Prime Minster Justin Trudeau issued a warning that the “world is in a crisis” as he urged the United Nations Friday to stop ignoring countries when they commit human-rights abuses, employ hostage diplomacy and poison opposition figures.
In the annual leaders address to the UN General Assembly, Mr. Trudeau complained that countries around the world seem unwilling to work together to confront repressive and aggressive states and that this only emboldens them to detain innocent citizens or attempt to interfere in democratic elections.
“We need to recognize where we are. The system is broken,” he said. “Because there are few consequences for countries that ignore international rules … few consequences for places where opposition figures are being poisoned while cyber tools and disinformation are being used to destabilize democracies. Few consequences when innocent citizens are arbitrarily detained and fundamental rights repressed."
Mr. Trudeau did not mention Russia or China by name, but he decried the arbitrary arrests of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by Chinese authorities and his reference to poisoning was clearly aimed at the assassination attempt against Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny.
Although the Prime Minister was critical of other countries for failing to stand up to “regimes that think might is right,” his own government has been criticized for failing to take concrete action.
Human-rights activists have been urging Canada to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on additional human-rights violators around the world, including officials in China, Russia, Belarus and the Philippines.
Canada passed the Magnitsky Act in 2017 and imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 70 human-rights violators in the law’s first year of existence. The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistle-blower who was tortured and died in a Moscow prison.
But Ottawa has not listed any new individuals since November, 2018, when it announced sanctions against 17 Saudi officials connected to the torture and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Canada holds itself out as being a beacon of morality, human rights and hope, but it’s not living up to its reputation if it can’t take the most basic decisions on sanctions," said Bill Browder, the U.S.-born financier who championed the global campaign to establish the Magnistky sanctions law.
Mr. Browder said the list of individuals who should face sanctions is “long and growing.” For instance, he said countries, including Canada, should target Russian officials responsible for the recent poisoning of Mr. Navalny and the individuals linked to the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari.
Canadian Friends of Hong Kong have also urged Ottawa to follow the U.S. and target Chinese officials directly implicated in police brutality against Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, suppression in Tibet and the systematic prosecution of Muslim Uyghurs.
However, the Trudeau government appears unwilling to take action against Beijing while Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig remain locked in Chinese prisons. Bob Rae, Canada’s UN ambassador, recently said Ottawa needs to assess the consequences before imposing sanctions on Chinese officials.
In his UN speech, the Prime Minister called for global action to confront the health crisis and severe economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. He also urged immediate action on climate change.
“Right now, our world is facing a climate reckoning,” he said. “We are at this point because of our collective inability, over the past decades, to make the tough decisions and sacrifices needed to fight climate change and save future generations.”
Wednesday’s Throne Speech did not mention either the Canadian military or peacekeeping but in the UN speech, Mr. Trudeau said Canada stands ready to step up if asked by the UN to contribute to peacekeeping.
Canada’s most visible contribution to peacekeeping in recent years was the year-long deployment to Mali, starting in the late summer of 2018 of hundreds of peacekeepers to provide helicopter-borne medical evacuation and logistical support to the UN.
Yet the UN had to press Canada into the mission and the Trudeau government resisted repeated requests for Canadian troops to stay longer.
With reports from Michelle Carbert
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