The 27th of January 2022 is the seventy-seventh anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps. In the years afterwards, the United Nations declared this day International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
CIJA, Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the World Jewish Congress have chosen the theme “We Remember” for this year’s commemorations.
In contributing this video, I realise there is nothing I could possibly say that could be equal to the task of confronting the horrors of the Holocaust. I can only try my best to reflect on what We Remember should mean to our generation of Canadians.
First and foremost, I think it is call to honour the memory and the human dignity of the six million Jews who were murdered during the Shoah. And I think that part of honouring them is also remembering our individual and collective responsibilities to ensure that we never again allow such hideous crimes to walk unchallenged in our world.
Because for every person who actively herded human beings into cattle cars, there were thousands more who looked the other way and let it happen.
I am struck not only by the grotesque enormity of the Holocaust, but also by how many opportunities the world squandered to stop it before it began, or to come to the aid of its victims.
The world did not act when the fascists began fomenting antisemitism in their societies. It did not act when the fascists exported hatred through their early invasions of neighbouring states
Countries, including our own, turned away Jewish refugees and returned them to the slaughter, under a “none is too many” policy.
And even as plumes of smoke were rising over Auschwitz and Birkenau, the allies chose not to bomb the railway lines that were feeding thousands of people a day into the gas chambers.
Seventy-seven years is a long time. But it is not nearly long enough to change human nature. That it happened then is proof that it could happen now.
As children, we think that monsters hide under our beds where we can not see. As adults, we realise that the real monsters walk amongst us, but we avert our eyes and pretend we do not see.
If We Remember is to be meaningful, then it must mean: that we remember our duty to honour the dead; that we remember our responsibilities to see, to name, and to rage against antisemitism and all forms of hatred; and that we remember it is up to each of us to never again look the other way when evil stalks our fellow human beings.
My Article in the Globe and Mail Click image for the original newspaper web page
Whoever coined the adage “Never meet your heroes” could not have met Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In 1994, South Africa held its first genuinely democratic elections. Nelson Mandela went from being the state’s most execrated prisoner, to its president. Apartheid was slain. Archbishop Tutu visited the United Kingdom, to deliver a sermon that would mark South Africa’s readmission to the Commonwealth of Nations.
I was coming to the end of my term as president of my university’s student government, and I wrote to invite him to our community.
He was — and remains — one of my heroes, and I scratched out that letter more in hope than in expectation that he would be willing to divert from London to Oxford, especially out of term. He replied with an invitation of his own, for us to sit down together at Westminster Abbey.
I was terrified.
But when we met, he was warm and kind, and we spent as much time laughing as talking.
He told me about having attended an anti-apartheid celebration in Toronto, my home, which had included a performance by Salome Bey. “She is a much better singer than me,” he conceded.
“And the better dancer?” I asked, having heard of his propensity to cut a rug at public events.
He giggled. “Well, she is absolutely the better singer.”
Our conversation turned from the past to the future.
He told me about the desperate imperative to enable South Africans to bridge the chasm left by apartheid, and described the foundations of what would eventually become the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He paused, and asked me, “So, what do you think?”
The risk of asking a young man what he thinks, is that he is likely to tell you.
“I think this idea is just bonkers,” I replied.
Time and hindsight have not diminished my embarrassment.
A critical component of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be the offer of amnesty, to encourage perpetrators to give full, public confessions of the crimes they had committed during the apartheid regime. The objective of the Commission would be to ensure that apartheid’s horrors would be fully exposed, and its victims’ sufferings openly acknowledged, as a step towards national reconciliation.
“Perhaps I am misunderstanding,” I offered, “but do you mean political leaders could be invited to step forward, to tell the entire world about their ghoulish crimes like mass murders, then be allowed to stand up, turn away from grieving families, and saunter out the door, forever immune from prosecution?”
I had not misunderstood. This would be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It would not be a justice commission.
“Archbishop,” I offered hesitantly, “I do not presume to offer you, of all people, thoughts on South African society. I will only say that to my ears, this sounds like the prelude to a bloodbath.&rdquo
Yet, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proved to be a miracle of the modern age.
It was indispensable to making the transition from apartheid to democracy peaceful and successful. And its chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, further cemented his place as one of the great peacemakers of our times.
I have had many years since that conversation to reflect on why I could not imagine what he so easily foresaw. I believe there are three reasons.
The first, is that I did not adequately appreciate the power of personal leadership.
We live in an era that sneers at the power of individuals, and holds that history is shaped by the impersonal forces of economics, demographics, and the currents of time. But individuals matter. Character matters. Personal example matters. One person’s devotion to the dignity of all others, matters.
The French Revolution collapsed into the Reign of Terror, significantly because France had Robespierre and Saint-Just. The anti-apartheid movement gave rise to democracy, significantly because South Africa had Mandela and Tutu.
The second reason, is that I wildly underestimated the human capacity to forgive.
Forgiveness is less about absolving those who have harmed us, and more about drawing their poison from our own souls. It is an act of radical defiance of the hatred proffered by injustice. Like mercy, forgiveness is the prerogative of the strong.
I am astonished that so many South Africans were not only able to forgive their former oppressors, but were also willing to do so. I am certain that one of the reasons they took that path was not because Archbishop Tutu preached forgiveness, but because his life modelled forgiveness.
The third reason, is that I did not understand how willing South Africans would be to let go of yesterday, if they were persuaded that tomorrow could be a day of hope.
South Africa still struggles with desperate economic inequality, endemic crime, and catastrophic levels of political corruption. Still, hope endures.
It is neither a passive awaiting of deliverance, nor a blithe supposition that progress drifts in of its own accord. It is a hope born of the knowledge that a people who have pulled down apartheid can not be daunted by its rubble.
The world feels like a lesser place to me since Archbishop Tutu’s death. I know he would wave away such sentiments, and tell me that the world will be what we collectively choose to make of it.
Nevertheless, it is as if a light that shone so brightly, and lit the way for so many, has now gone out.
As I rose to take leave of our meeting, my heart still misgave me about his plans for national reconciliation. But looking into his laughing eyes, and feeling the gentle warmth of his presence, my doubts began to melt away.
“You have chosen a hard path,” I said, “but you will prevail.”
He shook his head, and pulled our handshake into a hug. “No. We will prevail.”
Institute for Peace & Diplomacy Panel Click image to see the video
Canada is marking our 50th anniversary as the first state to make multiculturalism national policy.
Has our society embraced or outgrown it? Have global affairs vindicated or discredited it? Does the Canadian government treat our multicultural society as a foreign policy asset, a domestic liability, or a political sop?
The Massey Dialogue Broadcast Click image to see the video
The “level playing field” has become a universal metaphor for fairness, inclusion, and meritocracy.
And historically, sport has certainly enabled racial minorities to breach the ramparts of power: Jesse Owens at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games, dismantling the fiction of racial superiority before the very eyes of the fascist leaders; Jackie Robinson striding over baseball’s colour line, at a time when racial segregation remained the law of the land in many parts of the United States; South Africa’s multiracial rugby team, helping to knit post-Apartheid society together.
But more recently, we have seen sport institutions reinforce their barricades: the NFL’s resistance to the Black Lives Matters movement; the International Olympic Committee barring anti-racism protests on the podium; the negligible presence of racialised Canadians in the corridors of sport power.
Are Canada’s sport institutions using their wealth and influence to advance or restrain sport as a vehicle for social inclusion? In the twenty-first century, is sport a teammate or an opponent in the struggle against racism? Is sport itself building or destroying the level playing field for Canadian society?
Massey College assembles Canada’s foremost students and academics, and enables them to interact with professionals in their fields. In doing so, the college fosters deep and interdisciplinary academic research, projects its thought leadership into the world of practice, and recruits the experience of practitioners to nourish its research.
Although I have been a Senior Member of Massey College for many years, this was the first time I have led a Massey Dialogue. I hope it will not be the last!
My Questions to the Party Candidates Click image to see the video
Canada’s faith communities organised Faithful Election Conversation 2021, a National Town Hall Meeting for Canadians of all faiths and of none, to debate public ethics during the 2021 federal General Election campaign.
Geoff Cameron of the Bahá’í Community of Canada interviewed me about the role of the federal government in combatting xenophobia and intolerance. The four party representatives then responded to me.
During the pandemic, we have seen faith groups rushing to fill gaps in our public safety net, running food banks, providing emotional support for isolated Canadians, and offering shelter for the homeless.
We have also been made to confront the history religious institutions being used as instruments of state power, running government-mandated Indigenous residential schools, and in doing so, becoming agents of crimes against humanity.
What is the role of ideas and values from religious traditions in our contemporary and pluralistic democracy? Can cutthroat politics co-exist with the universal religious exhortation to “love our neighbour”?
My Article in the Hill Times Click image for the original newspaper web page
“It could never happen here,” is a comforting self-deception we tell ourselves, to feel superior to societies convulsed by corruption, bigotry, and violence, and to justify averting our eyes from our own societies’ evils.
The past four years have stripped Americans of their illusions. But they have also caused too many Canadians to clasp our own illusions still more tightly to our chests.
Seen from Canada, the storming of the US Capitol by domestic terrorists looked both tragic and farcical.
They called themselves patriots, while waving the banner of Confederate treason. They carried signs praising the “thin blue line”, while bludgeoning a police officer. They proclaimed themselves defenders of democracy, while using force to try to overturn a free and fair election. They cried about their country being under attack, while fulfilling Al-Qaeda’s thwarted ambition to assault the legislature. They shouted their love of America, while screaming hatred at Americans.
Yet, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of that day, was how utterly predictable it was.
Around the world, democracies are under siege by the rise of demagogic and authoritarian movements. These movements claim to be democratic, but they are plainly the losers’ tantrums, desperate responses to the march of progress.
History suggests that these movements could represent either the birth of a new undemocratic era, or the death throes of extremism. Which will come to pass will be decided by our choices as societies and as a community of nations.
During the Spanish Civil War, the vast majority of liberal-democratic states wrung their hands and offered little more than impotent declarations. By contrast, fascist states poured propaganda and military aid into Spain to support their fellow travellers. The result was a dictatorship that hastened the world’s tumble into the Second World War, and that continued to hold Spain in its talons for nearly two generations.
