Tag Archives: COVID-19

Trucker Protests vs COVID-19 Mandates, or, is Canada Still a Serious Country?

One does wonder; the occupiers have been in Canada’s capital for eleven days (and PM Trudeau has not been seen for days)–headlines at the invaluable, daily, SOMNIA – Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs from the Canadian Forces College (staff college):

UPDATE: A story on our invisible prime minister recently added at SOMNIA:

The Associated Press
Trudeau remained in Ottawa area amid protests, PMO says

Canadian News

Global News
Road closures in downtown Toronto to continue, police say

CTV News
Downtown Ottawa ‘out of control’

CTV News
Ottawa mayor declares state of emergencyMore

CBC News
Removing trucks could be almost ‘impossible,’ say heavy towing experts

Global News
Ottawa trucker convoy ‘not above the law,’ says public safety minister

CTV News
Ottawa residents, honking protesters scheduled to clash in court

CBC News
Ottawa police begin increased enforcement, choking off protesters’ fuel supplies, issuing ticketsMore

Global News
Ottawa police issue more than 450 tickets

CBC News
Quebec City convoy ordered to leave the National Assembly

Some places have handled the protests. And note this:

US closely tied to ‘nationwide insurrection’ in Canada against COVID mandates: Live updates

John BaconJorge L. OrtizClaire Thornton


Another photo from a major downtown street very close to Parliament Hill, at an earlier story in the Boston Globe:

Truck drivers hung a Canadian flag on the front grill of a truck parked in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, near Parliament Hill on Wednesday. Thousands of protesters railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill.

Truck drivers hung a Canadian flag on the front grill of a truck parked in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, near Parliament Hill on Wednesday [Feb. 2]. Thousands of protesters railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP

PREDATE: Good thread by very sensible Canadian journalist:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

COVID-19: Big Intel Failure by Canadian Armed Forces

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where people infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus were being treated, in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 18, 2020. Photo by STR/AFP”.)

Further to this post,

COVID-19: “A post-pandemic review of [Canadian] security and intelligence is essential”

that review sure looks ever more essential–this article by a Canadian intelligence expert tells a sorry tale:

Newly released records show defence intelligence officials downplayed the risk of COVID-19

It is now clear, thanks to a long-delayed release of records under the Access to Information Act, that the defence minister’s confident assertion about the quality of intelligence in early 2020 was incorrect

Author of the article: Wesley Wark

What…[has not been] publicly documented is another side of the military’s response to COVID-19, involving the work of defence intelligence and its medical experts in monitoring and assessing the threat posed by COVID-19 in the crucial early months of the outbreak, first in China, then globally.

The minister of national defence, Harjit Sajjan, told the House of Commons on July 22, 2020, under questioning from the Conservatives, that the government had made decisions in response to COVID-19 “based on sound intelligence to make sure Canadians are safe.” In a brief exchange on that day, he repeated the assertion no less than four times, while declining to divulge any specifics about the intelligence reports.

It is now clear, thanks to a long-delayed release of records under the Access to Information Act, that the minister’s confident assertion about the quality of intelligence was incorrect [emphasis added].

The Department of National Defence was alerted to news of an unusual “pneumonia-like” outbreak in China on Dec. 31, 2019, at the same time the story became available to experts at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). DND paid attention and began reporting on the disease outbreak early and regularly. The minister was first briefed about the novel coronavirus threat on Jan. 17.

DND operates the largest intelligence organization in the federal government, headed by CFINTCOM, a combined military-civilian agency dedicated to assessing threats to the Canadian military and the country’s security [website here]. For COVID-19 analysis, CFINTCOM could call on the staff in the CAF health services group, whose mandate includes assessing health risks to Canadian Armed Forces deployments overseas.

Defence intelligence came to a series of wrong assessments about the threat posed by the outbreak in China. On the eve of the minister’s first briefing, a regular reporting product called the “Defence Intelligence Daily” concluded that the outbreak had been contained and that “significant disease spread outside China is unlikely.” The Chinese government was credited later in the month with being “open and transparent” in communicating information about the disease.

