Sunday, May 19, 2013

Canada vs Finland

Team Canada vs. Team Finland, April 5, 2013, the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships. Photograph: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen

While there is plenty to say about hockey in relation to Canada and Finland, it is debatable which nation tops the other. 
On the other hand, on the topic of mothers, Finland clearly beats us: Save the Children’s  2012 report ranks Finland no.1 in the world for mothers; Canada trails at no. 22. What holds us back? No universal daycare and shocking numbers of impoverished children—indeed, 4800 in Thunder Bay (2006, Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee Poverty Report) [pdf]—whose mothers, unsurprisingly, are also poor, contribute to our lacklustre ranking. A shocking 50% of Aboriginal children in Thunder Bay live in poverty (2012, LSPC) [pdf]. These shameful political and social realities reveal that on supporting mothers in all our diversities, our government is negligent, lagging behind Finland.  

That is not to say that Finland is a utopia for, like Canada, it too participates in the policies and ravages of neoliberal economics. So Finland’s ranking as #1 for mothers must be seen in the context of global-wide neoliberal cutbacks on social spending. 

However, unlike Canada, Finland keeps changing its national identity with an eye to a better world for everyone. Finland strives not only to improve the well-being of its citizens but also to spearhead positive change for the most deprived people globally. 

This is especially evident in Finland’s progressive position on Palestine. Finland, along with Denmark, recently granted full diplomatic status to Palestine, upgrading theirPalestinian missions to embassies. Finland, a member of the advisory commission of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), focuses its monetary aid to Palestine on education and improving water supplies and sanitation, along with developing freedom of the press and a civilian police. 

Since 1997, PALFEP, the Palestinian-Finnish Education Programme, has worked on assisting the educational goals of Palestinians. Even Finnish Church Aid unequivocally assists Palestinians as part of their mandate of “working with the poorest people, regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic background or political conviction.” 

While some churches in Canada, such as the United Church, have a progressive position on Palestine, the Christian Zionism of the religious right has sway over the federal government, buttressing a fervent support of Israel even while Israel builds illegal settlements in the West Bank, dispossesses Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and regulates and humiliates Palestinians daily at checkpoints and the ‘security wall.’  

Recently, Canada’s actions have served to bring hardships to—even offend—Palestinians and their dreams of a self-determining nation state. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently met with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem. Nabil Shaath, a former Palestinian foreign minister, called this action a “slap in the face to the Palestinian people” and an “unprecedented offence that severely damages” Canada’s relationship with Palestine and the Arab world.

Canada’s seven-year-long support of the blockade against Gaza continues; a blockade which The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Council consider illegal. In 2012, Canada strongly opposed granting Palestine non-observer status at the UN General Assembly. Why? Baird expressed fears that Palestinians will file war crimes against Israel in the International Criminal Court and demand the stop of settlements. 

This is nothing less than confounding: The Jewish settlements on Palestinian land are illegal according to international law. Why would we want to stop a nation from filing war crimes? Aren’t we for justice? For using legal methods to get results? 

This is also a contradiction as the majority of Canadian aid to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank so far has focused on security, prosecution services, and the criminal justice system, including $50 m. for building a court house. We give them money to develop legal and security infrastructure, yet we don’t support Palestine’s legal claims internationally?
It seems we have no shame in exposing our hypocrisy and, once again, scorning and abandoning international standards as we see fit. 

Canada’s training of Palestinian security forces is to the benefit of Israel.
(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

But it is building security forces that Canada is most interested in; as Yves Engler, writing for Electronic Intifada reports, "Most of the Canadian aid money has gone to building up a Palestinian security force overseen by a US general," a security force which benefits Israel.  Engler cites former deputy foreign minister Peter Kent as saying the bulk of the $300m. in aid went to security, and Canadian security personnel numbers in Palestine are the second largest deployment after Afghanistan.

The above aid, which also included private sector economic development and lastly, flip to Finland’s humanitarian focus, health and education assistance, expired in March. It is now under review. In punishment for the Palestinians seeking (and gaining) non-observer state status at the UN, Canada suspended the renewal of $300 m. in aid to the West Bank Palestinians. Baird has threatened that the Palestinians will have “consequences” if they take Israel to the ICC. Baird also demands that the Palestinians “immediately resume negotiations with Israel without preconditions.” 

It is unclear why Baird believes Canada has the global clout—or reputation—to demand acquiescence of another sovereign nation. Does he believe that the Palestinians will bow to Canada’s demands in fear of losing $300 m.? In light of the Jerusalem Post recently reporting that PM Harper has transformed Canada into Israel’s most dependable ally, why would Palestinians grovel for more slaps in the face?   

Canada’s new global identity as arrogant bully is troubling. On the other hand, one thing that marks Finland as exceptional is its commitment to prescient thinking to enable peaceful global co-existence for all peoples, including the Palestinians.  

On the question of Palestine, Finland leads Canada.
political cartoon from the Halifax Herald; image source