During the struggle against Apartheid, liberal-democratic states played a vital role in wearing-down the will of the racist regime, and in aiding South Africa’s resistance movements. “Your support...sustained us, gave us hope and encouragement, even in the darkest days,” Nelson Mandela would later tell Canada’s parliament.
The lessons of history are stark: there is nothing inevitable about the course of human affairs. The past is littered with nations that went from tyranny to freedom, and others that went from freedom to tyranny. It is always a question of whether societies and states have the wisdom to recognise the right choices, and the courage to take them together.
Today, there are five choices we must make if the twenty-first century is to be remembered as something other than a retreat from the twentieth century’s battles against totalitarianism.
First, we must not dismiss or underestimate the contagion of extremism, of the kind that was on display in Washington DC.
The individuals, state actors, and organisations involved in fomenting violence must be politically and economically quarantined by the international community. They must be refused entry into our countries, and they must have their assets and businesses excluded from our economies.
Second, democratic states must offer more than soothing words on racial inclusion.
A state apparatus that is more homogenous will always take the rise of xenophobic movements less seriously than a state whose leaders feel and understand the menace posed by such movements.
Third, democratic governments must act to reduce the tyranny of economic inequality.
The growing chasm between rich and poor must be halted, if populations are not to be driven to desperation and into the arms of extremists. Hate has no greater allies than grinding poverty and bitter resentment.
Fourth, the mantle of political leadership must be passed to a younger generation of citizens, to have opportunities to build a new world, not just rail against the old.
In Canada, past generations can be proud of having established our country’s creed of “Peace, Order, and Good Government”, but it is the task of new generations to fulfil that promise. Younger Canadians seem to better understand that peace without dignity is just a euphemism for subjugation, that order without justice is a euphemism for tyranny, and that government is only good if it serves the many rather than the few.
Fifth, the community of democratic states must unite to support democracy, inclusion, and the rule of law, within their own borders and across the international system.
We are facing a plague of extremism and intolerance, and individual democracies will not endure, unless they help inoculate one another.
These are easy measures to express, but difficult to implement.
There are many other calls on the attention of governments. There is little political gain for politicians in international affairs. Too few Canadians are persuaded that our democracy could be at risk.
To all those who say that the uprising in the United States could never happen in Canada, I ask you to reflect on this: on Tuesday, members of the US Congress were also saying it could never happen in their country; on Wednesday, those same legislators were hiding under their desks.
We have a choice as Canadians. If we do not make that choice, others will make it for us.
Each year since 2016, the students and faculty members at the University of Guelph have held an annual symposium, which calls together horsepeople from every part of our sector and every corner of our country, to build common cause, to advance our common interests as a community.
This year, physical distancing meant that the symposium had to be held through a series of live, interactive webinars. It also meant that our focus could only be on how our community can make it through the pandemic, and what kind of world we should try to rebuild on the other side.
This video is of the opening address, by my horse Bello and me. I spoke more than Bello, but then again, he gnawed on my shoulder much more than I gnawed on his.
Over the centuries, the horse community has literally seen off wars, famine, and pestilence. We will see off coronavirus as well, because through our relationship with our horses, we understand the imperatives of partnership: to work together; to learn from one another; to extend compassion to each other; to protect both our individual and shared dignity; to draw strength from adversity; to struggle forward in a world that does not always understand us; and to occasionally succeed despite ourselves.
The organisation is a non-partisan network of citizens who believe that a growing population will augment our country’s domestic prosperity and international influence. It foresees a Canada of 100 million people by the twenty-second century.
The Century Initiative put a series of questions to me about the perceptions and realties of immigration, and asked me to respond though concise video clips, which it then posted to its Twitter feed for public comment.
I have consolidated my replies in the video above. The open discussion thread is at Twitter.
This is a notoriously contentious subject for social media. I hope my universally reasonable (!) friends and colleagues will join the discussion and contribute their views.
Those feelings were only slightly blunted when the Society explained that they were hoping to offer you the perspective of a “seasoned graduate”, the implication being that I have been well and truly marinated by the years that have passed since I was myself a student at Oxford.
I can not deny that I am more seasoned than fresh.
I read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Teddy Hall. PPE is, infamously, the degree most associated with people who think they should be running the world, but whose lives tend to prove that there is no limit to the human capacity for self-deception.
The foremost emotion I feel in being with you today is a sense of happy envy of the adventures you are all about to begin.
You will certainly be matriculating at an unusual moment in history. But Oxford and Cambridge carried on through the Black Death of 1347 and the Great Plague of 1665. The Pandemic of 2020 will be comparatively trivial, and will likely involve fewer people being burned at the stake.
For me, studying at Oxford completely changed the trajectory of my life. It opened up new possibilities that I had previously only glimpsed as a distant observer.
Today, I serve as head of the Mosaic Institute, which advances pluralism in societies and peace amongst nations. It operates through Track Two Diplomacy, and brings together people, communities, and states, to foster mutual understanding and to resolve conflicts.
In every international mission I have ever undertaken, I have found myself tripping over other Oxonians: in desperate conflict zones and in the deep ease of diplomatic institutions; in razed villages and in glittering metropolises; on the barricades and in palaces.
Studying at Oxford helped all of us believe that the world could be a more humane and more just place. It imparted to us a sense of responsibility to advance that dream. And it gave us the most extraordinary opportunities to work towards making that dream a reality.
I have three observations to offer you, as you start your own journeys at Oxford and Cambridge.
The first is that you will be immersed in an ocean of riches. The university buildings form part of the built heritage of the human race. The tuition is intensely intimate. The extracurricular activities are a marvel of diversity and depth. And I am embarrassed by how quickly I took it all for granted.
You should savour the moments. This density of opportunity will almost certainly never come your way again.
The second is that Britain can be a lonely place, especially if you are someone like me, who has had to work to overcome natural shyness. The English, in particular, tend to be sceptical of easy friendliness, seeing it as glib and superficial. They are often cutting, and sometimes cruel to one another.
But it is worth the effort to pierce their barriers, because the friendships you make with them will be all the deeper for it.
The third, is that you should do everything you can to maintain those friendships after university. The true wealth of Oxford and Cambridge lie neither in their architecture nor indeed in their classes, but instead, in the fact that they draw together truly exceptional people, including yourselves.
I have forgotten almost everything I was taught at Oxford, but I remember almost everything I learned, because that came from the conversations, the experiences, and the dreams I nurtured with my peers.
The ties that will bind you together run deeper than the foundations of the modern world. They have proven more enduring than the countless kingdoms, countries, and empires that have risen and fallen away during the nearly 1000 years since our universities first took root.
You will graduate into a world where societies everywhere are tearing themselves apart over questions of whom they recognise as friends and whom they reject as strangers.
In that context, the greatest gift Oxford gave to me is the knowledge that I am part of a fellowship that reaches across time and around the globe. It includes people who speak different languages, profess different faiths, come from different ethnic groups, abide in different nations, and have been on opposite sides of history and warfare.
Yet, as Oxonians, we understand that there are no strangers amongst us: only friends we have yet to meet.
I genuinely envy the journey you are all about to begin. I wish you well in adding to the stories of Oxford and Cambridge, and in adding Oxford and Cambridge to the stories of your lives.
Our Conversation During Peace Patron Investiture Ceremonies Click image to see the video
I am delighted to bestow the Mosaic Institute’s 2020 Peace Patron award on Margaret MacMillan. This is the Institute’s highest honour, which we present annually to one person who has made a preeminent contribution to peace and intercultural understanding.
We selected Margaret for her extraordinary work as a historian and author. She has helped the world gain a more clear-eyed view of the arc of history itself, and has reinforced our shared creed that peace is more than just the absence of war - that it is instead the presence of dignity, justice, and humanity.
To respect physical distancing during the pandemic, we held her formal investiture as our Peace Patron online.
This video is of our live “fireside conversation” about why states have wandered onto the path of war, and how they have succeeded or failed to find the way to peace. We also took questions from the audience.
Margaret is the Mosaic Institute’s seventh Peace Patron, joining John de Chastelain, Edward Burtynsky, Naheed Nenshi, Senator Murray Sinclair, Louise Arbour, and Hugh Segal.
My Article in the Globe and Mail Click image for the original newspaper web page
The past truly is a foreign country.
I remember the glorious autumn day in 1988 when Ben Johnson won the Olympic gold medal in the 100-metre dash, in world record time. My usually reticent neighbours in Toronto hung a homemade banner across their house, bearing simply “9.79s” in enormous digits; no one needed any explanation. All of Canada was euphoric. For three days.
The burning anguish Canadians felt when we learned that Mr Johnson had been cheating gave way to cold cynicism, as the passing years exposed widespread doping across the world of sport. But the challenge in life is to find a way to hold fast to our ideals, even as we are being stripped of our illusions.
International sport can be sordid and venal, but it retains the capacity to inspire us to our better angels: fair play; equality of opportunity in the pursuit of excellence; humility in victory and grace in defeat. As a member of the Canadian Equestrian Team, I saw sport draw bitter enemies together across borders, as peers in a shared passion.
These ideals may be more ridiculed than respected, but I believe they are ideals worth fighting for.
In 2016, independent investigations confirmed that Russian officials had run a massive state-sponsored doping system during the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, which fed illicit performance-enhancing drugs to hundreds of athletes, and took outlandish measures to pervert national drug-testing mechanisms.
The evidence was incontrovertible. Nevertheless, the world’s sport institutions struggled to summon the collective will to stand up for the integrity of the sport system, or to step away from the wealth and political influence that Russian operatives ladled over them.
After much, often bitter wrangling, the IPC and WADA voted to suspend Russia before the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Rio. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) resisted, before trailing after the IPC and WADA, and suspended Russia on the eve of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.
Yet, even these measures were short-lived.
The IOC welcomed Russia back after a suspension of less than three months. To my dismay, both the IPC and WADA capitulated within a year after that. Through it all, the Russian government continued to baldly deny that it had orchestrated the doping program, while denouncing Russian whistle-blowers as traitors.
The people who had cheated to steal medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, had then cheated to be readmitted to those Games, and are cheating the measures meant to demonstrate that they have mended their ways.
