By Bob Hepburn, Toronto Star, Setpember 12, 2012
With great fanfare, an international organization has announced it is honouring Stephen Harper as its World Statesman of the Year for his work as a “champion of democracy, freedom and human rights.”
Harper will accept the award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which was created by a New York rabbi in 1965, at a reception on Sept. 27 in New York City.
Harper won the award largely because of his support for Israel and his criticism of Iran.
Clearly, though, the foundation either blatantly ignored or didn’t know that Harper is arguably the worst prime minister in history when it comes to defending democracy and human rights in Canada.
Indeed, Harper’s record of abuse of democracy here at home over the past few years makes a mockery of his award as Statesman of the Year.
It’s a sad indictment for the foundation, which according to its website “believes that freedom, democracy and human rights are the fundamental values that give nations their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity.”
In the past, the foundation has bestowed its award on some of the world’s top leaders, including former prime minister Jean Chrétien. The foundation also boasts a distinguished board of trustees and advisers, such as former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
Since he became prime minister in 2006, however, Harper has systematically assaulted democracy in Canada, overlooking — and in some cases condoning — clear cases where our democratic institutions and traditions were undermined.
So outraged are Canadians by Harper’s actions that many of them have started to fight back to save our democracy, launching letter-writing campaigns, tweeting politicians, signing petitions and joining local and national organizations promoting citizen engagement.
Harper’s record of abuse and assault on democracy and rights in Canada is long and well documented.
In April, his government killed the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights & Democracy), which for 24 years had promoted democracy and monitored human rights around the world.
In 2010, Harper slashed funding for the Canadian Human Rights Commission so deeply that the agency had to close its offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.
In 2009, the prime minister approved cutting funds to Kairos, an organization of church groups that advocated for human rights, after it criticized Israel for bombing a Gaza health unit.
In 2006, Harper’s government severely chopped funding to Status of Women Canada, resulting in the closure of 12 of the agency’s 16 regional offices. Also in 2006, the Conservatives shut down the Court Challenges Program, which had worked on behalf of the rights and equality of women, immigrants and gays and lesbians by helping to fund court challenges to discriminatory laws.
At the same time, Harper orchestrated two controversial prorogations of Parliament in less than a year, became the first prime minister ever to be found guilty of contempt of Parliament, and approved the distribution of a handbook on how Tories can disrupt committee hearings, such as by barring witnesses with potentially damaging testimony.
In addition, Harper and his cabinet have flagrantly ignored freedom of speech and information tenets by muzzling senior bureaucrats, withholding and even altering documents, launching personal attacks on whistleblowers and lying to voters.
Also, there’s the anti-democratic robocall affair in the 2011 federal election, with allegations of voter suppression by the Conservatives. The Federal Court of Canada will start hearings into the allegations on Dec. 10.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point for officials at the Appeal for Conscience Foundation if they want a more complete picture of their 2012 award winner.
Canadians understand that they should never take their democracy for granted. Given that, the foundation should have known that anointing Harper, who has displayed such a casual disrespect for democracy at home, as its World Statesman of the Year would be seen as a sad joke on all Canadians struggling to protect their democracy.
Obviously, it’s too late for the foundation to revoke the award. But Harper could at least have the decency to be a bit contrite when he officially accepts it