PM stands up for citizen

At long last, this country has a leader in Ottawa who is motivated by principles, not by money

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November 17, 2006

Finally, a Canadian prime minister who'll speak up for citizens unfairly persecuted in other countries.

By speaking out on behalf of Huseyin Celil, a citizen since coming to Canada as a refugee in 2001 and now sentenced to 15 years in a Chinese jail on grounds he's a terrorist, Harper has done something no other Canadian PM has done.

He's put the rights of a citizen ahead of diplomatic niceties, and refuses to "sell out Canadian values ... for the almighty dollar."

As someone who, over the years, has seen a number of Canadians wrongly imprisoned in foreign jails, sacrificed to expediency by "quiet-diplomacy" Canadian governments, I find Harper's adamant stand refreshing, unexpected and long overdue.

As Canadians, we should all feel pride and mutter silent hallelujahs that a Canadian PM is prepared to make such a stand on behalf of all of us.

I've written several pieces of Huseyin Celil, an Uighur from Northwestern China, who was virtually kidnapped while visiting his wife's relatives in Uzbekistan last March, and delivered to China, which refuses to recognize his Canadian citizenship.

Celil seems no more a terrorist than, say, the Dalai Lama -- yet China insists that's what he is because he (and most Uighurs) are Western-oriented Muslims persecuted by Beijing, as are Tibetans and other minorities who seek to preserve their culture and want to be treated fairly.

China didn't have the courtesy as required by international law, to inform Canada that it had Celil in custody, delivered by Uzbekistan.

"This is a government that speaks with a voice that is frank and direct in international affairs," Harper says.

By the same token, he wants to promote trade and at the moment has two minister in Canada doing just that.

The Celil issue surfaced when China's President Hu Jintao sought a meeting with Harper at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) in Vietnam -- then cancelled when he learned Harper intended to talk about human rights and Celil.

How radical the change in direction the Harper policy is can be seen in the reaction of the opposition.

Sergio Marchi, a former Liberal cabinet minister and now president of the Canada China Business Council, is quoted in the National Post saying Harper should have adopted Jean Chretien's style of quietly mentioning human rights and business as usual.

Yeah, that's a great formula for doing nothing.

Thanks to Chretien, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe escaped censure at a Commonwealth meeting.

It was under Chretien and Paul Martin that Bill Sampson was maltreated and falsely sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.

Montreal photographer Zahra Kazemi was murdered by Iranian police, with no apology, no retribution, no action by Canada.

Canada's penchant for abandoning citizens in trouble in nasty countries that we do business with, is legendary -- especially dictatorships.

Harper says what some have been hoping for years a prime minister would say: "When it comes to the specific case of a Canadian citizen who is being mistreated, we have an absolute morale obligation to defend those citizens and express our views."

Exactly -- but no prime minister has ever done this before, except in broad, generalized terms like in a UN speech when it doesn't apply to individuals.


Foreign Minister Peter McKay has also been pretty blunt when discussing China's human rights.

Sadly, the opposition is flustered and reduced to gobbledegook, as when Liberal foreign affairs critic Dan McTeague opines "that the two countries get together but it requires a deal of mutual respect which clearly isn't forthcoming from Mr. Harper."

In other words -- let Huseyin Celil rot in a Chinese jail and get on with making money.