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The right path, the hard path: Canada must continue to call out global rights abusers

By Pitman B. Potter      

Canada should not be reluctant to press for specific commitments on human rights, business rights and the rule of law as conditions for entering into a preferential trade agreement with China.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, pictured May 31, 2018, at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Saudi Arabia’s reaction to statements of concern from Canada’s foreign ministry over repression of human rights activists shows a willingness to weaponize trade policy in order to secure consent to human rights abuses. This can only embolden other human rights violators like China, despite provisions of the World Trade Organization aimed at forestalling trade retaliation in response to political disagreement. Canada has already been on the receiving end of critiques from China over efforts to promote a progressive trade policy supporting womens’ rights, fair labour standards, environmental protection, Indigenous rights, and equitable dispute resolution. Canada should not be bullied by repressive regimes that attempt to leverage trade and investment relations to secure silence on human rights. Rather, Canada should be applauded for having the courage to call out human rights abuses among friends and adversaries alike, and encouraged to promote human rights accountability privately when possible, publicly when necessary.

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