Western civil libertarians afraid of China, hypercritical of India – Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon“India is a convenient target for social justice activists around the world because … it’s easy to attack India. Being a democracy, its government sees peaceful dissent, debate and demonstrations as the very stuff of daily life, and thus no existential threat. The study from PEN and University of Toronto, entitled “Imposing Silence: The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech,” would be unlikely to draw any retaliation.” – Lawrence Solomon

Chinese Policeman  BeijingThe largest dictatorship in the world, China with its 1.4 billion people, is today engaged in the most extensive crackdown on civil liberties since the Tiananmen massacre: NGOs have been shut down, thousands of citizens have been picked up by the police, the fates of many are unknown, none are expected to get a fair trial for “crimes” that include publishing books and studies, none are even expected to get a fair hearing for their plight in the state-controlled press. 

At the same time, the largest democracy in the world, India with its 1.3 billion people, today enjoys a vibrant free press, a highly respected judiciary and a government newly elected on a promise to grow the economy through free market principles. Yet in a major study released this week by PEN International, PEN Canada and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program, the Indian government is condemned for stifling freedom of expression. 

Renu MandhaneWhat would motivate PEN and U of T to attack the democracy and not the dictatorship? In part, perhaps, a distaste for India’s polarizing new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who won a landslide victory in national elections last year. In advance of Modi’s trip to Canada last month, Renu Mandhane, the Executive Director of U of T’s International Human Rights Program, and Tasleem Thawar, the Executive Director of PEN Canada, wrote Prime Minister Stephen Harper a letter on University of Toronto letterhead captioned “India’s dismal record on freedom of expression poses risk to Canada.” 

Tasleem ThawarTheir letter, which announced they were releasing a report to mark Modi’s first year in office, urged Harper to “put freedom of expression on the agenda for this week’s talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” Nowhere did Mandhane and Thawar make even a feeble case of any risk to Canada. Rather, the injustices they pointed to — for example, an Indian Supreme Court decision that upheld parts of a law making internet service providers responsible for libelous material they might carry — hardly warranted a dressing down of Modi by Harper. Such controversies, normal in a democracy, don’t rise to the level of what most Canadians would consider human rights abuses. Moreover, it is certainly not Harper’s business to second-guess a reasoned decision by the Supreme Court of India, let alone the laws enacted by India’s democratically elected legislature, in the process embarrassing a visiting head of government. 

This week PEN and U of T were again untoward, saying in a press release, “Earlier this year, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs used an extensive arsenal of vague and overbroad laws to muzzle the world’s largest environmental watchdog, Greenpeace International” through “seemingly innocuous provisions in the Indian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.” 

Greenpeace CanadaThose “seemingly innocuous provisions” prohibit foreign funding of political activities by charities. As PEN and University of Toronto Faculty of Law must know, Canada also prohibits charities from receiving foreign funds to engage in non-charitable activities, and severely limits any political activity by a charity. In fact, Canada long ago revoked Greenpeace Canada’s charitable status for engaging in political activity. Why the outrage over a democratic India appearing to follow in the footsteps of a democratic Canada? If Greenpeace India wants to remain a charity, it need only operate without foreign funding, some $2 million a year or 40 per cent of its budget, which it receives largely to influence decisions affecting climate change. That and an end to other non-charitable activities, which the Indian government alleges includes funding the political campaign of a former Greenpeace consultant. 

Modi on the Time cover May 18, 2015India is a convenient target for social justice activists around the world because it is led by a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, because it is on the wrong side of the climate change debate, and because it’s easy to attack India. Being a democracy, its government sees peaceful dissent, debate and demonstrations as the very stuff of daily life, and thus no existential threat. The study from PEN and U of T, entitled “Imposing Silence: The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech,” would be unlikely to draw any retaliation. 

