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Draft Dodgers and Diplomatic Language Down the Memory Hole

July 5, 2009

There were two rather disturbing stories in the back pages of the news last week. The first was a report in Embassy Magazine that political staffers have been instructing Department of Foreign Affairs bureaucrats not to use certain words and phrases in DFAIT publications and reports which might be associated with the previous Liberal government’s foreign relations policies. Some of these include “human security,” “public diplomacy” and “good governance.” Instead, they have been told to use terms like “human rights,” the “rule of law,” and “democracy” or “democratic development.”

Given the importance of precise language in diplomacy, this “rebranding” exercise is extraordinary. Particularly worrisome is the dropping of “human security” from the lexicon.

Human security refers to a package of policies advanced by the Liberal government in the 1990s, most notably by former Chrétien-era foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. The human security paradigm, as opposed to the traditional state-centric view of foreign policy, focuses on the rights and well-being of individuals around the world. This bundle of policies included the promotion of the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect, as well as various initiatives related to child soldiers, land mines, small arms controls and economic and food security.

The second incident was the removal of a page from the Citizenship and Immigration website concerning Vietnam draft dodgers who were given safe haven in Canada in the 60s and 70s. The page, which has thankfully been preserved as a PDF file by an enterprising blogger, says in part:

“Starting in 1965, Canada became a choice haven for American draft-dodgers and deserters.”

Many are theorizing that the removal has more to do with the fact that the page contradicts the current position of the Immigration department, which is that unlike those who came to Canada to avoid enlisting in the military during Vietnam, current war resistors are “bogus refugees” who “voluntarily joined the United States military and have subsequently deserted” and must therefore be deported.

A spokesman for the War Resisters Support Campaign says the Conservative stance is flawed and misleading.

In fact, many Americans volunteered to serve in Vietnam only to recoil from a horrific mission and flee to Canada, said Ken Marciniec. They, too, were allowed to settle here after 1969 following some initial legal wrangling.

It’s fortunate that, unlike Orwell’s ‘memory hole’, nothing ever really disappears on the internet.

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