In Canadian Politics, Human Rights, International, Middle East

Yesterday, Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner gave an interview regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Schreiner argued that Canada should “ratchet up” the sanctions on Russia. He also condemned recent comments by Quebec Green Party leader Alex Tyrrell in which Mr. Tyrrell called for a negotiated resolution to the war in Ukraine.

According to Mr. Schreiner, Canada should “put as harsh a sanctions [sic] on Putin as we can and to deliver military and humanitarian aid to the brave Ukrainian people”. With respect to Mr. Tyrrell, he stated:

I unequivocally and strongly condemn his irresponsible comments… I don’t even understand how anybody could put the name ‘Green’ by their name and then parrot the propaganda of a petro-state dictator who is using oil and gas money to brutally invade a democratic country and now terrorize the brave people of Ukraine…”

My purpose in writing this article is not to intervene in the dispute between Mr. Schreiner and Mr. Tyrrell. Mr. Tyrrell is capable of speaking for himself and has now responded to Mr. Schreiner’s criticisms.

My own opinion on Russia’s invasion is that it violates international law. The invasion is not only illegal, it is also profoundly immoral because of the vast suffering it is causing. As such, the invasion must be condemned, unequivocally. I support the provision of large-scale humanitarian aid to Ukrainians. I also support sanctions on those Russian individuals and entities who are responsible for the suffering of innocent Ukrainians, but I do not support all of the West’s current sanctions because many of them are plainly designed to wreck Russia’s economy and may well cause considerable suffering to innocent Russians (including Russians who oppose this unjust war). Those sanctions could also cause severe damage to the global economy: at a moment when Western economies are already experiencing highly elevated inflation, the sanctions have caused commodity prices to soar. Severe inflation will have negative consequences for people around the world, especially the most vulnerable. Furthermore, I believe that certain of the Russian government’s complaints are legitimate, and that the interests of both Ukrainians and Russians would best be served by an immediate cessation of violence and decisive steps toward a negotiated solution that guarantees both Ukrainian neutrality and Ukrainian sovereignty. I oppose the transfer of yet more lethal weaponry to Ukraine, not only because flooding the country with lethal weapons may well prolong, intensify and expand the war, but also because Russia possesses a massive nuclear arsenal and might well interpret the transfer of lethal weaponry into a hot, Ukrainian war zone as an act of war by NATO.

The consequences of nuclear war for humanity and the planet are so horrific that all persons of conscience – especially leaders of political parties that are committed to non-violence and ecological wisdom – must do everything within their power to minimize the risk of nuclear war.

Thus, I agree with some elements of Mr. Schreiner’s position as to how Canada should respond to Russia’s invasion, but I disagree with other elements of his position.

What struck me most about Mr. Schreiner’s interview, however, was not the differences between our respective positions on Canada’s response to Russia’s invasion, but rather, the contradictions between Mr. Schreiner’s position on the Russian invasion and his own position on sanctioning Israel.

In 2016, while serving as the Justice Critic in the Green Party of Canada’s shadow cabinet, I sponsored a policy resolution calling for the use of boycotts, divestments and sanctions to bring an end to Israel’s brutal and illegal theft and occupation of Palestinian territory. Ultimately, in late 2016, the party’s members overwhelmingly ratified a policy calling for sanctions on Israel, including an arms embargo and a ban on the importation into Canada of products made in Israel’s illegal settlements.

Both privately and publicly, Mr. Schreiner made clear at the time that he opposed this policy. In a statement published on December 1, 2016, Mr. Schreiner wrote (my emphasis):

As leader of the Green Party of Ontario (GPO), I believe it is important to support and respect all the diverse communities that exist in Ontario and across Canada. One way to do this is to take a principled stand in support of human rights for all people.

I believe the Green Party of Canada (GPC) unintentionally strayed from this principle when the party passed a motion at its August convention to support the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. As a GPC member, I’m opposed to this resolution.

Instead of targeting one country–in this case a country that holds special significance for Canada’s Jewish community–for economic punishment, I believe GPC policies should direct action toward all countries with serious human rights abuses and who illegally occupy territory.

[…]

After hitting the reset button, I hope the GPC reaffirms and strengthens the party’s stand against abuses of human rights and illegal occupations. Supporting Green values of non-violence, diversity and social justice means applying these values to all countries. It’s a principled stand that also shows respect for every community in Canada.

To my knowledge, Mr. Schreiner has never publicly called for any kind of sanctions on Israel’s leaders, let alone sanctions that are the ‘harshest’ Canada can impose. Based on all that I’ve seen and heard from Mr. Schreiner, he does not appear to support sanctioning Israel at all.

Whatever his position on sanctioning Israel may be – and I encourage Mr. Schreiner to correct me if I have misunderstood his views on that subject – he has not, to my knowledge, mentioned Israel’s human rights abuses since he began to advocate aggressively for sanctioning Russia. In that time, Mr. Schreiner has pretty much done the opposite of what he urged Green Party of Canada members to do in 2016: he has advocated for the ‘targeting’ of one country, Russia, with ‘harsh’ and ‘ratcheted up’ sanctions, and he has done so without calling for sanctions on Western allies that are currently committing grievous human rights violations.

I hope that Mr. Schreiner will now explain to us why it’s wrong to single out Israel, but right to single out Russia. Until then, we are left to wonder.

Perhaps Mr. Schreiner believes that Russia’s crimes are worse than those of Israel, but is that in fact the case? Based on the evidence, is that claim even credible?

