by arthur Weinreb, associate Editor,
January 27, 2005
Paul Martin is not the only Western leader to promote trade with China while ignoring that countrys terrible human rights record. There may be something to the argument that as China progresses economically, the human rights abuses will lessen.
But on a recent trip to the Peoples Republic of China, the globetrotting Martin has shown that he is either indifferent to human rights or has little understanding of the concept of what human rights are. Martin was virtually silent when the PRC refused visas to two Chinese-born Canadian journalists, who were to accompany the Prime Minister on his jaunt. It is one thing not to complain about members of the Falun Gong being persecuted because they are, well, members of the Falun Gong, but it is quite another when the Chinese refused to allow the Canadian journalists to travel with the PM. That one was personal. The only reason for the visa refusals seemed to be that these journalists provide information to Chinese Canadians that is not flattering to the government in Beijing. a leader with more backbone would have strenuously objected to China dictating what members of the media are allowed to cover the trip. But not Martin.
Martin arrived in China shortly after the death of Zhao Ziyang, who had been under house arrest since shortly after the events at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Zhao was forced to live out the remainder of his days at home after showing support for the pro-democracy students, many of whom lost their lives in their fight for freedom. When Martin was questioned about the fact that China imposed a news blackout on Zhaos death, the Prime Minister said, "The way that the government handles this kind of thing is really a matter of its own dictates". In other words, different strokes for different folks. apparently, what China does is their business; it has nothing to do with Martin.
While Paul Martins highest duty is to Canada, a country that he should consider visiting more often, it appears that Martin has little or no understanding of what human rights really are. Human rights are those rights that accrue to people by virtue only of the fact that they are human beings. To qualify for a human right, a person in Beijing is equally deserving of the right as is a person in Quebec City. This point seemed to be lost on the PM.
Martin then went further. He criticized Conservative MP Jason Kenney who accompanied the Prime Minister to China, for going to Zhaos home to pay his respects. Martin accused the Tory MP of grandstanding. While Kenney undoubtedly saw a political advantage in going to Zhaos home, Martins statement was disingenuous, especially coming from a man who had just finished a series of photo/ops in tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka and Thailand. There is no doubt that Kenney, despite his "grandstanding", respected Zhao Ziyang for the stand that he took on democracy. Martin was indicating that he couldnt care less about those who lost their lives in the fight for democracy.
On the home front, Paul Martins concept of human rights is equally baffling. He argues vigorously in favour of same sex marriage because it is a matter of human rights. at the same time, he brags about the fact that although he is requiring his cabinet to tow the party line, his backbenchers are free to vote their conscience when the bill comes up in the House of Commons. If Martin really believed that same sex marriage was a matter of human rights, he would force his entire caucus to vote in favour of the bill, in the same way the Jack Layton is doing. The notion that members of Parliament should be allowed to vote in a way that denies Canadians their human rights because that denial can be a legitimate matter of conscience, is absurd. By allowing his backbenchers a free vote on same sex marriage, Martin is acknowledging that it is not a matter of human rights. Either that, or human rights really dont matter; as much as he would like to, he cant have it both ways.
Human rights mean nothing to Paul Martin. They are just a convenient concept to be used when it is politically advantageous to do so.