WADA is convening a crisis meeting in Paris on Monday. It is impossible for the organisation to evade a simple choice: Will it allow this parade of outrages to saunter on, or will it rule that Russian teams must be barred from next year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics?
The institutionalised doping of Russian athletes was more than just an offence against the ideals of sport; it was an outrage against fundamental human rights, and its greatest victims were Russian athletes themselves: Russian athletes who were excluded from contention and had their careers destroyed because they refused to cheat; Russian athletes who were lured or coerced into taking drugs that will ultimately leave their bodies broken and their lives shortened; Russian athletes who will forever dwell in terror, because they are living evidence against the underworld’s most ruthless figures.
If WADA fails to act, it will shatter any remaining confidence in the international sport system. Worse still, it will make sport a weapon against the Russian people and against the common interests of the human race.
The Russian government did not create a state-sponsored doping system simply to gather up a trove of fool’s gold. It did so because this false glory serves to beguile and distract its people, who might otherwise rise up against a political system that has left them impoverished and oppressed. It did so to enable sport oligarchs to plunder the state, while branding their critics as unpatriotic. It did so to buy a place at the table of international affairs, and thus a veneer of global respectability.
On Monday, WADA will have to decide whether it is prepared to live up to the ideals of sport, or whether it will break faith with them. It will make its decision under the menacing glare of some of the most powerful figures in the world. But it will also do so under the impassive gaze of history.
My Address to the Constitutional Democracy Under Stress Conference Click image to see the video
The 20th century began as the age of dictators, and ended with democracy triumphant across the world. Yet the 21st century has witnessed a terrible reversal of that momentum, with collapsing public confidence in democratic institutions and the rise of elected authoritarian governments.
Peter Biro and Howard Aster organised the remarkable Constitutional Democracy Under Stress Conference, to build the “heroic citizenship” necessary to foster states that are democratic, pluralistic, inclusive, just, free, prosperous, and sustainable.
The video above is my live address to the conference, and the text below is my contribution to the book published afterwards.
* * *
The constitutions of the past were often framed in soaring poetry: “The French people are the friends and natural allies of all free peoples...”; “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union...”; “The Empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal.”
The constitutions of the modern era are more often grounded in turgid legalese: “Using the procedure for monitoring the subsidiarity principle referred to in Article I-11(3), the European Commission shall draw national Parliaments' attention to proposals based on this Article...”
Part of the shift from the old to the new tone of constitutions undoubtedly reflects efforts by governments to ensure that their fundamental laws are legally precise. But it also represents a failure by modern political actors to understand that constitutions — and democracies more broadly — can come to grief, if they do not appeal to the hearts of their peoples, and not just to the minds of their courts.
The truth is that as human beings, we tend to be creatures of passion before we are creatures of reason. Sometimes, our emotions are formed in response to logic; we may warm to policies because they have passed an intellectual test, and may cool to policies because they have failed. But often, we seek out arguments to justify our support of policies to which we are emotionally drawn, and cast about for arguments to excuse our rejection of policies that leave us emotionally cold.
Both the interpersonal and public spheres have always involved a pendulum swinging between passion and reason.
However, we have arrived at a moment in history when emotion appears to have utterly defeated facts in public discourse, to the great undoing of our societies.
Why has this happened, and how can constitutional democracies survive this moment?.
In many ways, it seems outlandish that we need to even ask this question. The twentieth century began as the age of the dictator; it ended with the triumph of liberal democracy as the ascendant political philosophy across the globe. Today, virtually every state claims to be a democracy, and virtually every political actor claims to be a democrat, not least those who do not have a democratic bone in their bodies.
Yet everywhere, democracies are in crisis.
In both the newest and the most-established democracies, populations are losing faith in democratic institutions, and even in the concept of democracy itself.
A Lesson from Petra
For me, this is a deeply jarring and unsettling development. Much of my voluntary and professional life has centred on international democratic development, and on trying to make a contribution to Canada’s system of democracy. I have always felt that public service in support of democratic ideals is the highest secular calling, an edifying response to the yearning we all feel to be part of something greater than ourselves.
But increasingly, my fellow citizens in Canada and my fellow human beings around the world view that calling with scepticism and derision. Both my heart and my mind rebel against this, but I can not deny the reality of it, nor can I fall into the trap of substituting my feelings about democracy for the fact that democracy is losing its appeal to the very people it is meant to serve and empower.
How is this possible?
Fourteen years ago, I was in Jordan on a small project at what was then the Amman campus of the United Nations University. During a day trip to Petra, the “rose-red city half as old as time,” I fell into conversation with a Bedouin woman named Nazeh Lafi. She asked what I was doing in the country, and listened indulgently as I described my work in democratic development with legislators from across the Middle East.
The translator sitting with us laughed uncomfortably as she considered how to convey Nazeh’s response to me. She eventually said, “Is it possible that you are fetishising democracy?”
Those words have remained with me all these years later, and often come back to me as I consider why democracy appears to be faltering today.
Nazeh saw clearly what I did not, that a democratically-elected prime minister or president could be just as tyrannical or just as incompetent as any hereditary king or military strongman. As a result, democracy does not have the purchase on her emotions that it has on mine. Her test for a system of government is not whether it emerges from principled arguments; her test is whether the system can deliver quality of life to her and her family.
Will the system acknowledge her dignity as a person? Can it discourage political corruption that impoverishes and oppresses her community? Can it reduce her exposure to violence? Can it enable her and her family to enjoy a decent standard of living?
Nazeh did not care about beautiful theories of popular will or social contracts. She did care about whether the system of government under which she lives will meet her practical needs as a human being.
Ultimately, the decline in public confidence in democratic institutions, the collapse of facts in public discourse, and the ascendency of emotion in politics, are all deeply intertwined with Nazeh’s insight.
The Case for Democracy
The rational case for democracy must be that it is the system of government most likely to meet the practical needs of populations. I believe it can make that case, because democracy is, by its nature, the one broad system that can reliably deliver governments that are legitimate, just, and in the public interest.
Firstly, at its heart, democracy in all its forms is fundamentally about the legitimacy of state power. It is about government only with the consent of the governed. It is about government being conducted by us and for us, and not being done to us or imposed on us. It is a system that enables each of us to remain masters of our individual destinies, and to retain our individual autonomy, while sharing in the authorship of our collective society. At its core, for any system to be worthy of the term “democratic”, it must uphold the ideal that citizens are all equal in dignity before the law, with an equal voice in choosing government and holding it to account.
Secondly, while not all democracies are just societies, all just societies are democracies. That justice flows inexorably from democracy’s core idea of equality before the law, and therefore government restrained by the rule of law, rather than enabling the caprice of governors.
Thirdly, while democracies can certainly be ponderous, inefficient, and bureaucratic, they yield the governments with the greatest incentive to pursue and achieve objectives that satisfy the popular will, if only to enable the governors to realise their ambitions of remaining in office.
When Democracy Fails
All the benefits of democracy hinge on one critical assumption: that we as citizens are the best judges of our own best interests. If reason falls to emotion, and if facts perish before sentiment, then the very incentive structures that push democratic institutions towards fulfilling our will, also lead them away from meeting our needs. It ends with a complete reversal of the promise of democracy, and yields governments that are illegitimate, unjust, and work against the public interest. It ends with the people losing faith in democracy itself.
In recent years, we have seen the shadow of this reversal spreading across the democratic world.
Demagoguery has come back into fashion, as we witness the rise of political leaders and political parties who are elected not because they argue for enlightened self-interest, but instead because they appeal to our darkest emotions, to our primordial fears and thoughtless bigotries. They offer our societies no real solutions, but do give us people to blame. They seek to delegitimise all the institutions that could hold them in check.
Authoritarianism walks hand-in-hand with demagoguery. Its champions are elected to office precisely because they promise to strip us of our democratic rights. They convince us that the laws and political norms that are our protections against them, are barriers to them raining down vengeance upon those they have caused us to despise.
The bitterest irony is that demagogic and authoritarian governments are typically being elected by the people most apt to be harmed by their policies. A clear majority of Welsh voters supported Brexit, even as the principality will lose billions of dollars in EU investments. A clear majority of White women voted for Donald Trump, even as the revelations of his misconduct towards people like them flashed on every screen. A majority of Brazilians voted for Jair Bolsonaro, even as he promised to respond to the Amazon fires with intensified deforestation.
In each of these cases, too many voters chose easy lies over hard truths, and comforting political fantasies over discomfiting reality. In essence, they preferred blazing emotions over cold reason.
Why the Pendulum has Swung
Over the past generation, the pendulum has swung decidedly away from reason and towards emotion for a variety of separate but mutually-reinforcing reasons: growing difficulty in weighing purported facts; traditional authorities squandering public confidence; and rising anger at the loss of personal dignity.
In an increasingly complex world, it has become steadily more difficult to rationally assess facts through our own knowledge or expertise. Often, our only option is to weigh the credibility of the institutions and supposed experts who are offering competing facts. Even here, we are faced with the conundrum that traditional intermediaries, such as newspapers or major television stations, have been shifting into commentary, and out of dispassionate investigation. The rise of social media and the proliferation of new media channels with low capacities for independent inquiry, also means that the media ecosystem is at once hyper-targeted and awash with unreliable content. If our ability to rationally assess facts declines, we are left with little choice but to rely on our feelings about those purported facts, feelings that will inevitably align with our preconceptions and prejudices.
At the same time, traditional political institutions are being dismissed by citizens as closed circles of self-serving elites. In Canada, every province has seen increasing economic inequality over the last generation. Social mobility has fallen, and two-thirds of the wealthiest 1% of Canadians work or worked for the same corporations as their fathers. The vast majority of economic growth accrues to a tiny sliver of the wealthiest members of society. In sum, citizens feel that public institutions are serving only the interests of the people who inhabit those institutions, rather than the interests of the public at large. This has created a ready appetite to tear down institutions and humble their inhabitants. Ironically, the political actors most apt to exploit those sentiments have been bona fide members of political and economic elites.
