One of Canada's most respected jurists and rights advocate, the Honourable Louise Arbour, retires this week. I was saddened that her's was not amongst the names mentioned in the traditional July first release of recipients of the "Order Of Canada" from the Office of the Governor General.
For the past four years Mme Arbour has been the United-Nations' Commissioner for Human Rights. Before taking that office, she was a highly respected Member of the Supreme Court of Canada; and an international war crimes prosecutor with impecable credentials, including indicting Slobodan Milosovic, the former Serbian leader.
Unfortunately it seems that just about the only thing that she and the Government of Prime Minister Harper can agree on these days is with the worldwide condemnation of the re-election of 84 year-old President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe which Mme Arbour described last weekend as a "perversion of democracy"....pretty much the same terms used by Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Emerson.
The U.N.'s Human Rights Council which Justice Louise Arbour has supervised over the last four years has been shunned by the United States because it is dominated in numbers by developing countries many of whom have been critical of Israel. That has pretty much meant that Prime Minister Harper's Canadian government, which tows the American line on Israel, has been less than positive over Mme Arbour's accomplishments.
In fact before the House of Commons adjourned last month there were questions in Parliament about whether the Conservative Government had ordered Canadian representatives to refrain from any public praise of Justice Arbour. The exchange prompted a Senior Government Minister, Treasury Board President Vic Toews, to heckle back that Mme Arbour "(was) a disgrace...shame on her." Although Mr. Toews later clarified his remarks, he flatly refused to withdraw the statement. Mr. Toews is Canada's former Minister of Justice and the Member of Parliament for the Manitoba riding of Provencher.
Ironically, Manitoba's Capital City, Winnipeg, is the designated home of Canada's Museum of Human Rights. Construction of the $300-million museum is scheduled to begin this fall on Winnipeg's historic "Forks", where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet; virtually the geographical centre of North America.
When the Treasury Board President, Mr. Toews, clarified his statement to the House of Commons he said he believed that Mme Arbour's previous statements "with respect to the State of Israel and the people of Israel are in fact a disgrace and I stand by those words." During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Justice Arbour had warned that killings of innocent civilians in Lebanon and Israel could amount to war crimes. In the past she's also clashed with the Americans for practices such as the "water-boarding" of terror suspects.
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights is the brainchild and legacy of the Winnipeg based late media baron, Izzy Asper and his family, about as prominent Jewish family as one can find on the continent. The Canwest Newspapers and the Global TV Network owned by the Asper Family have recently praised Justice Arbour's accomplishments.
As for Canada's leader, a spokesman for the Prime Minister says "The Government hasn't always agreed with all the positions she (Justice Arbour) has taken...". At its very best our National Government has been less than enthusiastic, in fact downright 'wimpy' when it comes to matters of the United Nations. That includes no-support for the notion that Justice Arbour should offer for a second four year term as High Commissioner for Human Rights. And; apparently abandoning our bid for election to the U.-N. Security Council in 2010.
As an original member of the United Nations back after World War II, and given our past contributions, including Lester Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize, it may not be Justice Arbour's efforts we should be ashamed of.