The message about the unlikelihood of disease spread was repeated alongside assertions of the mild virulence of the disease and misleading statistics about low mortality rates among the elderly. Here’s the “Defence Intelligence Daily” for Jan. 23, 2020: “Given the low mortality (O.03 per cent of confirmed cases in older persons — average age is 75 — with underlying health issues) and apparently limited person-to-person spread thus far, we assess significant transmissions of the disease outside China is unlikely.”

While evidence mounted in January and February 2020 about the massive impact of COVID-19 in China and its rapid spread beyond China’s borders, defence intelligence, while tracking the case counts through various sources such as World Health Organization reporting, insisted that the risk to CAF personnel and operations was “negligible [emphasis added].” The defence minister was informed of this in a briefing note on Feb. 5, by which time there had been 24,324 cases reported in China (very likely an under-count), alongside 217 cases in 27 countries outside China. COVID-19 had also made landfall in Canada with an early count of five cases. The disease was on the move, as such diseases always will be.The risk assessment generated by defence intelligence was re-calibrated at “low” by mid-February and remained at that level until March 16, at which time, two and a half months after the initial warning, it was abandoned as the Canadian government belatedly declared an emergency. Three days earlier, for reasons unexplained, the minister’s weekly defence intelligence brief was suspended and was not resumed until May 15.

The DND’s “low” risk rating was matched in lock-step by one generated separately by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The PHAC risk assessment process was heavily criticized as wanting by the auditor general in a scathing performance audit released to Parliament on March 25, 2021. A similar independent and in-depth study of what went wrong in defence intelligence is needed.

What emerges clearly from the released records is that defence intelligence had little grasp of what was happening in China, was unable to generate any useful early warning about the disease threat to Canada, was rooted in optimism, scientific caution and an unwillingness to sound alarming [emphasis added]— something that defence intelligence analysts repeatedly blamed, as the record shows, on fast and loose media reporting.

Minister Sajjan may have believed his department was giving him “sound intelligence.” He should have thought again.

Wesley Wark is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa’s Centre on Public Management and Policy, where he teaches about national security and intelligence.

A post from 2016, Canadian Armed Forces intelligence has only grown since then:

The Scope of Canadian Forces’ Intelligence Activities (including HUMINT)

And note this from the 2019 Annual Report of the then-new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (actually in the executive branch)–starts at p. 75 PDF:

Chapter 4: Review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces’ Intelligence

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

BoJo’s (former) Bad Bright Boy Dominic for Philosopher-King? Certainly not Scientist-King

Further to this post,

BoJo’s Bad Bright Boy Dominic Bites his Former Master (plus Bismarck at the end)

a scary thought at the end of excerpts from this 28 May piece at the London Review of Books‘ “Blog”; much of the Canadian media in my view (esp. CBC and CTV news) are just as tunnel-visioned and amnesiac as their British counterparts, and about as easily twisted by the current government:

The World According to Dom

James Butler

The main point of Dominic Cummings’s seven-hour testimony in Westminster this week was just one line: ‘Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die.’ Anyone who has paid attention to the government’s pandemic management may find this late admission, and the dropped jaws with which it has been received in some sections of the press, frustrating. Didn’t we know this already? Didn’t we know that delays in locking down were compounded by ministerial incompetence, prime ministerial laziness and a deep-seated instinct to do nothing to interrupt the flow of capital? That Number 10, in the grip of British exceptionalism, refused to learn from abroad? That track and trace failed, and that Covid patients were regularly discharged from hospital into nursing homes without tests, with fatal results?

We knew. But only for a given value of ‘knowing’. In Britain, a fact can be known quite widely but not enter the category of publicly known facts unless sanctioned and repeated by sections of the press or the political class. The transition can be difficult, and may be obstructed by a government’s simple refusal to acknowledge the fact. The road from publicly known fact to political consequence is even less travelled. Cummings trailed his appearance before the select committees in an interminable Twitter thread, ‘revealing’ that the government’s initial policy had been ‘herd immunity’. Laying aside the ambiguity of the phrase, the government’s chief scientist said as much to both the BBC and Sky early in the pandemic; only through carefully cultivated amnesia could the press treat it as a revelation.