Not so with China’s Communist Party, whose thin-skinned leadership fears for its very existence, and bullies those who question its human rights record. The threat of sanctions by China, particularly once China became an economic powerhouse, has chilled many organizations and countries, too, as seen in their reluctance to publicly welcome the Dalai Lama. The many thousands of Western NGOs that operate in China well understand this, and stay silent to remain in the Chinese Communist Party’s good books. This is the real face of “Imposing Silence.” – Probe International, 22 May 2015

UT IHRP Letter to PM Harper - 1UT IHRP Letter to PM Harper - 2

Embassy news item attached to  UT IHRP letter to PM Harper Embassy news item attached to  UT IHRP letter to PM Harper

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  1. Canada accused of ‘cultural genocide’ – Alan Fisher – Al Jazeera – 3 June 2015

    Ottawa – In the late summer, as villages began the preparation for winter, the trucks would tour the villages.They knew where to go and what to say.

    The man from the government would explain the children were being removed, taken away from their homes and their families and given a place at a residential school.

    If anyone complained or protested, they were told they were blocking what was best for the child. If that didn’t stop the words of dissent, they were warned they’d be arrested and they could spend the year in jail.

    So the children left, with tears in their eyes and confusion at what they had done and where they were going.

    Across Canada, for more than 100 years, children of the indigenous population, or First Nation as they are known here, were taken away as part of the policy of “aggressive assimilation”, or as one survivor put it, “they tried to beat the Indian out of us”.

    The idea was simple. The government would provide the money and the church would provide the education. Children were easier to mould, and the education they received would prepare them for life in Canadian society.

    Their traditions, their language and the heritage would be ignored.

    “I said hi in my local language to a priest as I walked into the school on my first day. He lifted me by the ears and beat me unconscious. I was six,” said one survivor.

    Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald, believed the system was the future: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages.”

    The abuse was rampant. Children were raped. Children were abused physically and emotionally. Children were tortured. And children were unloved.

    In one school, there was even a crudely put together electric chair where “unruly” boys were made to sit and a current was sent shocking through their body.

    Thousands dead

    One man choking back the tears said “I used to look at the sky and know my parents were looking at the same stars. But I felt alone in the world.”

    Another said “the priest told us we were uncivilised. Then he would take us into a back room and rape us.”

    The final school closed in 1996. More than 150,000 children had been forced to attend. It’s thought up to 6,000 children died during that time.

    It may be more. Record-keeping was poor and the guilty could hide their secrets.

    RELATED: Canada failing to investigate murdered women

    Finally, the survivors as they called themselves realised they had been the victims of abuse.

    They banded together and took the government to court and won. They received a settlement, the largest of its kind in the world. But they also won the right to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where they could tell their stories.

    For more than five years, the Commission travelled all over the country, gathering evidence and hearing testimony.

    Survivors gathering

    In a packed function room in a hotel in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, many of those who’d been abused gathered to hear the report.

    Among them was Annie Johnston. She was sent to a school near her home in British Columbia at the age of five “but it could have been on the moon, I was so removed from my family”.

    The abuse was constant, the humiliation unforgiving.

    “My brother was at the same school on the boys side. We were forbidden to talk to one another”, she told me, her eyes welling with tears.

    “The messages that they gave, that we were heathens, we were pagans, my way of life was no good. At five years old you believe everything.”

    It’s 50 years since Annie left the school but every day she remembers something; a moment, a smell or a sound and she returns.

    She said she fed her experiences to her children.

    “I didn’t know how to be a mother, how could I?”

    And so another generation felt the pain and the anger.

    Justice Murray Sinclair – himself from the First Nations – chaired the Commission. As he stood and acknowledged Canada was guilty of cultural genocide, those in the room rose with a roar.

    Their hurt, their anger, their pain had finally been acknowledged. The standing ovation lasted for minutes. People cried, perhaps unable to absorb the history of the moment.

    “It was nothing less than the systematic and concerted attempt to extinguish the spirit of the aboriginal peoples”, continued the Justice.

    “But as the survivors have shown us, they have survived”

    ‘New chapter’

    Beside me a woman rocked back and forth.

