Canada again takes the moral high ground
- Ottawa’s decision to detain Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou and accept Saudi teenage political refugee Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun are both examples of a deep-seated impulse to do the right thing even if it means facing unpleasant consequences
It would be hard to find two people more different than detained Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou and Saudi teenage political refugee Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. But both women bring out the same deep-seated Canadian impulse that drives its foreign policy – do the right thing even if it means facing unpleasant consequences.
This is not to say that Canadian politicians are more virtuous than those in other countries, but they know that taking the moral high ground usually means domestic public approval.
In Meng’s case, the cultural difference in perception could not have been starker. Chinese look on uncomprehendingly, since it wasn’t Canada’s fight. Indeed, some Canadian political figures have whispered whether Ottawa should have quietly let Meng get on her flight to Mexico and so made her someone else’s problem. The only way Chinese can explain Canada’s behaviour is that it’s a vassal state of the US.
Most Canadians, however, believe they have an obligation to honour a long-standing extradition treaty with Washington and that the case must follow established rules of law. Already, it has jeopardised the chances of the Justin Trudeau government to expand trade with China, not to say the lives and liberties of several of its citizens. And while Canada has been one of two last holdouts of the so-called “Five Eyes” – or intelligence-sharing between five English-speaking countries – not to ban or restrict government usage of Huawei’s telecoms equipment out of security concerns, Ottawa now has no choice but to follow the others.
Speaking of having no stake in a fight, Alqunun’s plight didn’t concern Canada. Australia was ready to accept the teenage runaway claiming abuse and possible murder by her own family if she was returned to Saudi Arabia. But Ottawa took her in, and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland led her through the Toronto airport like a long-lost relative.
Ottawa’s current relations with Riyadh could not have been worse. During the summer, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expelled Canada’s ambassador and withdrew his own envoy and some Saudi foreign students and workers in Canada after Freeland called for the release of jailed Saudi women’s rights activists. Canada has been highly critical of Riyadh in the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
One of Canada’s smartest politicians, Freeland knew what she was doing by sharing Alqunun’s limelight. Canadians love such humanitarian gestures, and if it further upsets the Saudis, so what!