In this context, citizens around the world feel that democratic institutions have strayed from their egalitarian roots, and are fostering semi-feudal societies of inherited wealth, inherited power, and inherited servitude. It has cultivated a widespread sense of despair in democracies. It has nourished a political discourse based on polarisation, blame, and rage. And worst of all, it has stripped citizens of their sense of personal dignity.
Reason can not long withstand those emotions. And the flight from reason into emotion caused by these factors is becoming the democratic world’s equivalent of the Reign of Terror.
How Democracies Could Respond
We are at a serious pass in the history of democracy, but we still have a chance to reclaim the high ground. The measures we need to take, are the natural corollaries of the challenges we face: improved public education; restoration of social meritocracy; and a re-emphasis on elevating the dignity of citizens.
If one of the key challenges facing our democracies is to restore the primacy of fact over emotion, then the critical response must be to reinforce public education, to strengthen the ability of citizens to judge facts, to weigh evidence, to assess claims to expertise, and to think critically. This necessarily means engendering a public education system that is the system of first choice, and not the system of last resort. It also means ensuring that public schools are not socially or racially segregated, as happens both inevitably and silently when students only have a right to attend the schools in their immediate neighbourhoods: in these cases, students from rich families, who live in rich neighbourhoods, attend schools that are likely to open doors for them, while students from poor families, who live in poor neighbourhoods, attend schools that are likely to subject them to a tyranny of low expectations.
The policies that would blunt inherited status and that would foster greater meritocracy are easy to describe, but have proven politically perilous to implement. They would include significantly more progressive taxes, taxes on wealth as well as on income, and the restoration of inheritance taxes.
No one likes to pay taxes, but it is the poorest members of society who bear the burden of the absence of a fair tax system.
Elevating the dignity of citizens is as much a question of the tone of democratic politics, as its substance. Demagogues and authoritarians have appealed to disaffected citizens by learning to speak the language that valorises the working classes, even while implementing policies that grind the working classes into the soil. Those who believe in democracy must learn humility in appealing to all voters, and conduct political campaigns that are based on genuine respect for the equal dignity of all citizens, irrespective of class, education, or social standing. By its nature, democracy can not be done to the people, even if it is for the people; it must be done with the people and by the people.
Reclaiming the Heart of Democracy
All of these measures are not about setting aside emotion in public discourse; that would be a fool’s errand. They are instead about democracies reclaiming the hearts and the confidence of their peoples, by showing themselves to be deserving of public trust and public enthusiasm.
Although I have argued that there is a rational case for democracy — that it delivers governments that are most likely to be legitimate, just, and in the public interest — I confess that when I look into myself, these are not the reasons I am so personally invested in democratic ideals.
The true reason is that democracy speaks to my deepest emotions, convictions, and hopes. In a fully-realised democracy, we have the chance to become better people, by building better societies, where we join hands with one another as free and equal citizens, and enjoy a share of one another’s strengths, and shoulder a share of one another’s burdens.
Democracy relies on human reason to function, but it needs human passion to survive. We need to reclaim democracy for both our hearts and our minds.
My Article in Oxford University’s Quad Magazine Click image for the original magazine web page
This summer, Britain’s High Commissioner to Canada generously — if somewhat recklessly — threw open the doors of her official residence, to once again host the annual Oxford University Society (OUS) Ottawa garden party.
A year earlier, our Society’s members had knocked back an improbable volume of Pimms, enough to stagger the diplomatic staff, but clearly not enough to dissuade Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque from inviting us back. However, even her indulgence had its bounds: she was clearly at the limit of her tolerance for unsolicited comments on Brexit.
I can empathise with her sentiments. More than two-hundred people spilled about the gardens, and the subject of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union seemed to be on every lip.
For Canada’s Oxonians, Brexit has been fantastically entertaining political theatre. I will refrain from offering any assessment on whether we have viewed it as high drama or low comedy.
Brexit is a sharp reminder that the questions many of us anguished over in our student tutorials remain as intractable as ever outside academia: the clash of reason and passion in electoral politics; the nature of national identity in a globalised world; the debate over whom we recognise as friends and whom we regard as strangers.
In this context, the OUS Ottawa garden party was a remarkable gathering.
The guests were drawn from every corner of the globe. Between us, we speak different languages, profess different faiths, and come from different ethnic communities. Nevertheless, we were all drawn together by our common affection for our University, and our common sense of identity as its graduates.
The ties that bind us together run deeper than the foundations of the modern world. They have proven more enduring than the countless kingdoms, countries, and empires that have risen and fallen away during the 829 years since Emo of Friesland became Oxford’s earliest-known international student.
The citizens of the United Kingdom have the unqualified right to decide their country’s place in the community of nations and their posture towards other peoples. But I can not help but feel regret, that between Brexit and the Home Office “hostile environment policy”, fewer international students will become part of Oxford’s story, and in turn, Oxford will become less a part of the world’s story.
This year’s OUS Ottawa garden party unfolded in a beautiful setting and under uncharacteristically glorious skies. But most important of all, it gave us a chance to renew our bond as Oxonians, and to celebrate the rare gift it has given us all: a sense that there are no strangers amongst us, only friends we have yet to meet.
My Article in the Toronto Star Click image for the original newspaper web page
Donald Trump’s main export to Canada has been a sense of national smugness, that his outrages and absurdities could never find purchase here.
But, as I argued in my most recent article in the Toronto Star, it would be an act of monumental self-deception for Canadians to believe that we are an island set above the rage bubbling across the world.
* * *
If nothing else, Donald Trump has put paid to the political science cliché, that the power of personal leadership has ebbed away, and that politics are instead decided by the impersonal currents of history.
For better and for worse, personal leadership and personal example matter desperately in contemporary politics.
The words of political leaders still wield a unique power to remake nations: they can redefine social norms of what is abhorrent and what is common wisdom; they can reset public priorities and public mores; and they can hold up a mirror that compels societies to behold our truest selves, whether those images disgust or inspire us.
Trump’s now infamous “Why don’t they go back” tweets are significant for what they reveal about his beliefs as Head of State: people born in other countries should not have a political voice, even if they are elected legislators: people who are not part of a country’s racial majority should be regarded as aliens, even if they were born in that country; people who are not like him, are barely people at all.
But the astonishing appeal of Trump’s words is still more significant, for what it reveals about the contemporary world, and what it suggests about our responsibilities as Canadians in that world.
Everywhere — not just in the United States — the “settled consensus” on pluralism, inclusion, and meritocracy has proven to be a far less settled than editorialists had believed.
In part, this is because in too many countries, economic inequality has deepened, as the rhetoric of political equality has proliferated. People feeling just resentment about the first, have been ready prey to demagogues who unjustly redirect their anger towards the second.
In part, this is because too few governments have made genuine efforts to build new forms of civic identity, to replace old forms of ethnic identity that are dissipating in a globalised world. People who have not learned to recognise a common identity with their neighbours, are easily manipulated into believing that they are becoming strangers in their own countries.
It would be an act of monumental self-deception for us to believe that Canada is an island set above the rage bubbling across the world.
Economic inequality is rising in our country: modestly in rural communities and catastrophically in urban centres. Social mobility is collapsing: amongst the fabled wealthiest one-percent of Canadian adults, more than two-thirds work or worked for the same corporations as their fathers. Race and class are converging: non-White Canadians are almost twice as likely to be poor as White Canadians.
We are becoming fertile ground for those who would sow the seeds of fear and hatred. What takes root will be decided largely by the quality of our country’s political leadership.
In this federal campaign, every party leader will have to decide whether to offer us easy lies or hard truths, whether to pander to a narrow base or champion the common good.
But as important as the words spilled during the campaign will be, the actions of the government elected in October will be more important still.
It is easy to describe the national policies that would halt our decay into a society of hereditary privilege and servitude. However, it has proven fiendishly difficult for governments to summon the courage or the competence to implement those policies.
The threat to our country is not just party leaders who whisper poison to the electorate; it is also those who speak honey in the campaign but deliver vinegar in office. The first encourage us to despise inclusion; the second drive us to see inclusion as a naïve fantasy.
The harsh reality is that, while the arc of history may bend towards justice, there is nothing inevitable about progress. Societies can and do regress as well as progress. We can be dragged backwards by our lowest fears, as well as impelled forward by our highest ideals.
Across the globe, political figures are picking up the old weapons of xenophobia, demagoguery, and authoritarianism. Despite the winds of time, those weapons have lost none of their edge.
We face a choice as Canadians. We can choose not to allow ourselves to be manipulated by such figures. We can show the world that inclusive societies are the ones that prosper, while intolerant societies are the ones that fail. We can live out the principles we should expect from our country’s political class.
Because personal leadership and personal example matter, from each of us still more than from our political leaders.
My Address to the Mosaic Peace Patron Gala Click image to see the video
More than 250 guests attended the Mosaic Institute’s annual gala, to see us formally invest General John de Chastelain as our 2019 Peace Patron.
A former Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff, Gen de Chastelain is best known for his critical role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. He persuaded Loyalist and Republican paramilitary organisations to give up their weapons, and to join hands in the Good Friday Agreement.
I addressed the proceedings to welcome Gen de Chastelain, and to give a brief overview of the Institute’s mission: bringing together people, communities, and nations, to resolve global conflicts and to strengthen national pluralism.
* * *
Good evening. I am Akaash Maharaj, the Mosaic Institute’s Chief Executive Officer. I should like to begin by thanking General de Chastelain for doing us the great honour of becoming our 2019 Peace Patron.
As we heard, he has had an epic career across the military, diplomacy, and peacemaking. And thanks to the creators of our video tribute —
Our founders created Mosaic to advance pluralism in societies and peace amongst nations. Our work begins with diaspora groups in Canada and reaches across the globe, to bring together people, communities, and states, to foster mutual understanding and to resolve conflicts.
We were built on a simple but defiant article of faith: that we are all stronger, wiser, and better off together, not in spite of our differences, but precisely because of our differences.
In 2007, this was perhaps an idea ahead of its time. But there is no denying that today, our time has come.
Everywhere in the corridors of power, political leaders now mouth our words of inclusion, diversity, and respect. But too often, they have learned to speak the language of virtue, while practising the art of inaction.
Over the past twelve years, the Mosaic Institute and our allies have won the argument in the debating chambers of the world. But it remains for us to complete the task of pressing words into deeds.
