Trudeau Liberals hustled Ms. Qanun out of the embraces of Australian immigration authorities to present her at a media event attended by non-other than Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland to bake the sunlight of freedom is a bit rich to say the least. Freeland, a former journalist herself, instinctively knows where the camera is always and even Ms. Al Qanun, clad in a Canada hoody, looked more than a bit perplexed at the carefully orchestrated media event.

For Ms. Canun, her rebuke of Islam under Islamic law is an affirmation of the crime of apostasy and punishable by death. Therefore, any attempt to return her to the KSA would be a clear danger to her safety. As such, Canada accepted Ms. Qanun as a refugee rather than the Australian proposal to accept her as a refugee claimant. She was able to bypass the entire process thanks to UNHCR and Canadian lobbying. The Al-Qanun Affair has created a precedent for any other Muslim wishing to enter Canada as a refugee and willing to renounce his or her religion. When one considers the hundreds of thousands of Arabs killed by the Assad regime without so much as a whisper from Canadian authorities, one has to wonder what are the reasons for Ms. Canun’s red carpet treatment.

Happily, for the Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ms. Al-Qanun’s arrival coincides with a pick-up in election fever here. As an election stunt, it makes perfect sense. After all, soon there will be a by-election involving the left of centre NDP chief Jagmeet Singh whose votes the Liberals stole during the last federal election with extravagant claims to reform the electoral system, assist youth and solve the Aboriginal imbroglio left by past governments. None of those promises worked out so hurling the human rights curve ball makes eminent sense. Perhaps not to mend bilateral relations and one really has to wonder to what extent the Trudeau team is willing to taunt Chinese authorities and make bilateral relations with China similar to the Saudi mess. It is hard to imagine any benefits accruing to Canada from such erratic moves. Neither China nor the USA, for which the Huawei extradition trial was orchestrated, have given Canada any returns other than more tariffs and trade gridlock.

Of course, this is not the first time domestic political considerations have overtaken a foreign policy now fallen in disrepute in Ottawa and abroad. Last year’s India trip by the PM was an unmitigated disaster in how not to exaggerate multiculturalism as a political instrument. It doesn’t work abroad and it doesn’t work at home. Then Global Affairs issues a provocative tweet over a holiday weekend concerning the KSA and suddenly finds itself without a traditional Middle East ally and perhaps without a lucrative multi-million-dollar contract in Ontario. The Huawei affair should have been a lesson in point yet Canada is being used as a ‘patsy’ in a trade war between USA and China all the while mouthing sanctimoniously that the Huawei arrest in Vancouver is an example of ‘rule of law’. Now this blatant attempt to use human rights as an electoral battling ram aimed at marginalizing the NDP vote in 2019.  

Part of this pathetic drift is due to Global Affairs and its precipitous structural decline in the Ottawa government scene coupled with its inability to act as a central agency. Without a steady hand on the foreign policy input in Cabinet, Ministers can make erratic judgements based on domestic political considerations against the advice of foreign policy professionals. Over the past few years, the Canadian Foreign Service has been the object of a brain drain with promotions and hiring based on blind obedience rather than independent thinking. As a result, the level of clear professional advice coming from the Foreign Service has been decimated.  Add to that the glaring electoral priority of the Liberal Party and you have a full-fledged crisis in the management of a professional foreign policy for the good of all Canadians.

Dr. Bruce Mabley is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau Group think tank based in Montreal devoted to analysis of international politics. Dr Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat and academic who has written a number of analytical and academic texts. In 2016, Macleans magazine featured a story about Dr. Mabley related to the war in Syria and referred to him as 'Canada's Rogue Diplomat'. In 2002, he was decorated by the French Republic as Chevalier des Palmes académiques.

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