A Foreign Policy Innovation from Canada

An interesting piece on an interesting intellectual idea courtesy of Canadian foreign policy thinkers. This little gem is called ‘proportionate response’ and it is to be applied to Israel.

‘Proportionate response’ is when Israel gets to kill 5,10,40 Palestinians for every Israeli killed in Israel’s campaign of ethnic cleansing (The ratio since 2000 is about 5:1, the ratio for recent months is much more disparate, which is no doubt pleasing to advocates of ‘proportionate response’). According to the moral and intellectual giants advocating ‘proportionate response’, the doctrine is that “the attacked party must establish the proportionality of its own response.”

This is imprecise. They don’t mean ‘the attacked party’, because if they did, Palestinians would be able to determine the proportionality of their response when attacked, which is certainly not the idea. Too bad Canada doesn’t have a figure like Orwell these folks can look to. He’d be proud: they say ‘proportionate response’ when they mean ‘disproportionate response’.

Who are they, you ask?

Why, they are a large number of the members of Canada’s Liberal Cabinet, of course! Here is their statement.

I learned about this statement because one of these folks is set to become Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, deciding on the life-and-death matters of who gets to stay and who gets deported. This fellow, Joe Volpe, will be replacing Judy Sgro, who went down in scandal (one of those scandals I don’t want to report on because everyone who said anything about it seems to have said something not worth reporting or repeating).

Canada is going to make the US proud one day very soon. Helping in that effort will be Foreign Minister Allan Rock. If you’re in Toronto tomorrow, check him out and ask him about Haiti, Israel/Palestine, SNC-Lavalin’s war profiteering, Afghanistan, Canada’s role in Iraq, or any other thing that comes to mind:

Topic: “Reforming the United Nations: Canada’s Objectives for Change”
Date: Tuesday, January 18th, 2005 at 7:00 pm Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Street) U of Toronto.

Below is a good letter on Volpe and ‘proportionate response’ from some law students.

Dear Prime Minister Martin,

We are law students completing our final year at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law. We currently reside in the riding of Mr. Joe Volpe, who was recently sworn in as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. We are writing to you today to express deep reservations regarding his appointment.

As you undoubtedly know, Canada welcomes well over 200,000 immigrants and refugees a year, from dozens of different countries. In addition, Canada grants hundreds of thousands visitor and work visas. These newcomers – whether in Canada permanently or temporarily – enrich Canadian society with their differing cultures, religions and traditions. Moreover, the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration plays a significant role in the continuation of Canada’s long-standing tradition of granting asylum to those who flee persecution in their countries of origin. For this purpose, the Ministry has established a complex administrative apparatus to determine whether claimants are in fact bona fide refugees. This administrative framework operates through tribunals and adjudicative officers that apply international law and policy in their decision-making. Hence, any Minister of Citizenship and Immigration requires a balanced and nuanced understanding of, and respect for, international legal instruments and institutions.

It is our opinion that Mr. Volpe lacks both of these qualities. In this regard, we would like to bring your attention to a proposal paper entitled “Canada and the Middle East” (June 6, 2003) to which Mr. Volpe and other members of your cabinet are signatories. This document can be found online through Ms. Carolyn Bennett’s official website and we urge you to review it: http://www.carolynbennett.com/dev/downloads/cdnpositiononmiddleeast.pdf. In our opinion, this paper exudes the signatories’ deep contempt for, and misunderstanding of, accepted principles of international law. While the Canadian government has regularly condemned the loss of civilian life in the Middle East conflict, whether Palestinian or Israeli, this proposal paper suggests that Canada should redefine its position of ‘proportionate response’ to permit Israel greater discretion in its military operations. In particular, the paper states that “the attacked party must establish the proportionality of its own response,” suggesting that the legality of a particular armed action is to be determined not through international legal standards but through the eyes of the perpetrator. The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that attacks directed against civilian objects are never justified under the doctrine of proportionality. The definition of “proportionate response” put forward in this paper would have justified Israel’s August 2002 bombing of a crowded apartment complex in Gaza City, the result of which was the death of 14 persons of whom 9 were children; it would also have justified the razing of Jenin in April 2002 for the purpose of rooting out militants. Such a perverse interpretation of the doctrine of proportionality should never become the rule in Canada’s international policy.

A better view is that the killing of a civilian, whatever the nationality, is and must always be condemnable. It is clear that this is beyond the comprehension of those who support this paper.

Furthermore, the paper suggests that Canada should abstain from criticizing the actions of Israel – such as its widely condemned settlement policy – merely because Palestinian aggression is not sufficiently condemned. It also asserts that UN General Assembly resolutions against Israel are “one-sided” for they do not provide “the other side of the story.” Mr. Volpe and the other signatories should be reminded that no atrocity can justify an atrocity in response. The tu quoque principle that underlies this part of the paper has been rejected repeatedly by numerous international bodies including the ICJ, the ICTY and the ICTR. It is our opinion that such an uninformed understanding of international law has no place in a Ministry which is called upon time and time again to interpret and apply international legal instruments.

Finally, the authors of the paper fundamentally misunderstand the nature and role of our international institutions. The UN and its related bodies are democratic institutions in which resolutions are arrived at through majority vote. Unwillingness to accept the UN as a functioning democratic body based on a conspiracy theory that it has been hijacked by “pro-Arab” forces, demonstrates a grave disdain for the United Nations and its role in the international arena. We would like to remind you that the Ministry’s primary international working partner is UNHCR, itself a UN institution, and it is our opinion that the contempt demonstrated in this paper cannot possibly be conducive to a productive working relationship.

We are not suggesting that Members of Parliament be prohibited from expressing their personal political views. We are merely challenging the propriety of this appointment. Even if the proposal paper discussed above is portrayed in the most favourable light, it is still hard to dismiss the fact that Mr. Volpe’s support of it may give rise to an apprehension of bias which could potentially undermine the integrity of the entire Ministry. We do not believe that the Liberal caucus is so starved of capable persons that Mr. Volpe must be appointed to this very important portfolio.

As citizens of the country which has entrusted you with such an important office, we entreat you to reconsider this appointment.

Respectfully yours,

Lucas Lung and Gleb Bazov

CC: Mr. Joe Volpe and other Liberal MP signatories to “Canada and the Middle East” (Ms. C. Bennett, Ms. R. Folco, Ms. M. Jennings, Ms. A. Neville and Mr. J. Peterson); Mr. Jack Layton (NDP); Mr. Stephen Harper (CPC); Mr. Gilles Duceppes (BQ); UNHCR (Canada); UNRWA (Headquarters, Gaza City); Canadian Council for Refugees; Editor, Globe and Mail; Editor, Toronto Star.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

One thought on “A Foreign Policy Innovation from Canada”

  1. I’ve managed to save up
    I’ve managed to save up roughly $81210 in my bank account, but I’m not sure if I should buy a house or not. Do you think the market is stable or do you think that home prices will decrease by a lot?

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