For many Canadians, the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former B.C. residential college was a shocking reminder of a system built to forcibly assimilate First Nations children.
For China’s social networking, it appears to have been a prime propaganda opportunity.
Major Chinese news outlets published editorials both decrying residential schools, and claiming that Canada had no proper criticizing other nations’ human-rights records before it”put its own house in order.”
“Some Western countries, Canada included, like to preach to other nations about human rights issues,” complained Zhang Zhouxiang of their government-run China Daily in a residential-schools column. “They ought to examine their pasts and correct their own wrongdoings, rather than pointing fingers at others.”
But China isn’t the first nation with an abysmal rights document to deflect rebukes from Canada by citing treatment of the country’s Indigenous men and women.
A apparently organized Twitter campaign by Saudi Arabian citizens blasted Canada’s”cultural genocide” three years ago after criticism from Ottawa. Iran’s ambassador here prominently hosted Native leaders in 2012 as his country lectured Canada amid bi-lateral tensions.
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And long before that, the ambassador for South Africa’s former apartheid regime actually visited a reserve in Manitoba to underline the plight of Indigenous people. Canada was at the forefront of this movement to finish Cape Town’s racist system.
There’s even a term for the rhetorical procedure — whataboutism.
There’s no question many issues still plague Indigenous Canadians, from bad drinking water and sub-standard home on reservations to sky-high unemployment.
But accusations of hypocrisy from a nation like China just do not hold water, argued Irwin Cotler, the Montreal-based seat of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
Canada is at least confronting its own issues, he mentioned, together with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calling the home colleges a case of cultural genocide and the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls going even farther. China, meanwhile, denies clear signs of genocide against the minority Uyghur people, also bars any kind of impartial investigation of the scenario, said Cotler.
“Does Canada have a proper (to criticize China) but it’s an obligation,” said the former federal justice minister. “If Canada has evidence of a genocide elsewhere, it has a duty to speak up and to unmask and expose.”
It’s true that Canada’s Indigenous history”is nothing to shield or be proud of,” said David Matas, among the nation’s most prominent human-rights lawyers.
But Beijing has worked hard to prevent Chinese citizens understanding anything about their own dark past — from the millions killed in the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward into the Tienanmen massacre — while clamping down on those who attempt to expose the many abuses, said Matas.
“In Canada right now, you’re not going to be jailed, you’re not going to be tortured, you’re not likely to be implemented because you raised these problems,” he said. “But should you raised human-rights issue in China today, that’s what will happen.”