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Ignatieff : “Canadians have a responsibility to act”

by Archives April 8, 2008

Michael Ignatieff, deputy leader of the Liberal Party and one-time front-runner for its leadership, called for a re-emphasis on human rights and Canadian identity at a lecture Friday evening at Concordia.
“Canada is in the world and the world is in Canada,” stated the Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP, expressing his belief in Canadian multiculturalism and the special insight it confers upon Canadians.
About 125 people, including many Liberal party supporters, attended the event on the Hall building’s seventh floor. The lecture’s topic was “Global Citizenship: Illusion or Reality?” Ignatieff spoke for less than an hour, including a brief question and answer period.
Ignatieff spoke eloquently about the nature of being Canadian. “Canadian citizenship is a moral idea. It’s connected crucially to an idea of freedom in relation to our belonging, and our identity . . . What links us together, is that every single person in this room is the juridical equal of every other. That’s the ground on which we stand.”
The talk was mainly philosophical and abstract, exploring what the concept of citizenship means in the context of international relations.
Right from the start, Ignatieff made it clear that he would steer clear of specific policy proposals, partisan attacks and electioneering. He made no mention of the troubles of embattled Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, nor of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
Ignatieff came out against the ongoing crackdown of Tibetan protestors by China. “If you think you can maintain order in Lhasa [the capital of Tibet] . . . with a soldier on every street corner, I think you’ve got another think coming,” he said.
Ignatieff reiterated his belief in the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, commonly referred to as R2P.
“If there is ethnic cleansing [or] genocidal massacres going on in a country, and the government is either unable, or unwilling, or complicit and can’t stop it, other states have an obligation to protect the civilians whose lives are in danger.”
The policy was developed after the events of the Yugoslav civil war in the early 1990s and the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The policy remains controversial because of the perception that the R2P doctrine justifies Western countries taking military action and even invading poorer ones on unspecified humanitarian grounds. Critics call it another form of “Western imperialism.”
Andrew Fernandes of Concordia NDP responded to Ignatieff’s comments. “The R2P doctrine is a good one, but I wish Canada and the Liberal Party would actually live up to it from time to time. We in the NDP would like to see Canada spending less time fighting the United States’ wars for it.”
Ignatieff is a firm supporter of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, and was one of the few opposition members who broke ranks and voted for the mission’s extension in 2006. He was also once a supporter of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, but has since recanted this position.
Aside from his political credentials, Ignatieff is a prominent author, professor and intellectual. He was director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University from 2000 to 2005 and has written a number of books, including the novel Scar Tissue, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and a family memoir, The Russian Album, which won the Governor-General’s Prize.
The event was the latest in a series of prominent Liberal speakers invited to speak at Concordia this semester by CSU and Liberal Concordia. These have included Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau and Ken Dryden. NDP Leader Jack Layton is next on the slate of speakers, with a talk scheduled at Concordia April 10, in room H-110.

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