Harper’s visit to China was less critical than many desired it to be.

Ryan Mallough

Silhouette Staff


The building quakes with the explosion of yet another shell. The hallway of a makeshift hospital is lined with the dead. The dying cry out in agony beside them.

Amidst their moans, British-Syrian activist Danny Abdul Dayem begs: “We are not animals. We are people, and we are asking for your help. … they’re hitting us with rockets for four hours now. They’re going to kill us all. If you don’t help us they’ll kill millions and no one will find out about it. Please someone help us.”

The government-led crackdown on Syria has been allowed to continue for almost a full year. In that time, some 5,400 Syrians, the majority of them dissidents, have been killed, and the total climbs every day.

Doctors and charitable organizations are barred from entering the bombarded city of Homs. In some cases, government forces round up the wounded and execute them.

The international community has yet to meaningfully intervene. The most recent United Nations attempt was vetoed by Russia, a long-term ally to the Syrian regime, and China, who has interests in the region and strong reservations over how the Libyan intervention was handled.

In mid February, Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to China to discuss the expansion of trade relations with Canada. Less than three years ago, Harper boasted that he would be disinclined to do business with the Chinese until they fixed their human rights record. An economic meltdown and difficulties in expanding trade with the increasingly isolationist United States have forced Harper to seek markets abroad.

However, while economic in purpose, this trip was the perfect opportunity for Harper to backup his earlier claim – to call out the Chinese on the international stage and stand by his earlier position on Libya – that Canada will not stand by while tyrants massacre their people for dissenting. That economic growth will not come at the price of freedoms and human life.

Yet publicly, our Prime Minister said nothing.

He claims to have discussed the issues behind closed doors – something he could have done with much more potency had Canada not suffered an embarrassing defeat to Portugal for a Security Council seat – and left it at that.

While the prime minister cuddled with pandas and ate spicy pork, Syrians continued to be slaughtered at the hands of their government.

Canada’s silence on Syria is deafening, considering that our government was at the forefront when it came to the international condemnation of Libya, being one of the first countries to impose sanctions, calling for an end to the Ghadafi regime’s rule and supporting and participating in the NATO-led intervention. Yet when Syria openly bombards its citizens for months, we do nothing.

While the right to protect should be of no less value, there are important differences to take into consideration between Libya and Syria. The Syrian terrain is more complex, making operation logistics more of an issue.

The resistance is not as well organized, nor as well armed, and does not control as much territory as the Libyan movement, which likely means that intervention on the resistance’s behalf would need to be on a larger scale. It might even need to be an invasion (possessing somewhat of a stigma in those parts), which is more costly both monetarily and in terms of the human life. Finally, Russia and China, while thawing on the issue, remain staunchly opposed to any Libyan-style operation in Syria, preferring a diplomatic resolution that would see their ally remain in power and thus remain an obstacle.

But how is any of that important compared to stopping a mass murder?

Recently, the “Friends of Syria,” a group comprised of over 60 nations including Canada, met to outline an ultimatum for the Syrian government. Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird noted that Canada would focus on preventing a humanitarian disaster, a gesture Syrians from a year ago would probably appreciate much more than those in the present day.

Some action is better than no action, but friends don’t let friends murder their citizens.


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