    “Thank you, thank you,” she said almost silently. “Too long, too long”.

    The Commission has made 94 recommendations. This, it believes, will help redress the problems the residential school problems have caused, will begin to make amends for past evils, and aid the reconciliation so desperately needed.

    ‘It’s time to start a new chapter in Canada where everyone is treated equally”, said Justice Sinclair.

    “This is not an aboriginal issue, it’s a Canadian issue”.

    The government has said it will look at the findings of the Commission, which is short of accepting what needs to be changed.

    But for many who made the journey to Ottawa, the report is not the end of the process. It is merely a beginning. For them, for their people and for the country which has always been their home.

  2. A large part of Western perception is entirely due to the English speaking Indian media wallahs. The Western media merely parrots what is said here. Thus, because of our “liberal intellectuals”, India become a nation of rapists, honor killers and other criminals. Our English media is playing the role that sepoys did in an earlier era– keeping the population disempowered. This time it is not done with guns, but misinformation.

    • Atoning for ‘cultural genocide’: Truth and Reconciliation Commission lays out its blueprint – Mark Kennedy – Postmedia News – June 2, 2015

      Canada should establish a national watchdog agency to ensure the country truly atones for the “cultural genocide” committed in past decades against thousands of indigenous children forced into residential schools, says the special commission looking into the brutal history of that policy.

      In a devastating summary report released Tuesday, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls for an ambitious overhaul of the entire relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians – with recommendations touching on everything from education to health care, law, the corrections and welfare systems, and even how the history of the schools should be commemorated.

      In all, it makes 94 recommendations.

      Among the proposals is that children in Canada’s public schools – from kindergarten to Grade 12 – be give mandatory lessons on the residential schools and aboriginal history.

      It also recommends the creation of an Aboriginal Languages Act to preserve indigenous languages; changes to the oath of citizenship to ensure Canadians respect treaties; and government-to-government co-operation to find and identify the remains of children who died at the schools and were buried in unmarked graves.
      The commissioners, who spent years hearing from 7,000 former residential school students, even had a recommendation for the Vatican.

      They called on the Pope to issue an apology within one year for the Roman Catholic church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse” of children at the schools, most of which were run by the Catholic church.

      The commission wants a permanent oversight body, dubbed the National Council for Reconciliation, established as an independent agency to monitor progress on its other recommendations.

      And the commission has lent its voice to widespread calls to appoint an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, a demand Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has steadfastly rejected.

      On the international front, the commission urges federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to “fully adopt and implement” the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

      (The Conservative government, which initially opposed that declaration at the UN, endorsed it conditionally in 2010, describing it as a “non-legally binding aspirational document.”)

      True reconciliation is only possible, the commission concludes, if people understand that the abuses at the residential schools had far-reaching consequences.
      “Residential schools are a tragic part of Canada’s history,” says the report. “But they cannot simply be consigned to history. The legacy from the schools and the political and legal policies and mechanisms surrounding their history continue to this day.”

      The consequences are now seen in the significant educational, income, health, and social disparities between aboriginal people and other Canadians, the TRC concludes.

      “It is reflected in the intense racism some people harbor against aboriginal people and in the systemic and other forms of discrimination aboriginal people regularly experience in this country.”

      In 2008, Harper delivered an apology in the House of Commons for residential schools. The commission says the government has to do much more than that.
      “If Canadians are to keep the promise of the apologies made on their behalf – the promise of ‘never again!’ – then we must guard against simply replicating the assimilation policies of the past in new forms today,” write the commissioners.

      “The words of the apologies will ring hollow if Canada’s actions fail to produce the necessary social, cultural, political and economic change that benefits aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.”

      The residential schools saga is one of Canada’s darkest moment. Beginning in the 1880s, and continuing almost to the end of the 20th century, more than 150,000 aboriginal children were torn from their families and sent to about 130 residential schools across the country. The goal was assimilation – often brutally enforced.