During this time, Mosaic convened Jewish and Muslim Canadians, to work together on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We established our U of Mosaic programme in universities and our Next Generation programme in high schools. Between them, these programmes have developed more than six-thousand students to become Canada’s future leaders in conflict resolution and pluralism.
I am grateful to Mosaic’s Board, Advisory Council, Fellows, volunteers, and professional team, many of whom are here tonight, for their passion and toil, which made these and our many other initiatives possible. And as a new Chief Executive, I hope you will indulge me if I offer special thanks to my predecessors, of whom John Monahan, our inaugural ED is with us.
I believe Mosaic has much to be proud of. But I know the need is much greater still.
In the coming year, we will extend our work with Chinese-Canadian and Tibetan-Canadian youth leaders, on peaceful co-existence on the Tibetan Plateau, a subject that has only become more complex, as its Canadian social dynamics are shaped by international actors.
We will mediate talks between rural and urban Canadians on measures to curb the epidemic of gun violence in our country. There have been far too few opportunities for a meeting of minds between these communities, and far too much wilful polarisation on this issue.
We will muster Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, on implementation of the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. These are deep wounds, which have festered for centuries, and candidly, it is well beyond Mosaic’s capacity to heal any of them completely. But we will pour our hearts and souls into doing everything we can.
We will expand our research, by drawing together experts on the Iran Nuclear Agreement. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not been undone, but it has been seriously undermined, and it is no exaggeration to say that the very survival of the human race may hang in the balance.
We will deepen our work nurturing public reflection and debate on pluralism and inclusion. Because if we as Canadians are to be equal to our calling to change the world, we must have the humility to begin by changing ourselves.
I am grateful to everyone here tonight for making these initiatives possible. And I thank our volunteers and professionals for organising this evening.
None of the work ahead of us will be easy, and some will be beset by heartbreak.
The arc of history may bend towards justice, but there is nothing inevitable about progress. Societies can and do regress as well as progress. They can be dragged backwards by their lowest fears, as well impelled forward by their highest ideals.
The hard reality is that everywhere, new political figures are picking up the old weapons of xenophobia, demagoguery, and authoritarianism, to divide us for their own purposes.
They are trading on our most unworthy impulses. That we must be afraid of anyone different from us, to protect our liberties. That we must exclude anyone different from us, to preserve our identity.
These are all lies.
Fear has set no people free, and hate has made no nation great.
Notre responsabilité est de détruire leurs mensonges avec la vérité. Ce n’est pas un trajet facile.
J’étais inspiré à rejoindre le mission de l’Institut Mosaïque par l’exemple de personnes meilleurs que moi, que je connaissais dans ma carrière précédente, des gens de conscience ordinaire mais d’une détermination extraordinaire.
Because the path to peace is not for the faint of heart.
Those who would turn us against one another seem to have all the time, all the money, all the power. They have the energy of rage and a ruthlessness unrestrained by higher principles, and it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed and exhausted and hopeless.
But that is exactly how they want us to feel.
Because the truth is that they are the weak ones.
If there is one lesson I have learned, it is that demagogues who divide populations do so because they fear the strength of the people united.
And they fear us with good reason.
During the Arab Spring revolutions, I saw autocracies that had endured for generations, swept away in hours, by the force of ordinary people who found the courage to stand together and to stand up, though they often paid a terrible price for doing so.
All of us in this room wield a power that those who would divide us will never know: an ability to make common cause out of our common humanity and our common dignity, and a determination to join hands across the divisions that beset the human condition, to create a better world in the image of the better angels of our natures.
Together, we are stronger than powers and principalities, and we are mightier than fire and the sword.
There are those who will never tire of telling us that the world we are trying to build is just a dream. But it is a dream worth fighting for, and it is a fight that together, we are going to win.
My Testimony to the House Committee on Justice and Human Rights Click image to hear my address
In a breathtakingly short period, a handful of social media firms have come to utterly dominate the global marketplace of news and ideas. Their platforms have made it possible for oppressed peoples to unite and speak truth to power; simultaneously, they have also enabled corrupt figures to divide and oppress societies with a fog of hate and disinformation.
Should governments regulate social media? Some of democracy’s most sacrosanct principles collide in this debate: freedom of expression; the right of all citizens to dignity and equality; and the imperative of national democratic oversight in a globalised world.
Mesdames et messieurs les membres du Comité permanent de la justice et des droits de la personne de la Chambre des communes: l’Institut Mosaïque est reconnaissant de pouvoir participer à vos délibérations sur la haine en ligne. Nous reconnaissons que votre temps est compté et que vous devez être sélectifs quant aux organisations que vous invitez devant vous. Nous vous remercions de nous avoir inclus.
Mosaic is a Canadian charitable institute that advances pluralism in societies and peace amongst nations. It operates through Track Two Diplomacy, and brings together people, communities, and states, to foster mutual understanding and to resolve conflict.
Over the years, we have convened Chinese and Tibetan youth leaders, on peaceful co-existence on the Tibetan Plateau; we have assembled Sinhalese and Tamil representatives, on reconciliation after the Sri Lankan civil war; and we have called together survivors of genocides, to combat future global atrocities.
Fundamentally, our mission is to break cycles of hatred and violence, by building empathy and common ground between peoples at strife.
We have seen first-hand how the speed and reach of social media has made it both a means of bringing us all together, and a weapon to set us all at one another’s throats.
The stakes are unutterably high. In our work with the Rohingya people, it has become clear to us that social media played a determinative role in spreading disinformation, fomenting hatred, and co-ordinating mass slaughter, ending with the deaths of at least ten thousand innocent people and the ethnic cleansing of at least a million more.
Canada is not Myanmar. Nevertheless, the ability of Parliament to contain and combat online hatred and incitement, will quite literally, decide whether people live or die.
Now, it should go without saying that in a just and democratic society, there is no higher ideal, no greater ethic, no more sacrosanct imperative, than freedom of expression.
Peace, order, and good government; liberté, égalité, fraternité; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- all are impossible without free public discourse. And freedom of expression becomes meaningless if it does not include freedom to offend, freedom to outrage, and quite frankly, freedom to make a public ass of oneself. Not that that ever happens in the House of Commons.
Any abridgement of freedom of expression must therefore be only the barest minimum necessary to preserve the dignity and security of citizens.
We believe that Canadian laws defining illicit hate speech are sufficient for that purpose, and the scope of proscribed speech need not and should not be expanded further. Legal, regulatory, and social media frameworks fall short not in defining hate, but in identifying it and quarantining it, before the virus spreads and wrecks its damage.
We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge legislators and social media firms face. During the two-and-a-half hours set aside for this hearing, there will be 54 million new tweets and 4.7 billion new Facebook posts, comments, and messages.
Our recommendations for your consideration are as follows:
First, social media firms must -- either voluntarily or under legal compulsion -- adhere to a set of industry standards, on the speed with which they review reports that posts violate Canadian anti-hate laws or their platforms’ own terms of service. For example, European Union standards require firms to review a majority of reports within one day.
Second, social media firms should be required to have specific conduits to prioritise complaints from trusted institutions about offending content. A complaint from a children’s aid society, for one, should be treated with immediate concern.
Third, there must be financial consequences for firms that fail to remove illegal content within a set period, penalties severe enough to make the costs of inaction greater than the costs of action. Germany’s Network Enforcement Act sets fines as high as 50 million euros, when illegal posts stay up for more than twenty-four hours.
Fourth, social media firms should be required to publish regular transparency reports, providing anonymised information on, inter alia: the performance of their machine-learning systems at automatically intercepting proscribed posts; the speed with which firms respond to complaints from victims, trusted institutions, and the public at large; and the accuracy of their response to complaints, as measured by a system of third-party random sampling.
Fifth, social media firms must be more forthcoming in revealing the factors and weightings they use to decide what posts are prioritised to their users, and they must give users greater and easier control to adjust those settings. Too often, social media platforms privilege content that engages users by stoking fear and hatred. A business model based on dividing our communities should be no more acceptable than one based on burning down our cities.
Sixth, Parliament should enact the necessary appropriations and regulations to ensure that CSIS and the CSE have the mandate and means to identify and disrupt organised efforts by hostile state and transnational actors to exploit social media, to sow hatred and polarisation amongst Canadians.
Seventh, Parliament should consider legislative instruments, to ensure that individuals and organisations that engage in incitement to hatred, bear vicarious civil liability for any violent and harassing acts committed by third parties influenced by their posts.
Eighth, the federal government should fund school programmes to build young Canadians’ abilities to resist polarisation and hatred, and to cultivate critical thinking and empathy. The best defence against hatred is a population determined not to hate.
Finally, especially in this election year, Parliamentarians must lead by example.
Every one of us in this room knows that the guardians of our democracy are not ministers, but legislators. We look to you to stand between our leaders and the levers of power, to ensure that public office and public resources are used only in the public interest. More than that, we look to you to be the mirror of our better selves, to broker the mutual understanding that makes it possible for a vast and pluralistic society to thrive together as one people in one country.
During the upcoming campaign, you and your parties will face your own choices on social media: whether to campaign by degrading your opponents, whether to animate your supporters through appeals to anger, or whether to summon the better angels of our natures.
Your choices will set the tone of social media this summer more decisively than any piece of legislation or regulation you might enact. I hope you rise to the occasion.
My Inaugural Address as the Mosaic Institute's CEO Click image to hear my address
I am delighted to have joined the Mosaic Institute as its new Chief Executive Officer.
Mosaic is a Canadian charitable institution that advances pluralism in societies and peace amongst nations. It is a pillar of Track Two Diplomacy, and brings together communities and peoples separated by strife, to foster mutual understanding and to resolve conflicts.
Over the past ten years, Mosaic has convened Chinese and Tibetan youth leaders, for discussions on peaceful co-existence on the Tibetan Plateau; assembled Sinhalese and Tamil representatives, to devise strategies for reconciliation after the Sri Lankan civil war; called together survivors of genocides, to discuss how to break the cycle of trauma; published landmark research on the perceptions and realities of radicalisation in expatriate communities; and established programmes in schools and universities, to nurture the next generation of leaders in pluralism.