Those sceptical of Cummings’s reinvention as a disgusted truth-teller may wonder about his emphasis, and ask who is missing from the story. His testimony focused strongly on early decision making, especially the chaos inside Downing Street before the first lockdown was imposed. It is true, and worth repeating as it slips out of the domain of public fact, that the first lockdown was delayed by many days after it was obviously necessary; Johnson did not act decisively, but prevaricated and temporised. People died as a result. Conventional wisdom suggests this is ‘priced in’ to public opinion as a government trying seriously and desperately to respond to an unexpected situation: Cummings’s emphasis on Johnson’s distraction and disorientation is surely meant to leave a question mark over ‘seriously’. He put less stress on the repetition of the same mistakes, the same prevarication, in the second wave.

In the world according to Dom, this is because what matters is character. The errors revealed in the first days of the pandemic were bound to be repeated because they were caused by the dispositions of the people making the decisions…

Cummings’s testimony would cause real problems for the government only if the press were willing to forego writing about court drama and press the unanswered questions home, and the opposition were capable of capitalising on it. Neither seems at hand. Journalists have already begun to pronounce that the story won’t ‘cut through’, as if the way they covered it made no difference to its salience…

Cummings is an unusual political actor because he feels minimal party loyalty: there is very little the Conservative Party can give him that he wants…Detachment makes his testimony both more candid and more strategic than that of a special adviser who has absorbed the Westminster habit of omertà: dotted among the character assassinations were a number of claims that a determined opposition, a crusading press or a public inquiry might pursue. These include allegations of corruption on the part of Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, trying to secure jobs for her friends, and that Johnson misled Parliament by denying he’d said ‘let the bodies pile high.’..

Cummings’s testimony would cause real problems for the government only if the press were willing to forego writing about court drama and press the unanswered questions home, and the opposition were capable of capitalising on it. Neither seems at hand. Journalists have already begun to pronounce that the story won’t ‘cut through’, as if the way they covered it made no difference to its salience…

A political system that cannot enforce consequences on a government is broken. Not broken enough, according to Cummings. ‘In a well-run entity what would have happened here is essentially, in my opinion, you would have had a kind of dictator in charge of this,’ he told the committee [see what PM Trudeau tried, but failed, to do early in the Canadian COVID-19 emergency to get around his governments’ minority position: “Liberal bill on coronavirus would give feds power to spend, tax without parliamentary approval“] . ‘He has as close to kingly authority as the state has legally to do stuff, and pushing the barriers of legality.’ The constraints against which Cummings is pushing here are multiple: distribution of power across the cabinet, competing Whitehall fiefdoms, political scrutiny. His defence might be that he is merely seeking efficiency in response to emergency, and only within the law, even if pushing at it. But the fantasy of the philosopher-king – or in this case, the scientist-king – is the oldest expression of oligarchical resentment at democracy there is; Parliament has already accorded to the government extensive powers to regulate all social life during the pandemic with minimal scrutiny, powers which are even then often exceeded and unequally applied by the police.

The dream of soft decisionism, of a great scientific mind untrammelled by democratic mediocrities, is a frequent theme of many of the ‘rationalist’ blogs that Cummings frequents, and has its disciples in recesses of the Conservative Party and among his Vote Leave fellow travellers. It remains a marginal element in British politics, but the most disturbing possibility raised by Cummings’s testimony is that in a broken system, where Westminster retains its vanity and pomp, but none of its ability to govern effectively or restrain an increasingly decadent executive, the idea of ‘a kind of dictator’ has some serious allure.