According to the International Court of Justice and virtually the entire international community (including Canada’s government), Israel’s ever-expanding West Bank settlements and its annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem constitute grave violations of international law. Israel has killed and maimed far more Palestinian civilians in its half-century occupation of Palestinian territories than Russia has killed thus far in Ukraine. Human rights groups have specifically accused Israel of killing and torturing Palestinian children. Within the past few years, multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Yesh Din, have documented and declared that Israel is committing apartheid — the second worst crime against humanity (after the crime of genocide). In Gaza, Israel is arguably committing an incremental genocide.

Mr. Schreiner’s public commentary on Palestine and Ukraine plainly reveal a double standard on human rights, but to be fair to him, it is a double standard that is by no means unique to him. That double standard pervades Western political discourse, and it extends far beyond the plight of Palestinians: it applies to virtually all victims of human rights abuses by Western states and their proxies.

Since 2015, a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition has waged a genocidal war on Yemen in which nearly 400,000 Yemenis have died. The UN projects that 1.3 million Yemenis will die by 2030. As Genocide Watch reported last year:

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen has created what the U.N. calls “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”… Saudi intervention in Yemen has included massive airstrikes. Over a third have targeted civilian areas, including hospitals, homes, markets, schools, and mosques, directly killing over 12,000 civilians. Only half of hospitals continue to operate. Saudi naval blockades have cut off food supplies. Thousands of children have died of starvation. A cholera epidemic afflicted 800,000 civilians and killed thousands. Eighty percent of the population depends on humanitarian relief. The Yemeni Archive and Oxfam report that the Saudi-led coalition has systematically destroyed 130 bridges essential for delivery of humanitarian aid.

Throughout the Saudi atrocities in Yemen, a General Dynamics manufacturing facility in London, Ontario – a mere one-hour drive from Mr. Schreiner’s riding of Guelph, Ontario – has pumped out billions of dollars worth of weaponized personnel carriers for the Saudi autocracy. Since delivery of those weapons began, credible reports have emerged that Saudi forces are using them in Yemen, but even if that is not true, how can political leaders who are purportedly committed to the universality of human rights countenance the sale of deadly weapons to one of the world’s worst human rights abusers?

Google searches I performed uncovered no public condemnations by Mr. Schreiner of the genocidal war on Yemen or the sale of weaponized personnel carriers (manufactured in Ontario) to the sadistic Saudi regime. As far as I am aware, Mr. Schreiner has not called publicly for ‘ratcheting up’ the ‘harshest’ sanctions Canada can devise on Saudi Arabia’s “petro-state dictator who is using oil and gas money to brutally invade” Yemen. Indeed, the vast majority of elected officials in this country have completely ignored Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen.

Where, one may ask, is their outrage for the non-European victims of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s longstanding, ongoing and appalling crimes? In their minds, do the lives of Palestinians and Yemenis count for less than those of Europeans? Is their suffering less heart-breaking than the anguish of people who look like them? Are the Palestinian and Yemeni people less brave than the Ukrainian people?

If the Green Party of Ontario leader truly believes that the lives of all victims are equal and that all human rights violators should be condemned and held accountable, then he can now prove it to us by declaring his support for imposing on Israel and Saudi Arabia the same types of sanctions he says Canada should impose on Russia.

It’s still not too late for Mr. Schreiner to live up to the human rights principle of universality, a principle for which he advocated so eloquently back in 2016. In so doing, he would set an admirable example for his colleagues in Ontario’s legislature.

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Showing 5 comments
  • David Turgeon, CPA, CMA

    Thanks for the balanced, thoughtful focus on human rights.

  • Nick

    Posts like this represent why I only will vote for you Dimitri. I will no longer support any political party in Canada because all of them seem to have the same pro war agenda these days. Condemning the invasion in Ukraine is of course the correct response, but the fact these same people have been silent on Palestine or Yemen is beyond troubling. Our politicians are unintentionally propping up the military industrial complex and yet many think they’re somehow part of an anti war resistance. We live in troubling times where politicians think negotiation is somehow a bad thing to do.

    They only see their enemies as “bad” but fail to recognize there’s lots of bad to go around. Failing to negotiate or hear our enemies perspective isn’t a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness. As John Lennon once said: “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

    Thank you for being one of the few brave voices left in the political sphere. Please keep doing what you do Dimitri.

  • Marguerite

    I agree wholeheartedly with Lescaris’ critique of Shreiner’s condemnation of Tyrrell’s call for a negotiated resolution to the war in Ukraine. From both the GPC’s principle of non-violence and the principle of universality in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Lescaris argues for an approach to international conflicts that is rational (well-grounded in critical realities), even-handed and humane (ecologically wise). Just imagine what Canada’s foreign policy with respect to foreign conflicts might be if oriented by such principles.

  • Richard Langley

    What struck me when I listened to Alex’s interview was that the Interviewer condemned Alex but didn’t appear to understand where Russia is coming from….if he had understood this I would have expected him to challenge Alex with specifics, which he didn’t. I admire Alex for taking the position he has. I don’t know if it is the right position because I don’t fully understand why Russia is doing what it is doing. If Russia truly believes that its back is against the wall and had to take the first step in securing itself then we need to understand why and how it came to this and what, if anything, can be done to de-escalate. The killing must stop. As Alex said, we must understand the Russians in order to negotiate an end to this otherwise it is just a war of attrition where the only winners are those who sell weapons.

  • Kyle Ukrainetz

    Great article on the hypocrisy seen so often in politics. I hope that you run for leadership again.

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