News that Stephen Harper is to be named World Statesman of the Year by an international organization for his alleged work as a "champion of democracy, freedom and human rights" is beyond farcical when you consider what Harper and his government really stand for.
The organization behind the award - the Appeal of Conscience Foundation - was founded by rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965. The Foundation's anointment of Harper has certainly appealed to the consciences of Canadians - in the way a miscarriage of justice would. Truth is, the Harper government has been a demolition team in Canada when it comes to cutting and undermining organizations with track records of support for freedom and democracy both at home and abroad.
Writing in the Toronto Star, Bob Hepburn called the award a "sad joke":
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 and 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.
The award is really being granted to acknowledge Harper's pro-Israel exertions. It doesn't seem to matter that his outspoken stance isn't shared by a majority of Canadians. The close relationship with Israel has been forged while dragging the unwilling along like a reluctant bride in an arranged marriage.
A 2012 Country Ratings Poll conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA for the BBC asked respondents to rate countries as having a 'mainly positive' or 'mainly negative' influence on the world. Israel is down in the basement alongside N. Korea. Harper is set on strengthening the relationship with an international pariah.
In the EU countries surveyed, views of Israeli influence have hardened in Spain (74% negative ratings, up 8 points) and in France (65%, up 9 points) — while positive ratings remain low and steady. Negative ratings from the Germans and the British remain very high and stable (69% and 68%, respectively). In other Anglo-Saxon countries, views have worsened in Australia (65% negative ratings, up 7 points) and in Canada (59%, up 7 points).
This hardening of opinion towards Israel’s influence in the world is strongly apparent in South Korea, where negative views have risen (69%, up 15 points) while positive views have decreased by 11 points (to 20%).
No wonder the pro-Israel crowd sees a champion in Harper - they have so little to celebrate these days.
So on September 27th Stephen Harper of the Harper government will be in New York to accept his award - just not on behalf of those Canadians who are trying to get their democracy back before the World Statesman of the Year does it in.