Mosaic’s vision has been the passion of my professional life, and I believe it is the calling of our age.
I am deeply grateful to the Institute’s Board, Advisory Council, members, professionals, and partners for their confidence.
At the same time, I also feel a sense of sorrow at standing down as Chief Executive Officer of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC). Serving as GOPAC’s CEO was one of the great honours of my life, and I am immensely proud of all we achieved together over the past six years, in every region of the world.
We live in a time of immense public cynicism about politics, politicians, and even the ideal of public service. Undeniably, there are legislators who have earned this contempt. But there are also parliamentarians around the world who risk their lives every day, to speak for those who would otherwise have no voice. There are parliamentarians who tilt at the powerful, for no better reason than to shield others. There are still parliamentarians who understand that election to office is not a licence to rule, but a contract to serve.
I am honoured that these parliamentarians have invited me continue my association with GOPAC, as their Ambassador-at-Large. In this volunteer capacity, I will carry on my personal commitment to GOPAC’s work on integrity in defence, security, and international sport.
My time at GOPAC was an education in the struggle between the high aspirations of principled diplomacy, and the low reality of realpolitik. It also left me with a stark understanding that across the world, xenophobia and authoritarianism are again on the march.
In my inaugural address at Mosaic’s holiday gathering, I shared my conviction that while the arc of history may bend towards justice, there is nothing inevitable about progress. Societies can and do regress, as well as progress; they can be pulled backwards by their lowest fears, as well impelled forward by their highest ideals.
All of us who believe in the equal dignity of all peoples have a duty to stand up, to stand together, and to stand fast. This is my mission at the Mosaic Institute.
Lara Prychodko (1970-2018) Lara was a mother, flautist, and corporate event planner. Her death remains under police investigation in New York.
I first met Lara Prychodko in kindergarten, and immediately doubted my five-year-old eyes. Until that moment, I had never encountered anyone with freckles. I thought she was the most exotic person I had ever seen, in my admittedly brief and uneventful life.
She was a good sport about my fascination. When Mme Warren passed around juice and biscuits, Lara sat next to me, stretched her hands towards me, and laughed as I counted her freckles. However, I could only count to one-hundred, and surmised that she must have more freckles than there are numbers in the world.
One of our classmates suggested that, with a good scrub, she could probably wash them all away. I was horrified, and threw my arms protectively around her, urging her to give no thought to such vandalism: "There's nobody else in the whole entire world like you."
As we grew up together, I eventually outgrew my belief that there are no numbers beyond one-hundred, but I grew stronger in my conviction that Lara was unique.
As a student, she had intelligence without arrogance. As an artist, she had talent without vanity. As a friend, she had compassion without condescension.
She was frequently the centre of much joy, but she always shied away from making herself the centre of attention.
She was one of the few people I have known to be incapable of the thoughtless impulse for cruelty that stalks adolescence.
We attended university in different countries and built our lives in different worlds, and inevitably drifted apart. In my mind's eye, I still see us as small children, sharing juice and biscuits, or as teenagers, bridling at the injustices of the adult world.
Still, I feel certain that nothing was more important to her than her child, Talin. All Lara's friends are grieving the fact that death cut short her life in its prime. However, I think she would have been most grieved by the fact that death robbed Talin of his mother, and robbed her of her right to guide her son to honourable manhood.
I hope her family will draw some solace from the knowledge that, in a modest way, Lara lives on through the happy effects she had on everyone who knew her. But I realise that no matter how powerfully they reverberate, echoes give little comfort when the music has ended.
I am disconsolate that no one was there to throw his arms protectively around her in the final moments of her life. But she deserves to be remembered for more than the terrible circumstances of her death.
The world feels diminished because Lara has left it, but it is still a better place because of her time in it.
Commissioned and Pinned Click either photo for my Letters Patent
I was more astonished than I could express when I learned that Governor Matt Bevin had commissioned me as a Kentucky Colonel, for services to global affairs and to international equestrianism. It is Kentucky's highest state honour; notwithstanding its name, it carries no military responsibilities. Candidly, I do not feel entirely deserving of the accolade, but I will do my best to reflect positively on the Commonwealth, its people, and my fellow Colonels.
I suspect that the Governor's primary consideration was my ongoing work as head of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. However, given that Kentucky is often described as "the horse capital of the world", I was especially heartened by the reference to equestrian sport.
Personally, I have many happy memories of Kentucky from my time as an athlete, and later as professional head of Equine Canada.
My first international competition was the US Cavalry Association's National Cavalry Competition, held at Fort Knox KY, where I rode with colleagues from the Governor General's Horse Guards. My results enabled me to go on to represent Canada at the International Tent Pegging Championships.
I later had the privilege of taking the Canadian Equestrian Team to the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Lexington KY, as the team's CEO. We were blessed with formidable athletes, talented volunteers and professionals, internationally respected coaches, a joyous team spirit, and our highest-ever Own the Podium funding. Because of my colleagues, those Games remain, by medal count, Canada's most successful WEG of all time.
I am conscious that Governor Bevin's decision to offer me a Colonelcy was less a result of any personal merits I might have, and more a result of the standing and enthusiasm of the Kentuckians who put my name forward. I am all the more taken aback by the generosity of their endorsement, because I have never met any of them. I hope I will one day have the chance to offer them my heartfelt thanks in person.
I am also grateful to my diplomatic and equestrian colleagues, who managed to restrain themselves from indicting my character when they were quietly contacted by my nominators. I wonder, though, if I should be alarmed that they found it so easy to keep the entire process secret from me.
I decided many years ago to avoid using titles, especially in my professional life. I will, therefore, not go by either "Colonel" or "The Honorable", other than on those rare occasions when I might be called upon to exercise the responsibilities of the honour. However, I am delighted that my horse Bello is able to share in the Colonelcy by wearing a cavalry "throat plume", a traditional emblem for a Colonel's war horse.
Kentucky Colonelcies are bestowed in an admirably democratic fashion, and thus to a diverse group of people, from volunteers at local food banks to heads of state. Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill, and Walt Disney are amongst the best-known Colonels, but Harlan Sanders -- founder of the eponymous global fast food empire -- is unquestionably the person most widely-known for being a Kentucky Colonel.
I am unlikely to ever don a white suit and black string tie, but I have been studying the parlance of Foghorn Leghorn!
Just twenty years ago, Kosovo was at the heart of the bloodiest conflicts in Europe since the Second World War. As the former Yugoslavia dissolved, it seemed as if all the Balkan peoples, in trying to claw out their separate identities, would drag one another into the abyss.
Yet, hope finds a way.
This Friday, Kosovan legislators will sign the GOPAC Charter in their parliament in Pristina. The same day, Bosnian and Herzegovinian legislators will do likewise in their parliament in Sarajevo. Both groups will be joining hands with GOPAC’s other members across the Balkans, in Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Friday will be only one more step in a long and difficult process to push back the tide of corruption that engulfs too many emerging states. But it is a step in the right direction, and I am inspired by how far the people of the Balkans have come already.
My GOPAC colleagues and I are grateful to the members of UNDP Kosovo for their leadership in calling together Kosovo’s legislators, and making the national chapter possible. We also thank the people and governments of Denmark and Switzerland for their generous contributions to the UNDP’s underlying Support to Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kosovo Project.
For anyone working against corruption, it can often be a struggle to hold cynicism and despair at bay. But there are good days that keep us fighting through the bad. This Friday will be a good day.
The Montreal Gazette Click photo for the newspaper article
My article in the Montreal Gazette discussed what the recent "Olympic Summit" means for international affairs and the future of global sport integrity. The Gazette published a slightly shortened version of my article below; the full text was later carried by several other publications in Europe and North America.
* * *
Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) convened a closed-door summit, to debate the future of the global anti-doping regime. The summit was prompted by revelations of state-sponsored doping in the Russian sport system, which had ruptured into the public sphere on the eve of the Rio Olympic Games.
Yet, the IOC declaration emerging from its four-hour conclave said nothing about halting those crimes or bringing their perpetrators to justice. Instead, the IOC demanded a fundamental repurposing of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the institution that had had the audacity to investigate and expose the crimes.
WADA had called -- in vain -- for the IOC to ban the Russian team from Rio. In the months since, the agency has endured a campaign of vilification by political actors and cyberattacks by hackers. Far more insidiously, too many of WADA's ostensible sport partners appear to feel that the agency has betrayed them, by unmasking the ugly truths that lie behind impeccable fictions.
In this clash between the high ideals of sport and the low ruthlessness of politics, WADA holds the ethical high ground, but is catastrophically outmatched in its material resources.
In September, WADA convened a "Think Tank" in Lausanne, to advise them as they sally forth. I left those discussions with a sense that the mismatch between WADA's colossal mission and its pygmy budget is flatly absurd.
From an athlete's perspective, we need an independent WADA to protect us from exploitation. Too often, the only reward for ethical athletes is to suffer the injustice of being cheated of our rightful victories. On the other side, athletes who are enabled or coerced into doping are eventually left damaged in body and broken in mind.
From a global perspective, we need a powerful WADA to thwart subversion of international affairs. For better and for worse, sport has become a key instrument of statecraft, as much as diplomacy and aid, as much as defence and intelligence. To the extent that sport becomes captive to political corruption, it becomes an instrument to prop up tyrannies and kleptocracies, an instrument to marginalise democracy and the rule of law. It becomes a weapon against the common interests of the human race.
I feel certain that in the fullness of time, WADA's willingness to expose and condemn state-sponsored doping in Russia will come to be seen as a seminal victory in the fight for sport integrity. Yes, WADA could have moved sooner and faster. However, this should not blind us to the fact that before WADA was created, no one ever moved against the chamber of horrors of the East German sport system.
But it would be folly to believe that WADA could strike a blow against some of the most powerful figures in sport and politics, without those figures striking back. They have done so, and they will continue to pummel WADA until it perishes or it prevails over them.
The outcome will hinge on whether WADA will be able to rely upon the support of governments and athletes, as well as that of the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee.
I take some comfort in the fact that the IOC has insisted that it supports WADA's independence and its capacity to prosecute its mandate. However, I must confess that that is not my impression when I read the invective penned by the IOC's officers.