      The residential school survivors sued the federal government and churches, leading to a 2007 court settlement that issued compensation payments for former students, and established the TRC.

      In their final report, the three commissioners – Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, former journalist Marie Wilson and Alberta chief Wilton Littlechild – conclude that for more than a century, the major goal of Canada’s aboriginal policy was to destroy the way of life of indigenous people.

      “The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as ‘cultural genocide.’”

      “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

      The report describes residential schools that were poorly built, children who were poorly fed, and staff who were poorly trained.

      “Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created supervisions where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers.”
      The report says the “destructive legacy” of the school system is a powerful reminder that Canada disregarded its own historical roots.

      “Reconciliation is in the best interests of all of Canada. It is necessary not only to resolve the ongoing conflicts between aboriginal peoples and institutions of the country, but also in order for Canada to remove a stain from its past and be able to maintain its claim to be a leader in the protection of human rights among the nations of the world.”

      Among the recommendations:

      National Council for Reconciliation

      Although appointed by the federal government, it would be independent. Composed of aboriginals and non-aboriginals, it would report annually to Parliament and oversee Canada’s “post-apology progress on reconciliation.”

      It would keep tabs on, for instance, on whether the federal government is boosting funds for aboriginal on-reserve education, whether aboriginal health indicators are improving, and whether the rate of “criminal victimization” of aboriginal people is declining.

      The prime minister would be required to formally respond to the commission by issuing an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report.

      Child Welfare

      Federal and provincial governments should commit to reduce the number of aboriginal children in child welfare. Funds should be increased to keep aboriginal families together where it is safe to do so.


      The federal government should repeal a section of the Criminal Code that allows teachers to use corporal punishment on students.

      As well, the federal government should eliminate the “funding gap” that discriminates against aboriginal children on reserves. New federal legislation to improve aboriginal education should be drafted with the “full participation and informed consent” of aboriginal people.

      Language and Culture

      The federal government should enact an Aboriginal Languages Act to help revitalize and preserve aboriginal languages.

      Residential school survivors and their families should be enabled to reclaim their names – changed by the residential school system – by waiving the administrative costs for five years associated with documents such as birth certificates, passports and driver’s licences.


      Governments should acknowledge the current state of aboriginal health care is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools. The federal government should set goals to improve aboriginal health, and also provide funding for aboriginal health centres to address the physical and harms caused by residential schools.

      All levels of government should increase the number of aboriginal health care professionals. Students in medical and nursing schools should be required to take a course on aboriginal health issues, including the history of residential schools.


      The RCMP should have clear independence to investigate crimes in which the government has an interest as a potential or real client in a lawsuit. Governments should also review their statutes of limitation so they do not rely on these to defend legal actions of historical abuse.

      Governments should commit to eliminating the over-representation of aboriginal people in custody over the next decade.

      The federal government should allow trial judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences.

      Public servants

      Education should be provided to public servants on the history of aboriginal peoples, including the legacy of residential schools.


      In recent years, all the churches – Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian ­– that ran schools issued apologies. Unlike the three Protestant denominations, each of which had a single spokesperson, the Catholics issued apologies from individual dioceses or religious orders.

      The commission urges the Pope to issue an apology similar to the one issued in 2010 to Irish victims of abuse.


      Over the years, thousands of children died at residential schools. Many were buried in unmarked graves.
      Governments should work together to get records on students who died and where they are buried. Families should be given information on where their loved ones were buried.

      Business community

      The corporate sector should commit to “meaningful consultation” with aboriginals and obtain “free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.”

      Oath of Citizenship

      The federal government should amend the Oath of Citizenship for new citizens. In addition to swearing alliance to the Queen, new citizens would pledge: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”


      The federal government should fund programs for commemorative projects around reconciliation, as part of its plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

      It should also establish a statutory holiday, the “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation,” to honour the survivors.
      And it should build a “publicly accessible, highly visible” Residential Schools National Monument in Ottawa.

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