In 2010, Turkish President (then prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto ahead of the G20 summit at around midnight, and was greeted by then-minister of state for foreign affairs Peter Kent, something Mr. Kent later recounted as a “nasty experience.”
Before the president’s cavalcade could leave the airport for his downtown hotel, Mr. Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, Ont. was informed of a possible security threat that the RCMP was investigating. The party was instructed to wait in a secure room at the airport until the RCMP gave the all-clear.
“For a short period of time, the president accepted our hospitality in the secure room at the airport, but then he became impatient, and angry, and accused me of trying to humiliate him and threw quite a tantrum,” Mr. Kent, who is the Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, told The Hill Times.
He said he saw a “very less-than-gracious personality in the president on that occasion.”
“There is an arrogance that he displays when he defends some of these less-than-democratic moments in his country, both pre-coup and post-coup,” Mr. Kent said, while discussing the current and future relations between Turkey and Canada with The Hill Times last week, days after Turkey announced a three-month state of emergency.
With the recent arrest of a Turkish-Canadian citizen in Turkey, the activities of the Turkish government in response to the failed coup attempt hit close to home for Canadians, and Members of Parliament of all political stripes are not holding back their criticism.
The Turkish government has been widely criticized by Western governments, including the European Union, which it wishes to join, for a crackdown after a failed coup by members of the military on July 15, which has targeted more than 60,000 people, including academics, judges, public servants, and journalists.
The president has mused about bringing back the death penalty, which Turkey scrapped in 2004 to help it join the European Union.
“I don’t think this is a partisan issue at all, but across parties, we should express at any opportunity to the president and to the representatives [of] Turkey in Canada, our concern over the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the obvious, serious encroachment of civil and human rights in the last week,” said Mr. Kent, speaking before the detainment of Calgary man Davud Hanci was reported.
Liberal MP Judy Sgro (Humber River-Black Creek, Ont.) told The Hill Times she was “alarmed” at the behaviour of the Turkish government in the aftermath of the attempted coup. NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière also expressed her displeasure to The Hill Times, and her party issued a statement on Monday saying New Democrats are “alarmed” at the situation unfolding in Turkey.
Ms. Sgro said that if President Erdoğan continues with these methods, it will be “a very major impediment” to the future of Canada-Turkey relations.
Ms. Sgro, who chairs the Canada-Turkey Parliamentary Friendship Group, said she expected the Turkish government to be a “mature enough democracy” to have responded in a better, more measured way than it has. She said she is hearing from many Turkish-Canadians and Canadians with Turkish background that they are fearful for their families still in Turkey.
She said what Canada needs to do now is “continue the conversation about the impact of their actions and what it can [mean] long term.” Canada should not overreact today, she said, but needs to carefully think through the steps needed to restore peace in Turkey, “so that we all can move forward to build a better world.”
When asked what she imagined these long-term impacts might look like, she said she didn’t want to suggest them, but continued to say “they can be very significant if you’re talking about trade or our relationship overall, with NATO, and so on.”
Both Turkey and Canada are members of the NATO military alliance and the G20. The Conservative government had started exploratory talks with Turkey toward possibly negotiating a trade deal, but the talks have since fizzled.
Turkish Ambassador to Canada Selçuk Ünal dismissed concerns about his country’s current state of emergency. He said the measures being taken are justified because they are in Turkey’s constitution, and that “we all have to really understand the seriousness of this attempted coup. It has been reported, but I don’t know if it is really well understood.”
“Because there were many civilians allegedly involved in this, or [who] aided these coup plotters, that was a necessity, as the government has announced, that there will be temporary restrictions on some government employees, or the ones in the state universities; that’s why that is the starting point,” he told The Hill Times in an interview Monday morning.
Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish imam who is in self-imposed exile from Turkey in Pennsylvania, has been accused by President Erdoğan of instigating the coup attempt. Mr. Hanci has been accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement. Mr. Gülen has denied involvement in the coup. Family and friends of Mr. Hanci say he is innocent.
Turkey “would like to see more solidarity messages [from Canada], and of course regarding the elements of this group here, we would like to see more co-operation,” Mr. Ünal said.
The Canadian Press reported that Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion last week said: “About the Gulen movement…we have received requests before the coup and after from the government of Turkey about the movement that is existing in Canada, and we have asked for evidence because otherwise the Canadian justice system cannot address an issue on the basis of allegations.”
Mr. Kent said Turkey wants to be a member of the Western, democratic family. “But, the post-coup behaviour raises great concerns about President Erdoğan’s commitment to rule of law, democratic process, and human rights.”
Turkey is an important ally, Ms. Sgro said, “and we would like them to continue to be just that, but that becomes more and more difficult every day they talk about rounding up thousands more innocent people without any evidence of any wrongdoing, and talking about introducing the death penalty.”
Mr. Dion issued a statement on July 20, the same day the Turkish government announced the state of emergency, that said Canada is very concerned with the reports of troubling behaviour of Mr. Erdoğan’s government.
“The rule of law and respect for due process in the conduct of investigations are integral to the democratic principles that, last Friday night, prompted thousands of Turks to flood into the streets to protect. It is important that these same democratic principles and values guide the government’s actions in the coming months,” read the statement.
Additionally, Mr. Ünal was called in to Global Affairs to be questioned about the arrest of Mr. Hanci, according to a report from the Canadian Press.
“Human rights is something that Canada stands for, and so did Turkey, we thought,” said Ms. Sgro. “You’re not respecting human rights if you’re rounding up thousands of people, highly educated people, people in the judiciary, for heaven’s sake, and intimidating Canadians abroad,” she went on, referring to the recent detainment of Mr. Hanci.
“Anybody who didn’t have to same eye colour as the president appears to be being labelled a terrorist. I don’t think that’s the most productive way to handle these types of issues,” said Ms. Sgro.
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