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The lessons of John Humphrey

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My own son is fourteen years old. I simply cannot imagine him being subjected to what Khadr was. His new book, “They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children,” Liberal Senator, and retired army general Romeo Dallaire, explores the humanitarian crisis of children who are forced into combat. About the use and abuse of child soldiers, Dallaire says: "We have got a crime against humanity."

In Iran today, the Green Movement has subsided in large part because of the repression that continues under the Islamist regime which has violently suppressed internal dissent. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pursue their fanatical, racist, and dangerous policies. Members of the Iranian community in Canada have been active leaders in the Green Movement. Unfortunately, their impact is limited. Yet that doesn’t mean their voices will diminish or subside. On the contrary, they must become louder and cannot abate. Professor Humphrey believed that "There is a fundamental link between human rights and peace. There will be peace on earth when the rights of all are respected."

The protection and promotion of human rights must begin at home. Three years ago Canada was featured as an "offending country" as reported by the UN Human Rights Commission magazine, Refugees.  Their September, 2007 issue was titled, "The Strange, Hidden World of the Stateless," and Canada was highlighted over the issues of the Lost Canadians.  These are people, who through an anomaly in the Canada Citizenship Act that have yet to be corrected, discover that they are not Canadian citizens.

Don Chapman, a remarkable man from Gibsons, British Columbia who was once himself a Lost Canadian, said: “Governments exist to protect their people.  Bad things happen when governments are allowed to turn against their own people, history is littered with examples.  So when Harper's government justifies stripping away one's status because they were born out-of wedlock, or in some cases because they were born in-wedlock, or because they were born prior to 1947, or because of gender (women are still being discriminated against), having babies born to Canadian parents who can be rendered stateless, and people who have lived and worked in Canada all their lives now having their pensions questioned, something has gone terribly wrong.  What kind of nation has Canada become if this continues?”

On this issue, the Harper government is in contravention of two Supreme Court decisions, three UN Conventions on human rights, our Charter, and our rule of law. When faced with criticisms and a fragrant wrong, the Harper regime reverts to its default defenses: Pretend the issue doesn’t exist and shoot the messenger. In this cash, the messenger is Don Chapman and the shooter is Jason Kenny, minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

It was only after Professor Humphrey died in 1995 that I began to fully appreciate the impact of this great man and his remarkable pioneering work to advance global human rights. But from that very first meeting sometime in the fall of 1984, I grasped the profound impact my private tutor had on my understanding of Canada and the impact all of us can make to improve our community and our world. It was during those conversations that Professor Humphrey brought to life the scene from Dante’s Inferno: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who take positions of neutrality in times of great moral crisis."

Many of us have yet to heed these lessons. Yet they must be bred in our bones. In large part, it’s what defines us as Canadians.

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