There was a time—long, long ago—when Canada had a reputation in the world as a progressive nation. Well ... not so long ago actually. Only eight years in fact. It just seems like a long time. Now, in at least three areas we have joined the ranks of the reactionaries, we have three strikes against us, and we must therefore, as in baseball, be counted out.
Strike one, the environment: The Guardian newspaper has referred to Canada as "the dirty old man of the climate world" and a "corrupt petro-state." And sadly, it is appropriate. We seem to increasingly exist for the primary purpose of exporting bitumen. Anyone or anything that gets in the way is trashed, particularly scientists and environmentalists. We opted out of Kyoto and are failing to meet the modest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions we agreed to in the Copenhagen Accord. We richly deserved the Lifetime Unachievement Fossil Award we were dishonoured with at the UN climate talks in Warsaw last year. After all, we had won the Colossal Fossil Award—awarded to the country doing the most damage to climate talks in a given year—five years in a row.
Strike two, drug policy: At the UN Commission for Narcotic Drugs' international drug control negotiations last March in Vienna, we helped block the inclusion of harm reduction in future international drug policies despite the desperate need for it in countries with high levels of injection drug use and HIV. "Historically, Canada had been leader in this area," said Don MacPherson, adjunct professor in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, "A substantial amount of the scientific research validating harm reduction measures was done right here in Vancouver, and we've implemented quite robust harm reduction policies at the provincial level across Canada." (The federal government attempted to halt those provincial efforts but was denied by the courts.)
Strike three, illegal arms sales: Canada has refused to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty, an agreement aimed at curbing the illegal global trade in conventional weapons. Five of the world's top ten arms exporters—Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain—have all ratified the treaty. Our government seems to be balking because of lobbying from gun groups even though the treaty doesn't interfere with domestic arms sales or laws. Canada has also been criticized internationally for proposing a loophole in the Convention on Cluster Munitions that would allow our soldiers to use cluster munitions when in joint operations with U.S. forces. "Canada has always been such an upstanding global citizen," said Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament, "And I would like to see this kind of greater spirit ... prevailing also in this case." Good luck, Ms. Kane.
So there you have it. In these three areas at least we are now perceived internationally as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Canada a progressive nation? No more. I can't help but wonder how many Canadian youths backpacking around the world now put the Stars and Stripes on their knapsacks.