Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, says Canada is “very disappointed” with the guilty verdict given Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy along with two others in Egypt yesterday. In the States, meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry called the verdicts “chilling and draconian.” British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “completely appalled.” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott phoned Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to protest the verdict, while his Foreign Minister, Julia Bishop, said, “We are all shocked by this verdict,” adding that “we are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle media freedoms.”
But Canada is “very disappointed.” And from its Prime Minister? Not a peep.
Look, “very disappointed” is what you are when you order your steak medium-rare in a restaurant and it comes back well-done. It’s not what you are when a citizen of your country has been found guilty in what is widely-regarded as a rigged proceeding, and especially when press freedoms are in the docket too (or, in the case of Egyptian courtrooms, in a cage).
But is anyone surprised that, unlike his world counterparts, Harper can’t rouse himself to say anything? This is a Prime Minister for whom silence on important matters is becoming a habit. And he’s also one who is now excoriated daily by the national media, including former allies. Why should he lift a finger to help a journalist, when he can give the finger to the entire profession by remaining silent?
Today Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told an Ottawa radio station that Canada is working behind-the-scenes to obtain Fahmy’s release. “We want a successful resolution and I guess either way, critics of the government can win because if we’re loud and vocal, we’re practising bullhorn diplomacy and are not being professional. But if we try to take the case directly to the leadership, we’re accused of not standing up. I think you want to pursue the path that would be the most effective to resolving the case.” So good. Baird, who has been effective on these things in the past, is doing his job.
But it’s a Prime Minister’s job to articulate his nation’s values in times when they count most, and not to pawn off the responsibility on a timid junior minister like Yelich. His peers in other democracies, some of whom also have citizens involved, understand this; why doesn’t he? It’s not just very disappointing. It’s appalling.