My impression is instead that the IOC can not forgive WADA for embarrassing the Olympic leadership during their moment in the sun. I fear that lurking behind the IOC's subtly scripted declaration on remaking WADA, are designs to undermine and supplant it.
If there is any justice to this impression, then I should offer the IOC leadership some simple advice.
Not everyone who stands up to you is your enemy, just as not everyone who flatters you is your friend.
Ultimately, WADA and the IOC will be one another's salvation, or undoing. The only people who would prosper from a confrontation between the two institutions would be those who trade upon doping in sport.
The World Anti-Doping Agency Click image for the Think Tank Communiqué
Three weeks before the Rio Summer Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies, the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) published its Independent Person Report into the Sochi Winter Olympics. The findings were damning: Russia’s Ministry of Sport, government security service, and testing laboratory had operated a state-sponsored doping programme, suppressing positive test results and substituting counterfeit test samples to shield cheating athletes.
WADA called for Russia to be banned from the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) agreed; the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not.
Since then, we have careered towards a pitiless confrontation between the high ideals of sport and the low ruthlessness of some of the most powerful figures in global affairs. Which will prevail is very much an open question.
At the end of September, WADA convened a “Think Tank” in Lausanne, to advise them as they sally forth. The group included leaders from a broad range of international sport institutions and national governments, representing a sometimes-stark diversity of views. They invited me as an independent voice, drawing on my experience in both Equestrianism and in combatting political corruption.
The Think Tank was conducted under the Chatham House Rule, to ensure that our discussions would be unrestrained and uncensored. It certainly achieved that objective.
WADA has, however, agreed to allow a summary of the discussions and outcomes to be circulated, and I am sharing the document with GOPAC’s legislators to encourage them to strengthen domestic laws and international agreements against doping and its ancillary crimes.
At its best, sport can be an unrivalled force for good in the world. It can take bitter enemies and bring them together as peers around a shared passion. It can champion equality of opportunity in the pursuit of excellence. It can excite hope in the midst of despair. There is a reason “the level playing field” has become the universal metaphor for fairness and meritocracy.
But at its worst, sport can be little more than a drug-addled carnival of false glory and mindless chauvinism. It can be the currency for tyrants to buy a place at the table of international affairs and thus a veneer of respectability. It can be the pretext for kleptocrats to plunder their states and to brand their critics as unpatriotic. It can be a tool to distract and stupefy populations who might otherwise rise up against their oppressors.
The battle against doping and for integrity in sport is one we must win, because the consequences of failure are simply too tragic to contemplate.
TVOntario's The Agenda convened a panel to address a characteristaically controversial question: is corruption endemic in Canada's political and corporate classes?
I spoke as CEO of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC). My fellow pannellists were: Anita Anand of the University of Toronto; Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star; and Alesia Nahirny of TI Canada.
London Anti-Corruption Summit, at Lancaster House Click image for the Summit
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron convened the London Anti-Corruption Summit, an international gathering of heads of state, heads of governments, and leaders of international organisations. I participated as CEO of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC).
Prior to the Summit, I wrote an open letter to Cameron, urging him to thwart the ability of the corrupt to hide their illicit wealth and the evidence of their crimes behind a veil of corporate anonymity in Britain's Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
I am grateful to GOPAC's British and global parliamentarians for endorsing the letter, which was subsequently published by the Huffington Post.
To give but one example, an estimated £700 billion is siphoned out of developing countries each year through money laundering and other corrupt practices. By contrast, the total cost of achieving all eight UN Millennium Development Goals would have been £350 billion.
There is a better world within our grasp: a world without hunger; without thirst; without needless disease. But corruption is stealing that world from us.
By its nature, corruption breeds in the dark and withers under the glare of public scrutiny. As a result, we believe that the most powerful tools to combat corruption are publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership of corporations. These registers ensure that the true owners of corporations are known to public institutions, media, and citizens. They thwart the ability of the corrupt to hide their illicit wealth and the evidence of their crimes behind a veil of corporate anonymity.
We applaud your leadership in creating precisely such a national register for the United Kingdom. We can not overstate the importance of your decision, especially given London's central role in global finance, nor do we underestimate the political capital you expended to take this stand. It has the potential to make the world a better place.
But we are deeply concerned that this potential will be left unrealised because of one catastrophic gap: Britain's Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
The Panama Papers have starkly revealed that many of these jurisdictions have become the venues of choice for the anonymous corporations that facilitate tax evasion, organised crime, and terrorist financing. Indeed, more than half the companies exposed by the Panama Papers were based in the British Virgin Islands alone.
The recent agreement with the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies gestures in the right direction, by committing them to create their own beneficial ownership registries. However, we are alarmed that these jurisdictions have retained the option to keep their registers closed to inspection by the public and the free press.
We respectfully submit that if territories under British authority are left free to give safe harbour to publicly anonymous corporations, then Britain's achievements and credibility in the global anti-corruption movement will be undermined.
The parliamentarians, heads of government and heads of state who will gather at the International Anti-Corruption Summit in London will be there at your call, and will therefore look to you as they judge whether this will be an exercise in words or in deeds. We urge you to seize the moment and challenge the nations of the world to follow where you lead.
We urge you to announce that you will ensure that there will be public registers of beneficial ownership across the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
Addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Click photo for the Assembly
The National Post published my account of my address to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and my reflections on how the deliberations at the Assembly bear on the alliance's approach to responding to the terrorist attack on Paris.
* * *
Recently, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly invited me to address their Annual Session in Norway, in my capacity as CEO of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC). I spoke on what seemed like a distant question: drawing on the experience of Afghanistan, how should NATO conduct a future expeditionary campaign, which might be precipitated by an attack on one of its members?
The terrorist attacks on Paris have given those deliberations a terrible new urgency.
The lessons of Afghanistan were purchased at a bitter cost: the war claimed more lives, more years, and more money than any other campaign in NATO's history. Unless the alliance takes those lessons to heart, a war in Syria and Iraq to extinguish Daesh – the self-styled “Islamic State” – will be worse.
In my view, the gravest mistake NATO made in Afghanistan was to confuse allies for friends, to believe that those who fought with us against the Taliban would be trustworthy partners in reconstruction of the country. Worse still were the efforts to appease those allies by allowing them free rein as they pillaged the state. Ultimately, the warlords of the Karzai regime were as much murderous fundamentalists as the Taliban, only greed was their god.
More broadly, NATO states confused having a common reason for war, with having a common objective in war. The alliance was certainly united in its conviction that the 2001 Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre demanded a military response. However, this clarity of impetus obscured deep differences in goals.
Was the objective of the war to deny Al-Qaeda use of Afghanistan as a base of operations for future attacks? Was it to destroy the Taliban? Was it to disrupt terrorist networks sprawling across borders? Was it to rescue the Afghan people from humanitarian catastrophe? Was it to satisfy a craving for justice? Was it to meet the minimum requirements of treaties and public sentiment?
At different stages of the campaign, different NATO governments embraced different ends, and it became increasingly difficult for the alliance’s citizens to recognise what “victory” would look like, and when it would be time to call their troops home.
After my address, my GOPAC colleague Senator Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam asked me to meet with her fellow legislators in France’s parliament. It was important to continue the discussion, so that if, at some point in the unforeseeable future, NATO states had to reply to an attack on one of its members, the alliance would be ready to take sober, considered decisions.
A few weeks later, 129 people lay dead in the streets of Paris.
The future waits upon no one’s pleasure. The only question is whether we learn from the past.
In any military campaign against Daesh, how will we identify effective allies on the ground, who are less pernicious than our common enemy? How will we ensure that neither chaos nor tyranny fill the vacuum left after a successful campaign? Whom will Syrians be able to trust to rebuild their country?
States who opt to train the local resistance will face a difficult choice over equipping those fighters. Trained but unarmed, they would be of no use to anyone. Trained and armed, they may eventually turn their weapons against us, as the Taliban did after the war with the Soviet Union.
States who opt to participate in a bombing campaign will have to set imponderable metrics, to assess their effectiveness in a war that no one believes can be won from the air.
States who opt to deploy ground troops will need to ask themselves how long their own populations will support the campaign, if Daesh continues to burn prisoners of war alive, as they did with the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh.
The most difficult question of all will be that of our ultimate objective. What does it mean to defeat an enemy that numbers in the tens of thousands, and that will stab at us while even one draws breath? How will a campaign in Syria and Iraq diminish Daesh attacks in the west, when European citizens have been the perpetrators? How can we be victorious against an enemy infatuated with martyrdom?
We can not come to an accommodation with an adversary whose purpose is our annihilation. We can not use deterrence against an adversary that wants to die. We must destroy them, or be destroyed by them.
But an effective military strategy requires more than just a willingness to unleash force; it also demands political integrity, clear objectives, and a focus on long-term outcomes.
The Fellowship includes many of Canada's most intrepid explorers, who have sledded across arctic tundra, crossed deserts, mapped the ocean floor, scaled mountains, cut through jungles, and walked in space. By comparison, I have occasionally bicycled to my office.
My involvement in geography has been in political geography, and in particular, the resolution of international border conflicts.
We live in an increasingly “placeless” world, where individuals often see themselves as members of communities of the mind rather than of the soil. Yet, the land has not given up its grip on our souls. People still kill and die for the dream of having a country of their own, still gaze across their borders with a sense of friendship or dread.
The challenge of political geography remains finding viable, stable, and secure arrangements that enable peoples to live together in ways that they believe are just and legitimate.
I must admit that I feel unequal to the honour the RCGS has done me, but I will work very hard to make them glad of their decision. And I will definitely have to find my old pith helmet.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly brings together legislators not only from NATO’s 28 member states, but also from some states openly hostile to the alliance: until its invasion of Crimea, Russia was an active participant.
The Assembly gives NATO parliamentarians a chance to build an international consensus on the world’s vital security issues, and to foster coherence between their national defence policies and the alliance’s global military strategy. More strikingly, the Assembly tries to build mutual understanding with the parliaments of non-NATO states, to reduce the risk of military escalation.
I advised the Assembly on two ongoing wars: Ukraine and Afghanistan.