And from a 2019 NY Times opinion piece on The Dom:

Mr. Cummings proved [during the 2016 Brexit “Leave” campaign] that stories and lies, allied to strategic cunning, conviction, secrecy, ruthlessness and upending convention, could be much more appealing than reason and fact [note this 2016 post: “Donald Trump, the People and Universal Suffrage Democracy–and Bertolt Brecht“]. Years of studying and writing obsessively about the art of strategy, the failings of most institutions and the success of revolutionary thinkers like Otto von Bismarck had paid off…

Quite the chap to have been the power behind the (prime ministerial) throne–and as for philosopher- or scientist king…

A related earlier post:

BoJo, Brexit, Convictionless Opportunism and…the End of the UK?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3Ds

Cult of Personality, or, Justin and The Donald

For my part I have long noted the remarkable similarity in the appeal and approach of the two men: charisma (always in the eye of the beholder) coupled with the offer of a fantasy world that seduces essentially independent of actually-existing reality.

Now an opinion piece in the generally conservative Ottawa Sun–preceded by a tweet for the story, introduced by Jake Tapper, on CNN (video at the tweet) that started the fuss:

Jake Tapper calling Trudeau supporters ‘Tru-Anon’ is perfect

Author of the article: Brian Lilley [tweets here]

I feel like Canada owes Jake Tapper a huge thank you for giving us all a new way to discuss Justin Trudeau and his followers. If you’ve missed it, there has been a battle of sorts between Tapper, the CNN anchor, and supporters of our PM after a report on Trudeau’s poor vaccine rollout.

After a factual report aired on CNN on Monday [April 12, see tweet above, more at this story: “CNN segment highlights Canada’s vaccine rollout, pandemic struggles], video of it spread quickly on social media. Detractors of Trudeau held the report up as proof of the PM’s failures while his supporters called CNN fake news.

“Careful for acknowledging facts or Tru-Anon will attack you,” Tapper tweeted in response to someone who had agreed with his assessment of Trudeau [the tweet is here].

“Tru-Anon.” It’s short and it is perfect.

For some time now I have been arguing that Justin Trudeau supporters are much like Donald Trump supporters — they can’t take any criticism of their leader no matter how warranted. No criticism of Trump was accepted by his most ardent supporters – in particular those who identified as Q-Anon – and so it is with Trudeau.

Canada isn’t doing badly in vaccinating its population, they will tell you…Of course, these same Tru-Anon supporters will then tell you that while Canada is doing great, those provinces run by Conservative premiers are doing awful and haven’t vaccinated anyone.

There is no reasoning with Tru-Anon people, it really is cult-like.

I’ve been covering politicians for more than 20 years and I’ve been critical of leaders and members of all parties but I’ve never seen the kind of pushback and blind loyalty that comes from the Tru-Anon supporters. Unless, of course, the comparison is Trump…

He can stand in the House of Commons and tell bald-faced lies – like the claim that Moderna vaccine doses are delayed a “day or two” — at times and those people will accept it and repeat it even as the delays stretch out to two weeks. Trudeau can claim that Canada has the biggest vaccine portfolio in the world – only if you count vaccines not approved or delivered – and the Tru-Anon crowd will repeat it.

The words of their dear leader are gospel to them…

I hope this moniker from Jake Tapper sticks because it is the perfect name to describe the cult that has grown up around Justin Trudeau.


For a bit more of the fuss see here from the Conservative Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. Plus a relevant recent post:

Trudeau as Canada’s Trump, or, “That’s what passes for a great Canadian diplomatic triumph these days. It’s better all round if we all just pretend Kovrig and Spavor are Americans”

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

COVID-19/Natural Disaster Response, or, Canada’s Coming Constabulary/Militia Armed Forces?

Whither, indeed whether, three serious combat-capable armed services for this country? Further to these excerpts from posts in 2020,

COVID-19 may well be the End of the Canadian Armed Forces as we have Known them…and of our Effective Sovereignty

…It is not improbable that the Canadian military, if the Liberals win the next election, will effectively end up as a constabulary/militia force with domestic response to natural disasters of various sorts as its primary function along with very token commitments to UN peacekeeping missions…

COVID-19 Facing the Canadian Government and Military with Major Decisions on Force Structures, Employment and Equipment–how Radical a Re-Shape?

