OTTAWA—Canada is the student who doesn’t want to do any of the readings or assignments but thinks it deserves an “A” at the University of the United Nations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Africa last week to campaign for a two-year, rotating seat on the UN Security Council. The last time Canada tried to achieve this, the ever-so-charming Stephen Harper of 2010 failed so hard that instead of making nice with dignitaries at the UN, his Bill C-51, treatment of Indigenous people, and the political audits of many environmental charities were lambasted in the first substantial review of Canada’s Human Rights record since he became prime minister. Many saw this humiliation as an international repudiation of Harper’s policies, and that restricting aid and support to African nations eventually caught up with him and bit him in the ass.
Fast forward to 2020 to Trudeau’s Africa Tour, amid the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent—running from 2015 to 2024, which Canada recognized three years late. Because, priorities.
In another bid for a temporary seat at the UN Security Council, this time spearheaded by a Liberal prime minister, who once proclaimed at a 2015 post-electoral victory crowd, “Well, I have a simple message for you. On behalf of 35 million Canadians: We’re back.” Only the more things change, the more they look the same, especially for Black Africans.
Canada has not been good to Africa and goes to the continent with either its hands out, or its fingers waving, as Trudeau has been wont to do with African countries. His promotion of the empowerment of women and girls, while attending a mostly male African Union Summit, strikes a chord of colonial paternalism that is often the stance when white Western leaders visit. And given how the prime minister and his office treated women in his cabinet who spoke out during the SNC-Lavalin scandal, perhaps he is not the one to talk about female “empowerment.” Let him go to China and say the same things and see what the response would be. But it’s Africa—the place Canadian leaders pretend doesn’t exist until they take the opportunity to scold Africa for many of the same problems Canada can’t solve.
The only other time Africa is relevant is when it’s between Canada and what it wants. So here is Canada with its hands out, not really wanting to invest in or partner with Africa, but as usual, to extract something from it—backing for the PM’s Security Council bid. But what has this government done for them lately? Let’s pull out the receipts:
Idil Mussa of CBC wrote about African academics having their visas rejected at levels so high, it raised questions about discrimination, notably anti-Blackness, within Canada’s immigration system. Her reporting outlined that temporary resident visa approval rate “fell by 18.4 per cent between 2015 and 2018.” The same time frame also saw drops for applicants from the Asia-Pacific (7.3 per cent), from the Middle East (10.3 per cent), and Latin America and the Caribbean (0.7 per cent), while rising for European applicants (4.4 per cent). Methinks I found a consistent discrepancy based on country of origin, which is often used as a proxy for race.
Keeping on this anti-Blackness in the Canadian immigration system theme, let’s look back at how then-minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, and MP Emmanuel Dubourg, a member of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force of Irregular Migration, went to Florida in 2017 to discourage mostly Haitians and Nigerians, from committing the heinous act of “irregular migration” to Canada, and thereby spread misinformation on claiming refugee status.
“We do not appreciate or welcome irregular migration,” said Minister Hussen, who took up the Conservative framing of the issue of asylum-seekers crossing into Canada at geographical areas outside of predetermined checkpoints as “irregular migration” instead of “people fearing for their lives after being rejected from Donald Trump’s America.”
He never once made it clear to asylum seekers that: “The fact that they use irregular migration pathways does not imply that States are not, in some circumstances, obliged to provide them with some forms of protection under international law, including access to international protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution, conflicts or generalized violence.”
And this is coming from the International Organization for Migration, a particular organization of the UN “dedicated to promoting human and orderly migration for the benefit of all.” Whoops. (To be honest, it’s appalling that Canadian media just adopted this language with absolutely no interrogation of it at all. There is no general consensus as to the term and it’s highly charged. But then, where is the diversity in Canadian media to ask these questions? Guess it’s right here.)
Canada came back with a whimper and left with its tail between its legs in Mali. Its contribution to the UN-led peacekeeping effort seemed like more marketing, less substance. The mission was short, where we could flex our technical muscles, give a nod to the direction of our ethos (think: Joe from Canada), and get out with virtually no risk. It was a Bagger Vance brand-building exercise, where Mali only existed to preen Canada’s feathers and rebuild Canada’s image in Africa, ahead of the UN Security Council campaign. Canada was at its White Saviour best, while Mali was at its worst, and used this vulnerable country to make itself look good to other African countries.
It seems like the United States is not the only one perpetrating a “shithole countries” approach to immigration that persecutes Black people over others.
After recounting all of this anti-Blackness in government policy and politics, it’s difficult to make a case as to why Canada should win a seat on the Security Council. In addition to the aforementioned arguments, Canada has reduced its peacekeeping presence in Africa after wrapping up in Mali, its foreign aid flows into the continent have been paltry, with development aid falling to 0.28 per cent of gross national product (the Harper government averaged 0.31 per cent), while its competitor, Norway, maintained its aid at one per cent. Basically, all that Canada has to bring to the table is its boyish charm and an outdated, colonial attitude towards Africans.
This is the Fyre Festival of UN Security Council campaigns, complete with the same sandwich.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast