Derek Quinn

Multi-lingual journalist and international consultant who's passionate about clear, honest, responsible communications as the foundation of democracy. We all have it within us to be better.

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Canada – Not our Finest Hour

Filed in Articles by on 4th Jul 2021 1 Comment

Justin Trudeau Canada Day address 2021 after ordering flags to fly half-mast on all government buildings

Does truth come with a premium in Canada, with something hidden we should know about?  When groups of Canadian natives gathered in the mid-1980s and early 1990s to launch class action law suits against the Canadian government to seek compensation for the abuse they experienced at Residential Schools, they embarked on a long journey. According to a Canadian government website the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement began to be implemented in 2007 under the largest class-action settlement in the country’s history. Part of the agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 2007 and 2015 Ottawa provided some $72-Million dollars to support the work of the commission. The government also spent six years holding hearings throughout the country, taking testimony from more than 6500 witnesses.

Native women seeking justice

Native women seeking justice

Residential Schools, Ground-Penetrating Radar and Protests

Between 1831 and 1996 some 150-thousand native children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to Residential Schools across the country, where they endured malnutrition, harsh treatment, sexual abuse, and were punished for speaking their own language. Most of the schools were run by Roman Catholic missionaries as part of a government policy to assimilate natives into Canadian society. In a 2015 report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called it a policy of cultural genocide. For the past century Canadian Natives have talked about the inhumane treatment they or their children suffered at the schools. Many of the children never came back. They simply disappeared without explanation. Those who did return to mainly jobless reserves had lost their language and could no longer communicate with their parents, who by then were broken people struggling with despair and hopelessness, too many of them finding solace in drugs or drink.

Oldest Residential School in Canada – Kamloops B.C.

In May 2021 ground-penetrating radar detected the remains of 251 bodies on the grounds of a Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia. That revived long-held memories of suffering by Canada’s First Nations. As people across Canada took to the streets in vigils and protests at the pain of what Native Peoples had endured over the past century, 751 more remains were found at a Residential School in Marieval, Saskatchewan. More remains have been found in an ongoing search at other Residential Schools since bringing the total to over a thousand.

Each new discovery of remains has led to more protests such as the one on the 2nd of July in Winnipeg where gangs tore down the statues of Queen Victoria, and the still-reigning Elizabeth II and sprayed them with red paint. Both were reigning monarchs while Canadian governments enacted their assimilation policy. Since the first discovery of remains, six Roman Catholic churches on First Nations land in western Canada have been burned down. What happened to Canada’s Indigenous People and their children was tragic and unnecessary. It’s understandable that such pent-up pain and hopelessness erupt in violence. The Natives are not to blame. It will take time but hopefully Canada’s native peoples will find inner peace, regain their self-respect and become a valued part of Canadian society.

Victims and Guilt or Truth and Consequences?

Residential schools in Canada

However, it’s prudent to not take everything at face value. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered that the Canadian flag fly at half-staff on government buildings across the country on the 1st of July, Canada Day. He says it’s because of what happened to Canada’s natives, and because of mounting criticism from native communities across Canada. Was his order appropriate or was it opportunistic? Over the years the government has changed how it refers to Canada’s First Nations. It used to be Indians, then Aboriginals, then Indigenous Peoples. There have been so many different names over the years that it should have raised alarm bells much earlier. It seems that if you don’t want people to think about the problems associated with a group or policy, you change the name! Reframing an issue is old hat for governments. Over the years it has sidestepped uncomfortable questions. With Ottawa’s effort to finally set up and support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians could see their government as doing something.

A muted Canada Day

The health measures in effect in various provinces because of COVID played some part in many Canada Day celebrations being cancelled. With the declining number of cases and the increasing number of people who have been vaccinated, more and more people were anxious to come out and enjoy their freedom again after a year-and-a-half of various lockdowns. However, as one Canada Day celebration after another was cancelled, they celebrated quietly with their friends and family. It seemed more likely that Prime Minister Trudeau and his handlers were deliberately conflating events for their own purposes. Exploiting underlying fear of people getting covid, exploiting natural self-respect to which we are all entitled, and exploiting the inhumane treatment Canada’s natives have endured for years. Is this really to honour Canada’s natives or is it a way to deflect questions about why his government didn’t act earlier to help natives live decently? Why did this assimilation policy go on so long? Such questions should be asked of all governments that have been in power. The other side of that equation is deliberately laying a guilt trip on the public, using their emotions to make them feel as one with the government, as if we’re all doing the right thing because we all feel bad. Is it manipulation or genuine sadness behind Mr. Trudeau’s tears, or do his words hide an underlying plan for an end-of-summer election campaign? When Prime Minister Trudeau gave his Canada Day message, he did it clean-shaven and with a new haircut as if gearing up for some boyish-charm offensive, not the bearded wisdom his handlers wanted to convey during the height of the pandemic. Is he now truly speaking on behalf of the Natives or is he using them to make political points? 

Students at a Residential School

Who Decides Who’s a Victim?

Everyone has been a victim at some point. Everyone feels sorry for, respects, even trusts a fellow victim. However, what if that respected, trusted person is not a victim at all? What if Prime Minister Trudeau is deliberately proclaiming his mea culpas to diffuse his own guilt in a ploy to gain the respect and trust of Canadian voters? Victimhood and guilt are powerful tools in politics. The use of victimhood can gain public respect and trust, while guilt can have the opposite effect. Politicians perceived as guilty of something are less likely to gain the respect and trust they need to win an election. Victimhood can be used to remove or defend against accusations of guilt. Acting as if all are guilty is an equally powerful tool to connect to the voting public. As history shows, governments are not above using both to stay in power. 

It takes constant vigilance to maintain a healthy democracy. A closer look at this national breast beating over past wrongs suggests machiavellian politics! The public should be calling out government leaders from all parties loudly and vociferously, NOT letting the government define the terms, especially after having executed and maintained such a policy for more than a century. We have a choice, fall down this dark rabbit hole into victimhood, and accept more government manipulation, or focus on higher values and hold all who want to govern accountable. It’s natural to feel sad for what happened to the natives and as humans it drags us all down, but it doesn’t make us all guilty. To use people’s emotions as a political tool just reeks. It takes clear higher thought to move beyond this dark chapter in our history, not more political tricks.

Cuts to Radio Canada International can only hurt Canada’s image and influence abroad

Filed in Opinion by on 2nd Mar 2021

Politicians proclaim the world needs more Canada, then complain when they learn the world does not know enough about us.

Beset by a pandemic and hemmed in by America-first administrations in Washington, the shrinking horizons of Canadian foreign policy have seemingly exhausted the Liberal government’s global ambitions. Politicians proclaim the world needs more Canada, then complain when they learn the world does not know enough about us.

If Canada was rejected by the global community in its bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, perhaps it is because the world does not recognize us and how we have changed over the last 20 years: our diversity, our economic strengths, our liberal democratic values, our respect for the rule of law, and our love of hockey.

Most troubling is the decision by the CBC to force Radio Canada International (RCI) to abandon its mandate of producing programming for international audiences. Imagine the BBC World Service being told to stop being a “world service.” 

Peaceful protest in Beijing before Red Army attack 04 June 1989

The RCI decision is an example of the CBC echoing federal government cutting or curtailing instruments of soft power that could achieve the simultaneous goals of projecting Canadian values and undertaking more effective direct diplomacy.

In 1990, RCI had a staff of 200, trained to offer programming specifically prepared and tailored for international audiences in 14 languages. When the dust settles on CBC’s “major transformation,” Canada’s “Voice to the World” will have nine employees, translating texts from the CBC and Radio-Canada websites nominally for global audiences.

This transformation has a clear, yet worrisome agenda, focused as it is on diaspora communities and media in Canada, which is not part of RCI’s mandate. For the first time in 75 years of RCI’s history, there will be no producer, journalist or production staff working in English or French.

Despite Canada’s international priorities and multilateral relations, CBC cut RCI services to Japan, Germany, Brazil, Russia and the Ukraine, among others. In 2012, in violation of Order in Council 2003-0358, the CBC forced RCI to stop being a radio station broadcasting on shortwave. As a result, Canada lost almost all of its Chinese audience.

In a world beset by geopolitical rivalries, the ability to directly engage local populations abroad, free of interference, is absolutely essential. The RCI has a role to play as a truthful source of information, particularly for areas of the world where that information is both limited and distorted.

Open letter to PM, Ministers call for international service to be strengthened, not cut

RCI Newsroom, Nobody home

The change in RCI’s funding and mandate is reflective of a widespread tendency by governments and organizations such as the CBC to trumpet the advantages of the digital world and its access to the globe, with little thought to what connecting with others is all about.

Here, the role of RCI remains vital as a source of information in troubled times. Its programming, since its inception, has been tailored to help international audiences understand Canada’s reality. Whether this content comes through shortwave radio broadcasts, satellite, the Internet, podcasts or mobile apps, it is the content that matters.

This is not the time for retreat. Consider a situation some 30 years ago that mirrors current events. Following the attack by Chinese authorities on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the federal government decided that RCI would start its Chinese service in earnest, stating at the time: “We will be joining Radio Australia, Voice of America and the BBC in our collective effort to keep the truth alive.” In an era of disinformation when even the major social media players cannot be counted on for messaging the truth, RCI has an important role to play as part of Canada ‘s “alliance of values.”

In an interconnected world in search of truth, facts and honest journalism, countries such as Canada cannot abdicate their role on the world stage. Retrenchment is not an option. RCI, despite being a bare shadow of its former self, must be made whole again.

David Carment is Editor of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Trump – Summits

Filed in Perspectives by on 23rd Jul 2018 0 Comments

It’s almost impossible not to have an opinion about Donald Trump. Those who elected him think they made the right choice, and with exceptions, tend to overlook his unorthodox approach to politics. Those who didn’t vote for him are dismayed at his ignorance, his attacks on immigrants, his disdain for women, diplomacy and international accords, and how he treats his allies. They are also dismayed at his praise of authoritarian leaders such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  In America’s heartland where voters see him as the man who will bring back jobs and prosperity, Trump is a hero. Elsewhere, Trump is described by such words as ignorant, clinically insane, uninformed, a bull in a china shop, inept, isolationist and treasonous.

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North Korea: Breaking The Impasse

Filed in Articles by on 3rd Sep 2017 6 Comments

North Korea has once again raised international tensions with its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. In Washington, President Donald Trump reacted quickly calling North Korea a rogue nation that continues to be hostile and dangerous to the United States. He also said “Appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing”. In August Trump vowed to stop North Korea if it didn’t stop its nuclear development. Describing the test as a “perfect success”, North Korea announced on state television that it had tested a hydrogen bomb designed for use on its new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Japanese and South Korean officials say the test registered as an earthquake about ten times more powerful than North Korea’s last nuclear test a year ago.  Continue Reading »

Deceptive Narratives

Filed in Perspectives by on 25th Aug 2017 4 Comments

In politics, and especially in international relations, what you see is not always what you get. Recently, in a televised address from a US military base in Fort Myer, Virginia, President Donald Trump announced that he would send more troops to Afghanistan. Even though Trump called for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan during his election campaign for the presidency, he said that he had changed his mind and planned to step up the war against Islamic terrorism. Trump said that Afghanistan would come under greater pressure to reform its military, and root out corruption in its bureaucracy. “Our support is not a blank cheque. Our patience is not unlimited.” He also said that Pakistan had to stop providing a haven for terrorists, warning that Islamabad would have “much to lose” if it didn’t comply. Citing “principled realism”, Trump said his approach was different from the Obama administration because it allowed military commanders to make key decisions based on “conditions on the ground and not arbitrary timetables”. There were few details about how many troops would be sent, or how long they would stay in Afghanistan. However, in June 2017 Trump agreed to increase the current US force of 4800 soldiers in Afghanistan by 3900. The Pentagon delayed the extra deployment while awaiting a strategy. The US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, said in addition to the extra deployment, several NATO allies have also “committed to increasing their troop numbers” above the current thirteen-thousand NATO troops in Afghanistan. Continue Reading »