I fear the CAF may over time be turned into services whose main mission is domestic response to emergencies of various sorts (cf. RCAF SAR [search and rescue]) with actual mlitary/defence capabilities a distant concern…

the following excerpts from an opinion piece at the Globe and Mail give one furiously to think in view of the generally warm and fuzzy predilections, and progressive political preferences, of many of our politicians:

Military efforts at home are increasingly the norm. A Joint Task Force Canada is the next logical step

Christian Leuprecht is Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership at the Royal Military College, cross-appointed to Queen’s University and senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute.

Two years ago, few could have imagined that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) would end up managing a global supply chain for national vaccine distribution and backstopping the provincial mismanagement of 54 long-term care homes. The pandemic also showed that no one in government fully understands national supply chains across Canada. Still, no part of the country ran out of personal protective equipment even when supply was critically short, because CAF logisticians had the managerial savvy to locate it, CAF planners executed without having to rely on other partners or equipment, and the Royal Canadian Air Force transported it where it needed to go.

Time and again, the Department of National Defence has been called on as the only federal organization with the highly trained, well-educated and experienced roster of specialists and assets to plan and execute complex and large-scale operations in short order. Under Operation Laser, the CAF had a COVID-19 plan that it was able to execute while coming to the assistance of other government departments…

Over the past decade, Canada has become more reliant on the CAF to respond to domestic emergencies: the number of CAF’s domestic taskings has doubled and tripled over the two previous decades. These operations have proven well within the capabilities of the CAF. But in the event of floods, forest fires, or a grave international crisis, CAF assets currently dedicated to the pandemic may have been unavailable. Climate change is bound to multiply the frequency of crises such as wildfires and floods in the coming years, and that will increase demand for CAF resources. The pandemic is a harbinger of future CAF domestic operations that are more frequent and complex, longer and larger without the ability to rely on help from allies. Although the CAF has been able to deliver, after 15 years of efforts focused on counterinsurgency and building partner capacity, Canada’s military still has much to learn and re-learn about large-scale operations.

For decades, the CAF has prioritized a strategic culture premised on Army expeditionary operations despite the fact that Afghanistan represented the only such mission in the past 60 years [but see just below this paragraph, Prof. Leuprecht is being rather selective]. Since the late 1950s, CAF leaders have vehemently resisted anything seen as diluting the combat role: they argue that it is easier to “scale down” from combat than to “scale up” from domestic operations. But that is a false dichotomy, and politicians are looking for a broader contribution to national security from their annual defence investment of $22-billion…

[Afghanistan has been the Army’s only combat expeditionary mission since 1960 and then only from 2006-11. But there have also been several major and sometimes dangerous Army “peacekeeping” missions with both the UN and NATO, e.g. in Somalia, in former Yugoslavia, in Kosovo and Macedonia (a hybrid operation: the RCAF engaged in bombing and then the Army in peacekeeping) and in Afghanistan itself 2003-05. Plus a major army contribution to NATO in West Germany from the 1950s through the 1980s, and since 2017 a significant Army presence leading the forward NATO multinational force in Latvia. And substantial numbers of Canadian special forces have been engaged in a variety of activities in Iraq since 2014.]

Evidently, domestic operations are no longer a part-time sideshow, yet the CAF still responds to emergencies with pick-up teams. CJOC [Canadian Joint Operations Command] needs a dedicated Joint Task Force (JTF) for domestic operations, composed of regular and reserve forces. The newly appointed Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, is experienced at conducting domestic operations: he was the commander of JTF Pacific from 2016 to 2018 and ran humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as maritime component commander of JTF Haiti in 2010. That background should come in handy as the CAF ponders how to optimize its force structure in response to growing domestic, continental and international demands on its limited assets.

Guess where most governments, the populace and the media will favour putting Canada’s future “defence” priorities and efforts. Especially given almost everybody’s intense aversion to taking fatal casualties in anything beyond the most minimal numbers, see:

Afghanistan, Canadians’ Self-Obsession and Blood

Now the Navy is the armed service least relevant to domestic activities. And all parties love shipbuilding’s jobs to buy votes. Moreover Canada hasn’t had a naval combat fatality since three sailors were killed during the Korean War. So maybe the remaining major combat-capable service of the Canadian Armed Forces will become the Royal Canadian Navy. Which could perform a very important and major anti-submarine role in the North Atlantic vs Russkie subs–‘twould be nice if the Navy and government actually talked about this NATO mission (see 3) near the end of this post).

