Canada is back! It was one of Justin Trudeau’s rallying calls when his government was first elected in late 2015. While we now know it was an indication of a government long on empty platitudes to come, it’s also something much worse – it’s the very core of a years long vanity project by the current Prime Minister that has come at great cost to Canada’s relationship with our longtime friend and ally, Israel.
The Trudeau government is consumed with "being in the international mainstream" at the United Nations. It believes in the inherent "morality" of that international consensus. Some might argue that it is almost immaterial what that consensus is, as long as Trudeau’s Canada is part of it.
We have seen not only Trudeau himself fawning over the UN but also his Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland. In an October 2018 statement, Freeland said, "The UN Is the world's most important global forum for dialogue, consensus and action". Also, in 2018, Freeland stated, "[The UN] has been the main multilateral body through which countries have come together in the service of humanity, working to confront the most pressing challenges facing our world.”
When Trudeau announced his intent to seek a UN Security Council seat in 2016 he declared, "With a renewed commitment to international peace and security, now is the time for our return".The truth is, Canada had never withdrawn from contributing to international peace and security. Canada. Under the Harper government, it was an active contributor to international security, often paying a very high cost.
So what did the Minister's statement referencing Canada's "return" actually mean? Quite simply, it meant pursuing policies that a majority of states at the UN would find palatable in order to curry votes for a coveted Security Council seat. And beyond that failed campaign, he sought to return Canada to supporting policies that were reflective of the "UN consensus”.
In other words, Justin Trudeau wanted to be part of the in crowd; never mind that that meant cozying up to dictators and despots whose values are diametrically opposed to those of Canada. And he also wanted to “show up” his predecessor.
While the Trudeau Government didn't initially nor completely abandon the Harper Government's approach on Israel, from the beginning his Government nevertheless started to send signals they thought would win them favor with the blocs they were courting at the UN.
The Harper Government's approach was that Canada had to support Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, for both moral and strategic reasons. Speaking in Israel in 2014, Prime Minister Harper said: "Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so.” Prime Minister Harper went on to say, "Those who loathe the liberty of others, and who hold the differences of peoples and cultures in contempt ... often begin by hating the Jews.” He added, "Those forces which have threatened the state of Israel every single day of its existence and today, as 9/11 graphically showed us, threaten us all.”
It was a position that was anything but morally neutral. After he was elected, Prime Minister Trudeau signaled a different approach. In April 2016 he said that his Government would not "hesitate from talking about unhelpful steps like the continued illegal settlements.”
Professor Mira Sucharov of Carleton University stated: "I think Trudeau is trying to find his seat on Israel in a direction that will be quite different from his predecessor.” The Trudeau Government proudly trumpeted its activities at the United Nations, noting it was an observer on the UN Human Rights Council.
The problem is that while many states (47) are members of the Human Rights Council, they include countries such as Venezuela, China, Russia, Sudan and Cuba. A Government that is morally ambiguous and oriented toward "the centre" naturally started to accommodate itself to the agenda of such authoritarian states.
At the UN General Assembly, there are multiple anti-Israeli resolutions that are brought to the floor every year. A recent CBC report found that, in 2003 under the Chretien Government, Canada voted with the majority of UN members on 13 of 16 resolutions related to Israel. In that year, it voted "No" on none of them and abstained on three. Under the Harper Government that position was reversed. In 2011, Canada voted "No" on 14 of 16 Israel resolutions and abstained on two. It voted "Yes" on none of them.
When Trudeau came to office, while his Government did not initially break with the policy of the Harper Government in relation to UN General Assembly votes, the ideological drift toward supporting the mainstream position has now started to be reflected in Canada’s UN votes.
In November 2020, Canada supported a UN resolution (sponsored by several states including China, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela) that, among other things, criticized Israel's security barrier - which prevents terrorist attacks against Israel - and also unrealistically called for the Israeli security presence in ALL the occupied territories to be ended "without delay" despite the obviously negative security implications for Israel and the entire region.
When asked in the House of Commons why the Government was reversing its position at the UN, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland justified the position by implying that Israel had an authoritarian character. Deputy Prime Minister Freeland said, "We are living in a world where there is a worrying rise of authoritarian regimes, a worrying rise of anti-democratic populism and our country, in that world, will always stand up for human rights and will always stand up for the rules-based international order. That may not always be popular ... but that is the Canadian way".
This is the final confirmation of the Government's return to moral ambiguity on Israel. However, that return to moral ambiguity is NOT, as Freeland describes it, "the Canadian Way.” It is the Liberal Way and it is first and foremost designed to curry favor in an organization that is often dominated by the very authoritarian states that Freeland and Trudeau superficially condemn. This is morally reprehensible.