This week Canada’s, usually outspoken, Foreign Minister, John Baird took a decidedly timid stance on Russia’s harsh sentencing of three members of the punk band Pussy Riot. Meanwhile, leaders from all over the world spoke out loudly against Russian authorities.
In Britain, Alistair Burt, a junior foreign minister, had this to say, “We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way. Today’s verdict calls into question Russia’s commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms.”
In the United States, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was quoted as saying, “The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences… and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia, we urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.”
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Moscow to overturn the punishment, saying, “This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically-motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation. I expect that this sentence will be reviewed and reversed in line with Russia’s international commitments,” she added, saying the case “puts a serious question mark over Russia’s respect for international obligations of fair, transparent, and independent legal process”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the sentence was “excessively harsh” and “not compatible with the European values of the rule of law and democracy to which Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has committed itself. A dynamic civil society and politically active citizens are a necessary precondition for Russia’s modernization, not a threat,”
I have included the above quotes as a contrast to what John Baird had to say on the matter. John Baird is known for saying that he “won’t just go along to get along”. Baird has been a staunch supporter of Israel, gay rights and religious minorities facing oppression. He has publicly criticized China’s human rights records as well as the repressive regimes in Syria and Iran. Yes, Baird has been one tough cookie. That’s why his quote about the sentencing is so confounding.
Here is Baird’s quote. “We believe in every part of the world of sentencing having some relation to the serious nature of the crime. Obviously, there’s, I think, widespread concern that this was perhaps too much and that were perhaps political considerations. We support around the world independent judiciaries, and we certainly take note of what’s happened.”
That was preceded by the tame statement that Baird’s office released the day of the verdict that didn’t even mention the trial, “The promotion of Canadian values, including freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, features prominently in our ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities.”
That wasn’t even a weak slap on the wrist, which makes me wonder what he’s really saying. Is Canada on the verge of passing some strong anti- protest legislation? Is he just so sick and tired of protesters getting all the attention in Canada (and yes, contrary to what some might think, Quebec is still a part of Canada)? Is he in bed with the Russian authorities in some way that Canadians don’t know about? Does he hate women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds? Is he putting religion above human rights? What dirty little secrets is he hiding? His uncharacteristic lack of stance makes me wonder all sorts of things. When the public begins to wonder about the motives of an elected official, they start digging to come up with the answers, spelling the beginning of the end for said official. John Baird needs to choose his next words very carefully if he doesn’t want the public supplying his motives for him.
Baird also needs to remember that we elected this guy…
not this guy…