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Relying on the Canadian Armed Forces for Emergency Responses–not a Good Thing but perhaps their Fate

Further to this post earlier this year,

COVID-19 may well be the End of the Canadian Armed Forces as we have Known them…and of our Effective Sovereignty

a news release from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, probably Canada’s most vibrant think thank (at least for those of a small “c” bent):

The Moral Hazard in using Canadian Armed Forces as Provincial First Responders: New MLI Commentary by Christian Leuprecht

Ottawa, ON (December 8, 2020): For some provincial governments, the pandemic has effectively transformed the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) into provincial emergency first responders. Yet this new responsibility will likely only further burden the Canadian military in the future.

In a new MLI commentary titled “The Moral Hazard in using Canadian Armed Forces as Provincial First Responders,” MLI Senior Fellow Christian Leuprecht argues that leveraging the CAF’s operational capacity to assist in emergencies has created a moral hazard which comes at a cost to the armed forces, its members, and taxpayers.

“After all, 55 members contracted COVID while serving in long-term care homes, an operation that cost $53 million dollars, while the total cost of the military’s overall pandemic response is approaching $500 million,” explains Leuprecht.

Responding to domestic emergencies is transforming into a new normal for the CAF. From 2010 – 2020, the CAF were deployed to 31 domestic operations; the frequency and size of these operations are only rising. Moreover, transport aviation to evacuate communities and airlift relief supplies and personnel is in high demand.

The increasing volume of domestic missions creates three problems, according to Leuprecht. First, by backstopping provinces that underinvest in emergency response capabilities, the federal government’s use of the CAF as a first resort – rather than the last – creates a moral hazard. Should the armed services have to deploy overseas in a crisis, CAF resources might well be unavailable for domestic operations – with potentially deadly results.

Second, the demands in Canada’s Federal Emergency Response Plan require solutions that the CAF is ill equipped to provide. While the CAF possesses significant operational resources, there is a lack of adequate resourcing of the civilian emergency management function in the federal government [for sure, see post noted at end of this one].

Finally, overreliance on the CAF fails to address a deeper, underlying problem. Specifically, how will the federal government surge general or semi-skilled labour in an emergency? Continuing to demand the use of the CAF is especially disruptive to the armed services’ combat training and readiness, potentially harming our military’s ability to achieve its crucial defence duties.

Leuprecht recommends that Ottawa consider alternative emergency response models that do not lean so heavily on the CAF. The best option may be for the federal government to reprioritize, along with a slight formal expansion of the CAF, to support its domestic role: create a combined capability of about 2000 Regular and Reserve Forces soldiers to aid in infrastructure in Indigenous communities and community deployment in the summer, which could be postponed or rescheduled if they were called out to a flood or wildfire instead.

“For Canada, the pandemic is thus an object lesson in military autarky. And it turns out that the organization has much to learn, and re-learn,” writes Leuprecht.

To learn more, read the full commentary here.


Christian Leuprecht (PhD, Queen’s) [website here] is Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership, Department of Political Science and Economics, Royal Military College, Director of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, Adjunct Research Professor, Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, Charles Sturt University, and Munk Senior Fellow in Security and Defence at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

A post from 2016–I doubt much has really changed since then–with some personal observations at the end on the federal government’s (generally dismal) approach to emergency preparedness and response, based on my time doing such work much earlier before I retired:

Public Safety Canada’s Emergency Management May Suck

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

PRC, or, Justin Trudeau Government’s Heart just not into Religious Freedom–esp. for Christians

Note the author of this article, rather passionate for a retired very senior Canadian diplomat:

Religion is under assault in China. But Canada may not have the moral high ground it needs to defend it

David Mulroney [tweets here] is a distinguished fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the former ambassador of Canada to the People’s Republic of China. The following essay is adapted from a presentation to the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute’s online seminar, “Mao vs. God: State Control of Churches in China under Xi [webpage here].”

