The Responsibility to Protect Dissect
Dave Oswald Mitchell
December 2005/January 2006
Justice will not come to Athens until
those who are not injured
are as indignant as
those who are.
THUCYDIDES, 455 BCE
RCMP training Haitian police
ON A RECENT visit to Haiti, writer and activist Justin Podur wrote:
“I came to Haiti on a short trip to study a country that doesn’t really understand its place in the world or in the Americas. A country whose people feel too much pride and not enough responsibility for what has been done, what is being done, by their government and elites. A country that it seems very difficult to keep or understand in perspective.
“Of course, I am talking about Canada.”
The foreign and domestic policy of that uncurious and out-of-touch country is the topic of this issue. We set out to investigate the charge leveled by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton in their book Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, that “while Canadians prefer to see their government as a force for good in the world, the reality is that it most often sides with the rich and powerful.” The case presented in the following pages lends much credence to these charges.
It is true, of course, that a national government can serve as an important line of defence in the protection of public services, the environment, and democratic forms of decision-making. Nevertheless, we must move beyond the sort of narrow, defensive nationalism that propels some progressive Canadians to limit their criticism of their government to its relations with the United States and foreign corporations. It is convenient and comforting, after all, to focus our moral outrage on Canada’s Big Other and to paint Canada as a vulnerable bastion of decency and sanity doing its darnedest to hold out against foreign domination. But a truly global, humanist perspective demands we recognize that Canada is not untainted by the imperialist project, and actually profits immensely (though unequally) from the upheavals of global capitalism and the exploitation and debt-servitude of the Majority World. On the world stage, Canada is neither blameless nor entirely benign, but takes what actions it deems necessary to protect its privilege and advance its interests.
We are fortunate to live in a country where the word “anti-Canadian” has not entered the lexicon of insults and accusations thrown at those who dare to criticize their government. If it were, such an accusation would likely be leveled at such an uncompromisingly and unapologetically critical collection of articles as this. But the editorial bias here is neither for nor against any nation, but only against hypocrisy.
For, we must remember, there is no moral courage to be found in condemning the crimes of some hostile foreign government while ignoring, excusing, lying about, or even applauding the crimes of our own —- a point that large segments of the mainstream media seem perpetually unwilling to address, or even try to comprehend. “Elementary moral reasoning,” to use Noam Chomsky’s phrasing of this basic truism, demands that people of conscience engage in at least as strict an evaluation of their own state’s actions, over which they might actually exercise some influence, as they do over the actions of other states, over which, of course, they can have very little influence.
Anyone who identifies as Canadian, and especially those who take some measure of pride in that identity, would do well to learn about, publicize, and organize against the crimes of commission and omission that have been and continue to be perpetrated by our government in our name. Good global citizenship demands nothing less.
In the spirit of engaged, responsible journalism, the articles and essays that follow are intended to assist that process of engaged and responsible citizenship.