At 150, Canada must do more to protect human rights and press freedom both at home and abroad

At 150, Canada must do more to protect human rights and press freedom both at home and abroad

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Guest blog by Caleb Snider, Congress 2017 blogger

The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences brings together leading thinkers, academics, researchers, policy-makers, and innovators to explore some of the world’s most challenging issues. Congress celebrates the vitality and quality of Canadian research contributions and helps train the next generation of Canadian ideas leadership. This year’s theme “The Next 150, on Indigenous Lands” celebrates the history, legacy, and achievements of the peoples and territories that make us who we are, and anticipates the boundless opportunities of the future. Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, this year’s Congress is being hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto from May 27–June 2. Follow this series of Big Picture at #congressh blogs.

Mohamed Fahmy first chose to settle in Canada because he perceived this country to be a haven for freedom of the press and basic human rights. It was in this same spirit that he chose to travel to Iraq and Egypt during the American-led invasion and the Arab Spring, respectively, to report on what he hoped would be the rise of democracy in the Middle East. Today, however, both democratizing projects stand incomplete, and the divide between democracies and dictatorships in their attitudes toward press freedom and the media is closing worldwide. In the United States, Trump’s criticism of the legitimate media lends legitimacy to dictators and despots who have made the same false claims for years, and journalists are targeted for violent repression and death more than ever by terrorists and states alike.

According to Fahmy, however, the Arab Spring has not been in vain, regardless of its failure to bring democracy to states like Egypt. It began as a breath of fresh air, with the participation of young people, including thousands of Canadian and American Egyptians, and it demonstrates that protest and activism can be successful in toppling dictators. Though the revolution has stalled, change is still going on all over the Middle East.

This change is taking place often in spite of, rather than thanks to, Western foreign domestic policy. Fahmy argues it was Western intervention and inexperience that have transformed places like Iraq, Libya and Syria into fertile grounds for terrorism. Moves toward reform and protection of democracy need to rely on more than just state intervention: you need NGOs, journalists, and activists working on the ground who are independent of local or foreign governments.

Fahmy also pointed out that freedoms aren’t only under threat or lacking in the nations of the Middle East. Right here in Canada, we lack laws that require the federal government to intervene on behalf of Canadians detained abroad; laws that our closest allies and our fellow developed nations like the United States and France enjoy. Journalism and the independence and freedom of the press are also suffering here in Canada: journalists are being forced to give up their sources in the name of security concerns, which inevitably leads to fewer people choosing to speak to the media, thereby reducing our ability to stay properly informed. Again, Canada lacks laws that protect journalistic sources, whereas many of our allies have them. Canada, it seems, still has a way to go to protect its citizens and its press freedoms.

Media in the Age of Terror featuring multi-award winning Egyptian-Canadian author and journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who while reporting on the Arab Spring in Egypt in 2013 was falsely accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian government and imprisoned in the Scorpion maximum security prison for more than a year, was part of the Big Thinking lecture series at Congress 2017.