Role reversal: China cites human rights in spat with Canada

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Meng Wanzhou, CFO of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, is shown arriving at a parole office in Vancouver on Dec. 12. Her arrest at the request of the U.S. officials has strained Canada-Chinese relations.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

David Webster, Bishop’s University

When China’s government recently protested the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou, it used something rarely heard from Beijing — the language of individual human rights.

“The detention without giving any reason violates a person’s human rights,” a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said.

In using this sort of “rights talk,” China is not simply jumping on the fact that Meng was in detention on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The arrest of Meng — done at the request of the U.S. government on allegations she violated American trade sanctions on Iran — has put a strain on Canada-China relations and has resulted in two Canadians being detained in China.

But the incident has also revealed the Chinese government’s efforts to reshape the way human rights are talked about, and conceived, globally. Those efforts have been remarkably successful — partly due to their acceptance by Western governments, including Canada.

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The English-Canadian media’s selective outrage on bilingualism

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Québec Premier Francois Legault, left, exchanges hockey jerseys with Ontario Premier Doug Ford at Queens Park, in Toronto on Nov. 19, 2018. Ford’s recent cuts to francophone services in Ontario haven’t spawned nearly the media outrage that Québec language moves have.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

David Webster, Bishop’s University

Don’t get me wrong: It’s always nice to see folks in Ontario and the rest of English-speaking Canada say a few words in support of the English-speaking minority here in Québec.

But there are far more endangered, far more precarious, French-speaking minorities in Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and all nine majority-English provinces. In fact, those minority groups — English-speaking in Québec and French-speaking in the rest of Canada — are what make this country what it is.

There is a huge amount of work still to do on recognizing Indigenous rights and fostering Indigenous languages, of course. Important work is happening on that front, though the country has a long way to go. Maybe it’s time to declare Indigenous languages to be official languages.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth protecting the minority official language communities. But to read leading English-Canadian media, you would think that only one of those communities — Québec’s anglophones — were under threat.

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