On Ukraine, I offered my analysis of how political corruption had delivered the state into the hands of its enemies, and what steps the alliance needs to take to enable the new Ukrainian government to have a fighting chance of preserving its territorial integrity.
On Afghanistan, I outlined how the alliance should conduct future military engagements, in light of this experience. The lessons of the Afghan war were purchased at a bitter cost: it claimed more lives, more years, and more money than any other campaign in NATO's history.
The balance of deliberations were on a remarkably broad range of subjects, including:
• options to combat non-state military actors, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda;
• the extent to which oil is financing despotic regimes;
• the security dimension of climate change, in its potential to unleash new conflicts over disappearing water and agricultural resources;
• how to rebuild deterrence against international aggression from major powers, at a time when the international community has been demonstrably cowed by the risks of confronting a nuclear armed state.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session was often highly formal, even ritualised, but its substance was the stuff of high drama.
I remember seeing the Berlin Wall fall, and hoping that the age of global warfare might be over; that moment now feels far away. We are clearly facing terrible risks, and it will take great statesmanship to avoid the abyss.
I will write a more detailed account of the proceedings in the coming days.
GOPAC’s parliamentarians believe that there are some forms of corruption so grave, whose effects on human life, human rights, and human welfare are so catastrophic, that they should shock the conscience of the international community and mobilise the will of nations to act across borders.
Too often, the perpetrators of Grand Corruption are able to use their illicit wealth and power to pervert or co-opt the national institutions that should call them to account. As a result, the worst offenders are always the least likely to face domestic justice. In such cases, when national authorities are unwilling or unable to act, we believe that the international community has a responsibility to step forward.
The National Post - Holyrood Palace Click logo or photo for original article
On the eve of the vote on Scottish independence, the National Post published my analysis of the Queen's contrasting roles in the Canadian and British referenda campaigns, and what this reveals about the nature of the Crown across the Commonwealth.
* * *
With polls suggesting a nail-biting finish to the referendum on Scottish independence tomorrow, it is unsurprising that so many Westminster MPs pleaded for the Queen to make a clear public declaration in favour of the “No” campaign. The unusually blunt response from Buckingham Palace, however, was far more intriguing, especially to Canadians.
“The Monarch is above politics and those in political office have a duty to ensure that this remains the case,” came the sharp reply last week. “Any suggestion that the Queen should wish to influence the outcome of the current referendum campaign is categorically wrong.”
The most she was willing to offer in this final week of the campaign was a studiously neutral expression of hope that, “people will think very carefully about the future,” before casting their ballots. But she pointedly declined to say which version of the future she supports.
As Britain’s Head of Government, David Cameron could still constitutionally advise – essentially require – the Queen to deliver an unambiguous endorsement of the union, but for him to do so now would be counterproductive. It would be obvious to any audience that the Queen’s words were not her own, and those Scots who most support the monarchy might turn against the cause of a Prime Minister who appeared ready to coerce their Queen into acting against her judgement.
That the Queen has effectively out-manoeuvred a Prime Minister is neither rare nor unamusing. But that she has done so on the subject of a referendum on secession reveals the tensions underlying her office across the Commonwealth realms.
Not so long ago, the Queen spoke with “her Prime Minister” on the very subject of taking a hand in his referendum campaign. The contents of the surreptitiously recorded telephone call stand in stark contrast to the palace’s recent pronouncements.
“Our latest polls are showing that the separatists are going to win the referendum,” he said to her. “…But we still have some hope, because there is still a large number of undecided voters. We deeply believe that should your Majesty have the kindness to make a public intervention, we think that your words could give back to the citizens…the pride of being members of a united country.” He concluded by asking directly, “Do you think you can tell that on national television?”
The Queen took a moment away from the call to consult with one of her advisors, identified only as “Robert”, on another line. She returned to ask for the text of a statement for her review, but she offered reassuringly, “I would probably be able to do something for you. No problem, no. I can do that.”
The Queen believed that she was speaking with Jean Chrétien, shortly before Canada’s 1995 referendum on Quebec secession. In fact, she was speaking with an impostor, a radio disc jockey who had managed to circumvent Buckingham Palace’s security measures, and who continued the conversation by peppering the Queen with questions about what she and her family planned to wear for Hallowe’en.
In Britain, the palace dismissed the incident as “irritating and regrettable”, while in Canada, it was quickly forgotten amidst the tumult of the last days of the referendum campaign. But in retrospect, the incident raises the intriguing question of why the palace was willing to have the Queen influence our referendum, but has been adamant that she remain neutral in Britain’s referendum.
My sense is that the palace likely understands that the Crown’s obligations to an independent Scotland would be radically different from its obligations to an independent Quebec.
Scotland’s First Minister has declared that an independent Scotland would retain the Queen as its Head of State, whereas it was inconceivable that an independent Quebec would have done likewise. As a result, the Queen is duty-bound to weigh her actual responsibilities to the existing United Kingdom against her possible responsibilities to a future Kingdom of Scotland; she needed to make no such calculations with Canada and Quebec.
This precarious balancing act is an inevitable consequence of a single person serving as the Head of State for multiple sovereign countries, and it is remarkable that the institution of the Crown has been able to preserve its transnational equilibrium since the disintegration of the British Empire.
In 1947, George VI, Emperor of India, was at war with George VI, King of Pakistan, while George VI, King of Canada, urged both sides to accept a UN mandated ceasefire, and George VI, King of the United Kingdom, made it clear that his troops would not become involved.
If Scotland were to vote for independence tomorrow, Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland, and Elizabeth I, Queen of Scots, would have to similarly come to an understanding on a great many issues. Doubtlessly, however, she would have a gentler time of it.
The Huffington Post - The UN HQ in Vienna Click logo or photo for original article
The Huffington Post published my message below, which several of my colleagues at the United Nations HQ Vienna asked me to relay to other Canadians.
* * *
Although I am currently far from home, like all Canadians I was deeply saddened to read about the deaths of three RCMP officers and the wounding of two more in a shooting in Moncton. My thoughts and sympathies are with their families. I know that it is never easy to lose someone dear to us, but I am sure that it must be especially traumatic when the death is so sudden and so unjust.
The reaction at the UN to these shootings doubtlessly reflects the extraordinary rarity of such events in Canada. Moreover, many countries across the international community clearly feel a sense of gratitude to the RCMP for the role its officers have played in helping train local police forces after disasters and conflicts. Perhaps most of all, they appreciate that one of the reasons Canadians are unaccustomed to such violence, is that our society is kept safe by the willingness of people like these officers to stand between us and those who would do us harm.
I hope that this message and the sentiments of the people of the world, conveyed by their representatives at the United Nations, may reach those touched most directly by the shootings, and give them some comfort in a tragic time.
The Toronto Star Click logo for the original newspaper web page
The Toronto Star published my commentary article below, on the final day of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
* * *
In the soaring words of the Olympic Charter, the ultimate purpose of the Olympic movement is “the preservation of human dignity” to the exclusion of “discrimination of any kind”. But high words cast a long shadow over low deeds, and much of the global drama around the Sochi Olympics has been an object lesson in barefaced hypocrisy.
When Russia was criticised in the international media for its 2013 law banning “homosexual propaganda,” Vladimir Putin took to the airwaves to reassure the world that the Sochi Olympics would still be free of any discrimination.
Yet, during the same interview, he paused to associate homosexuality with paedophilia and to warn tourists in “non-traditional sexual relationships” to “leave children alone, please”.
Since then, Russian authorities have arrested approximately twenty-four people for protesting in favour of gay rights, including four people whose crime was to hold up a banner bearing the words of the Olympic Charter.
When the IOC was inundated with demands that it oppose the Russian law, former IOC president Jacques Rogge pleaded impotence: “The International Olympic Committee can not be expected to have an influence on sovereign affairs of a country,” he said.
Yet, at every Olympic Games, the IOC makes extensive demands on the sovereign affairs of nations, which governments must meet as a condition of hosting the Games.
It was to satisfy such demands the British parliament passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and included sections to give the Olympic committees extraordinary rights over ordinary English-language words that could never have been privately trademarked under existing laws, words such as “games”, “summer”, and “London”. The Act also compelled the Secretary of State to “have regard to any requests or guidance from the International Olympic Committee” in creating further regulations.
Protecting its marketing strategy was important enough to the IOC for it to influence the “sovereign affairs” of the United Kingdom, to change domestic law and curtail freedom of expression. Protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people was simply not important enough to the IOC for it to exercise a similar level of influence on Russian law.
When citizens called on western governments to act, many politicians were happy to curry popular favour with denunciatory speeches and political gestures. “We wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination in anything, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Barack Obama, shortly before deploying a delegation to Sochi pointedly comprised of openly gay retired athletes.
Yet, Obama’s clarity does not appear to extend to the eight states in his own country that also have laws prohibiting “promotion of homosexuality” to children. Alabama and Texas go furthest, requiring public schools to teach children “that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” More brazenly still, they insist that schools teach “that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense,” notwithstanding the fact that the US Supreme Court invalidated American anti-sodomy laws eleven years ago.
It is easy for politicians to cast themselves as heroic figures by railing against actions in other nations. But when they are silently complicit in similar abuses on their own soil, they not only expose the emptiness of their theatrics, but also degrade the principles for which they purport to speak.
If the Sochi Olympics have but one lesson, it is that no one has a monopoly on virtue.
Vladimir Putin poses as a protector of children, while making gay youth outcasts in their own country. The IOC poses as an organisation above politics, while unabashedly bending national politics to its commercial interests. Barack Obama poses as a defender of human rights by grappling with foreign governments, while he shies from the fight in domestic politics.
But the Sochi Olympics may yet help realise the grand words of the Olympic Charter, not in spite of all this hypocrisy, but precisely because of it.
The Games brought Russia’s homophobic law to global prominence, and have motivated ordinary people around the world to join hands with the very individuals the law was meant to isolate. They made the words of the Olympic Charter a rallying cry amongst athletes and spectators who have sought to hold the IOC to its rhetoric. They caused politicians to take a stand on the international stage, which in time may reassure those politicians that there is a constituency for the same principles of justice in domestic politics.
Nothing in Sochi did more to honour and advance the Olympic Charter, than the worldwide fight for equality unleashed by these Games.