When I arrived in China as ambassador in the late summer of 2009, I came armed with a personal [Catholic] belief that supporting religious freedom in the country would be a central objective of the human-rights program at the embassy. I was encouraged in this by the very welcome priority that the government of the day brought to the issue, which made it clear that religious freedom is a Canadian value and a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – one that belongs to everyone, everywhere.

This policy clarity upset some people in the department who were unhappy about the inclusion of religious belief among the human rights that they were being called to defend. They criticized support for religious freedom as an unfair and partisan intervention on behalf of one of two perspectives that deserved equal respect from an impartial Canada. The other perspective was typically described as the “freedom not to believe.” It was as if we were trying to impose on countries like China a specific religious perspective, rather than simply trying to ensure that people in China weren’t tortured or imprisoned simply for having a religious perspective.

Having seen how ruthlessly China suppresses both faith and the faithful, I’ve never been particularly worried about whether the freedom not to believe is imperilled there…

I had to struggle tenaciously to visit even a few temples and monasteries when I was finally and grudgingly allowed access to Tibet. When I visited Xinjiang, in China’s far west, I was followed for an entire day by a car full of thugs. This effort at intimidation was triggered by my meeting, without first seeking permission, with members of China’s Ismaili Muslim community, who are cut off from their spiritual leader, the Aga Khan. I was given a public dressing-down by my Chinese government handler when I insisted on keeping my appointment at a Catholic seminary that was being harassed by Communist Party officials. I avoided such theatrics when I later attended a service at a Protestant house church, but only because I didn’t bother to seek permission beforehand, since I knew it wouldn’t have been granted anyway…

When I visited Xinjiang, just after those 2009 riots, I was appalled by the formidable Chinese military presence: a ring of armed troops and military vehicles surrounding the great Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar. When I visited Tibet, I encountered menacing armed patrols forcing their way against the flow of pilgrims circling the Jokhang Temple, the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism.

Religious persecution has only deepened and darkened today under Xi Jinping. Even as the decades-long assault on Tibet continues, and as Christian churches topple, China is showing us something new in Xinjiang: the awesome power of the 21st-century surveillance state. It is chilling in its scope, ambition and efficiency, as Muslim holy places, scripture, music, cultural practices and even traditions of family life are methodically eradicated, while Xinjiang is itself transformed into a vast prison camp. China is effectively writing the textbook for religious persecution in the 21st century.

…our government fails these groups by being less than resolute when it comes to speaking up about religious persecution in China.

Part of the reason is bad diplomacy, plain and simple. There is a pervasive notion in Ottawa circles that you can advance a cause by not speaking honestly about it – that China will somehow moderate its behaviour in exchange for our silence, rather than shrewdly equating our silence with consent. But the silent treatment never works with China: It only emboldens Beijing…

But there is more to Canada’s disinclination to speak out. I believe our present government has been indifferent, at best, when it comes to religious freedom here at home.

In 2016, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government eliminated Global Affairs’ Office of Religious Freedom, a standalone initiative created by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2013 to monitor religious persecution around the world. That announcement was delivered with a hint of secular disapproval: “We believe that human rights are better defended when they are considered, universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, as set out in the Vienna Declaration,” said Stéphane Dion, who was foreign minister at the time. What’s hardest to understand is that he was saying this as violence was increasing against religious believers in China, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

…what is certainly clear is that Canadians are unlikely to champion religious freedom in China, or anywhere, if we don’t respect it everywhere – Canada included.

And see this recent article by the Globe and Mail’s excellent Nathan VanderKlippe (tweets here):

In postpandemic China, things have almost returned to normal – except for places of worship

Related posts:

The Chicom Cross Christians Must Bear [from 2016, notes new Liberal government’s abolition of Office of Religious Freedom]

Dragon Working on Muting Tibetans

Indeed, Looks like Chicoms Working Brutally to Cleanse Xinjiang of Uyghurs

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds